Now that we’ve had a chance to put CM9 Alpha 2 through its paces on our 32GB Touchpad, we figured it was time we put up our impressions.
I’m not going to lie to you, Marge: we absolutely adore the tablet version of WebOS. It’s simple, stable, easy to modify, and has the best multi-tasking in the business. Still, we’re not ones to shy away from the latest and greatest, and now that CM9 for the Touchpad has reached a fairly stable point (from a usability perspective, not a version numbering perspective), we decided to load it up and check it out.
Overall, performance was a little sloppy upon first use, but then again, so was vanilla WebOS. After cranking up the clockspeed to 1.4 GHz in ICS, everything began running smoothly. Scrolling through homepages produced nary a hiccup, and browsing the internet using ICS’ built-in browser was an absolute joy. Animations, scrolling, and fading all performed almost flawlessly. In fact, the only slowdown we encountered came when we opened up the app list, with a slight stutter present when switching between pages. Aside from that, however, general use performance was excellent.
I’m not sure if it’s due to the way ICS draws on-screen elements vs. WebOS, if it’s just our imagination, or whatever else could cause it, but I swear that ICS makes the Touchpad’s screen look noticeably better when compared to WebOS. Everything looks sharper, colors look deeper, and text is easier to read (with the exception of the Kindle app…more on that in a bit.) I always appreciated the Touchpad’s screen, but with ICS, I can say that I’m genuinely impressed with it.
I’d also like to point out that, even though we absolutely ADORE the layout of WebOS’ keyboard, its sensitivity and performance has always been a bit lacking. The stock ICS keyboard, however, performed flawlessly: no matter how fast we typed, every tap was registered, and we found ourselves making less mistakes. We’re not sure if this is due to the keyboard itself or the touchscreen drivers, but either way, the keyboard in ICS is far and away more accurate than the keyboard used in WebOS.
Gaming performance was equally impressive. We tried a variety of games, including Shogun, Game Dev Story, Dead Space, and SNES ROMS (and yes, we own the original carts!) Everything was silky smooth, and performed absolutely perfectly. Shogun in particular looked impressive, especially when compared to my little Droid Incredible 2, and even something as taxing as Dead Space ran almost flawlessly. For the emulator, we used SuperGNES, which ran everything we threw at it smoothly.
The upscaling on games designed for Android phones was very impressive, easily matching (and in some cases exceeding) what you’ll find on iOS. Of the two options ICS provides in terms of upscaling (stretching to fit, or zooming to fit), we found that stretching to fit was generally the better option. Although you normally wouldn’t want to skew the aspect ratio of a game, the upscaling seemed much sharper when it was stretched rather than zoomed, so we went with it.
From a performance standpoint, the Kindle app was great as well. We were able to download the app from the Market without any problems, and all of our books showed up just as expected. We also tested out the Android app’s recent acquisition of the “personal documents” feature, which worked just as expected. After sending a document to our Kindle email address (we used the transcripts from the first day of the Healthcare Mandate discussion in the Supreme Court), it showed up in our Kindle archives right next to all of our other books. One tap and ten seconds later, we were reading it. I’d like to see an option allowing you to change the cover image from within the Kindle app, but that’s an app-specific complaint, rather than an ICS-on-Touchpad complaint.
As far as text in the Kindle app is concerned, I believe the readability discrepancy we mentioned earlier is due to underlying differences between the WebOS and Android versions. Simply put, I prefer the WebOS version of the Kindle app, despite it being out of date and not supporting personal documents. Book covers on the WebOS version look MUCH better, pages can be displayed one or two at a time, and the text appears sharper. Don’t get me wrong, the Android Kindle app is still great on the Touchpad, but this is one instance where we prefer the WebOS version. Funny, considering the WebOS version is stuck in “beta” status.
One of the main reasons why we wanted to check out ICS was to gain Netflix support, which we’ve used numerous times in bed. The Android tablet interface is clean and easy to navigate, providing plenty of viewing options beyond what’s already available in our queue. Video started streaming almost instantly, and reached its maximum quality within 5-15 seconds. Sound quality was also consistent throughout the experience, and the Touchpad’s decent built-in speakers were more than adequate for bedside viewing. Subtitles also worked perfectly, and thanks to the Touchpad’s native 4:3 resolution, the subtitles tended to stay beneath the actual video. Who says having black bars is always a bad thing?
Here’s one area where WebOS trounces ICS. When booted into WebOS, we would consistently get around 6-7 hours of video time, and roughly 11 hours of reading time in the Kindle app. We could also get almost an entire week worth of standby time, if the battery was charged to a full 100%. With ICS, however, we’ve been getting around 4 hours of video time, and roughly 7 hours of reading time. We haven’t had CM9 installed long enough to test a 100%-0% standby, however we noticed a roughly 18% drop per 24 hours in battery life. While this is far from horrible, it’s not quite up to the standard of WebOS’ power consumption. Then again, CM9 is still in Alpha, so battery use will likely improve as the beta and subsequent full version of CM9 is released.
Despite CM9 still being in Alpha, it’s more than stable enough for us to use on a daily basis. Gaming, reading, video, browsing…it all works great, and has really opened up the capabilities of our Touchpad. If you’ve got one, and don’t mind getting your hands a little dirty, we highly recommend taking the plunge.