The first thing you'll notice with Froyo is a slightly modified navigation bar that assimilates shortcuts for both the phone and web browser. The Google search bar has undergone a slight modification, too, letting you cater your search specifically to web, apps, or contacts -- and that's about it for home screen modifications. No extra wallpapers, no additional screens, no new shortcuts. As for new widgets, all we've seen are a tutorial box and a rotating ad for featured marketplace apps.
Tethering and portable hotspot
Well, what do you know? Even seeing the settings sub-menu for tethering and portable WiFi hotspot functionality didn't completely convince us, but sure enough, we logged on to AT&T's 3G network without any issues. Security options are limited at this point -- it's WPA2 PSK or bust -- but that should be more than enough when your DSL goes on the fritz or you're stuck in traffic and need to do some heavy emailing. Let's see how long the carriers turn a blind eye on this one.
YouTube HQ (sort of)
Top row: Froyo (first with HQ enabled, then without; bottom row: Eclair (same settings on both screens)
The only other stock widget, aside from Google search, that had any noticeable change was YouTube, which now scrolls through a set of most viewed videos to entice and distract you on passing glances. The player itself, however, beams a shiny new "HQ" button on the bottom right of the screen. But before you go gloating to your EVO 4G-carrying pals, you should know that in our tests the higher-res option by and large matched the default (and thus far only) video option for Android 2.1 Eclair, and non-HQ was even more scaled down, and didn't even span the entire width of the 3.7-inch screen. And to think, the sight of that button alone gave us such jubilation. (Update: As a number of readers have pointed out, this change is nothing more than semantics -- the Nexus One does have the same low-quality option buried inside menus.)
External storage for apps
While support for apps on external storage has been confirmed Froyo (the Manage Applications screen is now divided amongst Downloaded, Running, All, and most importantly, "On SD card"), try as we might, we couldn't find a single program that'd let us use the "Move to SD card" functionality. That includes marketplace and third-party downloads -- we'll have to explore this one later.
Some of the other highlights, briefly:
- Camera: Controls are now more streamlined within the viewing window and much easier to sift through.
- Gmail: Previous and Next navigation in every viewed message, and a much more colorful means of sifting through labels.
- Calendar: The large green bars that took up much of the calendar space have been thoroughly fine-tuned into blue segments more indicative of the actual hour of day for each event.
- Voice recognition settings: Does voice search have a perceived issue with your accent or colloquialisms? New options for voice recognition let you choose seven different dialects of English (US, Canada, UK, Australia, New Zealand, India, and Generic), Mandarin Chinese, and Japanese. The latter worked quite well in testing, producing accurate Kanji for our horribly strewn together phrases.
- Security: Sick of locking your device with a pattern? PIN codes are now accepted.
- Car dock: A revamped interface spaces out the buttons, adds quick shortcuts to music and lighting adjustment, but decides it's probably for the best to disable the hardware home button in lieu of an easier-to-press "Exit car mode" screen key.
Flash Player 10.1
So, does the new system run as silky smooth as earlier hinted at? In our tests, we were getting about the same Linpack scores as the early reports, which was over five times higher on Froyo than on Eclair -- and even more dramatic when you compare it with an Eclair-laden Motorola Droid. We saw similar results with a number of other benchmark tools, namely Sunspider and Benchmark Pi (unfortunately NeoCore, our favorite 3D test, kept crashing when we tried it).
|Droid (2.1)||Nexus One (2.1)||Nexus One (2.2)|
|Benchmark Pi (milliseconds)||5,086||2,859||1,138|
After Froyo: what's next?
Tethering's for the birds -- how about whisking your favorite tracks to your pocket without cabling up? Google's purchase of a little firm called Simplify Media is making this feature possible, which uses a desktop component to push your iTunes music collection (or portions of your choosing) straight to your Android -powered device over the air. Google has only demonstrated this over WiFi so far, so we're anxious to give it a whirl and see how well it works over 3G -- assuming it works at all.
And while we're on the subject of magic through-the-cloud tricks, you'll also eventually be able to push apps from your computer's desktop to your phone. Simply selecting an app on your desktop and selecting it to transfer will cause it to be both sent to the phone and installed automatically. Considering that most app discovery seems to happen on the device, this might end up not having a lot of practical bearing -- but either way, it's pretty neat.
So, when is this stuff coming? Google's not saying -- it was presented in a section about what's "beyond Froyo" at I/O this week -- but we do know that it's targeting codename Gingerbread for the tail end of the year. That version (which could come to market as 2.3, 2.5, 3.0, or something else entirely) will also feature support for Google's newly-announced WebM video format that's designed to sidestep H.264 licensing concerns.
Update: Google now says it'll be rolling out "in the coming weeks."
Sean Hollister and Chris Ziegler contributed to this report.