Why yes, that is a Galaxy Tab 10.1 in my pocket.

Knowing that we’re going to have to think about Android tablet development at some point, it was a matter of time before we picked one up. The perfect storm of frugality swooped in this week as Staples had a $100 off coupon for tablets, excluding the Nook, TouchPad, and one or two others. This coupon, plus a few rebate cards I’d been saving meant I was able to snag a Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 for about $227. Sweet deal.

So – the big question – how is it, really?

I think at this point I’ve established myself as a fan of electronics, not just those made by Apple, so I don’t think I’m being unfair when I say that while a cool piece of kit, the Tab 10.1 is not quite there for me. I didn’t buy this thing just to bash it – I bought it because I need to understand platforms before we can design for them – so understand right off the bat that I’m not complaining about a review unit and sending it back, or on the Cupertino payroll (or Kool-Aid, depending on how you like to think of those things).

The simple fact of the matter is that for many people – specifically consumers – there isn’t a case for tablet computing yet. There is, however, a case for small pieces of software that deliver compelling experiences. Unfortunately, Android is not delivering them, and iOS is.

Case in point: when I went to Staples, I asked the sales guy for the 10.1 and the first thing he said was “What are you buying it for?” When I replied, “development”, he said “Ok, because this thing isn’t going to replace a laptop for you”. No problem, I assured him, we’re app devs, and we know what we’re doing. Then, the manager came over to verify the coupon I had and asked the same question again. Again I replied “development” and he asked “Of what?” rather indignantly.

“Uh, Android apps?” I replied incredulously.

“Oh, ok, because we’re selling a lot of these things, and we get a LOT of them back. People buy them thinking they’re getting rid of a laptop, and they all come back returning them.”

That doesn’t seem to be happening with iPads, because I think people’s expectations are set accordingly when they buy them. These are not full computing devices; they’re not built to be – and yet when you watch the commercials, what do you hear? The “full” internet. Flash. Do it all. Why wouldn’t people be disappointed when they can’t actually replace a computer with a device that promised they could?

But anyway, on to the Tab itself.

Physically, the 10.1 is a great feeling device in the hand. Thinner and lighter than you expect it to be, with a gorgeous screen and all the requisite hardware checkboxes filled. I’m not sure how I feel about the 16:9 frame, though. No, scratch that, I’m pretty sure I don’t like it. I wasn’t sure that Apple was right about the iPad’s 4:3 ratio, but after having one as my only tablet for over a year and then spending a good deal of time with the 10.1, I’m pretty sure Steve was right. It feels too long horizontally, and way too tall vertically. Don’t get me wrong – I could get used to it, if I had to, but I’m kind of glad I don’t have to. Overall, it’s a very nicely built device, though. While still somewhat plastic-y, Samsung made it feel decent.

The Honeycomb OS is light years ahead of where Android started, and it really shows. It’s really quite nice, and my initial experience with the 10.1 was very different from the one I had when I handled my first G-1 at a party a few years ago. Both the UI design and the functionality have added a great deal of value to the device, and I’m really looking forward to seeing future Android devices as the system continues to mature. There’s an incredible amount of customization available on the platform, and that attracts both regular folks and tinkerers alike. I would have liked to see a little more in terms of basic stuff, like wallpapers (since some of what ships default with the 10.1 is like showing an overcaffeinated toddler the gradient tool in Photoshop), but hey, that’s what the internet is for. There are plenty of wallpaper apps in the Market. The attention to detail in small things like the bar at the bottom of the display that has a lot of useful controls baked into it shows that Google really is trying to make the entire interface less for engineers and more for real, actual users. And there’s cool stuff tucked away, like the recently viewed button, which upon tapping, brings a vertical ribbon of apps you’ve been to lately (along with a thumbnail of the activity) – a nice touch, and very useful. Credit where credit is due.

Where it falls apart for me (and likely for most people) is in the user experience surrounding software availability. I fully recognize that there isn’t a ton of software available to Android tablets right now, and that Honeycomb is still an OS that most people don’t have and aren’t developing for, based on market numbers. This is not a problem germane to the 10.1, or any other Android tablet in particular. However, for the amount of marketing and push that these tablets are getting, there should absolutely be not only a wide range of options, but a clearly delineated path with which to reach them. Android Market has neither. You can search for “tablet”, and you hit quite a few things, and you can search for “Honeycomb”, and reach some others, but you have things like themes and wallpapers for phones in the Honeycomb style that make their way into your search. Apple has two sides of the App Store – iPhone and iPad – and it’s completely obvious where the tablet apps are. I’m an experienced user, so I’m figuring things out, but I can’t imagine someone who isn’t comfortable with this stuff having much fun doing the same.

More importantly, by this point in the iPad’s life cycle, there was a huge number of apps available for the platform, and I just don’t feel that happening for Android tablets. Is it because there’s just too much disparity in the sizes and specs? Possibly, but I think it has a lot to do with what I mentioned earlier. If consumers are returning tablets, why develop for them at all? Stick to the phones. Hence, people simply aren’t finding the kind of software they expect to find when they try to download, and it’s causing disappointment. I’m not talking about the geeks, rooting and playing. I’m talking about regular people for whom “unlocked bootloader” might as well be a foreign language.

Honeycomb, as I said, is fantastic. Unfortunately, run an app that’s built for a phone on it, and suddenly it’s not so pretty anymore. It doesn’t scale proportionately the way the iPad does (even if the pixel doubling does look like crap), but instead stretches everything so there’s a ton of wasted space everywhere. And while I’m perfectly content to dig around in settings and adjust fonts and scaling to make it look halfway decent, why would any normal person even think to do that? It should just look good when you open it.

But very little does. Even apps built for tablets might be built for smaller tablets, and behave similarly, and the apps I tried that were built for this size were sorely lacking in design. I know we all kind of assume Android apps don’t look as great as iOS apps, but some of the stuff I saw that touted “built from the ground up for Honeycomb tablets” looks like they didn’t get past the foundation. If your flagship app looks like a development test with some gradients thrown on, you’re doing something wrong.

I guess I’m really most saddened by the fact that I still don’t see a contender in this market. I love Apple stuff, but I want so badly to be able to have something else that’s as good, if only for a change of pace from iOS. I’m a demanding geek, and that’s not going to change. As of right now, Apple’s still the only company giving in to those demands.

The power of the internet, focused locally.

It’s always amazing to me when something happens through actions on the internet that affects me in my actual life. On Friday such an occurrence came to pass, and it was one of those moments in which you realize what a truly valuable communication tool the web has become, and in this case, particularly Twitter. Twitter, derided by many in its path to prominence for being just a vector for sharing lunch preferences; Twitter, celebrity soapbox; Twitter, armchair activist bullhorn. It’s always been a tool to me, for conversation, and a connection to people with like-minded interests.

At the office on Friday, we were testing a BlackBerry app that we’ve developed in tandem with an Android and iOS version. Something wasn’t working quite right, and we couldn’t determine if it was the app itself or our handset that was acting up. A sheepish query wandered through our conversation – “does anyone know ANYONE with this phone so we can find out what the problem is?” – and the stark realization that indeed, no one knew anyone with that particular phone became apparent.

I sounded the alert on Twitter – a last resort – and my post was retweeted and seen by someone not even following me at the time. It turns out, this guy not only had the phone we needed, but he was less than fifteen minutes away from our office and was happy to loan us the device. Elated, I made plans to meet him and set out to claim my redemption.

Within a single hour, with Twitter’s help, I managed to get the backup device for our testing, and meet a fine gentleman who ended up running in many of the same online circles I did. Our social Venn diagrams never crossed for whatever reason, but that was quickly rectified, and I marveled at how quickly the entire scenario played out.

It’s stuff like this that makes me tolerate the deluge of stupidity and ignorance surging through the internet. For every million asinine YouTube comments that make me hang my head in shame and lament humanity, there’s one thing like this, but it’s the rarity of it that makes it so special.

Huge thanks (again) to @jdipane for the RT, and to @azeis for coming through with the clutch play.

[Cross-posted here]

Seriously, HP. Pull it together.

WebOS needs to succeed. Seriously. For a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that it is vaguely awesome. However, instead of doubling down on development resources and aggressively attracting developers themselves to the platform, HP has decided to do the easy thing: throw money at marketing.

Unfortunately, for HP, this strategy is doomed to fail. Gaga will not sell phones for you. A cutesy handset with extremely limited market potential will not attract new users (just ask Microsoft). And wrapping a delivery truck in Veer graphics and telling people to check out the ‘summer tour’ is just moronic.

HP needs to release hardware – compelling hardware – with reasons for people to choose it over any other hardware. This isn’t about Apple domination, or Android fragmentation. It’s about making the best products possible and running the best software possible, both of which HP, with its massive coffers, is in a position to do, and both of which – to date – it has failed to do.

The Veer is adorable, but not for everyone. The TouchPad, though not supposed to launch “until it’s ready” seems to be a very 1.0 device, and is getting reviews in which the reviewers themselves seem to to be disappointed, having really wanted to love it out of the gate. This market moves at a pace that is almost unsustainable. The longer HP sits around, not actively fixing bugs, not releasing great hardware, and actively pushing products that regular people can’t find a reason to buy, the quicker webOS dies on the vine.

And if the rumors are true and the Pre 3 doesn’t hit until the fall, you can forget about any kind of webOS resurgence. It’s done. People can argue that this is a marathon and not a sprint, but even a great runner can’t fall too far behind and make up all that distance.