Google Android 3.1 is now rolling out to Motorola XOOM tablets, and my test unit received the update this morning, so I thought it was time for a little tour. Some of the changes are hard to capture on camera, such as the improved support for hardware graphics acceleration, which generally makes the tablet feel faster thanks to improved browser performance and smoother system animations. Strangely the tablet is scoring lower in some benchmarks, but that might be due to the benchmarks rather than actual system performance. I’ll have more on that in my complete review.
Other items such as improved home screen widgets and new browser tools are more readily apparent. You can find my hands-on video and more photos below.
The first two changes you’ll probably notice are support for new system features including a recent apps menu that lets you scroll up and down to see additional results and home screen widgets that can be resized.
At the moment only a few widgets can be resized, including the calendar, Gmail and bookmarks widgets. To change the size, just tap and hold on a widget and dots will appear on the sides. You can pull the those dots to increase or reduce the height or width of a widget.
Google has made tools available to let developers create resizeable widgets, so we should start seeing more of these soon.
The Android Market has also been overhauled to look more like the web-based version. There are now sections for Android apps, digital books, and movies. You can browse or search for movies, view trailers, or rent titles directly from your device.
The videos play using the YouTube app and based on the trailer I checked out, the quality is pretty good.
The Android 3.1 web browser has received a number of improvements, including better support for hardware graphics acceleration. Zooming on the XOOM was always pretty smooth, but the browser seems even more responsive to touch now. The latest version of the Adobe Flash plugin is also optimized for Android 3.1, and I was able to stream 720p Flash video from the web with no problems — although 1080p video effectively looked like a photo slideshow.
The “Quick Controls” option in the web browser now lets you flip through thumbnail icons for open tabs. You can bring up Quick Controls by enabling the feature in the “labs” section of your browser settings and then dragging your finger from the right side of the screen.
When Quick Controls are enabled, you won’t see browser tabs at the top of the screen, or a location bar. Instead the browser runs in full screen mode and you just drag your thumb to the appropriate action if you want to enter a URL, conduct a search, open a new tab, or switch between open tabs.
Overall I like the Quick Controls, but I find the tab switcher a little disconcerting. The thumbnail icons of open web sites look a little too much alike, so it takes a moment to figure out which web page you’re looking for.
The new Music app doesn’t look all that different, but if you’re participating in the private beta test of Google’s new online music service which lets you upload your music to the cloud, your songs should show up in the Music player alongside songs stored on your device.
You can see Android 3.1 in action in the video below.