Android Cupcake: Glaring Omissions

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The new version of the Android operating system adds plenty – but still misses some important features for a mobile device

The Android operating system is already feature-packed, and the Cupcake update adds an appealing mix of features and fixes, which we checked out on a G1 with Google smartphone. However, the mobile software upgrade leaves some glaring shortcomings unaddressed.

In May, T-Mobile started rolling out update for the Android operating system, called “Cupcake”. This is shipped as standard on Vodafone’s HTC Magic and is being delivered over the air to T-Mobile’s customers with the G1.

The updates are useful: in particular, the addition of a soft keyboard is a fundamental requirement for phones like the Magic, which has no keyboard. We looked at Cupcake on a T-Mobile G1, and found it nice to have, but not enough to compel anyone not previously interested in the G1 to finally make the purchase – especially as some glaring gaps are left.

Installation – and the soft keyboard

I triggered the update via the System Updates dialog found in the Settings-About Phone dialogue. The update took about 15 minutes to download over the air and another 10 minutes or so to install. As part of the update package, Cupcake upgrades the base firmware (to 1.5), the kernel (to 2.6.27) and the baseband.

The new on-screen keyboard, gives users a quick way to input data. It is accessible either in portrait or landscape mode, although the user will need to change the Orientation display setting to switch automatically when rotating the phone to use the onscreen keyboard while in landscape mode.

The on-screen keyboard should be easy enough to type on for those who are used to the iPhone’s keyboard, although I found Android’s predictive text algorithms to be much more useful. Users can configure the on-screen keyboard to provide either or both haptic and audio feedback when a key is touched. Those who can’t type effectively on the iPhone probably won’t cotton to Android’s take on the on-screen keyboard, but on the G1, the slide-out physical keyboard more than adequately compensates.

Also changed from the shipping unit I reviewed last fall, Android now comes with a built-in Google search dialog to provide features commonly found on other mobile platforms—specifically, voice-enabled search. The Google search box on the rightmost panel of the Android home screen now has a microphone button for selecting voice search instead of entering text. In text, I found the voice recognition capability on par with that of my iPhone—that is, interesting but not reliable. For instance, a search for “Andrew Garcia eWEEK” returned search results for “interpersonal eat wheat.” On the other hand, a search request for “Bill Simmons” returned “Bill Simmons.”