(This flame bait bought to you in lieu of a real blog entry, due to exhaustion from traveling.)
Driven by Apple's persistent failure to lighten my wallet by announcing a 7" iPad, I recently acquired an Android tablet: a Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 (7-Inch, Wi-Fi), aka GT-P3113. What can I say? It's cheap, but it's not one of the nasty knock-offs. If the hardware ran iOS and had an Apple dock connector (or just plain ordinary micro-USB) I'd be singing its praises. As it is, it has rapidly become my preferred ebook reader, beating out the Kindle Fire (which was designed for that task). So you can take this as a lukewarm recommendation—if you want a jacket-pocket ebook reader that can do other stuff on the side, this one is quite classy.
But I have reservations about the bigger picture ...
Let's fast-forward through the pros first: the Samsung Galaxy S II 7" (such a classy name!) is decently designed hardware, has a good feel, and makes a better 7" ebook reader than the Kindle Fire—it's thinner and lighter, of roughly the same dimensions as the Kindle Keyboard, but comes with extras such as cameras, a microSDHC slot, bluetooth, and GPS. Samsung seem to know what they're doing when they stick to making machinery. Oh, and it runs Ice Cream Sandwich which, while not quite as slick as iOS right now, is a big improvement over earlier versions of Android. Also, yay, 50Gb of extra free storage on Dropbox for the next 12 months, until the bill comes due.
Cons: Alas, Samsung majored in the Microsoft OEM school of crapware vendors; they seem to think Sony are a good object of emulation in this respect. The Galaxy Tab II may run Android 4, aka Ice Cream Sandwich, but they just couldn't resist the temptation to slather it with embarrassing quantities of junk applications in a pathetically poor attempt to ape Apple's walled garden approach to providing tools. It's full of Samsung-only apps (chat to other Galaxy Tab users, mail via walled garden servers, share photos with other Samsung owners, and so on) that you can't delete. By my estimate they take up around 20-30% of the not-terribly-large internal 8Gb FLASH storage, and the app launcher they supply keeps trying to push them on you.
I can hide most of the junk so that it doesn't get in my face the whole time, but it's still occupying valuable storage: meanwhile, Android comes with the obvious Google apps. Why does Samsung insist on trying to steer users towards Samsung apps that duplicate their functionality but miss out key features that make them useful, like, oh, being able to share stuff with folks who don't own a Samsung device? (Don't answer that: it's because a high level marketing committee thought it would be a really good idea to try to sell web services to their customers that locked them into Samsung, not realizing that this is adding negative value to the product.)
Adding insult to injury, it's relatively hard to root the Galaxy Tab II. (I will freely confess to being a n00b with respect to both Android and Windows: doubtless if you're heavily into these platforms it's quite easy, but there's a bit of a learning curve if you don't routinely work with them.) Rooting—a necessity if one is to remove the crapware or replace it with a Cyanogenmod build—seems at present to require installing Android dev tools on a Windows machine and then using an arcane piece of debugging software. It's not outright impossible, but it's not inviting. (I'll try it later. If I don't return within three hours, send a search party ...)
To add to the fun, Samsung have some strange ideas about my willingness to buy into their hardware ecosystem. Apple's products use the now-familiar dock connector instead of regular micro-USB. This is annoying, but (a) you can buy a tiny dock connector to micro-USB dongle for about £5 if it irritates you sufficiently, and (b) there are lots of cheap third-party cables. Lots of third party kit out there uses the dock connector, which has been stable for about 8 years: the evidence is in the shape of all those alarm clock radios and speaker docks. Samsung, in contrast, invented a wholly new and incompatible dock connector for the Galaxy S II tablet. One that is not compatible with earlier Galaxy tablets released as recently as late 2010. The cable sells separately for $20 (so if you lose the cable for your tablet you're stiffed paying nearly 10% of the total price for a replacement wire to the wall wart).
What Apple have learned and Samsung appears to be in denial over is that having a decent peripheral ecosystem—both software and hardware—is what makes the tablet computing experience a happy one. By making it hard to hook the Galaxy Tab up to peripherals (see "rapidly changing proprietary connector" above) they've screwed the third party market, and by slapping poorly-performing junk all over the tab they've degraded the end user experience.
Editorial time: tablets are aimed squarely at people who don't use computers (except at work, managed by an IT department, to do business). Apple are trying to build out to a whole new market of people who never bought into the PC or Mac, dismissing computers as "too complicated". These people neither care about nor understand technical specifications. What they care about is aesthetics and convenience and price. Samsung's Android offerings compete well on price, but clunky aesthetics and walled-garden obstacles are not the way to build repeat business. Android is already so badly fragmented that it's hard for developers to work with (just look at the graphs of screen resolutions and sizes in that link if you want to see a user interface horror story in the making) and it's possible that Samsung think the only way to provide a consistent high quality experience is to build their own walled garden for their own machines. But in so doing, they're making it harder to leverage what value exists in the rest of the Android marketplace.
It's no wonder the Android tablet vendors are losing ground to Apple and that Google have bought a chunk of Motorola so they can issue their own tablet as an example of how it should be done; Android is showing all the signs of fragmentation that hit the Windows PC market, only much faster than Windows fragmented—and meanwhile, there's a monolithic, well-designed walled-garden rival that, while more expensive, delivers better value for the money.