Like many this week, I decided to check out the new Motorola Xoom tablet running the Honeycomb release of Android.  I have been conflicted as to whether I really “need” a tablet when I already have a Android smartphone, and a laptop to use on the go.   Needless to say I was curious how a tablet fits into my digital life, so I am giving it a whirl over the next 2 weeks to determine if indeed a tablet is worthwhile.   I’ll create a follow up post on what I think of the Motorola Xoom tablet and of Android Honeycomb at that point in time.

Motorola Xoom Android Tablet Honeycomb Desktop
Desktop of Motorola Xoom Android Tablet running Honeycomb

One of my first gripes with the Xoom,  but which is more likely Android itself, is the lack of native HTTP proxy support on the device.   When attempting to use the Xoom in an intranet scenario at an enterprise, or a college/university,  there is no way to configure a HTTP web proxy to allow you to gain access to the internet.

Why do I need an HTTP proxy?

When on an isolated network such as at work or at school,  you do not have a direct connection to the internet for security reasons.  You connect to an intermediate device for HTTP access which then proxies your connection to the internet.   Without the ability to specify a proxy, you have no way to connect to the public internet while on the internal secured network.  Unless you have the 3G/4G (LTE when updated) plan,  you’re only access to the internet would be by specifying a proxy server to use.

Xoom Network Settings

Motorola Android Xoom Network Settings Advanced view
Network Settings – Advanced view

After diving deep into the Wireless configuration settings,  there is no mention of setting a proxy address anywhere for a Wifi connection.   On some Android phones such as the Samsung Galaxy S,  you can specify a proxy on the Wifi connection properties, but this appears to be a Samsung customization and not a standard part of Android.  At the time of this post, the version on the Xoom was 3.0, build HRI39.

 

Does Android support HTTP proxies?

Apparently an “issue” was filed in 2008 for Android Open Source Project (AOSP)  requesting the ability to specify an HTTP proxy for WiFi connections to allow access when on a secured network.  Issue 1273 currently has a status of “New” with around 3,400 starring it as an important issue.   If you search for all open issues related to proxy,  there are currently 131 which mention a proxy.

 

Disappointment in Android

Unfortunately,  unless you root the Xoom, and install one of several Proxy apps from the Android market,  there is little you can do to use your device behind an HTTP proxy.   While you can specify application level proxy settings in Opera and Firefox browsers on the device, this does little for the other applications on the device.  This should not be the case, as other OS’s have support for this at the OS level avoiding the hoops the user would have to go through in order to use the device. This provides a poor user experience if they leave this feature up to the vendor to support.  Google and Android need to seriously make it a priority to provide the ability to specify a proxy for the Android ecosystem, as this will keep it from being adopted by enterprises and higher education facilities.   If the device is supposed to compete with the Apple iPad,  then support of these use cases needs to be addressed, where otherwise it will doom the device to only a consumer customer.

Update: The leaked Motorola Xoom manual does indeed show a “Global Proxy” option in the wireless settings, but it is not on theshipping device. Perhaps an update will be released to address this, however it should hopefully be per connection and not only global.

Update2:  This was posted from Motorola in a support thread I had created on their site:

Yes this is known limitation in current Xoom software. We are working on getting this fixed for the next major software upgrade on Xoom (I do not know the timing of such upgrade though)

We definitively agree that proxy setting (per WIFI profile) has to be added on Android devices and it will be soon

Successful Workarounds:

Thanks to XoomMan in the comments below,  he pointed out that you can use the HTTP Proxy Settings application the Android Market, which gives you the ability to set a device wide global proxy Wifi setting.   There do not appear to be any options for proxy authentication settings though.  This appears to work for the applications I tested it with such as Gmail,Market,Browser,Maps, Tweetdeck, etc.   This is a global setting,  which means you have to remember to turn it on when you are on the location where you need the proxy, and remember to turn it off when you leave that area.   While not ideal, this is a definite workaround which does NOT require root on the device.   If you try this,  post your comments below if you had any application issues.

Another workaround after discovering hidden settings menu in Honeycomb –  Access the hidden Proxy Settings Menu on Android 3.0 Honeycomb tablets