April 9, 2010

The Update to Android OS 2.1: An Overview

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Written by: Brian Johnson
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After as series of frustrating delays, Verizon Wireless in the United States recently began updating all the Motorola Droids on its network to Android OS 2.1. Apparently, all Droids on the Verizon network which haven’t yet received the update will get it by the end of April 9th. Verizon uses this PDF to explain features of the update, and provides these instructions about the installation process. If your Droid reacts as mine did, it will automatically reboot twice and take about five minutes to apply the update.

Some Droid owners are reporting slower graphics after the update, but it seems that their experiences are the exception rather than the rule. On my Droid, the Android OS 2.1 update coincided with noticeable improvements in 3G web-browsing speeds, better touchscreen responsiveness, and greater fluidity during graphics-intensive processes. Features of the update include: pinch-to-zoom, voice input (often called voice-to-text or speech-to-text), live wallpapers, and Google Goggles.

Pinch-to-Zoom does exactly what its name suggests. Use your thumb and pointer finger to control magnification in Browser, Gallery, Google Maps (and Google Earth). Pinching outward increases the zoom level, while pinching inward decreases the amount of zoom. If you decide that you don’t like this new way of zooming, the old double-tap method works as well as ever.

Having been disappointed with similar programs in the past, I wasn’t expecting much from Droid’s new voice input capabilities in terms of speed or accuracy. I must admit, I’ve been very pleasantly surprised! Using the onscreen keyboard, a microphone button now appears directly to the left of the spacebar whenever you tap on a field that can accept text. The one exception is the Google Quick Search Box, which has its own mic button. Voice input is always available, but active only immediately after you press the onscreen keyboard’s mic button. If you want to turn the onscreen keyboard’s voice input completely off, you can do so by going Menu Button => Settings => Language & Keyboard => Android Keyboard => and removing the checkmark from “Voice input”.

The live wallpapers concept is much more flexible than that GIF-type animated background you may have had on your old Windows 98 computer. Sure, a live wallpaper can be a looping animation, but it can also be based on activity happening on the Droid (such as music visualizations), include randomized elements, or even be interactive. Try Menu Button => Wallpaper => Live wallpapers => and choose “Water” for a fun example. If you choose a live wallpaper like Magic Smoke, you can quickly customize the background by going Menu Button => Configure from your Droid’s home screen.

Think of Google Goggles as the visual equivalent of song-recognition apps. Say you’re at a library, and you see a book that you’d like to add to your personal collection. Simply go into your Droid’s application drawer and tap on Goggles. After completing a short one-time tutorial, take a picture of the book’s cover and wait a few moments for the app to analyze the picture. You will then see information and purchasing options for the book. In my testing, Goggles has been very accurate — even when the picture contains glare from Droid’s built-in flash. For more information, see Google’s official introduction to Goggles in the video below.

Other features new to Droid in Android OS 2.1 include: a mobile version of Google Earth (send a link from your computer or download from Android Market); official support for Yahoo! Mail; enhancements to Gallery, including Picasa integration and a 3D interface; and a new “News and Weather” app. Due to hardware limitations, Google Earth will not work on Sprint’s HTC Hero or Verizon’s HTC Eris.

There’s strong evidence that there will eventually be more updates to the 2.1 series of Android OS for Droid. First, there are admittedly some missing elements in the existing update, including: users are still limited to only three panels for their apps, still no biking layer in Google Maps or Google Earth, no way to activate voice input from the hardware keyboard, and users cannot access Yahoo! Mail over Wi-Fi. Second, updated Droids are reporting a firmware version of 2.1-update1 — suggesting that a 2.1-update2 is already on the drawing boards.

Journalists in the blogosphere are widely reporting that updates for those versions of Motorola Milestone (Droid’s cousin for non-US markets), Hero, and Eris which didn’t come with Android OS 2.1 pre-installed will receive access to over-the-air and/or downloadable updates as early as this month. In the meantime, Droid owners have some major bragging rights!

About the Author

Brian Johnson
Robert has nearly 10 years experience as a self-employed technology consultant, though he recently "retired" from consulting to focus on his writing, and has been using a Motorola Droid from Verizon Wireless as his primary cellphone since November, 2009.


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  1. marmarinou

    The Android 2.1 update for the MILESTONE is already available for France, Germany, Italy, and Hong Kong from the Motorola Software Update site:


  2. Robert Biondini

    Thanks marmarinou, that’s a great tip! I find it interesting that Motorola is providing Droid/Milestone updates via direct download only in select countries…

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