Android 3.0 Honeycomb, the first version of the Android OS designed specifically for tablets, was announced earlier this year. Since then there’s been a steady flow of devices that run on the Honeycomb platform.
Starting with the Motorola Xoom in January, we’ve recently seen the likes of the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7 announced at IFA alongside the long-awaited Sony S1 and Sony Tablet P devices. As well as hardware there's been two software updates to 3.1 and 3.2.
Still, there’s nowhere near as many games or apps made specifically for Android tablets are there are the Apple iPad. But the number of Honeycomb-optimised apps will only grow as more devices are announced and interest in Android slates increases.
Besides apps and games, there are a number of other ways in which you can get more out of your Honeycomb slate.
Sync with Google Chrome
A lot of the cool stuff you’ll be able to do with your Honeycomb tablet can be found by having a tinker around in the Settings menu of the default browser.
First up is the ability to sync your bookmarks with Chrome on your PC or Mac on your tablet’s browser. Pretty elementary stuff; if you use Chrome regularly chances are you’ll already know about this.
Anyway, the option to sync bookmarks is under Settings > General. It’s pretty self explanatory, once you’ve added your Google Account of choice, you should see your bookmarks appear under the appropriate tab.
Some Honeycomb tablet users have reported issues with this particular feature; frustratingly, its something we’ve experienced ourselves with our Tab 10.1 and have not yet been able to find find a workaround. Apart from this one...
Chrome to Phone works on Honeycomb tablets too
For all of you who are frustrated at the Chrome sync function not working as expected, there is always this semi-manual workaround.
Chrome to Phone, as you’d expect, is an app that allows you to ping links from your desktop browser to your Android phone. It’s a slightly misleading name as with the right extensions, you can get it to work with Firefox as well. You can also use it to send links to your Honeycomb tablet.
We guess that 'Chrome and Firefox to Phone and Tablet' doesn’t have the same ring to it...
We’ve written about Chrome to Phone at length here; the same principles apply. Download the Chrome to Phone app on your tablet from the Android Market, sign in with your Google Account when prompted and ping away on your desktop.
So as well as allowing you to send links to your tablet Read It Later style, Chrome to Phone also allows you to sync your bookmarks, albeit one at a time...
We didn't say it was perfect but it is a workaround.
Go incognito, like a secret agent
Incognito mode is a way to browse the web on your Android tablet without the browser retaining any web history or cookie info. It's a bit like the private browsing modes of Firefox and IE and exactly like on the desktop version of Chrome.
Tap on the Settings tab top right and you’ll see an option to open a ‘new incognito tab’ alongside your others.
Google warns you though that ISPs and websites with tracking cookies may track your behaviour. So if you’re gleefully rubbing your palms, waiting to check out one of those new .xxx domains, be careful.
Google also warns you that incognito browsing doesn't protect against ‘secret agents’ or ‘people standing behind you.’
Quick Controls and Google Instant
Quick Controls (a feature of 3.1 Honeycomb) is another feature tucked away in the Honeycomb browser’s settings. Enabling Quick Controls does away with the address bar and tabs at the top of the screen, instead moving the controls away and off to the sides of the screen.
You access controls and functions by swiping in from the black borders off of the tablet’s screen; options for back, forwards, refresh etc are displayed on a brace of blue icons that fan out in a cobblestone pattern.
Quick Controls is essentially a way to indulge in full screen browsing on your tablet by moving all of the controls out of the way until they’re needed.
An early version of Google Instant has also been added to the stock Honeycomb browser.
As you’d expect this works in the same way that desktop Google Instant does, second guessing your search terms as you type them into Google Search, but it’s a bit erratic at the moment and can cause a spike in your data usage if you’re not careful.
Both Quick Controls and Google Instant are accessed by going to Browser > Settings > Labs.
Flash on/Flash off
Being able to view Flash content on your Android tablet is something of a double-edged sword. One the one hand it means that you’ll be able to view full Flash sites and watch Flash content on sites in Newgrounds and Kongregate. But it also means that you’ll see lovely banner ads appearing all over pages as you browse. Banner ads that eat into your tablet’s battery and (if you’re not browsing on Wi-Fi) into your data plan as well.
But by diving into the default Browser’s settings (top right corner) you’ll be able to choose to enable Flash items on an on-demand basis or disable them altogether.
Browser > Settings > Advanced > Enabled plug-ins
If you choose the former on-demand option, Flash content will be replaced by a green arrow that if you click on it, will download and play the Flash content.
The same is true for Android phones as well (those running 2.2 Froyo and above). So this is a general tip for all Android devices and not just tablets.
Enable Wi-Fi Sleep mode, save battery power
Hop over to Settings > Wireless & Networks > Wireless Settings > Wi-Fi Sleep Policy and check the box marked ‘When screen turns off.’
This, as you’d expect, shuts off the Wi-Fi antenna when your tablet is idle and the screen powers down. A useful battery saving technique if you’re away, on the phone or not using your tablet at that point.
When you get back to your tablet and the screen flutters back into life, the Wi-Fi turns back on automatically and reconnects. So after a couple of seconds you’re as you were.
The only downside to this of course is that when you’re away you won’t pick up any emails or Facebook notifications.
Searching for Honeycomb apps? Download Tablet Market
Aside from simply typing ‘Tablet’ or ‘Tablet Apps’ and ‘Honeycomb’ into the Android Market’s search box when looking for Android 3.0 optimised apps and games, there’s Tablet Market as well.
A very simple app that does what it says on the tin, Tablet Market gathers together a number of Honeycomb-optimised apps together for easy app hunting. Android 3.0 optimised apps like Friendcaster Tab and SwiftKey Tablet X were in there along with several others.
The design (or lack thereof) is very no frills, but it does the job. Our only real complaint is that the app links send you back to the web-based Android Market (via the Honeycomb browser) instead of via the app-based Market, which would make more sense.
Got 3.1 Honeycomb? Plug in a PS3 Sixaxis or Xbox 360 controller, connect USB mice and Bluetooth keyboards
Perfect for those of you who’ve downloaded emulators (strictly to play ROMs of games that you already own physical copies of, right?).
The 3.1 Honeycomb update added among other things, support for external controls like PS3 and Xbox 360 gamepads as well as Bluetooth mice and keyboards, like those accessories available for the Motorola Xoom. Emulators for games should see controls automatically mapped to game pads that can connect via a Honeycomb tablet if it has a microUSB port.
We're hoping that one day we'll be able to play Minecraft: Pocket Edition on a Xoom via a 360 controller.
Inception? No, encryption
Another neat feature tucked away in Honeycomb’s settings is the ability to encrypt your tablet. Useful if you’re security conscious and don’t want your data falling into the wrong hands.
Encrypting your tablet can take over an hour and requires at least 80 per cent of the battery to be full. But once its done, your tablet will be locked by a PIN number or password that you’ll need to input each time you turn it on.
To encrypt your Android tablet, head over to Settings > Location and Security.
Got an Android 2.2 phone as well? Save money, go for a Wi-Fi only tablet and tether away
Perhaps this should go without saying. But if you’ve got an Android phone running 2.2 Froyo or above, then you can use this to connect your Honeycomb tab to the web via Wi-Fi tethering. The difference between Wi-Fi only and 3G and Wi-Fi tablets in terms of asking price can be Tconsiderable. So if you want to save a few quid here and there and you want to browse on your tablet when not connected to Wi-Fi, then we’d say that this is a potential money-saver.
You’ll want to keep an eye on your usage though; download 3G watchdog and Onavo on your phone.