Everything you need to know about Android 2.0

Out with the old camera, in with the new

Android is far from a perfect operating system and some of its core apps are still a little rough around the edges. While version 1.6 improved both the functionality and the speed of the camera/camcorder application, Android 2.0 adds several extra features to boost performance, notably: built-in flash support, digital zoom, a scene mode, white balance, colour correction and macro focus options.

Android 2.0

CAMERA MODES: The enhanced Camera application now supports additional photo features including digital zoom and colour correction

A virtual keyboard you won't shout 'gnnnghh!' at

Android 2.0 also improves the virtual keyboard, which has always lagged behind the Apple iPhone's QWERTY keypad in terms of usability. The Android keyboard has a narrower layout, with smaller virtual keys that are harder to hit accurately when typing at speed.

The iPhone combats this by invisibly enlarging the so-called 'landing area' of certain keys as you type. This is based on a probabilistic analysis of the word that you're currently typing and by guessing the letters that you might be pressing next.

Android 2.0 now includes an improved keyboard layout that's designed to make it easier to hit the right keys, while multi-touch support enables speedy, two-fingered key tapping. The new keyboard also boasts a smarter dictionary that learns from the words that you use most often (much like the iPhone).

Android 2.0 is ready for HTML 5 (even if you're not)

The Android 2.0 OS features a revamped webkit browser with an actionable URL bar like Google's Chrome. This enables you to bypass the Google homepage and use the URL bar as a search box. Android 2.0 also adds thumbnail images to bookmarks and double-tap zoom in/out functionality (but no Apple-esque 'pinching').

Android 2.0 also sneaks in HTML 5-friendliness, including tag support. In short: this will play HTML5 videos in full screen mode when you tap on them. And what about Flash 10? HTML 5 is designed to reduce the reliance on plug-in applications, but that will take some time to achieve. Support for Adobe's format is on the way but doesn't make it into this Android update.

Get a FREE sat-nav with every Android 2.0 phone

Need another reason to love Android 2.0? How about FREE sat-nav software? Google recently announced Google Maps Navigation for Android 2.0. "This new feature comes with everything you'd expect to find in a GPS navigation system," wrote software engineer Keith Ito on the Official Google Blog, "like 3D views, turn-by-turn voice guidance and automatic re-routing. But unlike most navigation systems, Google Maps Navigation was built from the ground up to take advantage of your phone's internet connection."

Wait. There's more...

Hands up who wants a better calendar? Android 2.0 delivers an enhanced agenda application that now has the ability to invite people to events and to show who's attending (or not).

It also extends the search functionality to text messages and can be tasked to automatically erase old messages. Dig deeper and Android 2.0 also makes some other tweaks, including improved graphics performance through hardware acceleration and a new API for three-point multi-touch.

Will old Android phones be upgradeable to Android 2.0?

Yes. And no. Sony has already announced that the new Xperia X10 will be upgraded to 2.0 as soon as the software appears. The HTC Hero will also be ripe for an upgrade.

The company has recently admitted that: "Yes, we are working on an Éclair update for the HTC Hero". But expect to wait for it. "Because Éclair is a significantly enhanced release, it will require some time to update Sense for this new version of the Android OS", HTC added.

No word yet on whether the Motorola Dext (aka Cliq) can or will be upgraded to Android 2.0, ditto the Samsung Galaxy, the HTC Tattoo and HTC Magic. Contact your network provider for more information.

There's a giant éclair on Google's lawn...

The codenames for recent Android releases seem to be rolling out alphabetically and are being inspired by high-calorie patisserie items. Android 1.5 was designated 'Cupcake', while Android 1.6 was known as 'Donut'. Android 2.0 continues the tradition with the codename 'Éclair'.

Google erects oversize statues of each cake on its Mountain View campus to celebrate the release of each major Android version. What's next? Fudge? Fritter? Our money is on 'Flan' for Android 2.1...

You can watch the Android 2.0 platform highlights video on the developer.android.com website.