Google's Android 3.0 Honeycomb for tablets: a guided tour of the UI (video)

A funny thing happened after Google posted (and subsequently pulled) its Android 3.0 Honeycomb video: T-Mobile celebrated its G-Slate announcement by posting the same video. And about six more after that (to be fair, they're also on the Motorola / Verizon Xoom we demoed). Today it was made official during Verizon's keynote, with Google itself narrating a hands-on demo. We've scrutinized these videos to no end and we think we've come up with the most complete picture of Google's tablet OS experience at this point. Join us after the break for all the goods.

Update: Set aside about 25 minutes and check out our exclusive (and thoroughly awesome) interview with Google's Matias Duarte, the driving force behind Honeycomb interface.


We learned today at the Verizon keynote that former webOS design guru (now a Google UX Director) Matias Duarte played a big part in the art direction, and frankly, that's a very good thing. The new interface shows a near-unified aesthetic, a marked improvement over what we've seen so far from Android.

After all the live wallpapers we've born witness to since Eclair hit the scene, it was actually a bit of a surprise that this blue-tinted background is completely static in every video. Lock screen is nothing special -- just a slide to the right -- but afterwards we're shown a very neat and clean home screen that functions just like previous Android iterations (the long row of apps looks to be more aesthetic than it is a dedicated space). Physical buttons have been eschewed in favor of more pixelated fare. The top left has Google text and voice search, bottom left has back, home, and app switch buttons. Bottom right has the time, WiFi signal, and battery (the latter two given only half the usual symbol). The top right has an Apps button that takes you to the traditional list of software, and a plus sign that takes you to a pretty classy view of the panes and a list of widgets you can add, app shortcuts to insert, wallpapers to adjust and the ever-elusive "more" category.

As for the widgets we've seen so far, the first one to stand out is one dedicated to Gmail which, frankly, is about time. There's also a revised calendar look that just like Gmail lets you scroll through items from the home screen, a new browser widget, a revised contact widget, and what looks to a stack of YouTube links that shuffle through what we'd guess is a finger flick downward. Before you ask... of course there's picture frames and bizarre variations of an analog clock.

Maps. It's pretty much exactly what we saw with the 5.0 update, with an expanded top bar and a more tablet-friendly pop-up menu for locations.

Gmail. If you've used it on the iPad or Galaxy Tab, you pretty know what to expect here. It's a two-column format with the menu on the left and the list of mailbox on the right, which shifts to mailbox on the left and specific message on the right when you dive deeper. All the standard features look to be present and laid out intelligently. We're not ashamed to say this is one the more exciting parts for us.

GTalk. A sleek two-column menu with contacts on the left and options for video chat. Video chat looks somewhat grainy, and you can switch between front- and rear-facing camera, mute yourself, and nix video altogether.

Books. Unlike the current Android version that simply tiles the books, the Honeycomb rendition we've seen stands the tomes up in a row that to browse through. It doesn't capitalize on screen space as much as, say, the iBooks menu, but maybe there's more options. Shop and search are stacked up clearly on the top right. Every instance of actually reading seems to rock the two-page format, but bear in mind we've only seen landscape mode so far.

Browser. Here's where it gets interesting. The browser appears to be more or less a variant of Chrome, none too surprising. There's tabbed browsing, incognito mode, and bookmarking. Add in a physical keyboard, and you've got a Chrome OS killer, ironically enough.

Keyboard. There's a few notable difference between the landscape Gingerbread and landscape Honeycomb QWERTYs. The symbols key have moved to above shift, a tab key has been placed in top left, delete is in the top right (as it should always be) with enter right below it and a second shift below that. The spacebar and comma are now both on the right and along the bottom row of keys (with secondary functions displayed in grey), and the spacebar now enjoys the company of emoticon, and forward slash on the left, and apostrophe, hyphen, and voice on the right.

Wrap-up. This is probably Google's most dramatic update to the Android platform yet, and clearly the one that really pushes its UI in a much-needed user-friendly direction. The open question now is how might this transition to the phone platform, if at all?