Android 4 (ICS) on an Eee Pad TF101

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After many failed attempts, I have finally successfully upgraded my Asus Eee Pad Transformer TF101 from Android 3.2.1 to Android 4.0.3.  This is my first look and Android 4 (Ice Cream Sandwich or ICS.)  So far, I very much like what I see.

First and foremost, Google has fixed my biggest complaint with Android 3, or Honeycomb.  That is to say that they have replaced the hideous font that shipped as the default for the unlock screen, the clock, and more.  I’m not too picky about fonts generally, though this one was unusually bad and just irritated me constantly.

This also appears to be the first version of Android that has been treated as a cohesive whole.  While the behaviour is still very much Android, there are UI and UX refinements throughout the OS.  I have only been using it for a few minutes, but I already much prefer it to earlier versions of the OS.  It still isn’t as good as BlackBerry’s PlayBook OS, Palm’s webOS, or even Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7, but it finally seems to be approaching these other OSs in terms of usability.

With Android 4 installed, I have also had the opportunity to test out Chrome for Android. It’s still in beta but it is clearly quite polished. It’s a huge improvement over the built-in “Browser” that has had the most modest of improvements over the life of Android. It’s bizarre to me that Google, THE web company, has so long neglected the browser that ships with their very popular mobile platform. However, better late than never.

Asus’ default on-screen keyboard is pretty terrible but the stock Android on is fine. There’s still no escape key, which is killer of this sysadmin. I’m not sure where the aversion to the escape key comes from, but I hope that it is short-lived.

Next up the form-factor. Try as I might, I have a hard time getting used to 10″ widescreen tablets. Where the iPad’s 4:3 ratio makes it easy to use in portrait or landscape, the 16:10 ratio of most Android tablets feels like a compromise in either orientation. Luckily, this is largely mitigated with the Transformer, as it has an excellent physical keyboard. In the end, when away from the dock, I think I prefer the Transformer in portrait mode, holding it in one hand, typing with the other. Of course, this is significantly slower than typing with a real keyboard. The biggest problem with typing in landscape mode is that I hit the bottom of Android’s task bar when I mean to hit the space key. Given that this area isn’t used for anything else, one wonders if Google may extend the keyboard in to this dead area in the future. It’s also possible that this is something that I would get better at with more practice.

Overall, the changes in Android 4 are subtle and deep. It goes a long way to making the platform usable but it still doesn’t feel as put together as iOS, BlackBerry’s PlayBook OS, or even webOS. There’s an excellent chance that I will be making more use of the Asus Eee Pad Transformer and it’s a good sign that Asus isn’t abandoning their older hardware and focusing only on the newer Transformer Prime. Despite what was an absolutely terrible upgrade process, upgrading existing Eee Pad Transformers to Android 4 will breath new life into these interesting devices.

GoSaBe Blog - Apr 9, 2012 | GoSaBe News