Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Android 2.2 Froyo first impressions

This past weekend, I took the plunge and installed Android 2.2 on my G1. Those of you in the Android community know that this involves much rooting, hacking, etc. and is not for the faint of heart. I've had my G1 rooted since March, and have been using and enjoying 2.1, Eclair, since then.

About a month ago, the Cyanogen team released their modded version of Froyo for the G1. I held off trying it myself until some of the initial issues were fixed, but that didn't take long and I am now up and running with the latest version of everyone's favorite green robot. Keep reading for my first impressions of the new OS.

Under the hood, Froyo functions very differently than Eclair in a number of areas. These changes make the system faster, more responsive, and better, but they mean that those of us used to hacking Eclair have to relearn our tactics. For the average user, though, 2.2 doesn't look and feel all that different from 2.1. For this post, I'll focus only on the front facing features that average users will see.

Android Market
The Market got some excellent new features that everyone will appreciate. Apps are now considerably easier to update. Does anyone reading this remember the days of Android 1.0 when the Market didn't even tell you when updates were available? Those days are long gone and the new Froyo Market does even more than that by allowing automatic updates. Users can select on an app-by-app basis whether to allow automatic updates or not. Then, as long as the app's permissions don't change, the Market will auto-install updates in the background. There's also an Update All button now, for apps that aren't set to auto update.

The new Market also allows up and down ranking of comments. Market comments can now be either marked as Helpful, Unhelpful, or Spam. I don't really understand why these options are there, since the Market sorts comments by date and doesn't allow sorting by helpfulness. I can only assume that the new ranking system is in preparation for the next version of Android which will allow app browsing and installing straight from the main Android website. Once the web version of the Market is live, I'm sure comments will play a much larger role and users will surely have the ability to sort comments differently.

Gmail, Browser, and Email
All three of these stock Google apps got minor updates, too. Gmail now allows super easy account switching via a drop down, and it has back and forward buttons to move between messages. Best of all, it also now supports selecting and copying text from within emails. This alone might be worth the upgrade for some people.

The Browser got some nice new features, too, though it's very slow on my G1. I stick with Steel, which isn't nearly as feature-rich, but it's very fast. But for faster devices, the new Browser offers some great new features like Incognito windows, better HTML5 support, etc.

I don't use the stock Email app, since Gmail is the only email service I use, but for those who use Yahoo, AOL, or another email service, the Android Email app got some improvements, too. Things like Exchange support, multiple accounts, etc.

Chrome to Phone
This may be one of the coolest features of Froyo, and it's just the beginning. One of the things Google showed off when they first announced Froyo is a new web-to-phone push service. This will allow apps and websites to push links, files, etc. straight to your phone, if you allow it. The potential for this is massive, and will eventually power the new Market website, where users will simply click Install on the web and watch as the app magically begins installing on their phone.

For now, the only app taking advantage of the new service is Chrome to Phone, which is a combination Android app and Chrome extension. Once they're both signed in and linked together, you can view a website in Chrome, then push the button and the site immediately loads on your phone. It works with maps, too. Load a Google Maps page, push the button, and it loads the map on your phone.

There's also a Firefox extension that works the same way.

Overall, Froyo isn't a huge upgrade from Eclair. It's more evolutionary than revolutionary, as they say. It provides some excellent improvements and definitely sets the stage for future improvements. If your phone/carrier offers a Froyo update, you should definitely get it. And if you aren't offered one, you should seek it out yourself via root, hacking, etc.

Android is evolving faster than ever and with flagship devices like the Droid X and Evo 4G, it's only going to keep growing. These new features are great, especially for those of us who have been using Android since the beginning. The evolution has been a lot of fun to watch and I can't wait to try the next version.