Android Honeycomb: 10 things you need to know

Google unveiled its tablet-specific Android 3.0 OS at CES to a flurry of excitement thanks to some pretty exciting new tablet-focused additions to the already impressive OS.

But, with a preview of the SDK only just released to developers, we won’t be seeing Honeycomb on our Android tablets for a little while; in the meantime, whet your appetite with our round-up of the key new features.

There’ll be 3D-effect graphics

You can’t swing a cat without hitting something 3D (literally) in the tech world these days, and Google knows it. Honeycomb offers developers the opportunity to use high-performance 3D graphics which should offer no noticeable lag, even with the extra rendering required.

This means we’ll see 3D creeping into our apps, wallpapers and carousels as the developers get to grips with the extra dimension.

The Android UI has been redesigned especially for tablets

The Android user interface had always been intended for smartphones with screens no bigger than around 4-inches – with the advent of tablet devices, displays have shot up in the size stakes. Lucky for us, they’re not short of a brain cell or two over at Google and have re-designed the Android UI taking the larger screen into account.

The updated UI isn’t a million miles away from what we’re used to on Android handsets – there are still multiple, customisable homescreens, universal search box and widgets galore – but the small tweaks will make it so much better to use on the larger scale.

An ever-present menu bar at the bottom of the screen will hold notifications, system status updates and on-screen navigation as well as a handy clock, with a “lights out” mode to dim the bar when you’re watching a film and want the full screen.

Meanwhile, the action bar at the top of the screen is dependent on the app you’re in; its look and feel are dictated by each individual app, as are the options available to compensate for the lack of dedicated menu button.

Recent apps will make multi-tasking a breeze

Multi-tasking is where we expect the dual-core Android tablets to shine, and Honeycomb gives it the tools to do so.

The ‘recent apps’ launcher lays out the last apps you used and the state you left them in, so you can quickly nip from one to another and straight into work. The tool lives in the system bar which is always onscreen, so there’ll be no tedious navigation through menus.

The keyboard will be tablet-friendly

Of course you could buy an external keyboard for your tablet but lugging a million accessories around defeats the object of having a sleek and handy tablet.

To save you the hassle, Google has put a bit of thought into the onscreen keyboard; the keys have been reshaped and repositioned to make typing more comfortable and the targeting more natural for the larger screen, instead of simply scaling up the keyboard.

We love the inclusion of a tab key, which makes the typing experience more akin to that of a desktop or notebook than that of a phone.

Better copy and paste than ever before

Ah, copy and paste. Such a small function and yet so universally adored. While regular Android does allow text selection, copying and pasting, the Honeycomb system has had a few tweaks.

Tapping a single word will select it while the bounding arrows either end make expanding the selection super simple – simpler even than the one used in Gingerbread.

A menu in the action bar at the top of the screen then allows you to either cut, copy, copy to clipboard, share, paste, search the web for or find.

Connectivity upgrades include improved Wi-Fi and Bluetooth tethering

Google has improved Android’s Wi-Fi connectivity with a new scanning system; it reduces scanning time across bands and filters, so you should be up, running and connected in shorter times.

Bluetooth connectivity has been updated too; more devices can now tether to the tablet and share its connectivity, while simple devices with no user interface (think sensors and the like) are also supported.

There’ll be anonymous tabbed web browsing

If you fancy a spot of private web browsing on your Android tablet, then you’re in luck; the new “incognito” mode lends an air of Poirot-era respectability to your secretive searching.

Google has also done away with the multiple-window browser, instead going for a tabbed browser system with your open web pages displayed in the action bar at the top of the screen.

Google Chrome users can easily sync their bookmarks to the tablet browser too, thanks to Honeycomb’s option to automatically sign in to all Google sites with one supplied account.

Legacy apps will work seamlessly

Worried that you won’t be able to make use of the thousands of Android apps already in the marketplace? Never fear, even though they were designed for a much smaller-screened device, Honeycomb is still compatible with apps developed for earlier Android iterations as long as devs add in a simple spot of code.

The menu key functions from Android phones are migrated to the Action Bar menu in Honeycomb, and there’s the option for developers to create dedicated layouts for larger screens and add them to existing apps.

Two-pane email should mean easy inbox oraganisation

Two-paned email sounds a little familiar – oh yes, that’s right. We’ve seen it before on the iPad where it works brilliantly. If it ain’t broke, and all that.

The ability to select multiple messages in the inbox and move or delete them mean there’s no excuse for a messy, disorganised inbox, while attachments can be synced to the tablet for you to view later.

Widgets are going to get interactive

Widgets saved to the home screen on Honeycomb tablets are going to have a whole new level of functionality available. Rather than passively relaying information to the user, they’ll be interactive.

Gestures can be used to scroll through 3D stacks or lists of content, while touch gestures can also flip and move the widget’s innards like never before.

If you’re still crazy for more, then check out the video Google has kicked out about the new Android 3.0 OS – it’s like looking at pictures but a lot faster.

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