The new and improved Google+ app was released at Google I/O yesterday. This version is optimized for both smartphones and tablets, sporting a new UI with a host of brand new features. We went hands-on to find out if Google is giving Facebook a better run for its money.

Overhauled UI

Google+ for tablets now features a redesigned UI that makes use of big ample rectangles, giving off an almost Windows 8-esque, Live Tile feel. If a particular Google+ post has garnered more likes and comments than the other, its rectangle features more prominently than previous posts. In portrait mode, the app scrolls in the natural vertical motion we've come to expect. In landscape mode, Google+ scrolls laterally, again like Windows 8.

A drop-down menu sits on the top left corner of the app, activated when touched. Here you can filter to the circle you want to view in your stream. On the upper right corner of the app sit icons for posting a thought, refreshing your stream and an additional menu of commonly used tools (Search posts, Send feedback, Settings, Help, Sign out).

To view Google+'s main app menu, tap on the Google+ logo found on the upper left corner to your app. A familiar slide-out menu bar will give you options to access your profile, photos, hangouts, messenger,and more. But the one item to note in this new version is called Events.

Events

With a name surely thought up in a flash of original inspiration, the not-at-all similarly named "Events" is Google's counterpart to the Facebook feature of the same function. At least its utility is rather different from competitors'. As the company explained in its keynote, a Google+ Event is designed to be useful not only for planning an event, but while an event is actually underway.

Here's how it works: Create an event, and you can invite Google+ contacts as well as those who aren't on the social network (via their email addresses). Enter information about the event, chose an image to creatively represent your invitation, and make sure you don't have any conflicting appointments (you can do this quickly since Google Calendar deeply integrates with Google+ events and data is automatically slurped into the app).

Party Mode

When you're actually enjoying an event, Google+ boasts a feature called "party mode," which collects all the photos taken at the event and puts it into one place for convenient viewing, updated in real-time. It actually reminded us a bit of how Color was originally conceived, showing off a live stream of photos taken at a particular place, though this time you aren't constrained by where you're currently located.

After the event, posts are rearraged into chronological order, and the photos that receive the most feedback (in comments and +1's) are brought right up to the top of the page.

Bottom Line

It might've seemed like it was just born yesterday, but Google+ is now a whole year old. The Mountain View company yesterday spouted off some pretty decent statistics, including 150 million active users with 50 percent signing in daily, and active Google+ users spending more than 12 minutes a day in wading through its stream (up from 9 minutes a day just a few months ago). Since Google's stats also report that most of these minutes are coming from mobile users rather than web users, it makes sense that Google would try to reel in a whole new haul of users by optimizing its app for tablet owners.