Posted by: Frank | May 31, 2009

Initial Cupcake Impressions

Yesterday afternoon after I returned home from my travels through the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, my T-Mobile G1 downloaded and installed the Cupcake update to Android, which is the update that I wrote about earlier in the month. I will need more time to discover all of the new things that Cupcake provides, but here are my initial impressions. First off the device feels a little snappier, which I am glad to see because it is going to be important for Android to be successful that performance continues to improve. A good performing phone should have no lags in switching between applications or features, and in my opinion the first release of Android was not a good performing operating system.

Gmail is now where it should have been when Android was first released. It now provides batch operations like selecting a bunch of e-mails to be deleted or to be assigned to a particular label. One of the main functions for using e-mail on a mobile device is e-mail triage, and that was not really possible in the first release. Now when I first check my e-mail in the morning on my phone it will be easier to select the messages that I just want to delete without opening. (Some spam, but in most cases subscriptions that I can tell from the subject that I am not interested in reading.)

Some of the new features are not enabled by default, most noteable is the auto rotation feature that automatically switches the screen from portrait to landscape. Previous to Cupcake you had to open the keyboard to switch the screen, but now all have to do is change the orientation of the device, provided you turn on the feature. Select Settings, Sound & Display and select Orientation to switch orientation automatically when rotating phone. Another feature that I enabled on this screen is Animation. I don’t recall whether animation was available in the prior version, but after I turned it on to check it out I made a discovery. The animation feature adds the appearance of faster switching between fuctions & applications. I suspect that this is a trick that gives your eyes something to see while loading the application. When I tap a button and nothing happens, I translate that as a pause and a delay, but when I tap and the screen wipes, something is happening and therefore it doesn’t appear as slow. I just noticed that this same thing happens by default on my iPod Touch, and in the iPod’s case there is no way that I can see to turn the animations off.

The on-screen keyboard is going to present a dillema for me. It appears as though the next available Android phone in the U.S. will not have a physical keyboard, so if I want to get the newest device, I need ot live with an on-screen keyboard. Ironically, I have grown to like the physical keyboard on my devices, and both the HTC Tytnn II and the T-Mobile G1 have them. For years I used Pocket PCs without keyboards and found the stylus and writing on the screen a very good way to input text, so I did not like the small thumb keyboads. The G1 has no handwriting or character recognition so you have to use a keyboard, in which case right now I think a physical keyboard is better than the on-screen keyboards that iPhone/iPod Touch uses. While I could use a stylus on the Tytnn II I found that since I am now used to a physical keyboard on the G1, I also default to using it on the Tytnn. It may be even faster to slide open the keyboard on the Tytnn II versus popping out the stylus and opening the soft input panel.

I have had limited use of Android’s new on-screen keyboard, and I am going to force myself to use it so that I can make a good determination of whether I can live with just an on-screen keyboard versus a physical keyboard. Composing e-mails and posting items on Facebook or Twitter will be good tests. There are some changes I made to the keyboard setting by going into Settings, Locale & Text. First, you have to select Android Keyboard to actually enable the on-screen keyboard, then expand the Android Keyboard settings to enable some functions such as vibrate on keypress, sound on keypress, and auto-capitalization. Vibrate and sound provide feedback that a keypress has been recognized (the iPhone has sound but does not vibrate) and for now I am testing both.

An important function of on-screen keyboards is predictive word recognition, which is the feature on the iPhone/iPod Touch that allows you mistype letters and continue typing because the device determines from the proximity and pattern of the letters what word you meant to type. I think that without this feature on-screen keyboards do not work because there is no way you are going to press every letter perfectly on the screen, and you would go crazy with always correcting mistakes without it. A problem with the iPhone is that it’s word recognition is sometimes wrong and I have had situations where it refuses to use the word I really want. Android attempts to fix this by displaying multiple possible words. The one it thinks you want will be highlighted and is entered when you press the space button, like on the iPhone, but you can tap one of the other words displayed if Android guesses wrong.

After a few uses of the on-screen keyboard I think it works well, but I think the thickness of the G1 is going to be a problem. When I switch to landscape and type on the screen the G1 feels too thick. It might be because I am used to sliding out the physical keyboard, so I might get over it, but it also might be that on-screen keyboards work best with thinner devices. BTW, word prediction does not work if you use the physical keyboard, and I am wondering whether or not I prefer that it did. The physical & on-screen keyboard debate is going to be big for Android users because unlike the iPhone, you will have the option of which you want. The debate will come down to size versus function. For people that insist that a thin, light device is important, they will find a way to live with the on-screen keyboard, while those who cannot get used to the on-screen keyboard will find a way to live with a slightly larger and heavier device. These type of options are what make Android more appealing than iPhone to me.



  1. […] One Week Digesting Cupcake It is just a little under one week since my G1 was updated to the “Cupcake” version (version 1.5) of the Google Android operating system. So far […]

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