Google released the Software Developer Kit for Android 3.0 Honeycomb today, as well as some screenshots and details about the upcoming tablet-friendly version of the Android operating system. The SDK includes an emulator, which lets you run a test version of Honeycomb from a PC.
Right now the emulator is in the very early stages and it’s clunky and slow as all get-out, and therefore doesn’t provide a great sense of what the actual user experience will be like. It also seems to be stuck in portrait mode. But I decided to spend a few hours installing the SDK and tinkering with the emulator anyway to see if I could get a better sense of how Honeycomb will look and feel.
The first thing you’ll notice is that Google has replaced the hardware buttons and notification bar with a single bar at the bottom of the screen. From here you can always press the Back, Home, or Recent Apps button, as well as check the time, wireless signal, and battery life.
The home screen isn’t all that different from what you get on older versions of Android. Google offers multiple screens which you can customize with wallpapers, widgets, and application icons. There’s also a search bar at the top of the page and an Apps button which you can use to pull up the full list of available apps. Out of the box, this developer preview doesn’t come with many apps at all.
The web browser is one of the few apps that has change significantly, thanks to support for browser tabs. Unfortunately the browser crashed every time I tried to load a second tab. So I could only get a screenshot of the web browser loading its home page — Google.
When you tap-and-hold on the home screen you get a new customization menu which lets you change wallpapers, add widgets, shortcuts, or other items. I experienced a number of crashes when exploring this section, but I did manage to change out the wallpaper once.
While Google promises that the Recent Apps menu will show real snapshots of recently used applications, in the emulator it seems to simply show icons — but the large rectangles around the icons suggest that support for thumbnail images may arrive in a software update.
The Settings menu doesn’t appear to have changed all that much, except that there’s now a two-panel view, allowing you to view the complete list of Settings categories on the left while making changes on the right. That means, you can flip between the Wireless & networks, Sound, or Applications menus with a single tap now. There’s no need to hit the Back button.
The contact manager has also been redesigned to make better use of the large screen.
I couldn’t get the on-screen keyboard to pop up while using the emulator. Instead, when I tapped on a text box, I was able to use my computer’s keyboard to enter text. But there is an icon in the system-wide status bar which lets you change your input method if you want to change the default keyboard.
Overall, Google Android 3.0 Honeycomb looks like exactly what it is: Android redesigned for devices with larger displays. While the early demo videos released by Google made the OS look like a revolutionary departure from Android 2.x, now that I’ve played with Honeycomb for a while, I can say it still feels a lot like Android — and that’s a good thing, since many of the people who are likely clamoring for an Android tablet are Android phone users. I suspect they’ll be right at home using upcoming tablets such as the Motorola Xoom which will ship with Android 3.0.