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Android's Froyo: More Than Just a Frozen Treat

Froyo Running Flash 10.1
With the release of Froyo and the barrage of high-end handsets, Android has gone from an interesting but decidedly geeky smartphone experiment to a serious contender for your cellular buck. Whether you're upgrading from an older device, fleeing the cult of Apple, or converting from another platform like BlackBerry, there are a few things you'll need to know as you embark on your sugar-injected journey through the world of Froyo.

Flash and the Full Web

One of Froyo's biggest selling points is the fact that it supports Flash 10.1, which, for the first time, truly puts the entire Web both in your pocket and at your fingertips. When you launch the Android Market, a quick search for "Flash" will reveal the necessary plug-in to view Flash content, as well as a "showcase" app that links to mobile-optimized Flash content online. We strongly suggest that you switch Flash to "on demand" mode to improve performance by only loading the content you choose. (While in the browser, hit the menu button, select "more," click "settings," and tap the "enable plug-ins" entry.)

Welcome to Froyo

While you're in the Market, make sure to check the box for automatic updates for Flash and any other apps you install and trust. Android will alert you when updates are available, and automatically download and install them for the apps you choose.

Account Setup

You'll also want to set up all of your accounts. Those making the move from WebOS will have less of an adjustment to make, but iPhone users accustomed to its strictly segmented apps and components will be in for a bit of a shock when they realize the phone can handle and combine contacts from not only an address book (like the one associated with a Gmail account) but Twitter and Facebook accounts, as well. As is emphatically not the case with a certain Apple mobile operating system, Web connectivity is an integral part of Android's mobile computing experience -- not just another feature.

Text Input

As you're navigating around, you'll probably notice one of the major shortcomings of Android: the keyboard. While the virtual keyboard significantly improved with Froyo, it still can't hold a candle to the physical QWERTY input of a BlackBerry or even the beautifully engineered iPhone. But where Android excels is voice input. You'll need a Web connection for it to function properly, but Android is amazingly adept at converting your spoken words to written text. Sure, it may feel weird speaking your text messages, but you'll be surprised at how accurate the system is, and, after all, it is the future. (We should be speaking commands to everything.) The speech-to-text features are available across the OS, and can be used to search for apps, contacts, destinations in the Google Maps Navigation tool, and even with Google Translate to speak your words in another language.

Improved Connectivity

Froyo lets any Android phone become a Wi-Fi hotspot. HTC's Evo 4G debuted this functionality, but it was a custom-built tool. Now, any Froyo-packing device can be used as a wireless router for your laptop or other Wi-Fi-equipped devices. The feature is regrettably buried in the phone's settings (Wireless > Tethering & Portable hotspot) instead of being built into the easily-accessible homescreen.

Customize

On the homescreens you'll find (and be able to add) widgets. Unlike the iPhone, Android has true widgets -- mini applications that sit on your home screen and provide information at a glance. The first one you'll see is the search widget, which has improved with each iteration of Android. In addition to searching the Web, it can rummage through your apps and contacts, and applications can hook into the widget for added functionality. For example, 'Mint' will let you search for recent transactions, while 'Remember the Milk' can add tasks to your search results. You'll also want to become good friends with the power management widget. Android requires a lot of juice to run, and that computational muscle can chew through a battery rather quickly. The power management widget can turn on and off the Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS and background data syncing. It can also set the screen brightness to low, high or auto.

Lastly, for those coming from an iPhone, you'll just have to accept that Android doesn't have a similarly vast app catalog, and isn't really a viable gaming platform (yet). Though it definitely has its quirks, Froyo more than holds its own against iOS 4, and is possibly the most powerful mobile OS out there.

Tags: android, cellphone, cellphones, features, froyo, google, smartphone, smartphones

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