Widgets and MiniApps (cont.)

All of the skins we can expect to see on Honeycomb will include widgets that offer added functionality - or rather, that’s what they intend to do. The concern is that the performance penalty for running these applications can be worse than the value they add. The interesting thing is that with sales of Honeycomb tablets less than startling, app developers haven’t exactly filled the app store with high quality tablet optimized apps the likes of which populate millions of iPads. So, there’s an opportunity for manufacturer’s to fill that void with their own stylized apps. So, how did Samsung do with Live Panels?

The most dominant Live Panel is Social Hub, a messaging and social media aggregator, think TweetDeck but without the power functions. Once you’ve added your accounts the widget populates with your friends latest posts, and allows a field for you to post, as well as the ability to reply to or repost friend’s posts. This widget, and all the Samsung widgets, are resizable, so you can fit them to whatever space is most convenient. And the main application also allows you to read and send direct messages from linked social media accounts. And there-in lies the potential rub. This, and each of the other widgets, is running the full application and feeding the widgets with data. We’ll cover the rest of the widgets briefly but I just want to touch on what this means for performance. 

This screen shot shows the RAM use with a freshly booted Tab; the only open applications are the ones operating the widgets. Clicking the ‘Clear memory’ button kills 20 applications and frees up ~80MB of RAM . . . and stops updating the widgets. Having more than half your RAM filled at boot is less than ideal. And though Google’s memory management is capable of shuttling inactive apps out of RAM whenever the space is needed, the footprint of these widgets will persist because whenever you go to one of your home screens all of the apps will reopen in the background so they can populate the widgets. 
Ok, so what of the rest of the Live Panels? The weather app is fed by AccuWeather.com, and provides visuals not quite so bold as HTC’s Sense, but not unattractive or useless. A basic clock provides quick access to the alarm function, and a gallery widget cycles through previously selected pictures. A calendar widget provides your day’s schedule and an e-mail widget provides access to inboxes you’ve configured in the Honeycomb e-mail app, but not the Gmail app. Utility, isn’t bad amongst all of these, and the novelty of being able to resize each can enhance that utility in some instances. But there is a performance penalty, particularly when a widget laden home screen reloads, either after switching from an app or from a different home screen. The slow down isn’t egregious and it’s not much different from what we had seen on other Android tablets, but given that Samsung’s slate was the closest to the iPad’s smoothness the sudden juddery behavior was surprising. But there’s good news, you can turn the widgets off. 


Find my Mac- er, Mobile

Samsung is also launching a device recovery service, courtesy of their Samsung Dive website. Users create an account with the service, and then register their device through the settings menu. Once registered users can locate, track, lock and remotely wipe and ring their device. This service is premiering on the 10.1 but will be available on future Samsung handsets and tablets. 


Content is King

It’s no longer good enough to provide hardware and software, users want to consume content so manufacturers have to provide. Samsung will be stepping into the breach and introducing their own content services, Music Hub and Media Hub. Their Music Hub service is familiar to us from their handset TouchWiz implementation and is powered by 7digital. The service and corresponding software won’t likely disturb Apple’s nor Amazon’s place in digital music sales but provides a good selection of popular music and tolerable user interface. 

The new piece is Media Hub, a digital storefront for video content. The software is smooth and finding content is a relatively painless process. Content partners include the broadcast networks along with many cable networks and a decent selection of recent movies. Samsung stated that HD and SD content would be available through the service, though either the HD component was not yet live, or there seems to be no way to know whether the item you’ve selected is in HD or SD. The content we previewed looks good on the 10.1’s vivid screen, though all of it was SD, so blockiness was prevalent. 
Overview Enterprise and Conclusion
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  • fforblack - Monday, August 8, 2011 - link

    you think iOS is very ugly? Have you seen the devices called honeycomb tablets? Just because an operating system doesn't have widgets doesn't mean its winnows 98. No one is going to be staring at widgets all day after they buy a tablet. People want applications. People want something that's fast and responsive. People want something that's pretty. That's what the iPad offers. Animations? Have you ever used an iOS device? I feel like you don't even understand what you are saying. If anything acts like old software, go and study Android's operating system. Study the methods it uses for rendering. Study how it was rushed out for mass release. Personally, I think that for how it was rushed, google did a very good job. But that didn't stop it from being laggy and slow, not to mention the broken UI. I understand you like android, but don't without valid points, criticise an OS you haven't experienced because of a bias you have.
  • kc77 - Friday, August 5, 2011 - link

    I'm still trying to figure out about when this sluggishness is supposed to occur. I've got the 10.1 and at no time am I locked waiting for the tablet to perform. Same goes for forced closes. From the core apps.... sorry it just doesn't happen.
  • JasonInofuentes - Friday, August 5, 2011 - link

    I'm glad you've had a flawless experience with the 10.1, and there's a reason we generally recommend it over other tablets. Samsung spent a lot of time trying to refine the experience so that there was less of the sluggishness and bugginess seen on other Honeycomb tablets. Our review sample has been a joy to use, both before and after the update. But we have experienced FC's and sluggish behavior. For me the most consistent FC was when deleting lots of e-mails in the Gmail app, thankfully that behavior's gone since the update. If you manage to get through the year without an FC or ever feeling like your device is sluggish, please send it our way for a teardown and some analysis. We'd love to see how they managed to cram a horseshoe in there.

  • fforblack - Monday, August 8, 2011 - link

  • kc77 - Sunday, August 14, 2011 - link

    Thank you for taking the time to include more information within your comment to me than the actual review itself. It's nice touch that I'm sure we can expect in the future.

    "I'm glad you've had a flawless experience with the 10.1, and there's a reason we generally recommend it over other tablets."

    Did I say it was flawless? Nope but it surely isn't the buggy sluggish nightmare you're trying to make this product out to be. Most of the issues with Honeycomb tablets have been around 3.0 not so much with 3.1.

    "Our review sample has been a joy to use, both before and after the update."

    Hmm really? I couldn't tell from your review. Maybe it needed more words.

    "For me the most consistent FC was when deleting lots of e-mails in the Gmail app, thankfully that behavior's gone since the update. "

    So that would be FC's within a specific application. Don't you think a review should have actually mentioned WHAT application it was? Since the OS is pretty good at telling you what crashed it would have been nice to know. Rather than saying a general statement on page 1 making it sound like it applies to everything, while not really mentioning it on page 2. On that page you've recognized that lots of apps running = sluggishness. Thanks for putting that epiphany to text.

    "If you manage to get through the year without an FC or ever feeling like your device is sluggish, please send it our way for a teardown and some analysis. We'd love to see how they managed to cram a horseshoe in there."

    Now why would I give you my unit when you can't bother to be more specific within a review with the hardware you have? That's a end user problem, and not so much a hardware problem. If you spent a little less time FUD'ing the article and a little more being specific as to what exact applications caused problems I'm sure sending you my unit wouldn't even be necessary.

    But thank you for responding and thank you for your hard work. It's been lovely seeing additional detail here that didn't make it in the three pages of the review. It's been eye opening.

  • MrSewerPickle - Friday, August 5, 2011 - link

    Just my two cents but I wouldnt describe the media hub apps UI as just "tolerable". In fact in my opinion its one of the smoothest, most qualiity media applications avaliable on Android right now. Was the author frustrated about having to write a review on TouchWiz? I know how I can be when asked to work on something that I could honestly care less about.....
  • JasonInofuentes - Friday, August 5, 2011 - link

    I'll be honest, the low bar for me in terms of the media software UI is iTunes and the peak is a searchable file system. Is this smooth and well organized? Yes. Is it comprehensive? As much as any of the others out there. But here's what I want? I want to type Battlestar Galactica into the search bar of a media software and get a list of options that includes the reborn series, the original series, the spin-off from the reborn series, the special features vignettes from the respective DVDs and at least three similar or otherwise related series. Yeah, I want to watch TV the same way that I search the web.

    So, was I frustrated about writing a review of TouchWiz? I have been reading technology websites for almost fifteen years and dreaming about writing for them for as long. I love new toys, I love software updates and I managed to produce over 1500 words over several hours about this one, a decent chunk more than the competition.

    That said, I'll kick this around and see if anyone else wants to give this a try. In the meanwhile, please send me your thoughts on what makes Media Hub better than the alternatives. Thanks.
  • MrSewerPickle - Saturday, August 6, 2011 - link

    That is indeed a good point on content searching and aggregation and I do agree that most media applications do not contain the best of both worlds like having a very well done UI and excellent functional features.

    In actually and getting to my real disappointment with the review: Anandtech is quite possibly one of the last few truely untarnished tech websites. Not by reviewers opinions on this OS or that smartphone but by major sponsor manipulations. The articles written and read here at exceptionally well done and always cover a "different" aspect of a product.

    I would have very much liked to have seen an "Anandtech Review" of TouchWiz. One that covered what the overall performance increase/decrease was in regards to TouchWiz. One that included detailed and helpful benchmarks this site is known for in addition to the feature rundown that other sites covered.

    Its not about word count or length, its about being what makes AnandTech the best.

    Thank you for your initial response and to all of the authors responses to thr readers. It is yet another reason why Anandtech isnt just another Tech website unsuccessfully hidding their profit driven media conglomerate parent company.
  • JasonInofuentes - Saturday, August 6, 2011 - link

    Ok, well if it's data that you want, here you go.

    % delta of benchmarkable performance pre/post TouchWiz: 0.00%

    Believe me, I checked. If TouchWiz had any data driven performance deltas to report, we would have. We haven't, because there weren't any.

    I'm new to Anandtech, and this was my first chance to actually review something. In the two days that I had the update I played with every widget I could find and tried to cram as much of it into a reasonably easy to read piece as possible. Here's what I've learned: you can't please everyone. I hope we win you with the next one, and that you keep coming back for the one after that.
  • GTVic - Friday, August 5, 2011 - link

    I saw a smart phone commercial today that showed how I could use my smart phone while at a beach to tell me when it's going to rain. Then I could run and take shelter inside a giant Bell sign and the phone would tell me when it would turn sunny again so I could go back to the beach.

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