Monday, March 28, 2011

First impressions of Gingerbread for the Droid X

So I posted this review on the Motorola support forums (here), but apparently even though I didn't give out any details about where to get the leak Motorola still felt that me talking about Gingerbread (even if it was mostly positive) was unacceptable and they locked down my post and removed the review. Fortunately, I saved a copy, and I'm reposting it here. Also, since this is my site now and not theirs, I have no qualms about linking to the leak pages:

Get your Gingerbread goodness over at My Droid World! Huge thanks to P3Droid and the crew for pulling this together for us!

I've spent the last half hour or so browsing through my newly Gingerbread-ed X, and I wanted to let the community here know my initial impressions. It's still early, so I probably won't cover everything but I'll update this thread as I find new things. For the sake of reference I was using Liberty 1.5 just before I updated, so I'm going from Blurless to full on Blur. (Quite the switch!)

So, the obvious one first: The new Blur. Anyone familiar with my previous posts on the forum will probably be surprised to hear that I (gasp!) actually don't mind the new Blur! Please note: "Don't mind" is a far cry from "Love it", but whereas I found the old Blur borderline offensive I see the new one as usable and even decent looking. As such I'm going to use it for the next week or so, just to give it a fair shake. I'll probably end up going back to old reliable (LauncherPro) eventually, but it speaks volumes that I didn't switch right away.

It also helps immensly that the Blur widgets don't produce a noticable slowdown simply by being present anymore. I don't know if that's a side effect of Gingerbread's optimizations or Motorola's hard work (probably a bit of both) but it's appreciated regardless. I did remove them after a few minutes, simply because they don't really mesh with how I use my phone, but it's nice that I did it out of preference rather than a desire to keep my phone from chugging. The Blur widgets look nicer now too, though they have been tweaked in much smaller ways than the rest of the home screens.

There are several other things about the home screens that deserve special mention. I had raged against Motorola in a previous post for apparently removing the "Manage Apps" option from the home screen, as that is a major Gingerbread feature. I'm happy to report that the Manage Apps button is back where it should be, much to my relief! (Maybe the Blur devs heard my impassioned cry? I can dream! ) I'm also very happy that the first three icons in the bottom dock can be set to whatever the user wishes. The third icon is the app drawer, and is non-replaceable (for obvious reasons), nor can it be moved. The placement of it (bottom right corner) is taking me a bit to get used to, but otherwise it's fine. The app drawer itself is actually one of the nicer parts of the skin, as it now supports user-defined groups (helpful for ignoring the ever-present crapware) and has a handy link to the market at the top. You're still stuck with 7 home screens, which is overkill for me (I typically use 3), but having the extra screens off to the sides doesn't hurt anything. It's worth a special mention that swiping between screens is smoother than any other homescreen that I've used on my phone to date. Kudos to the Moto Devs for that!

Of course, I have some gripes about the home screen too: In order to accomodate the "replacable dock icons" feature, the trash can that appears when dragging apps or widgets has been moved. It now shows up in place of the notification bar. I get why they did this, but the placement looks awkward and it feels weird to drag things onto it. If the bar was a bit thicker, I think it wouldn't feel so strange. Alternatively, since the app drawer icon can't be replaced, why not turn it into the trash when dragging? Another bit of weirdness was the behavior when adding apps to the homescreen. You still open the dock and long-press an app as usual, but instead of returning to the homescreen so you can place the icon it brings up a menu asking if you want to put the app on the homescreen, in a group, "share" it (WTF?), or uninstall. Choosing "home" then awkwardly plops the icon in the middle of the current homescreen where you can resume your regularly scheduled dragging. Again, I get why this was done (primarly to support the grouping feature) but it turns populating my homescreens from a two step process into a three step per app. That's not huge, but 15 apps later it gets really old. I don't know how this one could be mitigated, but it feels awkward nonetheless. I also was very annoyed to see the the unlock slider is still a clunky mess, despite all the optimizations made elsewhere. Liberty had an unlock slider that rivaled the iPhone in smoothness, so to see this one chugging along is a total letdown. You can do better, Motorola! Come on!

Next, the theming: The overall color scheme is a fairly nice muted grey/blue that I'm actually somewhat fond of. It looks nice and feels classy and clean. The notification bar has a very nice transparency effect to it, (and it has the ability to clear individual notifications, which is awesome!) and the notification icons generally looks very nice, following the same clean blue look. The exception is 3G icon, which is a big grey block who's letters light up blue when in use. It's ugly and out of place, and I hope that it's just a temporary icon that has yet to be replaced in this leak. Outside of the blue headers, though, all of the menus are a very bright grey (not white, but only a few steps off from it). It fits the theme decently enough, but I'm not a huge fan of them being so bright. I much prefer stock Gingerbread's slick black menu backgrounds, especially if I'm using the phone in a dark room (which is common for me, I like to read Kindle books on my phone at night.) They're not as ugly as I thought they would be, but still not my favorite. I'm also somewhat dissapointed in the much lauded "bouncy" effect when you reach the ends of a list that Gingerbread introduced. I've played around with the Nexus S a bit and quite liked the effect, but here it's extremely muted to the point of almost going unnoticed. You do get a very faint blue highlight effect when you hit the end of a menu but you have to be going pretty fast to see any real bounce. It's difficult to explain, but the fact that it's so subtle is a ding for someone like me who's always love Apple's elastic menu effect and longed to see an equivalent in Android.

Overall I like the theme, it's not nearly as scattershot as the old Blur, but at the end of the day I still prefer the standard Gingerbread look and feel. At least this one is tolerable, but I expect that the first chance I get to go back to a ROM that gives me the AOSP theme.

Now while I do like the theme, that goodwill does not apply to the dialer. Stock Gingerbread has hand's down the nicest, cleanest dialer theme I've seen. It's understated, simple, and beautiful. GingerBlur, on the other hand, has a dialer that is flat out ugly. It's got this wierd mix of radial gradients, glossy highlights, and funky grey borders that make it looks like the product of a Photoshop tutorial gone wrong. The area showing the dialed number also has a totally different background and look than the keypad itself, further lending to the confused and messy look. It's downright atrotious, and I cannot get rid of it fast enough. At the very least the contact list looks nice, with a slick alphabet bar running down the side so you can jump to the right name quickly.

A few last notes about the apps themselves and then I'm done for the night. The Camera and Camcorder apps have been tweaked a bit, and I still like them better than the basic Android camera, but they're still pretty slow and the pictures don't look much better so it seems to be primarily a slight re-skinning. The gallery is effectively unchanged outside of the new color theme, and it's passable but I still vastly prefer the cool 3D AOSP gallery. This one does give you HDMI out capabilities, but I don't feel it's worth the tradeoff. The music app is about on par with the standard Google one, which is to say that they're both pretty clunky. Use DoubleTwist or Winamp instead. I don't use email (I'm a Gmail guy), so I can't comment on that one. Nor have I ever given much attention to the News, Places, Media Share, or Messaging apps, so I don't know what's changed. Sorry. As mentioned earlier, I don't make use of the Blur widgets eitehr so I can't comment beyond saying that they look better and no longer bog the system down.

VZNavigator, Blockbuster, Skype, and crew are all still here and still unremovable. That's a slap in the face to Motorola's customers, but frankly we don't expect anything better from them at this point so no surprise. There's a special place in hell, though, for whomever it was that decided that they were going to have CityID on here and not let me remove the little parasite. [begin rant]This app - this single, unremovable app - is what convinced me to buy my wife an iPhone instead of an Android device. It's outright criminal that this thing pops up demanding that you pay for it after every phone call. No, I don't care that it goes away eventually. No, I don't care that I can tell it I don't want it. It's predatory and malicious, and doesn't belong on my phone or anyone elses. Take notice, Verizon, Motorola, and anyone else who cares to listen: I will never buy another phone that has CityID pre-installed, removable or not. If there are no Android phones that meet that description when it comes time to buy, I will turn to Apple. That's how much I loath this thing.[/end rant]

So, final verdict? I'm still not a fan of this rabid desire by the manufacturers to "brand" Android every chance they get. I would still much rather have a stock Google experience phone. If Motorola is going to insist on pushing Blur, though, at the very least they're getting better at it. With Gingerbread Blur has gone from "intolerable mess" to "not offensive", and aside from the awful bloatware I'm not scrambling to scrub it from my phone anymore.

How's that for high praise?