Up Close With Google's Android 3.0 Honeycomb

We take you on a visual tour of the new Honeycomb interface, including the Web browser, image gallery, music player, and Google Books.

The Honeycomb App Screen

Google's Android 3.0 Honeycomb represents a whole new experience in comparison with previous flavors of Android. The result is so different that it's difficult to imagine that this mobile OS has the same roots as Froyo. In this slideshow, we'll walk you through the new interface, starting at the beginning.

In this view, you can see all of the apps you’ve downloaded, plus your favorite apps (under the My Apps tab). I wish that users could add more tabs, but at the moment the OS doesn’t seem to offer a way to do so.

For more Honeycomb coverage, see:

* "Motorola Xoom: First Android 3.0 Tablet Impresses, but Drawbacks Remain"

* "Six Things I Love About Google's Android 3.0"

* "The State of the Android Market for Honeycomb"

* "Motorola Xoom Review Roundup"

* "Xoom vs. iPad: The Real Tablet Wars Begin"

Soft-Touch Navigation Buttons

These three soft-touch navigation buttons are the mainstays of Honeycomb navigation. At left is the Back button, in the middle is the Home button, and at right is the multitasking button for quick access to your five most recently accessed apps.

Multitasking Revisited

Here’s a close-up of two of the five multitasking thumbnails that pop up along the left side of the screen. The combination of a thumbnail with its icon overlaid on top makes identifying the app easy; however, unlike what we’ve seen in demos of RIM’s BlackBerry PlayBook, these icons do not appear to be “live” and updating in real time.

Book and Calendar Widgets

Although I didn’t take the time to fill in my event’s name, this image gives you an idea of what the Google Calendar widget looks like on the home screen. The idea behind widgets is that you get real-time updates of the content, without having to launch a separate app.

YouTube Widgets

In this view, you can see Google’s YouTube widget, which shows the most popular videos, the most discussed ones, and the like. Additional apps will add widgets as they go along. The flip-book-style approach is finger-friendly. I'm hoping that users will get more control over what a widget shows, and that it won’t be determined solely by the app’s developer. Other preinstalled widgets include those for bookmarks, the calendar, contacts, an analog clock, e-mail and Gmail, Google search, the Android Market, music, and a picture frame.

Widgets and Home Screen Manager

From any of Honeycomb’s six home screens, you can access the Apps menu by tapping Apps. Or, you can add widgets and customize your device’s screens by tapping the + sign to the right of the Apps icon.

Native Keyboard

The native layout of the Honeycomb keyboard is dramatically improved. Sure, I wish it had adjustable size and a numeric row (as on HP’s still-to-be-released WebOS-based TouchPad), but the keys are better shaped, and better organized than on other tablets using Froyo. Large Backspace and Enter buttons, a dedicated .com button in the Web browser keyboard, even a one-touch button for voice input--my fingers can fly over this device, and it responds to me. The blue glow visible here gives you an idea of which key you’ve pressed, but if you’re trying to touch-type, the glow’s halo doesn’t go far enough to give you the quick-glance confirmation you need as you move.

New Notifications Bar

This is the new look of the notifications bar, now located in the lower right of the screen. Gone is the pull-down; instead, you expand this bar upward…

Notifications Bar, Expanded

…as shown here, to see your latest notifications, and to reveal the handy music-player widget. You can tap again beneath the clock to…

Settings Shortcuts

…access the Settings shortcuts. Here you get quick access to frequently used options, such as airplane mode, Wi-Fi, brightness, and orientation lock. You can tap yet again at the bottom…

Redesigned Settings Menu access the Settings menu. In keeping with Honeycomb’s new design elements, the Settings menu looks more streamlined and better organized than before. Settings display in a split-screen fashion, which makes moving among options easy.

The New Android Market

The on-device Honeycomb Android Market is a vast improvement over its predecessor, and shows a separate area for tablet-specific apps. Unfortunately, if you do a search, the interface still gives no indication as to which apps are for tablets and which aren’t. Granted, the majority are not tablet-optimized at this juncture, but the lack of any OS mention or quick-look visual cue makes for frustrating shopping.

Google Books Shopping

The Market now doubles as the Google Books bookstore, too. As in the Market, the visuals here are far better than before.

Delving Into Google Books

Google preinstalls its Books app, which displays books in a graphical fashion. You can scroll left to right through your collection, or tap on the magnifying glass in the upper right to search through the collection. Tapping Shop takes you out of Books and into the book section of the Android Market. The lined icon in the upper right (with a small, angled triangle) represents a context-sensitive menu; that icon and the angled triangle appear elsewhere in the Honeycomb interface to indicate additional content that you can tap to expand. In this case, it leads to…

Book Options

…several book-management options, as shown in this menu.

Google Books: Reading

This is a general view of a book, as shown in landscape mode. As you’d expect with a large tablet, you can get two book pages onto the screen in landscape mode. Up top at the right are three menu options available to you for use within the book view.

Chapter View

The first button you encounter at the upper right opens a chapter panel that pops up over the text; tap a chapter, and you jump there instantaneously.

Moving Among Chapters: The Shortcut

Alternatively, you can drag the blue dot running along the bar at the bottom left to right to reposition yourself in the book. As you tap on the blue dot and drag it, you can see the page number and chapter you’re jumping to.

Changing Text Properties

Tapping the middle icon at the upper right reveals an overlay along the bottom of the screen; there you can adjust such book characteristics as the display brightness, the “day” (white background, black text) or "night" (black background, white text) setting, the text size, the font (five choices), and the line height (1, 1.5, or 2). Unfortunately, Google missed the boat with its text sizes: You have just those three choices, and the largest isn’t adequate for users whose eyesight may require the bigger text found in large-print books.

Google Calendar

The calendar view is very plain; it’s efficient, but it lacks the finesse of calendars on other mobile OSs. If anything, you might say that Honeycomb is almost too streamlined--some of the graphics, such as the menu and search nav at the top of the calendar screen, are so subtle that they don’t stand out on the page.

The Honeycomb Gallery

The Image Gallery doubles as a video player. The display takes full advantage of the tablet’s real estate to showcase your thumbnails.

Scan Your Images

As on the Apple iPad, you can tap at the bottom of a picture to reveal a photo scroll bar. You can then easily and speedily scan through a folder full of images and select another photo.

Image Options

Once you select an image, you have options, including starting a slideshow, sharing it (via Picasa, Bluetooth, or Gmail), and choosing additional options such as viewing the EXIF data, rotating the image, or selecting it for your wallpaper or contact photo.

Full Web Browsing

Honeycomb supports full Web browsing (though I’ve found that many sites still recognize it as a mobile browser). On top of that, it now has tabbed browsing--a huge bonus over the klunky Android 2.x approach.

Copying Web Data

Moving content from the Web browser is simplified: Just hold your finger down over something, and the appropriate context-sensitive menu will pop up. Hold your finger over an image, and you’ll have the choice of saving it, viewing it, or setting it as wallpaper. Hold your finger over a Web link, and you’ll get an array of options (shown here).

Copying and Editing Text

While arguably not quite as elegant as Apple’s approach, Honeycomb now provides a manageable and simple way of manipulating text. Tap once, and you get a slider that you can position wherever you want. Tap and hold, and you get two sliders and selected text, which you can adjust as needed; you also get the options at the top of the screen to select all, cut, copy, or share the text in question.

Browser Bookmarks Get Visual

As with other areas of Honeycomb, thumbnails rule, even in browser bookmarks. This setup provides a much easier way of finding your content.

Honeycomb’s Music Player

The presentation of the music player--and music content--has also seen an overhaul. The player remains a bit, um, gray, as shown here, but you do get a handy widget now (shown earlier in this slideshow).

The Song List

Here’s a view of how song titles are presented…again, a bit gray, but this new view takes full advantage of the tablet screen space. At the bottom, you can see the Now Playing bar.

Album Titles

This Album view, one of three more visual modes, takes full advantage of album cover art; so, too, does the Artist view. Sort by 'New and recent', and you get a three-dimensional view that you can scroll through instead. Here, you can see the various sorting options available in Honeycomb.

For more Honeycomb coverage, see:

* "Motorola Xoom: First Android 3.0 Tablet Impresses, but Drawbacks Remain"

* "Six Things I Love About Google's Android 3.0"

* "The State of the Android Market for Honeycomb"

* "Motorola Xoom Review Roundup"

* "Xoom vs. iPad: The Real Tablet Wars Begin"

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