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The Honeycomb 3.1 update rundown where it matters to us… gaming!

Recently Google I/O 2011 ended and during that event, Google announced the Honeycomb 3.1 update which comes with a slew of new improvements and features. Since then it has been rolling out to Motorola XOOM owners (both WiFi and Verizon) over the past couple weeks.

While Honeycomb 3.1 brings with it a lot of improvements and extra functionality to the Android OS, such as resizable widgets and faster screen transitions, we here at DroidGamers think that is all good but what we really want to bite our teeth into is the new gaming improvements. So without further delay, here is a rundown of what to look forward to when Honeycomb 3.1 lands on your Android device.

Flash Gaming

If you play a lot of Flash games then you will be happy to know that Honeycomb 3.1 comes with more optimizations for GPU accelerated Flash. Between this and the recent update to the Adobe Flash Player ( version 10.3+), people who play a lot of Flash games will see a fair amount of improvement in overall performance. This is great if you play a lot of Flash games online but to take it a step further, if you rather enjoy using PC controls when playing these Flash games, you can team this improvement up with another new feature that comes in Honeycomb 3.1 which is the USB Host support. When you do that, you’ll be able to use a mouse or other add-ons to play your Flash games with.

The improvement to Flash also comes with some great video playing enhancements as well. This may not be gaming related in the sense of playing a game, but it is great if you watch a lot of videos such as what we do here. It even supports 720p playback through Flash which is nice if you want to watch some game videos in high definititon on any of the major video sites like Vimeo or YouTube.

USB Host Support

This is by far the best announcement for an update to Android we have heard in awhile, at least for us. As a gamer, you should be happy about this as well. Honeycomb 3.1 comes with support for the USB OTG (On-The-Go) protocol. This means that you will ba able to plug your XBox 360 or Playstation 3 controller into your XOOM (or other dual-core Android devices when 3.1 arrives on them) and play games that supports using these controls. Developers won’t have a hard time supporting these add-ons either as it is fairly easy to map out the buttons. The Xperia Play support is a prime example of this. It took developers very little time to bring support to their games for the control pad found on the Xperia Play.

To do any of this though you will need to buy a MicroUSB to USB cable with the appropriate MicroUSB connection. Generally these run between $2-$6 on Amazon. When you have that though, you can connect any standard USB peripheral to your Honeycomb 3.1 device and use it as a game controller.  This is perfect for those of us that want game controls but since we have a XOOM or other dual-core device, buying an Xperia Play just for the controls is a bit much. Developers will hop on this quick considering the amount of people who have XBox 360 or Playstation 3 controllers laying around is a lot higher than Xperia Play owners.

Essentially, if you take this a step further, you now have a portable console gaming system. If you hook this up through HDMI to your TV, slap in a controller and start playing a game, you basically have yourself a console gaming system.

More Accessories

If the above feature isn’t enough then you can look forward to even more accessories coming our way. This is due to Google releasing the Android Open Accessories SDK which will allow developers to develop and support anything they want to that is USB capable. Here is the definition from the Android Developer site:

The Android 3.1 platform (also backported to Android 2.3.4) introduces Android Open Accessory support, which allows external USB hardware (an Android USB accessory) to interact with an Android-powered device in a special “accessory” mode. When an Android-powered powered device is in accessory mode, the connected accessory acts as the USB host (powers the bus and enumerates devices) and the Android-powered device acts as the USB device. Android USB accessories are specifically designed to attach to Android-powered devices and adhere to a simple protocol (Android accessory protocol) that allows them to detect Android-powered devices that support accessory mode. Accessories must also provide 500mA at 5V for charging power. Many previously released Android-powered devices are only capable of acting as a USB device and cannot initiate connections with external USB devices. Android Open Accessory support overcomes this limitation and allows you to build accessories that can interact with an assortment of Android-powered devices by allowing the accessory to initiate the connection.

It should be interesting to see what developers come up with using this new SDK. We predict some real Kinect-style gaming coming soon.

Overall Performance:

Overall the entire Honeycomb OS seems to just run faster. It runs smoother and it is just much more enjoyable to use with 3.1 on it. Games, both Tegra 2 and non-Tegra, seem to run better as well and there hasn’t been a force close issue yet to show it’s ugly face.

Starting now and over the next couple of months, Android gaming is going to get even more better than it already is and features like USB Host support is only going to help that out. If you haven’t gotten your Honeycomb 3.1 update yet, be patient, the wait is worth it. A little trick I read somewhere is to set your date on your XOOM to about a week ahead and it will check for updates to the OS up to that date. If you do have it already, let us know how you like it so far! So far we are pretty pleased with it.

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