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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  • robco - Friday, February 25, 2011 - link

    From the OS standpoint, I will say I like the Honeycomb home screen better, it utilizes the added space much better than the iPad does. The hardware looks nice, but we'll see how it compares after March 2nd.

    That being said, while looking at the tech specs and OS are nice, neither are what will make or break the Xoom. Tablets are content consumption devices. Apple has done a tremendous job bringing content to end users. And they are consuming it. And paying for it. It's incredibly easy to rent or purchase music, movies, TV shows, books and apps from an iOS device or share them with a connected Mac or WIndows PC. I didn't see anything like this in the Xoom. Does Google, Moto or VZW have any content available? As of last WWDC (almost a year ago now), Apple stated they've paid developers over $1B. Given the relatively short time the App Store has been live and the low cost of most apps, this is a very impressive number. How much has Google paid out via the Android Market? It sends a message that iOS is a profitable platform - and not just for Apple. Not only has Apple sold a lot of devices, users are actually paying for apps and content.

    This seems to be Android's weakness. Google seems interested in Android only as an advertising platform. As such, besides the Android Market, which just recently received a much needed makeover, Google has done little to bring content to the platform beyond its own ad-driven properties. They seem content to let the device manufacturers or carriers do that. The problem is that while Android may be surpassing iOS in sales, none of the individual device makers or carriers really has the resources, clout and/or inclination to build the bridge between content providers/developers and end users the way Apple has. Despite Google's efforts, the gap in apps between Android and iOS remains high, despite Apple being more "closed", requiring a Mac for development and charging more to get apps on their store.

    The file transfer looked clunky. No mention of whether or not companies like Netflix or Amazon will offer content. If I want to rent a movie or buy a song on an iOS device, it's a few taps. Can I do that on a Xoom? When my friends show me cool apps on their iPads, will I be able to download the same or similar apps to my Xoom? That is what will make or break the Android tablet business, - not SoC's, memory, displays and cameras.
  • bplewis24 - Tuesday, March 1, 2011 - link

    Do you own an Android device currently?

    Yes, when your friends show you cool apps from an iOS device, chances are highly likely that you will be able to download it on your Android device. And for all of the apps you cannot, there are plenty for Android that they cannot as well.

    Lastly, I feel you seem to be assuming that Android isn't profitable for developers and that there is a lack of content in spite of the evidence to the contrary. Do you really think Amazon would be releasing their very own App store for the Android OS if Google didn't care about content?

    If you really think that the gap between quality, non-superfluous apps that real people download and consume every day is that large, you may be getting your information from the wrong sources.

  • billyblonco - Friday, February 25, 2011 - link

    The Xoom is pretty fast on loading pages but the atrix was right behind it,even tho the atrix has flash and the xoom and ipad does not.
  • sb1831 - Saturday, February 26, 2011 - link

    I've had my Xoom for over 24 hours now, and have yet to have a a force close nor has my fiancee on hers. I was wondering if you had a production unit or a test unit.

    As for my experience with the tablet. Everything is snappy with no lag at all that I've notice. Switching from one app to another is easy. I'm a big fan of Honeycomb. It does remind me a lot more of a traditional desktop OS. With that being said, my 60 year old mother played with it for a little over an hour and a half last night, and was amazed at how quickly she picket it up.

    She's familiar with computers, and owns a netbook, but is seriously thinking of going out and getting a wifi version when it becomes available. It's simple enough for her to know that a browser will get you to the internet, and actually commented on how the browser reminder her of the one on her desktop (Chrome LOL) That to me speaks volumes about how easy this thing is to use. I really didn't even need to guide her at all that much. She managed to pull up some music and download angry birds from the market

    I think that when tablets become more common and the prices start to come down a bit, people will think that the Honeycomb OS is closer to the experience they're used to and will side with it. I put it next to my iPad and the first thing I though was "Everything I really use is right here on the main screen browser, gmail, music, and the market." iOS looked clustered to me and almost like a toy next to the Xoom. I thought "hmmm if the apps shortcuts were vertical and the clock in the gadget sidebar like in Win7 it would look pretty much like a desktop. "

    All in all I'm a big fan of the Xoom, and unless the iPad2 makes some drastic changes and starts to feel more like an actual desktop based OS I will be selling my iPad and sticking with the Xoom.
  • OCedHrt - Saturday, February 26, 2011 - link

    The battery lives in the first chart are shorter than the second chart. Shouldn't it be the other way around?
  • PubicTheHare - Sunday, February 27, 2011 - link

    What Anand said about the screen is 100% spot on. It seems cheap--grainy, low contrast, poor viewing angles.

    The screen wasn't super responsive like the iPad's. I will wait for the iPad 2 before I start looking at tablets.
  • j.harper12 - Sunday, February 27, 2011 - link

    This read as one long sales pitch for the Optimus 2X to me... really, the Optimus 3D, as, if I'm not mistaken, it did even better in benchmarks. Seriously though, impressive results from the Xoom, do you really have to solder the LTE card though? I thought there was just a placeholder for a mini PCI-E card...

    Really, though, Nvidia told me not to buy the Xoom... you know, when they announced quad core Tegra 3 would be available by the end of the year with 5x the performance. Definitely can/will wait until Christmas for a tablet. Ancillary benefit? Tablet Android will have the kinks worked out then.

    Also interested in seeing what's coming March 2nd. Can't wait for next year's "Retina" display on a tablet... because it'll force everyone else to up the resolution. Not really an Apple person, but always happy and impressed with how Apple can up the ante for everyone else.
  • j.harper12 - Sunday, February 27, 2011 - link

    My comment was a joke by the way, I'm always impressed with how unbiased this website is... so I just don't want people thinking I genuinely thought this article was a sales pitch for the Optimus 2X, I'm speaking only to the benchmark results.
  • ATOmega - Sunday, February 27, 2011 - link

    $600 for a wifi model? Rip off. I remember some of the big talk before Android and several of the ARM-based chipsets being "cheaper". Where did that go? Oh yeah, investor greed.

    Tablets need to come way down in price, especially considering how notoriously poor the after-purchase support is. You're forgotten the second you buy any Android device. Good luck contacting the manufacturer, let alone hoping for OS updates.

    Also, the heavy reliance on cell phone companies is disappointing. They don't make the devices, but they still have some influence, I really wish google would do something about this market. It's turned into one big gouge.
  • bplewis24 - Tuesday, March 1, 2011 - link

    I personally think the non-Motorola branded tablets will be much more reasonable in price. Specifically the Asus Transformer.


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