How To Create Personalized Dashboards With Android Tablet Widgets

Android, unlike iOS, can display on home screens widgets that update live data. The Evernote, Google Voice, Twitter, and Facebook widgets can tell you a lot without you ever having to touch the screen.

There are three main ways to get widgets. Some Android apps include their own widget, which is installed when you install the app. In addition to this widget, some apps also can work with a secondary complementary widget that you have to install separately. The Evernote app is probably the best known example of this. Although the app itself comes with a widget, there is a better one, the free Evernote Widget (below), which provides additional configuration options. Finally, there are standalone widgets that function without an app. These simple widgets provide a single function, such as a clock, or the tablet's battery level.

The free but separately installed Evernote Widget gives you more customization options than the widget that comes with the Evernote app.

The Evernote Widget gives you quick access to a lot of Evernote functions.

Some widgets are resizable. To reveal the resizing tool, just tap and hold the title bar at the top of the widget.

Some widgets can be resized and moved live.

Widget space, speed, and stability
There are a few issues you should keep in mind when setting up widgets. The most obvious one: you might not be able to pack as many widgets on a single home screen as you might like. This is because of two Google design choices: relatively large borders on each home screen where widgets cannot be placed, and padding in the widget itself. These two design requirements lead to a relatively large amount of unusable white space on each home screen.

A second issue is that widgets are service hogs. You might see extremely slow or even failed widget information refreshes on a 3G wireless data connection. The screenshot below illustrates problems I had while using AT&T 3G service via an iPhone 4 tethering service. Two of the news apps needed several minutes to display. AT&T was delivering a reasonable 1 Mbps downstream speed at the time.

Widgets can use more battery life than you might think. Weather widgets are notorious for this, as they frequently turn on and use GPS location services to give you local conditions. The battery and data consumption problems are also endemic on phones; if you have a problem with excessive battery or bandwidth drain, widgets are a good first avenue of investigation.

Finally, lots of widgets can make the OS unstable. My casual observation: each widget added to a home screen increases the likelihood that apps, widgets, or Android components such as the window manager will crash.

Widgets that are buggy or draw a lot of data from the Internet can take a while to load and affect system performance.

Despite these issues, it's well worth the time and effort to experiment with widgets on your Android tablet. They're convenient and can increase your productivity. Just don't go widget-happy. Find the right balance between your needs and resources, and you and widgets should get along just fine.