Google announced Android 2.2, otherwise known as Froyo, and received an enthusiastic response from the audience at Google I/O 2010 earlier this month. Most things that were updated are on the backend, but some of the new features are just killer – WiFi hotspot integration, updated photo gallery, apps on SD, and more. So, how does it stack up? Allow us to walk you through all the new features of Android 2.2 to see if it lives up to the hype.
New Home screen tips Widget
Let’s just pretend you’ve bought a Nexus One with Android 2.2 OS “Froyo” pre-installed on it. After getting through the easy set up, you’ll be greeted by a tutorial widget to help you get to know how the Android operating system works. The Home Screen tips widget features tips like how to access all your applications, how to add items to your home screen, how to rearrange items, remove them, and how to get to your other home screens. While any Android savvy user would laugh at this widget, some people may not have the slightest clue as to how to navigate the Android OS. It’s harder to use than the iPhone OS, but it’s much smarter in certain ways.
It truly feels like a real computing operating system, but that comes with usability issues. Good thing Google is looking out for the n00bs here.
New Home screen layout
There have been minimal enhancements to the look and feel of the Android OS. One notable change from Eclair is that there are now two extra soft buttons surrounding the application launcher. There are now two dedicated buttons for the phone, and browser application flanking the application tray button. I think it’s smart to add probably two of the most used apps in the device, always accessible in the same place.
I’ve been using an application called Bar Control since my G1 days, which allows you to add applications to your notification bar, virtually eliminating having to press home to go to the browser, or turning on WiFi from another application. With Android 2.2 OS Froyo installed, I’ve recently removed the browser from my notification bar so I can try to get used to the new location of the browser. While the new Froyo feature frees up two extra spaces for the homescreen, I like Bar Control much, much better, and think it should be a native Android feature. But to be fair, Google’s trying, and for those who do mind a sometimes cluttered notification bar, the new locations for the phone and browser may be perfect for you. Plus, it does look a little better.
New Exchange Features
From the get-go, Android wasn’t terribly Exchange friendly, but that seems to have all changed. Vic Gundotra, at the Google I/O last week said, “In [Android 2.2 OS] Froyo, we’ve introduced over 20 new features designed to meet the needs of enterprise,” Well, that fixes that, but what are the features? For starters, there’ s now an auto-discovery feature that will allow accounts to be set up, and synced, using just a username and password. No longer will a user need to know the specific server settings. Android 2.2 OS users also need not fret if they should lose their device, as Froyo integrates a remote wipe feature that will, well, remotely wipe your data on command. Exchange calendars are also now supported in the stock Android calendar application, and can be synced accordingly.
Camera and Photo Gallery Enhancements
The Camera has been updated, and it’s certainly a very welcomed enhancement. Before, On Android 2.0, and 2.1, Camera settings were hidden on the left side of the screen, and it was mostly a pain to access. Google has trashed the settings sidebar with an easier approach. With Froyo, camera settings can be found right on the screen of the camera’s view finder, but in a subtle, non intrusive, easy to use way. The settings are now found on the right side of the screen and are easier to find and use. They are smaller, but just as usable, and it’s much less of a pain to get at them, since they’re right in view! Something else Google added in is the ability to use the LED light while recording video in low-light settings. Good call.
While the updated Gallery for Android 2.1 doesn’t need much more improvement since it’s already a kick ass 3D gallery that’ll beat out any photo reel you throw at it, extra features are always welcomed. The only noticeable thing you’ll find in the new Android 2.2 gallery is that you can view a set of pictures without going into it. With what you’d call a ‘zoom-out’ multitouch gesture, you can now see all the pictures in a stack. When the gesture is made on a stack of photos, two of the photos will follow your fingers, and the photos in between will start flying to the top picture. This is feature is more fun than functional, but its good to see Google’s making their OS a little more fun to use.
The video below shows you what this looks like:
WiFi Tethering/ Hotspot and Multi-Language support
The WiFi tethering and Hotspot feature is a go for Froyo, but it does come with a catch. Carriers will have to OK this feature in order for their customers with Android 2.2 OS-powered smartphones to use it, unless you have a Nexus One, as it faces no software restrictions. While some Android 2.1 devices have this feature out of the box, namely the EVO, it’s never been a native OS feature until now.
Froyo makes tethering and WiFi hotspot easy enough to use. All you have to do is enable the feature through the “Settings” pane, and you’re good to go. Security features for the hotspot feature is limited to either WPA2, or open, so there is some room for more options which we’ll probably see in the future.
The keyboard now also has seen a couple of upgrades as well. By dragging your finger up on the keyboard, a dedicated number and symbol row appear, eliminating the need for the extra button on the bottom left of the keyboard. I never would have noticed it if I hadn’t read it elsewhere, so keeping the button to access numbers, etc is a good idea . The keyboard also features multi-language support, making it easy to switch between languages with a swipe of the finger, and spelling suggestions will also be in the selected language.
The below videos show you what WiFi tethering on Android 2.2 OS looks like and how the updated Froyo keyboard handles numbers and symbols:
One of the most pleasing of Google’s Android announcements focused on speed. First, they introduced the JIT (Just In Time) Compiler, which is said to make the OS 2-5x faster than Android 2.1, and I must admit, Froyo flies. The OS as a whole is snappier, and the compiler surely came just in time. But that’s not all that was added in terms of speed enhancements.
The Google I/O also brought us the Cloud to Device API, allowing data to be sent from one’s computer, to Google’s servers, and then to the user’s Android device. To send emails, map link, and URLs (etc.) to your Android 2.2 OS-powered phone, you’ll need to download the application and the extension for supporting browsers, which are currently only Google Chrome and Firefox. (The Firefox extension actually offers more features than the Chrome extension does. Anytime you right-click a link or picture, you have the option to send the contents to the device right from the menu that appears.) It was demonstrated in a couple of different ways. Say you’re looking up directions on Google Maps on your computer, and you don’t want to have to look it up from your phone, just click the ‘send to phone’ button within the browser, and in a snap, since these are directions we’re looking at, Google Navigation will immediately open with the directions right in your phone.
Another use for the new Android 2.2 feature is to send web pages to your phone. If you’re reading an article, (say, this one) and you have to leave before you can finish it, hit send to phone. Your Froyo’d Android phone’s browser will open up immediately, displaying the article. Or, say you are looking at Google Finance on your computer, and you want to send it to your phone. If you have the Google Finance application downloaded, and you hit send to phone, you will receive a notification of whether you’d like to open the page in the browser, or through the Finance application. Awesome.
While it may not be anything incredibly helpful in your everyday life, more features will come from this. Google also demonstrated someone looking through the Android Market’s web page on the computer, and found an application that they wanted on their phone. In any other instance, you’d find the application you want, then go to the Android Market on your phone to download it. In the future, with the Cloud-to-device feature, you’ll be able to send applications to your phone, and to Google TV. Once you send it to your phone, you’ll notice it downloading automatically.
Application Data Backup & Applications to the SD Card
Another small, but very helpful API added into Android 2.2 OS Froyo is the ability to back up your data from an application. So it’s something like this: I have an application that I use to track how many cigarettes I smoke a day, but anytime I’d flash a ROM, I’d lose all of that data, starting from square one. With the new API, even if you move to another device, all of your data from your previous phone can be restored. Pretty Cool.
One of the biggest complaints about Android is its limited internal memory for applications. Well, in Froyo, applications can now be sent to the SD card. With the addition of the feature, this may appeal to gaming developers who have wanted to write a game for Android, but its size would compromise it’s performance, or maybe was just to big to install at all. With this new feature in place, you can manually send applications to the SD card, or you can allow the Android OS decide whether it’d be better on internal or external memory. What’s best of all, running an application from the SD card shows no signs of under performance. Thanks Google.
No doubt the biggest feature announced at the I/O was Flash support. Froyo now supports it in the browser. Once you update to Android 2.2 OS, the Flash player application can be found in the Market. I’m glad they chose not to bundle Flash within the browser, as some people may not want it. I’m sure they thought that one through and through. This is Android, after all, and it’s all about choice. Some early previews of Flash in action were absolutely flawless, while other demonstrations were less than perfect. In a heavy Flash-based site, the entire browser can slowdown, and you’d never even think that V8 engine existed in the browser. But for the most part, Flash performs exceptionally well.
The biggest gain from having flash in the browser is games. Kongregate, as well as MochiMedia have already launched sites with mobile optimized Flash games, and they perform swimmingly. Some of the games are so well done, in fact, that they put some native applications to shame. This is a HUGE win for Android in the gaming arena, because even at this point, the gaming options in the Android Market are still sparse.
Say you want Flash, but not all the time on your Android browser. Well, I’ve got the perfect solution for you. Go into your browser’s settings, and select Enable plug-ins, and select On Demand. This way, Flash will not load until you tell it to. What really slows the browser down is that it’s trying to load the web page content and Flash at the same time. When you allow the page to load, and then select the Flash content to play, then you have something buttery smooth that’s good from end to end. Oh yeah, and it’s only beta at this point. Eat it, iPhone iPad Jobs.
Android Market Enhancements
The Android Market has seen a little bit of a refresh as well. The biggest, and best feature is the ability to have you applications automatically update themselves. By selecting “allow automatic updates” within a particular application, you’re good to go, they will be updated as soon a newer version of the application is available. Another feature that was added is the ‘update all’ feature in the Android Market. This was needed, as it can get a little tedious when you have to manually update 8 applications. Android 2.2’s “automatic update” feature fixes that, and we’re happy to see it.
The last noticeable change in the Market is that within an application’s download page, the comments have been moved, and now has its own separate tab. Nothing revolutionary, but it fits right in.
Wrap-up, and thoughts
While Froyo didn’t give us features as enabling the colored trackball on Nexus One’s, or outsourcing all Google applications to the Android Market, there’s no denying that Android 2.2 OS absolutely delivers. Android is a very powerful operating system on its own, but Froyo just takes it to the next level by providing extensive upgrades, and new features that make using Android that much more enjoyable and flexible enough to meet all your mobile road warrior needs. Android 2.2 OS Froyo easily goes toe-to-toe with what we’ve seen in the iPhone 4 OS, and in almost every way, bests it. With such a solid update coming soon, and some of the sneak peaks we’ve seen at the I/O, all I can say is, “Bring on the Gingerbread!” I still don’t give my EVO 4G enough attention because I have Froyo on my Nexus One. Sorry Evo. So to answer the question of the title, Is Froyo all it’s cracked up to be? The simple answer: You bet your ass it is.