Review: Android 2.2 (FroYo) for Nexus One

Not much time ago i bought an HTC Desire and I was very happy with it, except for the AMOLED display which i don’t really like. But despite the great overall experience with the HTC Desire, i couldn’t shake off the bad feeling that i will see many delays again when a new Android version is being ported to the HTC Desire. We witnessed this issue on the HTC Hero Android 2.1 release, as HTC needed way too much time to roll out the update. Shortly after my HTC Desire purchase Vodafone finally released the Nexus One in germany, and Google announced that the official Android 2.2 update is not far away. A few days later i decided that the HTC Desire didn’t provide enough new features as HTC Sense only received minor changes. Therefore i opted for the Nexus One, so i could find out how good stock Android has become with the newest 2.2 (FroYo) version and to be able to get future Android updates as soon as Google rolled them out.

Before getting the Nexus One i tried to find out if Vodafone added any kind of branding which would be a no-go for me. Back then the official statement was that there is no branding whatsoever and that the german Nexus One is the same as the US version. But when the Android 2.2 FroYo update was released, it was only rolled out to US users first. European Nexus One devices have a different firmware, therefore the US update didn’t work. This is not what many Nexus One customers expected, since the Nexus One was praised as the only real Google phone which is carrier independent. It would have been much better for Google to provide the update worldwide for all devices at the same time, but it seems like Vodafone had something to do with the delay as they had to test the update before Google could roll it out. This stands against the whole Nexus One idea of being carrier independent and i don’t have a clue how Google could agree to this. Since i didn’t want to wait for Vodafone to verify (and delay) each Android update I unlocked my Nexus One’s bootloader (even though this means losing the warranty). This way it was possible to flash the US firmware and to install the US FroYo update. Now let’s see if the hassle of selling my HTC Desire and going through the steps of unlocking the bootloader was worth it. I’ll go through all new Android 2.2 (FroYo) features, and provide some comparisons with the HTC Desire running on Android 2.1 with HTC Sense.

Android 2.2 (FroYo) Homescreen

On older stock Android devices the homescreen was pretty laggy. This was always one of my complaints, as i don’t understand why devices like the Motorola Milestone, which had cutting egde hardware specs at the time of their release, weren’t able to provide fast and fluid homescreen scrolling. Especially when my old HTC Hero had much better performance on the homescreens thanks to HTC Sense. While Android 2.2 is definetly better than 2.1 on the Nexus One, it’s sadly still not quite as good as the homescreen scrolling on the HTC Desire. You can spot little lags when swiping through the screens on the Nexus One, while scrolling on the HTC Desire is nearly perfect. But i found a very good alternative called Launcher Pro, which is a homescreen replacement app with incredible performance and some great additional features like landscape mode and customizeable shortcuts at the bottom of the screen.

Speaking of shortcuts, Android 2.2 (FroYo) introduces two news shortcuts icons, which are placed around the app drawer. The left one opens the dialer, while the right one is reserved for the browser. I would have liked to see an option to change the shortcuts to other apps, but as for now this is not possible. Landscape view is still not supported for Android phones without slide-out keyboards, i hope Google will fix that on the next update.

Android 2.2 (FroYo) Exchange Server Support

Exchange support was officially added on the Android 2.0 update, and i never thought much about that because even my old HTC Hero (at that time with Android 1.5) supported full exchange support thanks to HTC Sense enhancements. After getting the Nexus One i was very suprised to see that while exchange email support was indeed available, i wasn’t able to sync my exchange calendar. This was a HUGE setback for me, especially as all of my previous Android devices supported exchange email and calendar. Android 2.0 introduced exchange email sync only, and Android 2.2 (FroYo) finally added the much needed calendar sync.

During the exchange server setup you can choose to sync contacts, calendar and emails. Calendar sync works very well, and you can accept/decline meeting requests directly on your Android phone if you have activated email sync. Thanks to the different colors used for exchange calendar items and google calendar items, it’s very easy to differentiate between them.

I also love the week view on stock Android 2.2 (FroYo), which is missing on HTC Sense devices like the HTC Desire.

For me the addition of exchange calendar sync is one of the most important new features. There are some apps out there like TouchDown which provide good exchange sync, but they use their own calendar user interfaces and don’t write the data into the stock calendar database, which means that you have to switch between different calendar apps all the time. As i already mentioned before, HTC Sense Android devices and i.e. Motorola Android devices like the Motorola Milestone/Droid actually supported calendar exchange sync from the start, but users with stock Android devices didn’t have any good solution up to now.
Another very important new exchange server feature is called “remote wipe”. The exchange server administrator can wipe your smartphone remotely if it got lost or was stolen. And it’s now possible to set up alphanumeric passwords for unlocking the phone, which adds another layer of security.

Furthermore it’s now possible to search global address lists in order to send mails to any recipient within your exchange server directory. So as you can see Google really did a great job of enhancing the exchange server support of Android devices to suit the needs of business users.

Android 2.2 (FroYo) Gmail

Finally it’s possible to copy&paste text from your Gmail messages by opening the menu and selecting “more” to find the new option “select text”. Switching Google accounts is also much more comfortable now, as you have a button on the top-right corner of the inbox view which you can use to quickly change the account.

Android 2.2 (FroYo) Gallery

The gallery only got some minor tweaks. One of them if the new “preview” feature, which will let you take a peak into a set of pictures without opening the list view. This can be done by pinch zooming on the pictures batch, and holding both fingers on the screen.

Android 2.2 (FroYo) Apps installation on SD Card

Ever since the launch of the T-Mobile G1 all Android users have been waiting for this. Installing apps on the sd card was something which was painfully missing, because the internal storage is filled up pretty fast if you can chose between 100.000 apps in the Android market. There have been possibilities to move out data to the sd card on older Android versions too, but this had to be programmed accordingly. Navigation solutions like CoPilot store the map data on the sd card, but they still need over 20 MB of internal storage, which is way too much. Android 2.2 provides a new feature which will let you move apps to the sd card.

You only have to open the apps list and open the detail view of an app. This is where you’ll find a new button called “move to sd card”. By touching that button the app will be moved from the internal storage to the external sd card. If you want to move an app back to the phone storage it’s as simple as touching the above mentioned button again. Sadly this doesn’t work for all apps out of the box. Developers have to update their apps to support this feature.

The app overview provides new views including downloaded apps, running apps, apps on sd card and all apps.

Android 2.2 (FroYo) Camera

When taking snapshots or recording movies you’ll also find some UI changes. The camera menu doesn’t have to be opened manually as you will see all options directly on-screen.

This way it’s possible to change settings on the fly and much faster than before. Other than this UI change there aren’t any new features in the camera app like 720p recording. The quality of pictures also didn’t receive any kind of noticable optimization.

Android 2.2 (FroYo) WiFi Tethering

It seems like the new HotSpot feature aka WiFi tethering is all the rage these days. FroYo will allow your phone to act as a WiFi HotSpot in order to connect up to 8 devices for mobile internet access. You can find the WiFi tethering option within the wireless settings.

Tethering does work as expected, but i have to admit that i’m not one of those persons which would use it very often. When i’m outdoor i usually don’t have a laptop with me and i’m also not travelling much by train, so there are only very rare instances where i would need this feature at all. Some mobile network providers seem to identificate tethering and charge it seperatly from your regular mobile phone flatrate, so you should check out how your network provider handles this feature in order to avoid trouble with a high monthly bill.

Android 2.2 (FroYo) Keyboard

Android never had a good default keyboard, and on FroYo this hasn’t really changed. There are some additions like easy language switching by swiping on the space button, but overall there is still a lot of room of improvement. Other keyboards like the HTC Sense keyboard have better layout and therefore are much easier to use.

Even after some days of usage i couldn’t get used to the stock Android keyboard and still prefer the HTC Sense version.

Android 2.2 (FroYo) Browser

The biggest addition to the FroYo browser is the flash plugin which you have to install seperatly. It will take about 10 MB of your phone storage. On the HTC Desire you already had flash support with Android 2.1 but the official flash 10.1 beta plugin has better compatibility than HTCs own version.

I strongly suggest to set the flash plugin option to “on demand” only, otherwise you will lose a lot of bandwidth because of flash ads and other flash based stuff that you don’t really need to see. The “on demand” option will show a download icon wherever flash content is found on a website, and you can decide on your own which one to show.

Website with activated flash content will scroll and zoom a little bit slower, so you will see an impact on the devices performance. But neithertheless this is a very handy feature to have, especially since some pages require flash support to work correctly.

Android 2.2 (FroYo) Car Mode

European users got Google Navigation some time ago, so it makes sense to have a car mode which will further enhance the navigation experience. The car mode is basically a view which is designed to provide easy access to the most important features while you are driving.

You can directly access contacts, set up a navigation target via speech recognition or open google maps. This mode is really useful when you are on the road.

Android 2.2 (FroYo) App Store

In the past it could be quite bothersome to update all your apps, because you had to do it seperatly for each app. Luckily Android 2.2 introduces a couple of options which will make updating apps much easier. The first enhancement is the addition of an “update all” button, which is shown in the market app if more than one app was updated. That way you can easily update all apps at once.

The second addition is the possibility to give apps the right to update automatically. So you don’t have to do anything since your device will check if there are updates available and install them in the background. If an app changes the required access rights you will be promted to update manually, so there is no risk in letting the apps update automatically.

I’m not sure if this is a new Android 2.2 (FroYo) feature, but up to now i didn’t realize that you can rate comments too. By touching the arrow icons besides each comment, it’s possible to rank comments up or down.

Android 2.2 (FroYo) JIT Compiler and Performance Boost

Even though the Nexus One had cutting edge hardware when it was released in the US, there were still instances where the phone could get laggy. Not only the homescreens weren’t as smooth as on the iPhone or HTC Sense smartphones, but the overall performance was not as flawless as the Nexus One specs would have indicated. I found out recently that Android 2.1 didn’t even support 512 MB of RAM, so you basically had the Nexus One smartphone which came with 512 MB of RAM but Android 2.1 could only use 256 MB of it.

Google is claiming huge performance boosts with the Android 2.2 (FroYo) update, which could be archieved thanks to the new JIT (Just in Time) compiler and the V8 engine for JavaScript:

  • Performance of the browser has been enhanced using the V8 engine, which enables faster loading of JavaScript-heavy pages.

  • Dalvik Performance Boost: 2x-5x performance speedup for CPU-heavy code over Android 2.1 with Dalvik JIT.

  • Kernel Memory Management Boost: Improved memory reclaim by up to 20x, which results in faster app switching and smoother performance on memory-constrained devices.

These are some benchmarks which are posted on Google’s official Android 2.2 page. You’ll see noticable speed gains after updating to Android 2.2, but they won’t be as huge as the benchmark numbers would suggest. The reason for this is simple: not every page makes heavy use of javascript, and CPU heavy code is not the only reason for some of the OS lags. Don’t get me wrong, Android 2.2 does boost the performance of your Nexus One and i’m really happy with it as my primary smartphone, but it’s not like your phone is suddenly 5 to 10 times faster than before. Overall i would say that the Nexus One is probably 30% faster at an average, which is a very impressive performance gain.

The Verdict

It’s not an exaggeration to say that Android 2.2 might be the first time the average customer will recognize Android as an equally good mobile experience as iOS for the iPhone. In the past there were many little issues like laggy homescreens, inconsistent and too complex UI, missing overall quality of Android market apps, and not enough general awareness which kept the mainstream market from embracing Android. Being an open OS is great, but the average customer just wants an smartphone which works without much hassle and is also fun to use. So while people like me loved the idea of Android and would not switch to the iPhone because of it’s many restrictions, this is not the case for the regular customer. But i think Android 2.2 (FroYo) marks a change, because you have many factors coming together for the Android platform. Google managed to adress a lot of major Android problems like full exchange support and performance gains as well as many new features, while the market is full of high-quality Android smartphones like the HTC Desire, Nexus One, Droid Incredible, Motorola Droid X, Samsung Galaxy S and many more. The combination of Android OS maturing and cutting edge hardware will result in an even better market share growth for Android than we have witnessed in the past 12 months. It’s great to be an Android fan these days, and with the upcoming Android 3.0 Gingerbread update it will only get better.

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