Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Tech Tuesday: How does Honeycomb taste? Part 1

As some are aware, Honeycomb is Googles name for the Android 3.0 (and soon to include Android 3.1) operating system.  Honeycomb has been Googles interface for the new army of Android tablets, including my Asus Eee Pad Transformer.  So how does Honeycomb compare to the latest version of Android for phones (Android 2.3.4 Gingerbread)?

If you're familiar with Android on a phone, then you'll already feel pretty at home on a Honeycomb tablet.  Even if you are coming from an iPhone there are many similarities and it'll be a very easy transition.

Home Screen

The homescreen is much the same as it is on any other Android device or even iOS device.  You have your icons you can place for your most commonly used apps and plenty of space for your widgets too.  Honeycomb also supports all Live Wallpapers that were introduced back with Android 2.2 (the one pictured is part of Beautiful Widgets and is live animated weather).  A few notable differences are the corners.  In the top left you can see a dedicated search button and a voice search button.  Since the tablet has no buttons it's nice to have those always accessible.  It is a Google device after all, searching is pretty much everything.  It can be used to launch apps, send emails, get directions and so on all with a few taps or by voice.  In the top right you have your app drawer with access to all apps that you have installed and came on your device.  Along the bottom you have a new UI element, the Honeycomb Status Bar consisting of the Action Buttons and the Notification Tray.

Action Buttons

The action buttons replace the home, back and menu buttons present on Android phones.  The only physical buttons you'll see on a tablet are volume and power.  The rest are on the screen and can be hidden by certain apps when unused.  These buttons are to go Back, go to Home, display the App Switcher (recent apps list) and Menu (not shown).  I think it's a pretty good way to use the large screen space as well as preserve a clean look on the device face.

Notification Tray

Android has always been praised for the way it handles notifications on the phone.  They get the point across while staying very unobtrusive.  The Honeycomb implementation is no exception.  Instead of having a slide down bar at the top with a one line summary, you have a little pop up in the bottom right corner letting you know something needs your attention (shown in the top picture).  These items also have a little icon that shows next to the clock for reminders.  You'll see your emails, feed updates, upload progresses, Facebook Messages, Twitter Mentions, etc all lined up there so the second you turn on your screen, you'll know there is something to do.  The other thing shown are indicators for your Wifi, Bluetooth and battery status.  If you tap on any item it will re-display the small pop up so you can review or dismiss it.  Also, if you tap the clock or any status icons to the right to display an extended view of all your status icons where you can launch their associated apps or dismiss them.  This change works very well for tablets since the screen is better used for displaying your main task.  It would have looked pretty crazy to have a single line of text with my message going across the whole 7 or so inches of screen space.


There are some more things I plan to share so stay tuned for Part 2.

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