It’s been a while since my TouchPad got a new operating system and occasionally switching back to WebOS feels absolutely weird now. But first, how it all started…
One of the reasons I was so happy to buy the HP TouchPad on fire sale was that I was sure sooner or later someone would come to its rescue and find a way to put Android on the tablet. But even when it actually happened, I was still happily using WebOS because it was still capable of providing me with all the functionality I needed. The browser could have been more versatile (it wouldn’t allow multiple tabs, for example), but even that did not upset me much.
Real problems began when new apps started to come out and old apps started to upgrade without taking WebOS into account. I needed to be able to run a number of apps for my localization work and this was not happening. The last straw was Skype not recognising my account. That’s when the whole idea of synergy began to fall apart. There were some bugs with e-mail synchronization as well. Plus, of course, the TouchPad had some problems with the sound (it would go funny and metallic every now and then), but I got used to ignoring them.
I briefly considered the possibility of selling my TouchPad (it would yield me up to £100) and maybe buying the iPad mini for £250 or so, but soon I found out I could solve the problem much cheaper if I had someone install Android on my tablet. That would cost about £15 on eBay, but would require posting the tablet, which didn’t look like an attractive idea. So I decided to find out whether Android could be installed without all this unnecessary hassle. In the end I found an article explaining how to install Android Ice Cream Sandwich on the TouchPad (there is another step-by-step article on WebOS Nation) and asked my husband for help…
For a while, it felt like watching your pet being operated on. But the process seemed pretty easy and straightforward and took no more than 10 minutes rather than the described half hour. A couple of worrying glimpses of Linux and – voila! – the Android guy began his acid journey into icy eternity:
For the first few days I was almost sleeping with this tablet by my side. In fact, I am still using it much more than in the past. The tablet is still loaded with WebOS and I can boot into it if I want to, although there is seldom such need.
The main benefits of switching to Android:
1. There is plenty of free space (by my standards anyway) and Android treats the space dedicated for media and other data as a memory card. The media from WebOS (for example, screen captures) is still easily accessible.
2. The sound bug mentioned above seems to have gone. Only once Android scared me with some awful loud sound, but, thank god, this never happened again.
3. Needless to say, there are tons of free and popular apps on Google Play. That’s where WebOS loses hands down. Google Play identified my device as “Unknown Tenderloin” and installs apps onto it just as it installs them on my phone, that is, remotely, if necessary. Most developers still focus primarily on iOS, of course, so Android apps sometimes come out a bit later and may have simplified functionality, but this is nowhere near the sad situation with the HP App Catalog.
4. Android supports multiple languages. Yay!! The procedure of switching between them is not as smart and neat as on Galaxy phones where you can use the space key to switch, but it still is very handy (and works through a small keyboard icon at the bottom bar). WebOS, as far as I remember, did not allow switching languages at all. In fact, it would also lock you into your region so tightly that your version of the App Catalog would depend on the country of residence you chose during registration. The Kindle app is a good example: it was available in the US, but not the UK.
5. The standard Android browser is much more convenient and versatile than the WebOS one.
6. Now I can use Skype for sending text messages as well as for chatting (which was the only option available on the TouchPad). By the way, Skype has two modes, tablet and smartphone. The smartphone mode is better because it is portrait. The tablet mode appears to support landscape mode only.
7. Android makes a more productive use of space on the home screen (also boosted by the use of widgets). Things are not cluttered, they are just more tightly packed. After Android’s multiple home screens, the WebOS home screen design looks a bit sparse and it seems that the bottom panel could have more than just 5 icons on it. It could be a matter of taste though.
8. Android gives its users more control over settings. WebOS appears to be more rigid and restrictive. Although the way all my apps were restored from the account on one occasion was really cool. I hope Android does the same.
9. Android appears to be more powerful as a system in general. WebOS is much bulkier and used to get easily overloaded with tasks and slow down and crash.
Some disadvantages and problems:
1. No access to the camera in the Android mode. This is a well-known problem and I think it was solved in later versions of the mod, but the camera was pretty useless anyway, so I am in no hurry to turn my tablet into a guinea pig and re-install the operating system.
2. The tablet had severe Wi-Fi problems at first. It would lose connection every 10-15 minutes, which had to be fixed by switching Wi-Fi off and then after a while on again. Finally, we fixed it by lowering the Wi-Fi channel number on our router, which turned out to be a much better solution and my connection has remained stable ever since.
3. When you rotate the tablet into the landscape mode, some app icons from the home screen just disappear and cannot be found even on the next screen. I don’t know where they go. :)
4. I still miss WebOS synergy to some extent. It was a brilliant idea (bringing multiple sources of information, such as e-mail accounts, into single apps). But Android is still good. I gave Evernote another try (after it failed to sync a couple of times in the past and I lost some notes) and it has been tremendously helpful so far.
5. I certainly miss proper multitasking. It was somewhat unusual at first that the Home button would close an app rather than suspend it so that I could switch to another one. Android kind of has a workaround for this problem: it allows you to switch between the most recent apps. It is almost as good as multitasking. In fact, it can open far more browser tabs without crashing than the TouchPad could ever dream of.
6. WebOS offers a great way of checking your new e-mails: you can just swipe through them in the notification bar at the top of the screen. Android just shows how many new e-mails you’ve got (or it will show you the sender and the subject if you have only one new e-mail). WebOS is much cleverer and neater in this e-mail notification business.
7. The Facebook app on WebOS is what Facebook should be like, apart from the inconvenient status field. Friends, birthdays, messages – everything is logically organised there. The Android app does look cute, yes, but just like on the Facebook site, things appear to be structured randomly.
8. Can’t get used to the Android calendar. The WebOS version is so muck slicker and nicer that, compared to it, Google Calendar looks really dull. Although just changing colours and losing all that boring greyness would help a lot.
9. The WebOS keyboard is also much more attractive. It is hard to judge which keyboard is more practical though. Android gives you access to settings, which is good. But WebOS managed to pack loads of characters into its keys through the tap-and-hold gesture.
10. Overall, I prefer the neat WebOS version of the upper notification panel, but the Android panel (which is at the bottom) is not too bad. Android ICS is just more rectangular in general.
Although the pros of switching to Android happened to be slightly outnumbered by the cons, they definitely outweigh them in practice. And anyway I am sure I did not enumerate everything, just scratched the surface. I do get a sense of nostalgia for WebOS and its slick look, but I suppose it’s easy to sigh with nostalgia when you know you can reboot into Android and enjoy its productivity, speed, and multiple apps. I will say a banal thing, but Android indeed gave my tablet a new life.