A First Look at Honeycomb For Google TV

For the general public, Google TV failed to live up to high expectations with its attempt to bring search to TV. It’s been close to a year since its release and after bad reviews and delayed products, Google is attempting one more shot into the living room with their new Honeycomb update. Will Google’s second try be enough to keep Google TV afloat? Judge for yourself, after the jump.

I had a chance to play with the leaked beta version of Honeycomb for the Logitech Revue. Google announced they would be releasing the Honeycomb update this summer, so this could be close to the final version. Aside for a few bugs here and there, it feels pretty final. After using it extensively this past week, I’ve found a few features and improvements that are worth checking out.

Chrome to Phone
This is an extension for the Chrome browser that sends links to your Google TV (think of it like AirPlay for links). My boyfriend and I use it when we’re surfing the internet and want to show things to each other. We usually always have the TV on for background noise while we’re both on our computers in the living room. What’s great is that since Google TV uses an HDMI passthrough, one doesn’t have to change the input to use it (unlike Apple TV and AirPlay). The integration is seamless and makes our TV act as a display center piece that friends can view when we have them over.

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Apps
The big update in Honeycomb is the inclusion of Android Market. Right now there are only a few apps that are specifically made for Google TV, but in general I’ve found that other apps still work well anyway. Jumping in and out of apps is super quick and with picture-in-picture, moving through apps doesn’t disturb your TV watching experience.

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Notifications
When you download apps, they act as they would on a Honeycomb tablet, which includes notifications. Notifications pop up on the bottom similar to the way they do on an Xbox 360. Some people may not like the idea of notifications disturbing them while watching television, but if you’re someone who usually has your TV for most of the day/night, the notifications almost act like an informational billboard or stock ticker of your social networks.

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What’s On
The new updates put movies, TV shows and live TV all in one place. It categorizes them in genres and you can organize them by HD and what time they’re on. This app can accompany your cable box guide and is a helpful tool when you just don’t know what to watch. For example, I usually like to watch comedies before bedtime. If I’m browsing Google TV at midnight, it will show me all the comedies on at that time. Each program has a thumbnail image as well as a progress bar that shows the duration of the program and how many minutes are left. With one click, Google TV changes the channel on my cable box. The program guide also includes free TV shows and movies across the web, sending you straight to the website.

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Speed
Google TV with Honeycomb is fairly speedy—I would say it’s at least twice as fast as it was before the update. The search bar pops up instantly without hesitation and makes a huge difference. Before the update, Google TV was slow and laggy—it got to the point where I was barely using it just because of how slow it was. Now it actually feels like it’s part of my television. Things like finding channels, typing in names of shows or looking up YouTube videos are now a far more enjoyable experience. The overall speed of Google TV is a major improvement.

All in all, this update is what Google TV should have been since the start. What it really comes down to is how you currently watch and use TV. If you want something for Netflix, Hulu and purchasing movies, other set top boxes like Apple TV, Xbox 360 or Roku get the job done perfectly. Google TV, however, approaches internet TV a bit differently, acting as a new way to interact with cable TV, find content and display connected information. Google TV may not have lived up to expectations since launch, but with the Honeycomb update and dramatic price drop ($99), it’s definitely worth a second look.