Home Android The Android hardware truth Google won’t tell you

The Android hardware truth Google won’t tell you

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As the gatekeeper of Android, Google frequently finds itself in an awkward position. The company has its own platform-wide priorities and ways it wants its ecosystems to evolve, but it also has the goals of all the third-party manufacturers that create hardware for those virtual environments to consider.

And guess what? Google’s priorities and the desires of the companies making the bulk of the devices don’t always align. And that forces Google to do a delicate dance in order to push forward with its own plans without saying anything that’d go directly against a device-maker’s interests.

Well, it’s time to stop beating around the bush and just say what Google won’t openly acknowledge: You should not be buying an Android tablet in 2020. Period.

It’s a pretty hefty meatball to toss out there, I realize, and a funny thing to hear in a column about Android — but it’s something we’ve been building up to for quite a while now. And if you’ve been paying careful attention, it really shouldn’t come as that much of a surprise.

The reason behind it, in fact, is actually quite simple.

The Android tablet’s awkward arc

Before we get into the true trouble with Android tablets today, we need to briefly revisit their origins — because Android tablets really are an unusual category of devices with a complicated beginning, and that awkward start informs a lot of what’s happening now.

Back in the early days, y’see, Google didn’t have a great way for Android to exist in a “big-screen” form. (I put “big-screen” in quotes because the earliest Android tablets weren’t much bigger than our current Android phones. Hey, it’s all relative.) So in 2010, after Apple unveiled its first magical and revolutionary iPad, Android device-makers desperate to compete in the newly established arena rushed to cobble together their own half-baked answers.

Most prominently, Samsung spewed out its inaugural Galaxy Tab — a 7″ slate that ran Android 2.2, worked exactly like a phone, and even let you make and receive calls with your own SIM card in certain scenarios. So, yeah: It was more or less just a big phone.

Plain and simple, buying an Android tablet is setting yourself up for disappointment — when it comes to both performance and capability and when it comes to the critical areas of privacy, security, and ongoing software upkeep. So when people ask me which Android tablet they should buy, you know what I tell ’em nowadays? They shouldn’t buy one at all. If they want a Googley, Android-connected experience in a large-screen form, they should consider a decent convertible Chromebook instead.

The exception — and Chrome OS’s remaining weakness — is in the area of super-affordable, small-slate tablets. You can get a crappy Amazon-made Fire tablet for 50 bucks! And Chromebooks have yet to come around to address that demand. So if you’re looking for a dirt cheap video screen or, say, something for a child to use, the low-end Android tablets might still be your only real option.

When it comes to productivity and actual work-friendly devices, though — situations where the computing experience itself matters and where having an optimally secure, privacy-conscious, and performance-optimized environment is important — the common advice out there is increasingly misguided. The best Android tablet isn’t an Android tablet at all. It’s a Chromebook.

One last footnote to all of this: Remember that Pixel C we talked about a minute ago — the final Android tablet effort that Google put into the world? Signs suggest it was actually supposed to have run Chrome OS and that the software just wasn’t quite ready in time for its debut. It should have been the first Pixelbook, by all counts — the platform-defying device that steered us away from Android as the large-screen environment while still retaining its most worthwhile elements. But since the product was a touch ahead of its time, Google seemingly slapped Android on it instead and tossed it out as one last half-hearted hurrah.

That was almost certainly the moment when things began to shift, even if we didn’t fully realize it at the time. And at this point, despite the companies that keep pumping out Android-running slates and putting ’em on store shelves, the traditional Android tablet lives on mostly as a legacy holdout — and mostly for people who don’t realize that a better, more contemporary option exists.

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[Android Intelligence videos at Computerworld]

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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