Android Honeycomb: Powerful and promising, but not perfect

Google's new Android Honeycomb OS has a lot to offer, but it also has a long way to go before it can deliver the full tablet experience.

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Notifications and navigation

The newly revamped Android notification system is equally powerful. Notifications have often been cited as one of Android's core strengths, and their progression in Honeycomb seems like a natural and well-executed evolution.

Honeycomb

An area in the bottom right notifies you of incoming items.

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Instead of the top-of-screen notification bar found on Android phones, Honeycomb uses an area in the bottom-right corner of the tablet (next to a system clock) to keep you apprised of incoming e-mails, tweets and whatever else you want to see. Any notification can be enabled or disabled based on your preferences.

The setup feels like a more elegant version of the typical desktop notification. When you get a new e-mail in Honeycomb, for example, a small box appears that shows you the sender and the subject of the message. After a few seconds, the box vanishes, leaving only an envelope icon in its place. You can tap the icon to view additional information, open the message or dismiss the notification completely.

Honeycomb

The quick-settings menu lets you perform basic tasks.

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To the left of the notification area sit two icons that show your network status and tablet battery level. Touching those icons pulls up a quick-settings menu where you can perform basic tasks, like changing your network configuration or adjusting the brightness of your screen. You can also tap a link to jump to the full system settings panel, which contains advanced options for adjusting your tablet's behavior.

Honeycomb tablets, unlike their Android smartphone counterparts, have no hardware buttons on their faces; instead, there are a series of icons in the bottom-left corner of the display. One icon allows you to go back a step -- similar to the back button in a Web browser -- while another returns you to your home screen. A third icon shows you a list of your most recently used applications, allowing you to toggle to another program without closing any others.

Honeycomb

An icon leads to a list of recently used applications.

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In smartphone editions of Android, you have to long-press the home button to find this multitasking function -- something many users might not think to do on their own. Honeycomb's implementation eliminates the need to search out these potentially confusing power-user shortcuts.

Perhaps the most user-friendly feature of the Honeycomb OS is its seamless integration with Google search technology. A Google search icon sits at the top-left corner of the Honeycomb home screen. Tapping it allows you to simultaneously search the Web and your device -- contacts, applications, multimedia files and so on -- for any type of information you need. Similar one-touch search functions are provided in all of the native Honeycomb apps.

Honeycomb

A Google search icon allows you to simultaneously search the Web and your device.

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Alternatively, you can use Google's impressive Voice Actions software. From the home screen, tapping a microphone icon and speaking a phrase instantly launches a Web search for your term; you can also get directions by saying "navigate to" followed by an address or business name; listen to music by saying "listen to" and an artist's name; or even send yourself a memo via Gmail by saying "note to self" and then speaking a message.

Google's voice-to-text technology is tightly integrated throughout the entire operating system; in basically any instance where you can enter text, you can also press a microphone icon to dictate the words instead.

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