Tomorrow is Thanksgiving in the United States, which means a day full of hearty food, football and
beating that crazy difficult dungeon in Skyrim spending quality time with friends and family. Our team of writers and editors is taking the day off, so we figured we’d leave you with a festive bit of good cheer for your spirited consideration. (Technically we’ve got one UK correspondent, but we’re pretty sure he takes the opportunity to skive off and laugh at the colonials every November.) So, without further ado: five things we’re thankful for in the Android world, and one for which we definitely are not.
5. Android Tablets have finally made it
This time last year, if you wanted a Tablet that wasn’t an iPad, you choices were limited to the first-generation Galaxy Tab, the Nook Color, a handful of cheap-o Chinese no-name devices and uber-expensive Windows slates. Not to knock the Nook or the original G-Tab – they’re fine devices, for what they are. But just a year later you’ve got an incredible variety of choices as far as Android tablets go, from the slim upgrades to the Galaxy Tab series, to utilitarian do machines like the Asus Transformer and Lenovo’s Thinkpad Tablet, to wallet-friendly options like the Acer Iconia Tab A500. There are options to suit every form factor and budget, most of them running a real and surprisingly powerful tablet OS in Honeycomb. Soon enough we’ll be able to get our hands on quad-core Ice Cream Sandwich machines like the Transformer Prime. And if Android is behind in the tablet game, it’s only so it can get a running start, to the tune of 27% of sales last quarter – despite Apple’s best legal efforts.
4. Samsung Galaxy Nexus
You knew this one was going to make the list. Google’s Nexus line of phones stand apart from the madding crowd, but the Nexus S left many feeling somewhat empty, since it was largely a retread of the original Galaxy S. That’s not to say it was bad, but at less than twelve months after the Nexus One many felt it didn’t really justify a new purchase. Along comes the Galaxy Nexus, a dual-core monster running a brand new operating system with a ginormous 4.65-inch 720p Super AMOLED screen. Now that’s what I’m talking about. The Galaxy Nuxes is the new phone to beat, and while that shouldn’t take too long with phones like the Galaxy S III, Optimus LTE and HTC Edge lurking around the corner, the fact that Google and Samsung have raised the standard instead of merely reinforcing it is very promising. The only reason that the Galaxy Nexus isn’t higher on this list is that Google, Samsung and their international partners have made a mess of availability – see below.
3. Console-quality gaming
Now that Android is beating the brushed aluminum pants out of Apple in pretty much every major market, developers are beginning to sit up and take notice of the gaming possibilities of high-end mobile hardware. Shadowgun is the current posterboy for Android games, but there are a lot of equally polished experiences that simply wouldn’t be possible even a few months ago. Check out Nvidia’s demonstration of Riptide on the Transformer Prime, running Ice Cream Sandwich no less. The possibilities of the Tegra 3 are amazing, and it’s not the only quad-core system-on-a-chip in the market, either. The graphics that the next generation of tablets are pumping out is somewhere between the Wii and the Xbox 360 at the moment, and with no upper limit in sight. Who knows what will be possible in the next few months, and with more mainstream gaming companies like Sega and Namco taking an interest, we might just see some simultaneous PC, console and Android tablet releases in the near future. Even the pesky reality of touch input’s limitations isn’t really an issue any more, now that game controllers are getting native support. For something of a work-around for current-generation hardware, take a gander at OnLive.
2. Custom ROMs
This one isn’t really new, but there’s been so much exciting development in the world of Android custom ROMs that it would be a crime not to include it. The Android community supports most phones and tablets far longer than their manufacturers and carriers seem to want to, and often the software created by enthusiasts is more stable, useful and efficient than the “real” thing. CyanogenMod is still going strong with version 7, and an ICS update is on the horizon. Custom ROMs can breathe new life into limited or abandoned devices like the Nook Color and HP TouchPad, for those with the inclination and know-how to do so. Android literally wouldn’t be the same without a legion of dedicated hobbyists cranking out kernels, recoveries and ROMs for all our devices, and for that, we tip our buckled Pilgrim hats to all the hard-working devs out there.
1. Ice Cream Sandwich
As if there was any doubt. ICS gets the top spot in this rundown, because while the Galaxy Nexus is amazing, it’s just hardware. Ice Cream Sandwich represents an even brighter future for Android, integrating the smartphone and tablet user interfaces into one cohesive package. Even more important, it’s already open-sourced, a feature that was lamentably left out of Honeycomb until now. Literally anyone can put Ice Cream Sandwich to use for anything they want, and many already have, with dozens of custom ROMs appearing for existing hardware. Most high-end devices and some mid-range ones should receive official updates next year, and in the meantime you can try your hand with community-authored versions for your device. ICS’ open-source nature also means that all the non-Google sanctioned uses of Android have an amazing piece of software to start on – you can expect to see some interesting hardware at a variety of price points from vendors we don’t normally associate with Android. The idea of a free, ubiquitous platform that takes the mainstream by storm has been painfully out of reach to FOSS advocates for decades, but it seems to finally be fulfilled in Android, albeit with some important caveats. If Ice Cream Sandwich is a sign of things to come for Android and the mobile world as a whole, things are only looking up.
Early Grinch: Verizon’s bumbled Galaxy Nexus release
There’s really no two ways about it: Verizon has made a bigger mess of the U.S. Galaxy Nexus release than a toddler tearing into a bowl of cranberry sauce. When Google finally unveiled the phone over a month ago, a Verizon LTE version was promised for Google’s home country. The U.K. and other markets have the phone in their hands, while we sit staring forlornly at our deviled eggs, wondering when we’ll be able to – or even when an announcement of a date will come. So far Verizon hasn’t even shown a photo of the phone, with just a pathetically Spartan sign-up page to let customers know it’s coming some time in the nebulous future. Android enthusiasts have gone from frustrated to angry to furious, and still Verizon seems content to let rumor and speculation run wild. It’s a slap in the face from the company whose original DROID campaign helped put Android on the map.
It’s hard to imagine a good reason for Verizon to dawdle, unless you take the view that they just don’t want your money or your business. We don’t even have a concrete reason for the delay, if you can call it that – the popular wisdom is that Verizon would rather sell DROID RAZRs and HTC Rezounds filled to the brim with carrier branding, leaving the unbranded Nexus alone despite its superior software. Given Verizon’s poor handling of its very first Nexus device, and an exclusive at that, we can’t help but wonder if it’s worth the wait for the HSPA+ version for AT&T and T-Mobile customers who were considering a switch. Perhaps Verizon’s competitors will know how to treat their customers right.
Please drive safely when visiting your family on those icy winter roads. If you’re planning on going out to score some Black Friday bargains, remember to have fun and be civil. Happy Thanksgivings to our United States readers, and happy, uh, Thursday to everyone else.