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Android 3.0 (Honeycomb) review

David Ludlow
18 Apr 2011
Our Rating 

A vast improvement over previous versions of Android for tablets, but the browser needs a bit of improving and there need to be more apps.

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Specifications

With Android 3.0 Google is striking back against Apple, creating an OS that's entirely designed to be run on the high-resolution, large screens devices, rather than expanding the smartphone edition to simply fill the screen.

To this end, the OS has been given an entire overhaul, although there's enough similarity to the smartphone versions that it's easy enough to pick up and use. We previewed the OS using the Android Developer Kit, but we've got our first Android 3.0 tablet in, so have decided to give the OS its own review.

One of the biggest changes with Android 3.0 is that there are no hardware navigation buttons any more.

Android 3.0 Home Screen

Instead, back, home and menu are all soft buttons located in a bar at the bottom of the screen. Depending on the application, this bar is either always visible or it slides out of the way when it's not being used - tapping the bottom of the screen restores it. Given the larger screen size of a tablet, not having any buttons makes lots of sense and makes Android 3.0 easy to navigate.

We love the new task switcher button, which brings up a thumbmail list of recent applications. Just tap the one you want to switch to it. It's much more elegant than the iPad 2's system.

Widgets

One of the best things about Android is its customisable home screens. This remain in Android 3.0, with five screens available. Widgets and shortcuts can be added by pressing the Plus button. This brings up a list of shortcuts and widgets, plus it shows a thumbnail view of every home screen. All you have to do is drag and drop the app you want on to the right screen, plus you can tap a home screen to jump to it quickly.

Android 3.0 Widgets

A grid system is used to place widgets and icons, but it's a smart system that keeps the relative position of objects when moving from landscape to portrait. For example, place a widget in the top right of the screen and it will be there in both landscape and portrait orientations.

Switching between home screens is just as easy as on a smartphone, only the 3D animation is a little bit slicker to watch.

Power and settings

Settings are housed in the notification block at the bottom of the screen when you tap the clock. From here you can access the main settings page, jump straight to Wi-Fi settings, put the tablet in flight mode, adjust screen brightness and lock the orientation of the screen.

Android 3.0 Screen

This works well enough and it's good to have shortcuts to some of these features, but there's no easy way to turn off certain devices to save power, such as Bluetooth and GPS. In fact, there's no longer a widget for power control, which seems like an odd omission to us. You can still buy these from the Market, such as with Beautiful Widgets, but we don't understand why it's not there in the first place.

The new settings menu is an improvement. While it's the same layout as the smartphone edition, the menu is always visible in one panel. Select an entry and its options open in another panel. It's a slight tweak, but makes it easier to change options.

Notifications

While the smartphone edition had a notification bar at the top, which you had to pull down, Android 3.0 uses the bottom bar. This shows you when you've got new texts and emails. You don't need to pull the bar up, though, just tap the icon you're interested in for more information, then tap that pop-up to view the data in the app that triggered the notification, such as Gmail.

Again, it's not a big departure from the smartphone editions of Android, but makes more sense on a larger screen with a higher resolution.

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