Google’s new mobile phone operating system, Android 2.3 is here, but what are the new features, when can you expect to get it, and why should you? We detail and explain what's what, why it will make a difference to you and why you'll be badgering your operator to let you have it soon.
New look, back to black
That’s right, a new OS update means a new “refined look and feel” according to Google. Don’t expect that to mean an interface that you’ve never seen before, but do expect a “slick black notification bar that’s easier to read” and a simplified visual theme of colours against black.
The move to black brings vividness and contrast to the notification bar, menus, and other parts of the UI, claims Google, making it easier to read and navigate.
New keyboard to type on
But it’s not just the interface that has been giving a new look and feel, but the on-screen keyboard as well.
The Android soft keyboard has been redesigned and optimised for faster text input and editing with the keys being reshaped and repositioned for improved targeting, making them easier to see and press accurately, even at high speeds, claims Google.
The keyboard also displays the current character and dictionary suggestions in a larger, more vivid style that is easier to read. The keyboard also adds the capability to correct entered words from suggestions in the dictionary.
There’s also a new multitouch feature called “key-chording” that lets the user quickly enter numbers and symbols by pressing Shift+ and ?123+, without needing to manually switch input modes like you currently do.
From certain keys, users can also access a popup menu of accented characters, numbers, and symbols by holding the key and sliding to select a character.
One-touch word selection and copy/paste
In an attempt to remove the need to poke your phone too many times, Google has introduced one-touch word selection and copy and paste.
In Android 2.3, users can select a word by press-hold, then copy to the clipboard and paste basically by passing the two select icons that currently appear. Google claims the new method negates the need to use your phone’s trackball, if it has one.
Battery lasts longer
A brave claim, but Google says the new Android 2.3 has improved battery management and therefore that means theoretically you should get longer battery life out of your Android 2.3 touting smartphone.
You’ll also be able to see which apps are sucking you dry, so to speak: “The Application settings provides an accurate overview of how the battery is being used, with details of the usage and relative power consumed by each component or application”, says Google.
More control over applications
So worried that you want the utmost control over what is running and how it runs on your phone, Google has made it easier to “Manage Applications” with a new Running tab that displays a list of active applications and the storage and memory being used by each. The user can read further details about each application and if necessary stop an application or report feedback to its developer.
VoiP built in
Google has built in VoiP and SIP support so services like Skype, or more likely Google Voice, can be integrated more easily into the phone’s interface without having to rely on a third-party app that has to be accessed separately.
No third-party developer has confirmed whether or not they are working on supporting this feature as yet, but we suspect companies to get on board when more handsets get the new operating system.
Near Field Communications
A technology that has been floating around on smartphones, digital photo frames and other devices for some time, Google is hoping that its inclusion into Android 2.3 will make it not only go mainstream, but also allow people to eventually pay for stuff with their phone.
“For example, the user can ‘touch’ or ‘swipe’ an NFC tag that might be embedded in a poster, sticker, or advertisement, then act on the data read from the tag”. Advertising is going to be Google’s main driver here, after all that’s how they make all their money, and the main maker of NFC chips NXP has told Pocket-lint that it knows of plenty of other handsets coming with the same capabilities.
As it is a hardware functionality rather than software, the NFC tech is currently only available for one smartphone - the Samsung Nexus S - regardless of whether or not your phone will be getting the Android 2.3 update.
Android 2.3 “now lets the user access multiple cameras on the device, including a front-facing camera, if available”.
Again, not one that is going to benefit most people upgrading, but if your Android touting device has a front-facing camera like the Samsung Galaxy Tab, or the Samsung Galaxy S then you’ve gained yourself greater support for it. Crack out the makeup and get ready to have some FaceTime (doh wrong OS).
Android 2.3 has brought with it plenty of behind the scenes updates, including ones that should make gaming a better experience. One area of this is updated video drivers that improve the efficiency of OpenGL ES operations, for faster overall 3D graphics performance. That is likely to please the likes of Gameloft and EA.
Gyroscope and other new sensors, for improved 3D motion processing
Android 2.3 adds API support for several new sensor types, including gyroscope, rotation vector, linear acceleration, gravity, and barometer sensors.
That means a game application could use readings from a gyroscope and accelerometer on the device to recognise complex user gestures and motions, such as tilt, spin, thrust, and slice.
As for the barometer how about a phone that tells you it is going to rain before it rains?
Tablet screen sizes now supported
“The platform now supports extra large screen sizes, such as those that might be found on tablet devices”, says Google - buried in the developer notes. If you’ve got a Samsung Galaxy Tab that means you’ll be able to make more use of that bigger screen the way Google wants you to.
What devices are currently sporting Android 2.3?
Google has officially confirmed that the Nexus S will be available with Gingerbread from launch (16 December in the US, 20 December in the UK) and that the Nexus One will be getting it in the “next few weeks”. However not all features will be available on the Google Nexus One: like NFC, and that front-facing camera.
When’s it coming to my phone?
It’s all quiet on that front at the moment (6/12/10). We are awaiting confirmation from Samsung on other smartphones in its range: the Samsung Galaxy S and the Samsung Galaxy Tab, and from HTC about its Android handsets. We will update here when we hear back from them. Expect it not to happen until the new year though.
When can I get an Android 2.3 smartphone?
You’ll have to buy a Samsung Nexus S when it comes out in the UK on 20 December from Carphone Warehouse. Currently it is listing it as £549 unlocked or free if you sign up to a £35-a-month contract for 2 years with Vodafone.
Alternatively you can get a Nexus One, made by HTC, and wait for the Android 2.3 update to land some time over Christmas.
If neither of those appeal then there's always CES in January to wait for, and failing that MWC in February.
Got any questions about the new OS? Ask us in the comments, and we'll do our best to get you an answer.