Saturday, August 21, 2010

Droid X Android 2.2 (FroYo) Micro-review

So anyone patiently waiting for Motorola to release Android 2.2 for the Droid X has probably heard by now that an official build of it was leaked and can be installed on any X, rooter or otherwise. I was personally quite excited by this news, since I had been looking forward to the new release to see if it addressed some of the software shortcomings that I had found in the phone. As such, it took me all of about half an hour after I found out about the leak before I was running 2.2! (Disclamer.... voided warranty... not supported... blah blah blah...)

Now, before I continue I should note that there is a chance that this is not the final update that will be released OTA. That said, I doubt that Motorola is planning on making any major changes if they still intend to hit an early September release.

If you want to skip my earlier review essentially I think that the X is a beautiful piece of hardware that is badly hampered by Motorola's terrible software. (MotoBlur, uninstallable services, etc.) So as much as I doubted it I kept a little spark of hope alive deep down in my heart that Motorola would hear the impassioned cries of their faithful userbase and use the 2.2 update as an opportunity to strip away the bloatware that we all hate so much (or at least give power users a way to do so).

Wish granted? Nope. Actually, it seems to have gotten somewhat worse! For one, there are even MORE bloatware apps now: VZ Navigator comes pre-installed with 2.2, even though the default Navigator app outperforms it at every turn. Quickoffice has also appeared in my app list, though I haven't really tried using it. And yes, both new apps prevent uninstallation, which instantly sours my opinion of them. It's a shame, really, because in the case of Quickoffice it may even be a great app, but the fact that I have no choice about it being on my phone makes me instantly assume that it's crap (otherwise why would they prevent you from removing it? No one removes software they find useful).

The core OS is speedier and more responsive now, but this hasn't done the terrible Blur widgets any favors. They still cause homescreen transitions to lag like crazy whenever they're added. Additionally, the unlock screen has been updated to look, um... more metallic? I personally think it's pretty ugly (I like the original Droid's 2.2 unlock screen, a classy transparent version of the Droid X's old one), but that's a matter of taste. The real problem is that it's really jumpy and laggy. Swiping my finger across the bar produces 4 or 5 very visible "jumps" in the bars position, which gives the appearance of very poor performance. The main homescreen also retains the Droid X's original minimalistic "dock" theme instead of 2.2's nice looking and more functional dock, which is a disappointment. Fortunately Launcher Pro continues to work just fine, so you can avoid most of Motorola's bad design. In the end the story of Motorola's custom skin seems to be that after hearing loud and clear the communities dislike of it they did the sensible thing and made it worse. Good job, boys! Way to show your customers you're listening. *sigh*

So, the good news? Android 2.2 is a very nice update at it's core. Other sites have covered in detail the major new features like voice commands and Flash support. Those are all here, and working well, so I won't cover them in detail. One interesting thing to note in that area, though, is that I cannot seem to find tethering options anywhere, only the 3G Hotspot service app. This struck me as odd, since my friends with the original Droid and the official 2.2 update have a tethering menu underneath their main settings list. I hope that I'm just missing something or the final update will add the feature, because otherwise it feels like one of the most useful features of the phone is being suppressed so that Verizon can profit. Not cool.

For the record, I have tried a few flash sites, and found that it works pretty well all things considered. The performance is still lacking in some area's (it struggles with smooth, high-res video), but it's still perfectly usable.

There are a lot of niceties buried in the various apps. For one, the gallery app is MASSIVELY improved, in terms of visuals, performance, and usability. Its an app that I want to use now, which is certainly an improvement. In conjunction with that, the camera and camcorder apps have also been updated. There doesn't seem to be any new features outside of the ability to tap the screen to capture (I prefer the physical button but it's nice that the option is there.) but the UI is better looking and a bit less obtrusive, and the startup time for both apps feels much better. I've heard other people say picture quality has improved too, but I haven't had a chance to look. I do wish the music app had been updated a bit more, but it looks like I'll still be using Double Twist for that.

Some other goodies include an improved Battery Manager, the ability to disable data access while still allowing the phone to receive calls, a brightness setting that auto-adjusts depending on use, and Swype keyboard that's not hideously ugly! There are a few nice additions to the contacts list, such as how clicking on a contact's photo now brings up "quick tasks" for that record such as text, email, or call. I never personally had any of the issues that some people reported with mail syncing, but I've heard that those are resolved now to. It's also nice that I can switch to landscape mode by turning the phone either clockwise or counter-clockwise (like an iPhone) but I will say that I seem to get quite a few false-positives with that one, where the screen will jump to landscape mode at odd times. Oh, and the volume for pretty much everything is louder now. Yay!

That's everything that I can recall for now, though I'm sure I'm missing some things. All in all I would say this looks like a good update with plenty to be excited about. It's an absolute shame that Motorola didn't use this as an opportunity to respond to some of it's critics in regards to their sub-par software, but perhaps that's asking a bit much from a company that thought MotoBlur was a good idea in the first place. Maybe Google can finally knock some Sense into them when they come out with Gingerbread (3.0).

A man can dream, right?