With Gingerbread the Android platform has been tweaked and improved to be more sleek to use, which should make it more user friendly and lower its learning curve for new users. Bundled in this latest update are a new design, a new software keyboard, better power management, higher performance, and increased support for the ever-improving hardware that phone manufacturers are building.
This update improves on an already polished version 2.2 (Froyo). And while its not a big update — like the much talked about Android 3.0 — it does bring with it many great tweaks and changes, as well as a few new welcome features.
New User Interface
Inline with the new tweaks and improvements to Android, Gingerbread brings with it an array of new changes and, to show them all off, a new design! The design is a lot simpler and more consistent, allowing for easier navigation of the broad range of Android menus and settings. Its a darker themed design than Froyo with an orange background when selecting any option. The UI for scrolling has also been improved making it clear when you can’t scroll any more.
If you’re using a standard QWERTY keyboard without any gesture controls, you may want to get your hands fingers on Gingerbread’s new keyboard. It’s a completely redesigned keyboard with a more intuitive layout and revised keys, allowing for more accurate typing and improved auto-correction compared to the stock Froyo keyboard. It’s one of the most sought-after features of Android 2.3.
(If you can’t wait to upgrade, it’s available as a keyboard app to install on Froyo. Search the Market for “Keyboard from Android 2.3” — though be aware that this is not endorsed by Google.)
Copying and Pasting
Selecting text is quicker and easier in Gingerbread. While Froyo brought the biggest changes with selecting text, Gingerbread vastly improves on this with its minor tweaks. As written on the Official Google Blog
- Shift+Key to capitalize a word: In Gingerbread (and supported hardware), you can Shift+Key to capitalize a letter instead of going to a separate all caps keyboard.
- Auto-complete: The space bar lights up when auto-complete can finish a word.
- Quick replace: Tap on any previously typed word, then tap on a suggestion to automatically replace it with the suggested word.
- Easy access to special characters (like numbers, punctuation): Press and hold any key to go to the special character keyboard. You can also press and hold the “,” key for an extensive punctuation keyboard.
Battery Usage and Power Management
Gingerbread also has better battery performance than with Froyo, allowing you to keep your phone going longer on a single charge. It also has more detailed reports on what your battery was spent on — something which Android lacked up until now. The graph shows you at a quick glance the recent battery level of your phone, when it was plugged in to charge, and the phone signal during this time (something quite sore on battery usage).
Some settings, such as the display brightness, are also easy to access from this graph, allowing you to control your battery usage much more easily.
Games such as Angry Birds have taken off with spectacular success on Android, and with many more games following up the ranks Android 2.3 has been improved to further increase support for game development and smoother running of games.
Improvements on native support for more sensors such as gyroscopes and barometers will make is easier for developers to include and use these features in their games, and indeed apps. Not something that will directly affect us users, but any help for game and app developers is welcomed!
As Android phone hardware are improving at an astounding rate, more and more phones are including two cameras: front facing and back facing. Native support for both these cameras has been included — perfect for video calls!
Cameras can now also support focus distance, focus mode, and preview fps maximum/minimum. Another step closer to not needing your SLR.
For users of VoIP the 2.3 update includes “Native support for SIP VoIP telephony” which means Android now had built in support for SIP VoIP calling. Though an unfinished feature, in the sense that Google is supposedly working on integrating this into Google talk (Google bought Gizmo5), it is a step in the right direction.
Near Field Communications (NFC)
NFC allows electronic identification between your phone and another device once they are within about 4 inches of each other. In the future your Android phone could replace the need for a credit card when shopping. While it’s not the most useful feature at the moment, it will only improve as more and more companies come on board with this payment method.
Android 2.3 includes the newly updated App Market allowing for easier navigation of apps, and includes new sections (such as Similar Apps) and allows more screenshots per apps. There is also a Featured Apps section along the top of the Market, highlighting the best and most popular apps.
The 2.3 update adds a built-in download manager to Android, allowing you to easily open or delete downloaded files — something Android depended on browsers implementing up until now.
Much like the multiple cameras feature, this is to support more hardware. For Android to be used on tablets successfully it needs to support the big screen sizes and high resolutions akin to tablets, this has all been further addressed in Gingerbread allowing Android developers to build for tablets easily.
Android 2.3 adds support for new audio effects for outputs such as bass boost and reverb, developers can put these new powerful audio controls to use in their apps with the new native API. These can be applied to specific tracks or across the entire phone.
Avid users of Linux will know of the benefits of using Ext4 as a filesystem. Ext4 supports massive file sizes — 16GB enough for you on your Android phone? Okay, that’s not exactly a critical feature for most users.
But moving to Ext4 is another positive step in Android development; one useful feature, though controversial in some Linux developers’ eyes, is in how it writes data, or more precisely when it writes data. While many modern filesystems write data as soon as possible, Ext4 delays writing data as long as possible, instead keeping it in a cache. This improves performance, and can greatly reduce fragmentation.
Stock Gingerbread includes the usual apps by default as Froyo (though users will more than likely get Twitter and Facebook apps etc. bundled with their phone):
- Custom Locale
- Dev Tools
- IMEs for Japanese, Chinese, and Latin text input
- Spare Parts (developer app)
- Speech Recorder
Depending on your provider/manufacturer you may get a few extra features to stock Gingerbread. Its not a huge update in the way of big new features, but it is big on tweaks which were sorely needed. Android 2.3, Gingerbread, makes Android what many users wished for: a smoother, more consistent platform.