Honeycomb is one of the biggest updates in Android history, so naturally, I jumped at the chance to try it out via the newly released Android 3.0 "preview SDK." What I found certainly wasn't disappointing - though it's important to remember that this is just a preview, meaning that not everything is in working order (for example, the emulator is so slow it made me want to tear my hair out at times, not to mention the frequent force close messages). Join us below for our first impressions of the new UI elements and other features found in Android 3.0 "Honeycomb."

The emulator's bootscreen is the same as it was for Android 1.6, 2.1, 2.2, etc. (though Honeycomb tablets will most likely ship with a different one):

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I suppose some things never change 

The homescreen has been given an almost complete makeover - from the process of adding widgets to scrolling through apps in the launcher, it has been redesigned from the ground up:

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 Just look at those beautiful widgets!

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Adding apps/widgets to the homescreen is an entirely different (and better) experience

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Moving and deleting apps/widgets is also a much smoother and more visual process

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The app launcher has also been redesigned and split into two sections: 'All' and 'Downloaded'

Searching has been streamlined nicely - I especially like the fact that when you type in the URL of a website that is in your bookmarks, a little widget pops up:

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The widget (seen in the right side of the first screenshot) will pop up even before you're done typing - very convenient.

The multitasking interface seen below isn't what you'll get on your XOOM or other Honeycomb tablet - the final version of Android 3.0 will include snapshots of currently running apps - but here's what we have so far:

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I can't wait to try this out once it gets thumbnails of running apps - Honeycomb may have the most innovative implementation of multitasking this side of WebOS

It took a while before I could get the browser to do anything other than crash, but it was well worth the effort - check out its sexy new progress bar, desktop-esque tabs, and general awesomeness:

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The only thing that worries me is the fact that the browser loaded the mobile version of Android Police - I hope the final version of Honeycomb will load desktop versions of sites by default (like the iPad)

I got the 'Camera' app to open, though it wouldn't actually function (for obvious reasons):

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Again, nice improvements all around

The 'Contacts' app looks great with its new two-pane design:

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Pretty slick, no?

I couldn't get past the first screen of the new email app, but I like what I saw:

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I was repeatedly greeted by a server error after this screen, no matter what email account I used (I tried Gmail, Google Apps, Exchange, and a few others) 

The calculator's UI has also been revamped:

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Hey, it's a calculator! On a tablet! Imagine that, Apple! 

The same goes for the clock:

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Simple, foolproof, and futuristic. I like it, Google

Have a look at the widget-style clock you can access by tapping the battery icon in the System Bar (the System Bar is the bar across the bottom of the screen - it also contains the home, multitasking, and back buttons as well as the time/battery level and any notifications):

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Could be a nice way to view the date in addition to the time and battery percentage (which are displayed in the System Bar)

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Some useful toggles accessible via a press of the triangular button in the widget-style clock

Even the 'Settings' app has been revised so as to better fit the larger display (and yes, 'Settings' still thinks you're using a phone - don't tell it that Honeycomb is a tablet operating system):

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If this is the sort of UI we can expect from all Honeycomb apps, I'm sold

Text selection has also been improved:

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The bar across the top is perfect for a screen of this size, and the pop-up 'Paste' button is a great way to quickly paste something into a text field

And here's what apps built for Android 2.x look like:

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Yes, a lot of space goes to waste, but it still looks better than this...

Like I said in the introduction, Honeycomb doesn't disappoint. Sure, the emulator is unbelievably slow (even slower than an emulated Gingerbread instance, if such a thing is possible), the text/images look slightly askew in portrait mode, and I encountered force close messages at every turn, but I'll dismiss these issues as bugs in the emulator and/or a result of the non-final code contained in this "preview" version of Honeycomb.

The bottom line is that Android 3.0 introduces a fantastic new UI - one that, judging by what we've seen so far (we haven't had a chance to play with the Gmail app, YouTube, the Market, or any third-party applications yet) could easily stand its ground against the iPad or any other tablet on the market today. Let's hope the final version of Honeycomb delivers!

If you plan on trying the Honeycomb emulator yourself, be aware that there's a horrible orientation bug - by default, the screen is in portrait mode, but the window is in landscape view. You can make the window portrait by pressing the 'Control' and 'F12' keys simultaneously. To enable landscape mode, you'll need to go into 'Settings,' then 'Screen,' and finally disable 'Auto-rotate Screen.' After this, you can toggle between portrait and landscape views by holding down the 'Control' and 'F12' keys.