Froyo on the Streak
[update, official Rogers update available via this thread: http://communityforums.rogers.com/t5/forums/forumtopicpage/board-id/Android/message-id/927]
Now that Rogers has finally released a Froyo update for the Streak, I think my own upgrade exploits are a little less necessary for the average human. Or maybe not. I haven’t read any reviews of the Rogers version yet, but I have a hard time believing it works as well as DJ_Steve’s StreakDroid firmwares. I’m using 1.8.0 now (aka Chernobyl Meltdown) and it seems to work very very well. He’s done a great job of packaging up a ROM with useful features and software and I recommend it heartily.
My own upgrade path took me all over the internet. With some helpful pointers from @gav_taylor on twitter, I found the XDA forums and from there, links to a trove of firmware options tailored (pun!) to my very needs. I started with an O2 version of the ROM which made my radios think they were operating somewhere in England and unable to work in high-speed mode on Rogers. But at least I could see the device’s potential. From there, I upgraded to a stock Dell 2.2 ROM (v318) and finally migrated to StreakDroid 1.6 (still Froyo, despite the confusing numbering). It was tricky, required a lot of removing the battery, and felt like I was going to brick my device at any second. Since then, DJ_Steve’s had two more releases, 1.7.0 and 1.8.0. I just installed the latter yesterday and it doesn’t seem very different from 1.7.0. I think it’s mostly a bug-fix release. Battery life seems improved, I think. [and so does jdmcivic, it appears]
So now that I’ve got this Froyo thing what do I think?
It makes a helluva difference for starters. It takes this smallish slab of metal and glass and plastic and turns it from being a cumbersome, graphically antiquated toy to something you can actually use and even enjoy. Froyo looks good and works well on this device. DJ_Steve’s tweaks make the Streak feel like a pretty capable device and adds some extra glitz to the environment. App switching is instantanous. LauncherPro (thanks for the rec, madhava!) with all the eye candy turned up to full is silky smooth. It runs very well, but is a little battery intensive (more on that in my review of the hardware). The Gingerbread keyboard is a huge improvement, especially with swype disabled.
There’s already a huge array of software available for Android. I was amazed to see the number of entries in the store is comparable to the iTunes app store, if not ahead of it now. Of course, there are some caveats. Not all of the software I’ve tested is as high quality as most of the featured items on the iTunes app store. The bar to entry feels a bit lower. That said, there are whole classes of application available for Android you just can’t get on iTunes. File managers, wifi hotspots (unnecessary with Froyo which has that capability built-in), rooting tools for the hacker-minded.
Like the iTunes App Store, one of the weakest aspects of the Android Marketplace is the application itself. There is a cool alternative for Android users though. I recommend AppBrain for managing your applications. It has some extra features like notifying you when your apps have updates and the ability to sync your installed apps. Highly recommended.
For music players, WinAmp seems like a pretty capable player. I haven’t played with the desktop version yet on Windows which will allow syncing and file management, but it looks like a pretty solid player. It comes with some widgets for controlling the app from your desktop launcher too. There’s also Songbird which I was surprised to find in here. There are various built-in music player apps as well.
Some apps have jumped the AppStore boundary and are available in both Android and iTunes. Kindle for one I’ll be watching closely over the coming months as Apple’s tyrannical bid for Moar Monayz unfolds. I will say that the Android version feels like it’s a bit behind the iPhone version. Some features are missing (syncing books not purchased from the Kindle store) and some of the polish on the iTunes version. The music identifier Shazam is also here as well as the omnipresent Angry Birds. I haven’t tested either of these, but it’s nice to see that some of my favorites are on both platforms. It’ll make the eventual total migration less painful.
One completely absent category is the media player. Whither video players galore? I was totally shocked to see that the base media player that ships with Froyo is a really basic, incapable device mostly included to play recorded videos from the camera app. Apparently Android is turning on accelerated video in some future release of Android. I have no idea what codecs that will include (hopefully WebM?) or what that’ll mean for video apps like VLC who I hear is working on a port. This is kind of a deal-breaker for me as one of the best parts of my iPad is its ability to play glorious, high-quality video (admittedly after some transcoding in Handbrake). I have no doubt it will come, but it’s absence feels strange and unexpected. It is a let down.
Also exciting to see several web browsers on offer. The two I’ve been playing with most are the Firefox beta and Miren. I hear good things about Dolphin too. All of these are easily better than the default browser that Android ships with and it begs the question: Do Android devs talk to Chrome devs? Then again, I’m happy to have Firefox there so I don’t really care.