The latest Android release, Gingerbread, is coming soon to phones, but we can peek at it in the software developer's kit. Here's what's new and notable in Android 2.3: better typing, darker looks, detailed battery and memory reports, and more.
Google has "launched" Gingerbread, which, for them, means that users of the Android SDK can create a virtual Android device running 2.3, update their apps to utilise new APIs in the system and otherwise play around. They've also released an official video, explained the Android highlights, offered up an official user guide (direct PDF link), and shown off Gingerbread in a stylised Nexus S ad.
But for the big-picture view of what's new, we created our own little virtual Gingerbread phone and poked around. Here's what you'll see when your own Android phone hits Android 2.3.
Note: Because this involves a tour of the SDK, we don't yet have access to any of Google's proprietary apps, like the Gmail client, the Calendar, or especially the supposedly much-improved Market. We'll add in shots and links to other sites where those aspects have seen coverage.
Where Android 2.2 and earlier were full of metal notification shades, white Menu buttons and comparatively incongruous dark Settings pages, Gingerbread has partly unified the look and feel of Android's controls behind a dark theme with Orange highlights. Not that some themed phones, like on HTC's Sense platform, didn't have some dark looks of their own. But Gingerbread looks more consistent across its many aspects — menus, widgets, apps and all.
New Keyboard and Text Tools
There are the big, notable improvements, and not a moment too soon.
Selecting text on earlier Android versions was, frankly, a pain in the butt: press and hold the text area, choose "select text", move an oddly Windows-like cursor around with your tracking device (or try to make the world's most precise finger selection), then press and hold again and hit "copy", then press and hold again and hit "paste". There's still some press-and-hold to paste, but selecting text got a lot easier. When you're trying to move your cursor around to fix up your text, a new "handle" appears diagonally to the actual cursor, and it's a lot easier to grab onto and move about. When you're actually selecting text, two different handles appear, in iPhone-like style (or Sense-like style, perhaps), that define the boundaries of your selection.
As for the keyboard itself, it looks somewhat similar, but there's a few things going on behind the scenes:
- Google says the soft, on-screen keyboard has its keys "reshaped and repositioned for improved targeting".
- While you're typing, the current character you've pressed is more apparent, and the automatic suggestions for the word you're trying at is made more clear at the top of the keys (the white-on-black text helps with that, too).
- Select a word by single-tapping on it, and you can quickly replace that word with suggestions from the dictionary that seem like what you were trying for. If you're familiar with the Voice Actions input on Android 2.2, the word suggestion/replacement is a lot like that.
- Entering numbers and symbols no longer requires switching to the Sym/Alt keyboard mode. Simultaneously tapping Shift and a letter, or the "?123" key and a symbol, enters the character that's above the main key. There's also a pop-out menu of accents, symbols, and other special characters when you hold-and-slide certain keys.
Detailed Reports on Battery and Memory Use
Yeah, yeah — in an ideal world, you wouldn't need a report on what's eating your battery or memory. But as veteran Android users know, the wrong combination of apps and data requests can leave you wondering who filled your phone with concrete, or why your phone is tackling its own genetic decoding project. From the Settings->Application menu in Android 2.3, you can get detailed reports on the apps running on your phone, and how much storage space, battery power, and memory they're using up.
The New Market
Image via Tested.
This one's a bit speculative, but very promising. Based on some recent leaked screenshots and changes in the Android ecosystem — such as, sadly, the disabling of AppBrain's very cool FastWebInstall system — it looks like Google is getting ready to take the problems with Market searching, sorting and linking its own hands. More to come when an officially updated Market app is publicly available, but in the meantime, we're crossing our fingers.
Not everything in Gingerbread is a revelation — some of the update's most welcome features may be little, non-flashy items that fill in some gaps users have been waiting to see made whole.
Simple, but nice to have. It's a universal list of all your phone's downloads — from the browser, Gmail, or the Email app, and it eliminates what's become a universal necessity for file explorer apps like Astro File Manager.
Got a front-facing camera on your phone? The Camera app makes it easy to pick between both of your lenses for pictures or video.
If you've got a SIP account set up, or your friends and contacts have SIP numbers, you can now make calls to and from those digital numbers through the Android phone without special software. As you might guess, though, carriers will likely have some control over this option.
Those are the highlights of Android 2.3, forever known as Gingerbread, at least as far as we can see in the software development kit. What features are you most looking forward to? What features do you wish were present in Gingerbread?