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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  • Mumrik - Thursday, February 24, 2011 - link

    I'm still waiting for the whole tablet market to implode when users realize that the products makes absolutely no sense at all for 90+% of users and that they're damn expensive for what you get.
  • tomas986 - Thursday, February 24, 2011 - link

    I see quite a few people with this opinion. I'm curious to understand why they think that way...

    The way I figured it, there are two types of digital experience with computers/laptops/tablets/smartphones. I think they call it "media content consumption" and (I assume) "content creation". Content creation is when you have to input data (ie... writing a paper, report, writing emails, creating pics, videos, ...). Content consumption is just reading and viewing the media content.

    So, you have to ask yourself, for your computer/laptop/tablet/smartphone usage, how much time do you consume content and how much time do you create content. To understand the potential for tablets, I think you really have to break it down into the two categories.

    At work, I do a lot of contest creation, but at home, about 90% of the time, i am just consuming content (read email, surf web, play game,...). Also, on the road/trip/vacation, it is mostly content consumption too.

    Tablets are great for content consumption and light content creation (emails, ...), which I believe most people do about 90% of the time away from work (and some people 90% at work too :) ).

    So, the tablet is design to satisfy 90% of your computer-related needs away from work. Not to mention, for content consumption, it is a better user experience than computer/laptop (due to touch screen nature).

    BTW, I play computer games, so definitely still need a computer. But for me, having a computer and a tablet is much better than a computer and a laptop. Note, the computer is always there, and the tablet can't replace that (for now).

    Again, I think you really have to break down your digital/computer experience between consumption and creation. Then it makes more sense for tablet usage.
  • Impulses - Friday, February 25, 2011 - link

    That's just you though... Like me you'd never give up your desktop, but the vast majority of consumers today just have one laptop, and that's it. For most a phone is basically a necessity, and smartphones have exploded because of heavy subsidies and increased functionality, but a lot of people don't need one either.

    Regardless, when it comes down to spending $800 on a tablet or a new laptop, they're gonna go w/the laptop (possibly a cheaper one at that)... So the tablet remains a luxury item that can't fully replace their main system, nor their secondary device (phone). If these tablets were priced way lower they'd make a lot more sense as a supplementary device, and I'm sure we'll get there eventually...

    Right now most people are better served w/something like a Brazos-based ultra-portable tho. Having a tablet on top of that is great for couch use or traveling if you opt for a large laptop, but it's just a luxury item. They've tried to make newspapers and magazines the killer tablet app and I don't think it's catching on much. People that read a lot still prefer an e-reader (or an actual computer if they need to do research/etc.).
  • strikeback03 - Thursday, February 24, 2011 - link

    Anand drives a Camry? I would have expected something more like a BMW or Audi.

    As far as the screen contrast goes, I find it funny that 750:1 is considered a downside here, while the notebook editors celebrate anytime they find a screen that even hits 500:1.
  • shadowofthesun - Thursday, February 24, 2011 - link

    "I’d love to see a quick search field here so you could just start typing to find the app you’re looking for but perhaps we’ll see that in a future version of the OS."

    On my Android 2.1 device, typing while in the applications drawer brings up a quick search box which does indeed search apps on the phone.

    I vaguely remember my previous motoblur 1.6 device actually filtering the apps if I typed on the physical keyboard, but I can't confirm that ATM.
  • strikeback03 - Friday, February 25, 2011 - link

    plus didn't the page for the google search box show it bring up the app Angry Birds as the first result?
  • ltcommanderdata - Thursday, February 24, 2011 - link


    Interestingly, Motorola designed the Xoom's primary product page around Flash, probably to exclude the iPad, but it ironically means the Xoom can't view it yet either.
  • mrdeez - Friday, February 25, 2011 - link

    I will definitely get one of these wifi only when released.....Great fair review. What this unit has going for it IMO,and other android device makers should pay attention to is Battery life. I love my evo but i get anywhere from 5-8 hours on it depending on what i'm doing. I really think ability to actually use these devices without having to charge the battery all the time is a big advantage. Most of the hardware/software quirks will be fixed soon as this is googles developer tablet.
  • chomlee - Friday, February 25, 2011 - link

    This is my take away from all of this, and keep in mind, I am not an apple fanboy. My favorite phone is the EVO.

    My most important factors in a tablet
    Best screen - Apple
    Best Load time - Xoom
    Best UI - Xoom (considering deficencies will be fixed with future android releases)
    Battery Life - Tie
    Pricing - Apple

    Overall, to me it is a tie right now but that is with the current IPad. The next IPad will probably catch up to the the Xoom on most of the benefits and the only benefit of the Xoom may be Honeycomb.

    Another factor not mentioned that is really important to me is how you can turn on your 3G service a month at a time and use it on vacations when you need to. I would never get a contract on a tablet device because it would mostly be used at home on the wifi (I think most people are in the same boat). That option is a deal breaker for me.

    I would love to have an android device but I have a feeling that the Ipad 2 is going to be even better at a lower price than the xoom, I may end up being one of those drones buying the new IPad.
  • bplewis24 - Tuesday, March 1, 2011 - link

    You forget that there will only be one new iPad releasing this year (most likely), but there will be several Honeycomb tablets emerging on the market. Some will have better screens (Asus Transformer?), some will have better pricing (Galaxy Tab 10.1?), and yet others will have better feature sets ...all while still having the same best-in-class Honeycomb UI.

    So, while the iPad2 may possibly catch up or even surpass the Xoom on some level, that will be it for the rest of the year, while other Honeycomb tablets will still be shooting for the crown, driving Honeycomb tablet pricing down in the process.


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