Interface:

By now we’re very familiar with Android, so we’re only going to high the highlights and what has changed in Android 2.1.  2.0 brought a major visual overhaul, along with other nice features such as possibilities for Facebook integration and Quick Contact, but 2.1 really takes the visuals to the next level.  The application drawer is gone, replaced with a button that prompts the apps to fly in and arrange in a grid.  The stationary home icon on this screen causes the apps to fly out and returns you to the homescreen you were on.

Another cool feature is live wallpapers, some of which you can interact with.  The Nexus live wallpaper has TRON-esque lights running through the grid, and when you touch the screen a pulse emanates in four directions and colors from your fingertip.  The Water wallpaper ripples on your touch, and the Spectrum and Waveform wallpapers interact with any music playing on the device.  Some of them, like Magic Smoke, have settings that can be customized.  Our favorite was the subtle Grass wallpaper, and at night (the background changes with time, much like iGoogle themes) there was an astonishing depth of field between the homescreen icons and wallpaper behind them.


The user now has five homescreen pages to work with, up from the original three.  Motorola’s MOTOBLUR interface already allows for this, and HTC’s Sense UI gives the user unique scenes, each with seven pages to work with.  The stock Android builds have always bored us, but the minor tweaks and improved visuals of 2.1 does a lot to remedy this.  Still, we found ourselves longing for the improved contact handling, visuals and custom widgets of Sense UI.  In our opinion Android was meant to be customized, the stock build is merely a canvas with which to work.

One thing we can say is that 2.1 flies, though we’re sure the 1GHz Snapdragon power plant has more to do with it than any software upgrade.   Everything from 3D effects to animations to opening apps to loading webpages is noticeably faster than the DROID, and much faster than the Hero and ERIS.  Even the Samsung Moment and its very respectable 800MHz processor is significantly slower, but Android 1.5 likely shoulders some of the blame on that one.

Messaging:

One of the standout features of Android 2.1 is the speech to text feature now available in any (yes, any) text field.  This means you can dictate emails, text messages, web searches…you name it.  As awesome as this is, it is still maddening to realize that Bluetooth headsets cannot be used with this service, and can still not be used to launch or control voice dialing on Android.  Google, how can you get so many things right and this basic feature so wrong?


The Gmail app is still the best on any device and since the launch of 2.0 we really appreciate being able to have multiple accounts integrated into it (honestly, who has just one account these days?!)  The email client supports POP, IMAP and Exchange out of the box ensuring compatibility with just about any service out there.  The messaging app remains unchanged.

The onscreen keyboard remains very good, but we found ourselves missing the keyboard options afforded by Sense UI.  Call us crazy, but we still prefer T9 to QWERTY in portrait mode, and there are some people (God love ‘em) who even like the compact QWERTY keyboard.  Whether or not you agree with this, options are always a good thing and HTC’s soft keyboards are the best in the business.


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