34 Comments

Summary:

Android devices have long been known for their laggy touch experience. Has this changed with the latest Android flagship? Not quite. Here’s a video that uses a developer option to show the lag, as well as new technology that could minimize it in the future.

android-lag

Ever since Android phones debuted in 2008, people have talked about the touchscreen lag that seems inherent in Google’s mobile OS. Having tested dozens of Android phones and used Android for my personal use daily, I’ve seen the lag time and again. I’m actually used to it, else I wouldn’t be using Android every day. But how bad is it? In particular, does the latest Android flagship phone — Samsung’s Galaxy Nexus — offer a laggy experience.

The answer is yes; although I feel that the lag has been diminished a little. See for yourself in this video, where I enable the “show touch” developer option on my Galaxy Nexus.

The topic of Android lag crossed my radar back in December when Andrew Munn wrote a lengthy article explaining why the lag exists. Some of his technical reasons were debunked by Dianne Hackborn who works for Google as an Android Framework Engineer. Explanations aside, the issue does exist.

What might fix the problem in the future? I don’t know for sure, but I saw a promising demo at CES last week. During Nvidia’s press event, the company showed off its DirectTouch technology. This approach removes the touchscreen controller from a device and offloads the touch interpretation to a CPU core. There’s still lag, but it appears to be lessened even further as you can see here in the video demo.

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  1. Jordon Pepperall Thursday, January 19, 2012

    I enabled the show touch on mine and it doesn’t lag at all…

    1. ditto, as with every other ghost bug dreamed up by hack tech sites.

    2. You don’t notice it because you are used to it. Use an iPhone for a day and you will notice it and be dissatisfied.

      1. I used an iPhone for a year and I was dissatisfied.

  2. This lag was extremely noticeable in 2.n, and especially if it involved my photos on the micro SD card. That lag may have been due to the system loading all the info about my photos.

    With my Sensation 4G, I don’t experience that lag.

    Now if only the ‘back’ button on Music would go back to where I was in the music list of artists or songs instead of quitting the Music. If I select the List button, it goes back to the very start of the artist or song list. I have over 800 songs on my 16GB micro SD card, so scrolling through a list takes more time than it should.

  3. Thanks for the video evidence, but some of us have owned Android phones and we already know they’re a turd by comparison to the iPhone. You can pretty them up all you want but the underlying technology in Android is shaky at best.

    1. I have an iPhone 3GS that has really sucky lag since I “upgraded” it to OS5. (And it’s not a touchscreen issue; it’s a processing issue.)

      1. But Siri is awesome, isn’t it?

      2. Yeah, shocking lag on 3gs with IOS 5

  4. This is just silly…
    Press the screen at some random empty point and let go immediately. You see the circle appear and fade away after maybe 200-400 ms or so. What do you think will happen when you move around? The delay in DISPLAYING the circle is obviously intentional, as it allows you to visualize the path you would otherwise not be able to see as your finger would be blocking it from sight.

    To further prove my point, consider this: How in the world would a game like Fruit Ninja be even remotely playable if the actual touch event interpretation by the OS took anywhere near 200ms? Yet it plays just as well on my now-quite-old SGS as on the iPhone.

    Any reasonable person would deduce that it’s not an inherent issue of interpreting touch events, and consider alternative explanations for what you call a problem. First thing that comes to mind is that there is no problem – the speed in which the homescreen tracks your finger could be a matter of preference, and it might be designed to respond this way. There is even a rather logical explanation – this implementation suggests the use of swiping gestures, which are not meant to closely track your finger’s exact location but rather react to its velocity/acceleration. You are effectively trying to “cheat” the swiping mechanism and throw it off in an artificial manner that no user will actually do – what’s the point in swiping homescreens left and right almost faster than you can process what’s on each screen?

    I’m sorry, but you make an issue out of nothing, and do a rather poor job of testing it. The least you could do is try it out in different places around the OS – browser, contacts, app drawer, etc.
    This is not to say that there are/were no lag issues with Android – they just have nothing to do with the touchscreen or its interpretation by the OS.

    1. Appreciate the comments, Nadav. The same lag is shown when using the app drawer, browser, contacts, etc… but those are examples that folks can see for themselves, so I chose to use this semi-unique approach because most people can’t see it this way.

      The point of illustration was to show that on Android in general it doesn’t quite feel as though you’re interacting with elements on the screen; instead, you’re interacting with a touchscreen with the elements following. This wasn’t meant as a test, but an observation. Thx!

      1. Kevin, I work for Atmel, who supplies a lot of these touchscreen controllers (but not the one in the Galaxy Nexus). I can explain the “lag” issue more if you want, but basically DirectTouch won’t help.

        There are actually three aspects of touchscreen “responsiveness”: first touch latency, report rate, and movement filtering. DirectTouch only addresses the report rate…it doesn’t help with first touch latency or with movement filtering.

        The Galaxy Nexus in your video with the Melfas touchscreen controller is doing a lot of movement filtering, meaning that it averages the locations of several touch positions before actually reporting one position. This means that the more filtering you have, the greater the distance between the real position of the finger and the reported position. So let’s say the touch controller is set to average the last 4 positions before reporting 1 position, then the reported position will always be 4 positions behind the real finger.

        The only real way to solve this is by getting higher signal-to-noise ratio, which would reduce the need to filter as much.

        The other aspect, as I mentioned, is first touch latency. This is basically the delay from when your finger first touches the screen, to when the operating system does something with the touch report. Latency through the software stack has a huge role to play here. For example, touch controllers from Atmel (and even Cypress and Synaptics in some cases) have better first-touch latency than what’s in the iPhone or iPad. But delays accumulate as the message travels up the software stack. So from a hardware perspective both platforms are on equal footing…but from a software perspective, iOS has an edge.

        Hope this helps.

        1. Super helpful Sherif, thx!

      2. Honestly, I prefer it that way. I consider it to be a feature, similar to the “springy” nature felt on an iPhone when you drag something further than the screen will allow. Instead of instantly stopping, it allows you to drag it too far… then, it springs right back.

        From now on, I’ll just refer to this feature in the iPhone as lag to make sure I’m using the proper terminology.

    2. Agreed. Thanks for not being an apple fanboy and not going along with the droid bashing. What did I expect, when there’s a huge apple logo on the home page? I’ve had both and to be honest my samsung gs2 epic is a million times better than the iphone…. and I don’t need pretend friends to talk to (siri)

  5. The left-right swipe on Windows Phone was possible and could have been demonstrated. I think the swipe lag (or lack thereof) would measure up with or perform better than the iPhone 4S. The Android lag seemed more like a rubber-banding that may even be intentional in the UX. As another commenter mentioned, there’s no way that games would by playable with the lag being so evident.

  6. Kevin,I think you’ve missed the major point here. How much rubber-banding there is does bother some people. I’m not saying that Android could make it work just the same as other platforms using the same power for the touch screen. But the thing that _really_ bothers some people is when the screen goes out of sync with your finger. Go to a long web page; put your finger on a word and drag up or down. “Lag” for lots of people is when your finger isn’t on that same word anymore after a couple of swipes.

    1. Anon, I totally agree with the example you mention, i.e.: “Go to a long web page; put your finger on a word and drag up or down. “Lag” for lots of people is when your finger isn’t on that same word anymore after a couple of swipes.” I thought I was showing an illustration of that using the “show touch” button in lieu of the web browser (which does the same thing) but it sounds like I didn’t communicate it well. Thx!

      1. That’s a good test and a practical one. I sent this page to my tablet using Chrome to Phone (yet another example of why I love Android so much). And I tried that. And I do see the lag. It’s not a whole lot though, but I can see it bothering some people.

        Sold my iPhone so I don’t have it to check. Perhaps you can see how the iPhone behaves in this scenario.

      2. Reposting this because I’m not sure my first post went though:

        I think you should be aware Dianne Hackborn’s “refutation” of Andrew Munn was almost entirely a lie. Verrry late in the thread Jay Freeman (aka Saurik of Cydia fame) showed up and debunked almost all of her claims. Hackborn does the misdirection schtick quite a bit I’ve noticed.

        Many of Andrew Munn’s claims came straight from Romain Guy, an Android developer. The reality is Android was originally developed for Blackberry-type devices, and instead of rewriting Android to take advantage of touchscreens, Google slapped on a touch UI and rushed it to market in the wake of the iPhone’s domination. Its UI thread is at the same priority as apps.

        If you load up a lot of programs and take up memory, the lag will increase. Microstuttering (the bane of my coexistence with Android) will become more frequent, and entire pauses in the UI layer can be seen.

        Just try opening up theverge on a web browser, and watch as your screen freezes up while the heavy page loads. This is the reality of Android, and it will never go away.

        Google had an opportunity to fix it with 4.0, but they chose not to because it would break all current Android apps, which would need to be rewritten.

        In fact a properly responding OS isn’t difficult to make at all. Even Sony’s PS Vita’s horrific browser responds perfectly to human touch. The browser is terribly slow though, so what happens is you experience the “checkerbox” effect, minus the demarcations. It’s just one giant box- but the UI is perfectly smooth and tracks your touch without any delay.

  7. Indigo Montoya Friday, January 20, 2012

    If an attack is going to be made on an entire OS that oh by the way screamed ahead of the competition and is cornering the smartphone market, at least provide more varied results and in-depth testing. There are numerous reasons for lag on these devices, and that includes the iphone as well. Processor spead, RAM speed, amount of Ram, Ram utilization, Memory requirements, Memory utilization, etc. Some of it falls under the realm of the OS, but much of it also falls under the realm of the device manufacturer. All these things need to be weighed, and most users will max out their systems or use a ton of applications that slow down their system and then complain about lag. These things are just like any computer. If you maintain it correctly and clean things up periodically, you will see much better response. Take similar applications that exist across OS platforms, ensure that all types of devices are similarly weighed down by applications and settings, and then make comparisons involving speed and responsiveness. That will provide a better indication regarding what OS, device, etc. has more screen lag than the other. Ciao.

    1. The problem with your fantasy is that Android makes no money compared to iOS. Also the iPhone 4s is killing Android sales.

      1. I don’t know anybody who owns an iPhone anymore. They were all fed up with the constantly locking, crashing, bugs, incompatibility, terrible security, privacy issues, etc… Many were using them in a corporate environment because a few Apple fanatics insisted everyone get it, but these were quickly ditched for a Blackberry phone or Android phone or even in some minor cases a Windows phone because the iPhone is just terrible terrible terrible in a corporate environment.

        Although I credit the iPhone with finally giving people a hunger for smarter phones, it is going to go down in history as one of the worst individual phones to ever put a stain on the mobile industry.

        The only people who are still satisfied with their iPhones is people who don’t know any better, or just don’t want to know any better.

        I think the worst excuse for such an awful phone is to praise how much money Apple is milking out of their customers. Unless you’re a shareholder who profits directly from sales of iPhones, I’m not sure why you would hate consumers so much to praise how much a grotesque phone is bilking people for these days.

    2. He he….funny how fandroids react whenever someone dares to criticize their beloved OS…..the article doesn’t even mention the iPhone yet in typical fandroids fashion need to justify their purchase by dragging the iPhone into their mess….hilarious

  8. I just tried this with the Vibrant – a mid 2010 phone BTW, running ICS and on the transformer Prime – the most advanced tablet on the planet at the moment. And there is practically no lag at all on both these devices. I used to see the lag on the Vibrant before. A lot – with the stock Samsung Eclair ROM. Not anymore. Even in your demo, I can clearly see the lag on the Windows phone. But it’s not really that noticeable in either the Android or the iPhone. One other thing I’d like to suggest that you do is got to screens that don’t have widgets. If you are going to move back and forth like that on screens that have widgets they are being updated. Nobody actually would do that when using the phone so it’s okay. I tried it on two screens with just icons and there is zero lag on the phone.

    As far as the dot following the finger, I think it’s the wrong test to determine if the phone is lagging. As Nadav says that is most likely the desired behavior. How else are you going to see the dot during development if it’s hidden under the finger.

  9. Harry Quackenboss Saturday, January 21, 2012

    Kevin,

    There are many causes of lag, part of which can be fixed with improvements in the Android OS. Based on my experience with several modified versions of Android releases on my 2010-vintage AT&T-branded Samsung phone, there are modified versions of Android Froyo and Gingerbread which feature much smoother operation. Further, based on experience with a new custom image based on Android 4 (Ice Cream Sandwich), it will be a further improvement. Applications installed from Android Market are also a significant source of lag, and improvements to those are being made.

    I am not suggesting that a custom ROM image from the XDA Developers website is a solution for everybody. What I am saying is those images demonstrate it is fixable, and Ice Cream Sandwich-based systems, plus improvements to apps will make the lag disappear.

    1. Harry, I understand but the vast majority of Android handsets on the market don’t run custom ROMs. I’ve flashed dozens of them and have seen better performance but I don’t consider them a solution for mainstream consumers.

  10. Many Androids passed through my hands (10+ from 1.6 – 4.0) and I can say that it is always Android implementation problem and device manafacturer is responsible.

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