Android 2.3 Gingerbread Review: Better Than Fruitcake

It's hard to believe this is what Android looked like two years ago. It's a testament to how far it's come that Android 2.3 Gingerbread is focused on making it feel good more than anything else.

Specs Version: Android 2.3 Phones: Nexus S, for now When you can get it: Over the next couple of months Price: Free update

Android has evolved more aggressively, more rapidly than any other mobile platform. But now it's reached a point of maturity, and you can see that in Gingerbread: The newness in Android 2.3 is all about refinement. Not new features or functions or just stuff. It's Android where Google's slowed down and taken the time to think about how it looks and feels and responds.

The irony, of course, is that most of the careful design work that's gone into Android 2.3 won't ever be seen by a large portion of Android users. The definitive Android design won't be experienced by people who own phones covered in custom software. There's only a handful of Android phones in the US where you'll be able to get the real Android experience - Nexus One, T-Mobile G2 and the Nexus S - even though it's unquestionably better than anything phone makers are conjuring up themselves these days.

The core Android experience is largely unchanged from Android 2.2: everything works just about the same. What's different? It's smoother, faster and for the first time, it feels like one person actually designed the Android interface. There are details! The orange glow when you hit the end of a list. The old boob-tube-style shutoff whenever the screen turns off. They're little things, but they add up to a phone that just feels better - even when the occasional rough spot still pops up in Android (and they do). And half the battle with an interface is making it feel great. (This is why, for all its flaws, people dig Windows Phone 7.) The speed improvements over 2.2, while subtle, make a difference. It's the first time Android's really approached iPhone 4-level responsiveness. On the other hand, it's somewhat unreal it's taken over two years to have the finer things in smartphone life on Android.

Speed, speed, speed. Still loving the new hyperflat, orange-and-green-and-black interface after several days - it makes me think of Tron. Things like the Downloads app to collect everything I've downloaded. The new keyboard doesn't make me want to drill my fingers through the glass anymore. Android is still the most connected-feeling mobile OS around, by leaps and bounds. Major components - like Gmail and Maps - are broken up so they can be updated individually instead of having to wait for the next major OS push.

Still a little too confusing and PC-like for some people, even if it does look spiffier. The Market's not much better to dig through. No native video chat! Crazy! Especially considering that Google's got Google Talk and that the new definitive Android device has a front-facing camera. Android media experience is still pretty weak compared to the iPhone, from getting music on there (sorry, drag and drop is not media management) to the better-but-still-mediocre music player (just because I can download WinAmp doesn't excuse Android's native app's suckage).

Android 2.3 is almost exactly where Android needs to be to take the next step: the fundamentals, the vision, the polish (mostly) are there, finally. Now it's time for all of the amazing things Google's promised next.


Comments

    Love it, want it, bring it!

    g0t EQ?

    Funny, myself and other Android users I know LOVE the fact that there's no opressive media management with Android. Drag and drop is so easy and exactly why I made the switch from iPhone and iTunes.
    My fiance made the switch to Android, and she loves how she doesn't have to 'sync' or screw around with anything when she wants to load, copy move or whatever with her HTC Desire.
    Same goes for the default music player, I don't care that it's not great, because I use Winamp.
    My only request of Android would be the ability to remove some of the barebones apps that come with the phones so you can pick and choose what your using.

      +1 to that. Drag and drop is totally media management. Nice, simple, logical media management.... Also agree that asking for a better built in music player is, to use a politically incorrect term, somewhat retarded. The whole point of these things is the joy of third party applications. If anything, atomsk is correct in asking that more apps be removable. I'd be happy to get a completely barebones phone and then pick and choose from the market for pretty much everything; Google's offerings can compete with everyone else's. Stop expecting so little from the user, I say...

      +1 again. iTunes is by far the worst thing about using an iPhone.

        Amen. I jailbroke my iPhone 4 just so I could load pwnTunes on it. 2 hours of screwing around so I could drag and drop music and files (iTunes 1 library per phone? madness) and broadcast as a wireless AP. Android just does it all better, can't wait until the new dual core CPU androids are released so I can switch.

    This is exactly the shot in the arm Android needed. Even up until 2.2 I found the default UI rather ugly. I'd still probably choose 2.3 with HTC Sense than plain 2.3, but I'd also go with plain 2.3 over 2.2 + Sense.

    For years the main gripe about Android is its apparently non-user friendly UI and its roughness compared with iOS. If Google truly ironed out all those imperfections, then it guts the main point of contention about Android and puts it head and shoulders above the competition in every category that matters.

    Oh God I hope this comes to the (non-Telstra) HTC Desire quickly.

    I too don't see the issue with media. I use Banshee at home and told it once to copy all the media to my phone whenever I plug it in. The player on the phone is redundant I change it all the time to try a new one, which is half the fun.

    Sure one can see the likes of iTunes to sync stuff easily. And another for drag and drop support. How about the best of both worlds with wireless syncing to boot - I'm talking Double Twist with AirSync. Now I can combine all those methods above and still play them all fine on Winamp or any other android music player.

    PC = flexibility = android!

    Does anyone know when Telstra will make this available for the HTC Desire? (Hopefully it wont take as long as Froyo!)

    Please dont start the 'available in a few days fiasco again...'

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