A couple of weeks ago, I described my recent purchase of a Google Play Edition of the LG G Pad 8.3, an Android-based mini-tablet. While there a number of reasons I went with that particular device, it turns out that the Google Play version of Android can't take advantage of the device's microSD storage expansion. That's unacceptable, so after reviewing my options I returned it. And I opted for the normal, non-Google Play version of the tablet instead.
It arrived yesterday, on Saturday. So while I can't claim to have really taken it around the block per se, but that's OK. This isn't a review. Instead, it's a quick look at the differences between the normal and Google Play Editions of the device.
To recap, I generally prefer the Google Play/Nexus versions of Android devices because they come with a clean version of the OS that is unencumbered by what I feel are often unnecessary user experience add-ons. That said, I also understand that it is these often heavily-modified Android devices that, in fact, sell the best. So I'll be reviewing Samsung's next smart phone as I wrote in Samsung Galaxy S5 Preview. And this new LG device at least gives me an opportunity to see what the company is doing to bastardize Android too.
With the LG G Pad 8.3 specifically, there are a few things I really like about this device in general. (You can read more in my LG G Pad 8.3 Google Play Edition article.) It has a gorgeous 8.3-inch screen, which I think is ideal for a device I'll use primarily for reading (and for watching rented movies while traveling.) And it has that microSD expansion slot, which is important because this device can only be had in a 16 GB configuration. (I'd get a 32 GB version if I could.)
But as I quickly discovered, the Google Play version of Android will not recognize microSD expansion. You can't use it at all unless you "root" the device. I have nothing against that per se, but I also like to balance my own technology usage between my needs and the needs of the people who will generally be using the product and question. And, sorry, but "rooting" an Android device just doesn't fall onto the standard usage side of the fence. I'm not interested.
In researching my options, I of course began to consider the non-Google Play (i.e. "normal," stock) version of the LG G Pad 8.3. It's generally available for a bit less than the Google Play version, so I'd save a bit of money. But I'd have to put up with LG's many modifications to Android. Based on what I'd read and some feedback from readers, I figured what the heck. So I ordered one. And Google accepted my return of the original device.
Two ships in the night: The "normal" LG G Pad 8.3 (left) and the Google Play Edition (right)
Here's what I can tell you. LG really does go to town on Android, as I'd feared. But you can whittle down the home screen experience so that it's pretty much stock Android, as I want. So that's fine.
LG modifies the color scheme and uses an aqua accent color on everything that I don't really like. You can change it, can in fact download themes for the desktop and keyboard, but I probably won't bother. It modifies the stock Android controls, which I don't like, but can live with. It modifies the keyboard, which ... surprise. I really like a lot. Not everything they do is wrong.
The LG doesn't come with the latest version of Android. This type of thing is often highlighted as a major issue for Android devices, but I don't honestly think it's a big deal. Certainly, it doesn't impact my usage in the slightest. Whatever.
LG bundles a bunch of applications on their device. Some are actually pretty useful and some laughably bad. There are ways to multitask—too many, actually—including the ability to float certain apps over another app so you can do two things at once. There are copious on-screen help dialogs that get old quickly. But there is also a decent Video app that can play content from the device, from the SD card, or from PCs on my home network. You can use this app to copy videos from those PCs to the device, and use a File Manager application to move them from internal storage to the microSD. Excellent.
(Yes, you can of course also physically connect the device to your PC via USB and copy files that way.)
I've been dealing with the PC industry for so long that I can immediately grok why hardware makers love Android. With Windows, they can modify only a certain, limited range of things, and one might now view the crapware phenomenon in a new light: This is like the hardware makers lashing out against Microsoft because they can't modify Windows more and make it theirs. With Android, these companies can no nuts. It's clear that they love doing so.
The results are mixed, of course. But even more so than on a PC, the messiness is a byproduct of the platform's versatility. And with this device in particular, I can see the tradeoff very clearly. Yes, it's a bit of a mess than a stock Google Play/Nexus device. But you can also do so much more with it.
In this sense, I think it's clear why Windows people (i.e. the majority of the PC market) have in general moved towards Android while Mac types have moved to iPhone/iPad. These mobile platforms mirror the strengths and weaknesses of their predecessors. They are, in other words, familiar. But they're also what those people are looking for.
Anyway. I've loaded up the LG with my Kindle content, a few rented movies and, on the SD card, a bunch of my own videos. This is what I want, what I'm familiar with, and while I wish the UI were cleaner, I can live with it. Much like I've been living with the PC maker-instilled mess of the PC world for all these years.