Welcome to Honeycomb

The first Android tablets were laughable. Without changes to the UI Android doesn’t scale well to a larger screen, not to mention the lack of tablet specific apps Oh but what’s this? Android’s all grown up:

It doesn’t look like iOS but it surely doesn’t look like any version of Android we’ve seen before. Honeycomb is Google stating plainly that it can tear up blueprints and reinvent itself with the best of them.

Pick up any Android phone and you’ll see four buttons, either capacitive touch or physical switch, along the bottom of the front face: Home, Menu, Back and Search. The order was up to manufacturer interpretation but all four had to be present. Honeycomb nixes two (Search and Menu) and adds one (Tasks). Google also moved the buttons from the screen bezel to on the screen itself - the buttons aren’t just capacitive, they are a part of the OS.

Back, Home, Tasks

The order is fixed: Back, Home and Tasks. As of now there’s no customizing the Honeycomb UI - say goodbye to Motoblur, Sense and TouchWiz. The location is also fixed: bottom left. My biggest complaint here are the icons themselves, they are unnecessarily ambiguous at first sight and do take some getting used to for Android and iOS users alike.

The entire UI motif is Tron meets Robocop. Swipe between home screens and you’ll get a thin blue outline of the previous/next screens as you move. The fonts used for links at the top of the page are more expected, while everything along the bottom of the screen is a bit more 80s sci-fi. I don’t personally believe this is ultimately what Google will settle on for tablet UIs, but it shows a willingness to try something new and different, which is the quickest way to ensure that Android will remain relevant as this market evolves.

I suspect the ideal tablet UI is probably not too far off what modern desktop OSes have become. While a smartphone’s UI must be dramatically different due to the lack of screen real estate, a tablet UI just needs to be more efficient than its desktop counterpart - not necessarily very different.

I believe Google is beginning to realize this as Honeycomb has some very desktop-like elements in its design. What was once a pull down shade at the top of the UI is now a notification bar in the lower right of the screen, eerily reminiscent of the Windows system tray - just not as frustratingly cluttered.


There are also clock, WiFi and battery status indicators down there, but I’ll stop drawing parallels. The point is that this works well and I expect that we’ll continue to see a lot of convergence between the desktop and tablet OS UIs (and eventually the OSes themselves, isn’t evolution fun?).

Overall the UI is amazingly clean and very well done. It's not perfect, but I'm pleasantly surprised - all this time I thought Android was just super functional, who knew it could look great as well?

Charging & The Display Multitasking, Notifications and App Launcher
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  • GotThumbs - Friday, March 18, 2011 - link

    Motorola was just taking advantage of early adopters....Come March 27th. the 599.00 WIFI only version will be released. This directly competes with ipad pricing. :-) I'm getting one of those babies for sure. No apple 'force fed' products for me. I like making my own choices....
  • onelin - Thursday, February 24, 2011 - link

    Could you add some video playback battery life comparisons with the iPad? I am interested if that matches up similar to the web browsing.
  • omidk - Thursday, February 24, 2011 - link

    Does this support caldav or exchange?

    Its been pretty frustrating having to rely on vendor customizations for exchange support. If google would build in caldav I think a lot of people could run stock android.
  • TareX - Thursday, February 24, 2011 - link

    The browser (provided that it gets flash) is what should make people choose this as opposed to the iPad.

    Who needs money-draining apps when you have a PC-like browsing experience?
  • mlambert890 - Thursday, February 24, 2011 - link

    I really feel this is academic and minutiae to justify a predetermined position.

    I use the iPad every day. I am not a "fan" of anything and actually spent my entire 30s working at Microsoft - a full decade.

    I can honestly say, using the iPad *every day* that there is ever a time I am cursing the browser and wishing I had a "real PC experience". Occasionally I miss flash, but the world is moving towards HTML5 anyway and rightly so.

    If, on the other hand, your goal is to replicate a desktop on a tablet, and you will barely use it or use it as a complete notebook replacement for outlier cases, then you might want some of what Anand covered here.

    I submit that 90% of the market for these devices do not fit in that category at all.

    All odf the same BS was said about Netbooks. I remember this chatter *inside* MSFT as well. Total disconnect from what the real mass market growth space wants and needs. This is why apple continues to do so well. Apple directly serves "the sheep", as the "hardcore" like to label regular folks. Thing is... The "sheep" spend 90% of the money.

    As for apps, I think ive spent maybe a total of $50 on iPad software, so your implication that somehow a fortune must be spent to supplement Safari with apps is ridiculous. Try being objective and lose any brand bias or personal use case focus and you will see this differently.

    Android on phones did well by copying Apple and then spreading cheap devices across lots of carriers. Period, the end. Any side effect that appeals to geeks ("openness", Linux base, whatever) is there in spite of that success, it is not a cause.

    If Google attempts to create a desktop UX on a tablet, I am almost certain they will fail to capture anything but an extremist niche.
  • bplewis24 - Thursday, February 24, 2011 - link

    I really feel this is academic and minutiae to justify a predetermined position.

    Oh, and that's me responding to your post, not a quote.

    And you really just come off as an idiot or fanboy by saying that Android did well by "copying Apple and .. spreading cheap devices across a lot of carriers." That is one of the dumbest things I've ever read online that wasn't uttered by Glenn Beck.

    As far as your last sentence, you keep being certain of that, just as much as you are probably certain that the rest of your post doesn't come off as irrational drivel.

  • ccrobopid - Saturday, February 26, 2011 - link

    > And you really just come off as an idiot or fanboy by saying that Android did
    > well by "copying Apple and ..

    He maybe came off as an idiot (I don't think so) but I think he's right. I see people with android phones trying to use them as iPhones and ignoring the rest of the features.

    I, as a tech savvy user feel ignored by tech manufacturers. It's clear to me that my tastes are not those of the majority. I have to buy 16:9 laptops for programming, if I want a tablet with a good screen I have to give up having a file system or watching content in the formats I want, etc., etc.

    I wonder what would happen if we, as the workforce that make all this products for the masses possible will get on strike and refuse to work until products that appeal to us are made.

    We are a minority, but I feel unfair to be ignored like any other minority by the people we work for
    :D :D
  • bplewis24 - Tuesday, March 1, 2011 - link

    While you are correct in saying that the majority of the people who own Android phones likely don't utilize all of it's features and use them as iPhone clones, so to speak, that doesn't mean that Google has copied Apple in it's OS vision.

    Anand goes into detail in the first page about how Google has decided to differentiate itself with Android, and I think most tech-savvy people realize that there are some very key, significant differences with the two software platforms. Stock Android from the G1 was vastly different from iPhoneOS of that day.

    While both have added significant features and ultimately will continue to copy each other's advancement or try to best it, they still go about it in different ways. For example, iOS continues to try to catch up in the multi-tasking arena, but they still do so differently.

  • spinron - Thursday, February 24, 2011 - link

    I have a Pandaboard here (a TI OMAP4 reference platform) and just for fun I loaded it with XBMC and configured it with the full suite of TI's proprietary drivers (DSP, IVA, PowerSGX, etc). It played pretty much anything I threw at it, including some very high bit rate AVC in MKV containers that put quite a strain on dedicated Sigma silicon. My guess is that the Tegra2 has comparable video decoding power, so whether Xoom-like tablets will become universal video players will essentially boil down to software availability. So strictly speaking, Kal-el-like hardware is probably not going to be required just for that purpose.

    Great review! It's certainly much more objective than most of the others. Walt Mossberg's review on ATD was particularly funny (and simultaneously sad) to watch.

    Your mobile SB review looked so convincing it looks like my next major buy is probably going to be a new SB i7 MBP. Coupling fast I/O with a laptop seems like a real game changer, most certainly in Apple's world. Can't wait for a review...
  • halcyon - Thursday, February 24, 2011 - link

    Finally a tab that almost manages the 10hr mark on benchmarks.

    That means that in true real-world usage it might really last the 8hrs, even after the battery has been through a few recharge cycles.

    The screen is bit of a let-down as you state.

    Ah well, here's hoping Samsung did the right thing on their tablet.

    The wait continues.

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