There are enough differences between the Android tablet and smartphone interfaces to make the platform a bit confusing. With that in mind, I thought I would point out some of the main UI differences and how to know what to look for on the tablet version of the Android platform.

Android 3.x (Honeycomb) is the Android platform for large screen devices (tablets). Android 2.x (Gingerbread) is the Android platform for smaller screen devices (smartphones). The devices I’m using as examples are the Verizon Droid X and the Toshiba Thrive tablet. The Droid X doesn’t have a vanilla Android interface, but it’s still an outstanding device and offers many fine examples of how these differences appear.


The notification system is probably the change that will effect most users. The cause for this change was simple — real estate. With the size of the smartphone screen, it was necessary to have a notification system that was non-intrusive and could be easily hidden — thus the “drag bar”style. If a notification occurs, the user simply drags the bar from the top to the bottom to check it (see Figure A).
Figure A

Simply pull down the notification bar to reveal alerts.

Now, on the tablet version of Android, the notification system has been revamped and relocated to more closely resemble a standard desktop system. Figure B illustrates how the new notification system works. Instead of using a drop-down bar, the notifications appear in the notification area, waiting for you to tap on one to reveal its information.
Figure B

Here, you can see a Gmail email alert that I’ve tapped on to reveal.

In order to get rid of a tablet notification, you have to tap the notification to open the associated application or tap the X on the far right of the notification popup.

To be fair, we’re comparing apples to oranges, but the notification system on the tablet version of Android is by far the more user-friendly of the two. However, seeing as how the smartphone take on the notification system is cramped by size, the drag-bar style does get the job done.


It’s possible to multitask on both Android smartphones and tablets, but they handle it quite differently. In order to change to a different smartphone application, press and hold the Home button, which will bring up the Recent list (see Figure C).
Figure C

The Recent list shows the most recently used applications. You can fire up one of those applications by tapping its icon.

With the Android tablet, you’ll find a much closer-to-true take on multitasking. On the home screen, you’ll see a small square icon near the bottom left corner. If you tap that icon, all currently running applications will appear in a vertical bar (see Figure D). Select the application you want to switch to, and that app will appear on screen.

Figure D

The Android tablet offers much closer to true multitasking than the Android smartphone.

Application Settings

In the smartphone platform, you have to open an application and then tap the Menu button to reveal the Settings icon or menu (see Figure E).
Figure E

This is the menu for the Android browser application, where the Settings can be accessed.

The Settings button on the Android tablet is actually found in the Application window (see Figure F). In the upper right corner, you’ll see an icon with horizontal lines. Simply tap that icon to reveal the application menu, which includes the Settings entry.
Figure F

As you can see, it’s also possible to open up an incognito browser window from this menu.

Sizing widgets

For the Android smartphone platform, widget sizing was completely up to the widget designer. Many of these widgets would install different sized variations, so the user could add a small, medium, or large widget on their home screen. The tablet interface makes a huge change on this by allowing the resizing of widgets on the screen. Now, not all widgets have this capability yet. But for those that do, in order to resize them, follow these steps:

  1. Add the widget to the home screen
  2. Long-press the widget
  3. Release
  4. A handled box will appear (see Figure G)
  5. Grab any edge of that widget and drag it to the size you want
  6. Tap outside of that widget to save the size

Figure G

Only official Google widgets are “resize-aware” at the moment.

As I mentioned, only the official Google widgets can do this. All other widgets must have this feature worked in by the developers.

There are quite a few more differences between the two versions of Android, but the ones I highlighted above will help Android smartphones users get accustomed to the Android tablet platform. Have you found a difference that has tripped you up? If so, please share your experience with your fellow TechRepublic readers in the discussion thread below.