Google Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) review
Gingerbread, Google’s next step towards Android’s mobile dominance (both on smartphones and on tablets) has launched with Samsung’s Nexus S in December. Not only did Samsung bring out great hardware, but Google’s also launched the next version of Android with along with it. We review Android “Gingerbread” on T-Mobile’s extraordinarily flexible HD2.
Google hasn’t actually promised much with Gingerbread despite much ferocious speculation online but as far as Android news goes, we’ve had to get used to it. What is promised by Google was improved gaming performance, new UI elements including a new keyboard, and improved battery life and performance, and we’re going to test as many of those claims out as we can.
New Features of android 2.3:
- New refreshed User Interface
- Improved keyboard
- Improved Text Selection and copy-paste
- Near Field Communication Support (NFC)
- VOIP Calling
- New Download Manager integrated to browser,email and other apps.
- Better Power Management
- Faster Processing Speed
- Improved Game Development
Overall the OS has seen a move towards darker and blacker backgrounds with green and orange contrasting colors, including the bounce effect when reaching the bottom of a page. The strong contrast in colors gives Android a greater sense of focus on important parts of what’s going on. The darker colors help conserve power since OLED-based displays don’t consume power when rendering black pixels, because the pixels physically supply the light themselves. Gingerbread seems clearly made for Nexus S or similar devices with high quality, extremely high contrast displays – definitely something we can get used to.
Keyboard improvements include new punctuation keys that opens a box allowing you to slide to select symbol you want which closes the box. It’s an elegant solution to a time-killing set of commands that required opening a secondary keyboard and then closing it after tapping one or two characters out, this small iteration has definitely saved me time. Keyboard’s also been themed to match the darker look, with puncuation keys taking on the orange highlights found when reaching the bottom of menus. Button spacing has seen adjustment with the buttons overall being smaller, allowing for more space in-between them. We’re not sure if it’s benefited our typing, but it certainly looks better doing it.
Android’s UI has seen some marked improvements that focus more on aesthetics than design, and for good reason. Many of the most dramatic changes happening with Android have been happening through application developers taking advantage of Google’s new technologies. Google apps have seen Market updates that, now everyone can get including YouTube, Maps and the Market itself. All update independently of when carriers push out updates, with some Google apps now getting automatic over-the-air updates; which, quite frankly we aren’t exactly thrilled about and wish Google would change soon.
Gingerbread seemed superior in day-to-day use if only because it manages to kill, and keep dead most background processes that Froyo and older versions would keep open which we confirmed with SystemPanel. Less processes were left using CPU cycles when the phone was sleeping, and less things left the phone awake. CPU scaling also seemed more willing over older versions of Android as well.
Icons and Widgets
Not much has changed in terms of icons and the application menu, but many of the stock icons have been recolored to match the green theme found throughout the UI. Highlighted icons are now backed by an orange glow. Before, the entire space for the icon was filled with the orange selector, now the orange is tighter to the icon, however, this may not be so for every third-party application.
You will also find a “Downloads” icon that keeps track of all of your recent downloads. Before, this was hidden deep within the browser and was a pain to navigate to every time you wanted to find something you downloaded. It was easier just to use a third-party file explorer. With this Downloads app, you have the option to easily delete any old downloads too, thanks to the check box and pop-up delete button that appears when you check a file. The Power Control widget has been slightly modified as well, but nothing major. The sync, location, and Wi-Fi button on the widget have been updated and match the other UI changes in the notification bar.
Gaming (to be updated):
Many of the promised improvements in Android were in the gaming department. Unfortunately, the updated Gingerbread SDK features haven’t actually been implemented by any Android game developers yet. We expect the Xperia Play and Playstation Suite devices with Gingerbread to take better advantage of these features whenever they launch.
Application Control (Task Killer Killer)
Along these same lines is a shortcut to “Manage Applications” which you can reach in your options menu. From here, you can indeed view all of your applications, how much power they’re using, and you’ve got the ability to stop any app instantly.
SIP Internet Calling addresses can be added to your contacts list and you can make internet calls via Quick Contact or Dialer. Hooray! Of course you’ll need a SIP account for this to work and these features will be turned off or on depending on what your manufacturer or carrier wants.
A new download manager is in place to work from your browser, email, or other apps. This could be rather helpful I must say so myself.
Multiple cameras can now be accessed from your one new camera app, just by clicking the “select camera” button.
We have to say, we didn’t expect much from Google and it’s probably a good thing. There’s not too much new here; at least not until those SDK features are implemented, and when they are we’ll definitely be updating this review to reflect it with detailed comparisons. Alas, too many changes and they would probably risk alienating developers anyway. UI has been cleaned up across the board and we can’t wait for the future of black-themed Android apps that are coming with it; after all the biggest changes in Android rely on the developers to actually implement the new features and styles.Big changes in Android are coming with Honeycomb and Ice Cream when they launch; and the review will, of course be more in-depth and analytical when there’s something worth analyzing. For a point-release, we applaud Google for many of the changes, but should you upgrade your phone for it? Absolutely not.
For more geek talk, refer to the official vid below…
Concurrent Garbage Collector
Dalivik VM brings you a lovely new way to collect your garbage during gameplay for apps, this bringing along a whole lot smoother and more responsive playing of game-based apps.
Third-party video drivers are introduced to improve OpenGL ES operations and to increase your whole 3D graphics performance experience.
Touch and keyboard events are now handled faster and much more efficiently reducing the amount of CPU used during event distribution. Responsiveness is therefor improved in all apps, especially those with 3D graphics and those that are CPU-intensive.
Along those same lines, apps using native code are now allowed the ability to receive and process input and sensor events right into their native code, improving both responsiveness and efficiency. All supported sensor types can now be received by apps, enabling and disabling of specific sensors is allowed, as is managing of event delivery rate and queing. Native libraries exposed by Gingerbread let apps handle the same kinds of input events as currently available through the framework.
Gyroscrope, rotation vector, gravity, barometer sensors, and linear acceleration
All new sensor types Android 2.3 has added API support for. Open API is added for Native Audio, Khronos OpenSL ES. Gingerbread gives you an interface to its Khronos EGL library allowing apps to manage graphics context as well as manage and create OpenGL ES textures and surfaces from native code.
Native Access to Activity Lifecycle, Windows Management
Native apps are now able to declare a new type of Activity class by the name of NativeActivity, its lifecycle callbacks implemented right direct into the native code. This NativeActivity and its native code run inside the system like other Activities, they running in apps system process and executing on apps main UI thread, receiving the same lifecycle callbacks as the rest of the Activities. Also Native APIs are revealed for managing windows.
Native Access to Storage, Assets
A native Asset Manager API is now accessible by apps, getting rid of the need to go through JNI for retrieving application assets. Streaming decompression is included along this path. Limit to compression no longer exists as far as how much .apk assets can be read, and apps have access to a native Storage Manager API that works directly with OBB files (although Dev tools for managing and creating OBB files wont be available until early 2011.)
Robust Native Development Environment
Android NDK (r5 or higher) gives you now a complete set of tools and toolchains and libraries for helping you develop apps inside Android 2.3.
SIP-based internet telephony features can now be added to apps, Android 2.3 including a full SIP protocol stack and integrated call management service allowing apps easy set-up of incoming and outgoing voice calls (no managing sessions, audio recording, playback, or transport-level communication needed directly).
Near Field Communication capability allows developers access to the new world. Proximity-based info and services for all, using NFC API to respond to NFC tags by touching things like posters, stickers, and other devices. Any number of actions can follow.
Mixable Audio Effects
New audio API allows developers creation of rich audio environments with equalization, bass, headphone virtualization, and reverb. Mixing of multiple effects in local tracks or globally.
Support for New Media Formats
Built in support for VP8 video compression as well as WebM open container format. Also AAC encoding and AMR wideband encoding is included for apps to capture higher quality audio than just narrowband.
Access to Multiple Cameras
New Camera API makes use of as many cameras as are available on the device they’re working for, querying the platform for info on each camera, opening the camera that’s needed. Simple, necessary.
One of the best improvements is, finally, proper copy-and-paste. With previous versions of Android, selecting text was a rather random affair. Now, selections are made by moving bounding arrows in a similar way to the iPhone. This method is available across all applications, and works really well. HTC and Samsung have implemented their own versions of this, but Google’s is neater.
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