May 20, 2011, 6:20 PM — Google's long-awaited Android 3.1 update is slowly rolling out over-the-air to the Motorola Xoom, the first of the Honeycomb-based tablets to get the update. The non-3G Xoom on my desk finally got its update, and I got a chance to finally get some up-close time with the OS.
The update is a feast for the eyes, literally, since it corrects one major issue--the image rendering snafu in the Gallery app--and provides the flexibility of resizable widgets. However, in spite of the many niceties integrated into the front face of Android 3.1, I'd consider this update just a baby step towards fixing a wider swath of rough spots in Android Honeycomb.
Fixed: Image Rendering
Interestingly enough, the Android 3.1 developer revision notes don't appear to specify anything about fixing the image rendering problem. It's a problem I've written about multiple times before, simply because it was so confounding and unexpected to find in such a basic, core app. And because, frankly, Android 2.2-based tablets had no issues; who'd have expected Google to mess up something it was already getting right?
Of course, I had another reason for noticing the issue--and wanting it fixed. As a photographer, I can foresee a world in which a tablet can be a handy and unobtrusive tool in the field for spot-checking exposures and sharpness. Mind you, this can only be done if the image is being rendered properly--and the Gallery app struggled to do just that pre-3.1 update.
With the 3.1 update in place, I checked the same images on 3.1 and on 3.0. The difference was striking, to the point that colleagues even questioned whether it really was the same image. My high-resolution shots (photographed on a Canon 1D Mark III) looked crisp and sharp, and displayed terrific detail on the Xoom's 1280 by 800 pixel screen. I'd go so far as to say it displayed better detail than the lower-resolution Apple's iPad 2. The iPad 2 appears to be better at color reproduction than the Xoom, although this seems to be thanks to the iPad's display, not how Android or iOS render images. I say this simply because the screen grabs of the Motorola Xoom's image gallery, seen below, both exhibited better colors on an Apple iMac display than they did on the Xoom itself.
New: Resizable Widgets