Google's Tablets Don't Stink Nearly As Much As They Used To

asus eee pad transformer prime

Photo: Steve Kovach, Business Insider

I’ve been hanging on to the Asus Transformer Prime for the last month for a reason.Even though the tablet launched a few weeks ago, the real news was that Asus was going to push out a major update to the new version of Google’s Android called Ice Cream Sandwich.

So I waited.

Luckily, I didn’t have to wait long.

Asus is the first major brand to bring Ice Cream Sandwich to its tablet and it really does make a difference.

When I reviewed the Transformer Prime last month, my biggest gripe was the software. Google’s tablet operating system from last year, called Honeycomb, still suffers from bugs, horrible app selection, and poor overall design.

This new update from Asus fixes a lot of that.

Click here for photos of what it looks like >
The first thing I noticed was how much faster and smoother Android runs on the Transformer Prime now. Yes, the tablet has incredible hardware that’s more powerful than the current iPad 2, but the old Honeycomb still made the experience feel sluggish.

Ice Cream Sandwich fixes that for the Transformer Prime.

With Ice Cream Sandwich, everything on the Transformer Prime is faster now. Animations are smooth. Multitasking is easier. 3D games look stunning. It’s just good.

For example, Android gives you several home screens to store your favourite apps and widgets. Swiping through those is noticeably faster and smoother than the iPad 2. It just goes to show that it doesn’t matter how powerful a tablet is. If it has bloated software, then the experience is ruined.

Asus also fixed many of the problems I had with the web browser. Before, scrolling and zooming was jerky and unresponsive. Now it feels a lot smoother with Google’s updated browser for Android. It’s still not perfect (I prefer the alternative browser Dolphin), but it definitely does the job.

I also like that Asus made very few alterations to Android in this update. Since Android is open sourced, manufacturers tend to add a ton of modifications (or skins) that can slow things down. A lot of them are just plain ugly. Asus did add a few things like a control panel for controlling stuff like screen brightness, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth. But for the most part, Asus lets Google’s original design shine through. That’s a good thing.

Now for the downside. While Google’s app selection in the Android Market is growing at a rapid pace, it’s still lacking many of the high-quality tablet-sized apps that the iPad has. Developers have been slow to make apps for Android tablets because people are snapping up iPads instead. There’s very little traction on any non-iPad tablet other than the Kindle Fire. (By the way, the Kindle Fire has its own Android app store that isn’t affiliated with Google at all.)

There have also been a few bugs reported with the Ice Cream Sandwich update from Asus. I didn’t have any problems, but the upgrade isn’t going through for some. Plus, there are reports of issues with the Transformer Prime’s GPS. (Asus says its working on it.)

Are Android tablets perfect now that Ice Cream Sandwich is creeping its way onto them? No. There are a ton of nice improvements, which I listed above. But Android still has a long way to go before it can match the iPad in tablets. iOS still has that perfect polish that makes it more usable overall.

Still, if you’re looking for an alternative to the iPad, the Transformer Prime is the best choice. By a longshot.

If you want to know more about the Transformer Prime, don’t miss the full review.

You should also check out the Android Ice Cream Sandwich review.

Here's the lock screen. You can drag the circle to the right to view your home screen or to the left to launch the camera app.

Asus did a pretty good job at keeping Google's original design for Android. In the phone version, there's a dock of apps that you see on every screen. However, there are still a few subtle differences in this version. The tablet version doesn't have that.

With the new version of Android you can place your apps into folders by dragging them on top of each other. It'll keep your home screen neat and tidy.

When you tap the two rectangles in the bottom left corner of your screen you get this list of open apps. You can scroll through and tap one to reopen. To close an app, just swipe and flick it to the left or right.

When you tap the series of rectangles in the top right of your screen you get your full library of apps. Swipe over to view more.

Tap the Widgets tab at the top to see your widgets. These are used to provide live updates with news, weather, Facebook statuses, etc. on your home screen.

Google search is built right in. Tap the Google logo in the top left corner of your screen to perform a search. You can search the web or even files, contacts, and apps stored on your tablet.

Google's new People app integrates all your social networks (except Facebook) in one place. Here you can see updates from your friends along with their contact info, photos, tweets, etc. It's really handy.

Gmail got a very nice refresh too. It's a lot cleaner than the last version of Android. We still wish we could view inboxes from multiple accounts at once though.

Google's new Calendar is also a massive improvement over the last version. You can easily toggle between different calendars. On a tablet, it's really nice to see what your entire week looks like.

Google lets manufacturers tweak Android. Here you can see some customised settings for the Asus Transformer Prime.

What about Ice Cream Sandwich for phones?

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