Froyo is delicious: Hands on with Android 2.2

Last week Google formally announced the newest version of the Android family. Known as Froyo (or Frozen Yogurt; Android releases are all named after desserts and I can't wait to see what they do with the letter X) or more properly Android 2.2, it offers a number of enhancements and fixes to the Android platform. I've been testing Froyo on a Nexus One (currently the only device supported by 2.2) and here's what's in there, good and bad.

1. Tethering and WiFi Hotspot. This is probably the single biggest feature of the new release. Integrated into Froyo is the capability to share your phone's data connection either tethered to your PC over USB or as a WiFi hotspot, similar to a MiFi. In practice it works well and I had no problem connecting several devices including an iPad (irony noted). The only question will be as Froyo gets rolled out to carrier handsets, will they keep this feature on and intact? If they do, will there be an extra charge for it? For example, the iPhone has had tethering via USB and Bluetooth as a feature of the OS for nearly a year and you still can't use it in the US.

2. Enterprise Exchange support. This has been a huge shortcoming of the platform to date. Finally native Android can sync Exchange calendars in addition to email and contacts. There's also support for PIN requirements and features such as remote wipe. Overall security still isn't quite up to snuff (for example, content on microSD cards can't be encrypted) but Google has probably crossed or is getting very close to good enough for business use of Android.

3. Speed. The Javascript engine for Froyo comes directly from Chrome and it's fast. Overall the whole OS seems much snappier than Android 2.1. Things in general happen much faster with better performance.

4. Enhanced Tweaks. There are some nice little tweaks that just make Android less of a hassle to use every day. For example, there's finally a view in contacts that lets me sort by last name and not first. There's also a little button at the top of the Gmail app that makes it easier to switch between accounts (alas, there's no unified inbox view yet).

5. Flash support. I wrote about it last week and it's here and it works. Froyo supports Flash. As I prefer to work in applications where possible and not use a web browser, this was less of an issue for me but it was still nice to browse, hit a Flash site and not see an error.

There are also a few things that still need work.

1. Apps break. I had more than a few apps that just didn't work, including Google's Finance app (which won't let me sign in). I figure that developers will get this stuff fixed pretty quickly but it's always the price to pay for being the first to upgrade to a new OS.

2. There's still no Android game I've seen worth playing. The largest category of apps on my iPhone are games. The ability to now have apps live on an SD will hopefully help this situation somewhat but, at the moment, Android is not a gaming platform IMHO.

3. Sync. Still no easy way yet to get music from my iTunes library to my Android. Google did show some impressive streaming tech that will allow this but it's not available yet and it's not clear when it's coming. There's also still no way to sync with desktop clients such as Outlook or iCal. Android is more than ever a cloud based system and that either works for you or it doesn't.

Overall, I've been pretty impressed by this release. Google continues to refine the Android experience, making it more usable and more useful. If you have a Nexus One or other 2010 stock Android device, it's a no-brainer upgrade. If you're using an older device or have a device with heavy vendor customization, it's likely to take some time for this release to get to you and I'd probably wait to see how well older devices handle the updated platform. Google's rate and pace of OS updates has been impressive and there's no sign it's slowing down. Next stop, Gingerbread, but we'll have at least a few months before we get to sample Google's next dessert.