I finally bought myself a cheap Android tablet. My experience so far has pretty much confirmed my expectations: it is a great device (and class of device) for consuming media on, but not for working or creating. It is also locked down and inflexible. While its inflexibility is supposed to be part of its appealing simplicity, I find it actually undermines it, especially when things go wrong.
I do like being able to read an e-book, or surf the web in bed. Its a note-taker that I can tuck under my arm (and I do prefer electronics to paper).
What I bought was a fairly cheap Storage Options Scroll. I installed by favourite ebook reader (FBReader). It worked fine but reads fewer formats than the Linux version. Oh well, I was planning to install Calibre on my laptop anyway, so I would just convert everything to epub. As an ebook reader, it largely works fine. There is also a Kindle app if you like DRM.
It came with Adobe Acrobat PDF reader which was, as always, pretty useless. After trying several other PDF readers I found none that both worked smoothly and had what I would consider basic functionality (like jumping to a page, and search) was impossible, so I just went back to a more recent version of Acrobat. It provides a poor user experience compared to Evince or (even more) Okular.
It also took me a while to find a web browser I was reasonably happy with (Mirren).
I still have problems. It usually claims to connect to my wifi at 48Mpbs, but it will not transfer a file at much more than about 24kBps, more than 200 times slower. I I had a problem like this on my Linux laptop, a bit of Googling and going through settings would probably sort it out. On the tablet I have little information and few settings to play with.
For all that, I would now hate to do without it. It is a bit sluggish, but Cyanogen Mod should soon be available which will help with that, and allow me to use software I already use on my laptop to sync between then — with the sync being controlled from the nicer user interface on the laptop (using the utterly brilliant rsync and Grsync).
The display is not as good as on more expensive tablets, but at this price I am not complaining. It not good in really bright daylight, even if not direct – but the only time I really unusable was on a rooftop in the afternoon, on a clear day, in the tropics, in June.
The lack of a keyboard means you cannot DO anything. I would prefer my laptop to write anything more than a single sentence (so the tablet would be OK for tweeting, although I have not tried it yet). My work stays on my laptop — but that also means that I can cut myself off from work when on the tablet.
Its also useful to have a web browser on something I can easily carry around. It is much more convenient to take it to the kitchen than to print a recipe off the web. I can type in notes on it. I can carry around several books (potentially thousands) in one hand.
It does what I wanted when I paid for it, so I am not complaining, but its not what I really want either.
For the moment, its limited functionality is sufficient to justify its limited cost. Installing Cyanogen should extend its useful life, but I would find it far more useful if I could install a proper operating system and use cut down desktop, rather than pumped up phone, software. Even Google themselves make a better OS than Android.