A First Taste of Honeycomb (Android 3.0)

**Update 1: added “Other Notes” section**

So last Friday I when I saw the Acer Iconia Tab A500 lying there in Concepts, I just had to get my grubby paws on it and experience Honeycomb first hand. I’ve read about it, seen a few videos of it, but there is nothing like playing with it in person. I had to say that I was pleasantly surprised and felt that I wanted to get a tablet. Take a look at the Honeycomb Overview video that mfirdaus and I manage to take of below:

Honeycomb is Google’s attempt to make a version of Android desgined for tablets and it gives Android a very different and fresh feel to it. It took me a while to get comfortable with it after getting kind of lost initially using the device (i.e. it’s not as simple/simplistic as iOS on the iPad). It has the typical Android homescreen which can be populated with applications shortcuts and widgets which all quick access to information right on the homescreen. With the Android 3.1 upgrade providing resizable widgets would allow users to fill a homescreen full of your emails, Twitter timeline and Facebook wall: it’s like your own Tweetdeck columns for all the stuff that is important to you.

Browser & Flash: A fuller web experience
The browser seems superb with tabs and looks like Chrome/Chromium (my browser of choice). The possibility of playing Flash is really great to me as it provides you a fuller web experience compared to Flash-less browsers where you may come to a page that just doesn’t have HTML5 video or some random Flash navigations. Do note I said the ‘possibility’ of playing Flash because it isn’t available in the Market. This is due to a geographic location restrictions where the developer does not select the app as available to all countries (more of this in a future post). You can always find the APK installer online, but that is always a dangerous option as there is a possibility that the APK is malware or has been modified to include malware on it. Thus it is important to download it from trusted sources.

Connectivity: USB Host & HDMI
The 3.1 update to Honeycomb is especially interesting as it provides better USB host support. This will provide Honeycomb tablets will a greater possibility to replace laptops because you can transfer documents to USB drives and hook up standard keyboard and mice to it. I can imagine going to work, docking your tablet and using it throughout the day for work and when you’re done, disconnect everything and head back home. Currently Android 3.0 on the Iconia Tab supports USB drives and keyboards and I presume that this will be the same for other tablets with USB ports. With most tablets having HDMI ports, they can even be used for presentations and at home on your HDTVs. The only problem I see here is that projectors will typically always have a VGA port, not an HDMI port so this could be limiting.

A lot of the success of a platform is in the apps and since Honeycomb is still new there aren’t many Honeycomb optimized apps that take full advantage of the bigger screen and the Honeycomb action bar. This should fade with time as developers start taking advantage of Honeycomb devices. Do note that the older non-Honeycomb optimized Android apps still can work with Honeycomb (however this is not a certainty) and when they do work they would probably stretch to fill in the space depending on how the interface was design.

Stability & Usability
I’ve heard that Honeycomb can be a bit unstable with applications, such as the browser, crashing; however I did not experience such crashes in over an hour of playing with the device. Honeycomb is still new and maturing as they work out the kinks and tweak Honeycomb to be a better experience for the user: I found that there was quite a bit of finger/hand travel just to activate and navigate around the system which I guess could get annoying and tiring after longer periods of use.

Other Notes
The low application storage problem seems to be gone in Honeycomb as the whole 32GB of the Acer Iconia Tab A500 that we played with, listed the entire 32GB as available for applications and files, as opposed Android devices that have only a certain much smaller space dedicated for app.Forgot to show it on the video / take a photo but this is a very welcome change and solves the biggest problem with Android for devices with internal memory.

All in all, I’m excited to see what Honeycomb matures into as it tries to be a competitor to iOS on the iPad. While I feel iOS on the iPad is a better experience for now, I feel Honeycomb will be better for the future. I just hope that it doesn’t always stay in the future and that the future and come quickly to fruition.