Thursday, April 30, 2009

Android Cupcake First Impressions

My phone announced it had a system update this morning and, with permission, proceeded to download the new release code-named cupcake.  Since I have a developer phone, I could have downloaded it long ago, but was waiting for the push since I wasn't that interested in being that much of a beta tester.  This is my actual personal phone that I need to work!

The Upgrade

There was a download that took a handful of minutes, then a reboot, then a picture of a big yellow arrow going from a package to a phone, then a picture of a big  yellow arrow going to a chip (firmware upgrade?), then a reboot, only a few seconds, then another reboot.

The first thing was, during boot, the animation was no longer the little pulsating, green android (which I sort of miss) but the word android with animated highlights moving across it.  It does look neat.

It says it's now Linux kernel version 2.6.27 and build CRB21.

First Impressions

The first thing I noticed was the presence of transparent items on the main screen.    Now the lock display and the unlock screen appear transparently over your normal background.

The second thing is that I would swear the screen is higher resolution.  I'm not sure if it really is higher-res, or if some of the icons are higher res images, or if it's just clever artwork.  Some icons, notably the browser and Gmail, which are on my home screen are different.

On Screen Keyboard

If you don't have one of these phones, you may not realize why this is important.  To me, the flip-out keyboard is essential.  I want to be able to type quickly and accurately with two thumbs and it works well enough.  However, when you just need to type a word or short search term, flipping out the keyboard and rotating the phone is bothersome.  It's nice to just be able to immediately type on the screen at that point.

So far, the on-screen keyboard works surprisingly well.  The ribbon of suggested completions is good.  You just start a word then tap on a matching suggestion if it appears.  Typing is not too bad and it is effective, but it is, of course, slower than the physical keyboard.

At first I had no idea how to access the keyboard.  (Answer:  Tap a text box, only once and lightly!)  Fortunately, under Settings there was a System Tutorial which was really only a tutorial for the keyboard.  That was perfectly helpful.


Now it has a camcorder.  At first I wondered if it would already be downloaded in the upgrade, but it was right there in the Apps.  It works, the controls work well, and it knows how to upload a video to YouTube, essentially with one click.  

The CCD (or whatever it has) on this phone is notoriously slow.  Still pictures are easily blurred and, for the same reason, the frame rate of video is ~low and the frame images are easily blurred.

Snappy Speed

Everything seems snappier and faster.  That's completely subjective, of course.  Menus scroll faster.

Find on page

The worst thing about the older browser was there was no find-on-page function!  You can hardly use the web without this function.

For example, you search for the word “android.”  A page comes up that's many screens long.  Somewhere on that page is the word android.  Where is it?  I'm certainly not going to read through screens of text to find it.  You need find-on-page!

I use it constantly.  Now it's on the browser menu, right there on top.  The implementation is well-done, too.

Voice Search

Google voice search seemed to work better.  I don't know if this is because of Cupcake, because I read that you should hold the phone at a normal distance and maybe I was holding it too close, or if the phone is learning more about my voice.  In any event, voice search has been mostly terrible before now.  This morning I said “android cupcake” and it got it just right.

What's really important, I think, is that Jamie Dupree was talking on the radio in the background, and the volume was pretty loud, and that didn't seem to interfere much at all.

Okay, I just tried it again, saying “italian food” and the name of our town.  It thought I said “italian food snowbowl”.   Hm.  Then I just tried “italian food” and, of course, it knew where I was and listed all of the local restaurants.