Adobe Flash Player 10.1 on Android: Slow but Pretty

Adobe offered eWEEK a beta version of Flash Player 10.1, loaded onto a Nexus One smartphone running the prerelease version of Android 2.2, dubbed "Froyo." Testing was limited to WiFi, thanks to the device's lack of SIM card. While Flash Player 10.1, at least in beta, seems to offer solid battery life and smooth streaming video and animations, long load times on many Websites led to frustration. Adobe likely hopes that an effective mobile version of Flash, paired with Android, will allow it to counter criticisms leveled against it by Apple, which had barred Flash from the iPhone and iPad due to supposed bugginess and excessive battery drain.

Flash Player 10.1 will offer smartphones and other mobile devices the same Web browsing capabilities as desktops, complete with streaming video and Website animations. That's what Adobe officials claim, at least, and they were willing to support that assertion by sending eWEEK a Nexus One smartphone running the prerelease version of Android 2.2, dubbed "Froyo," and a beta version of Flash Player 10.1.

The beta's release to reviewers comes as Adobe finds itself under assault by Apple, which has made public its assertions that Flash is too buggy and battery-hungry to effectively run mobile devices. Flash Player 10.1 seems designed to counter those accusations, but a few issues with the review Nexus One hobbled the ability to review its Web abilities to the fullest: The device lacked a SIM card, meaning that any testing of the updated Flash's potential had to be done using WiFi. Having access to 3G, by contrast, could have provided a much fuller picture.

If Flash Player 10.1 offers one appreciable benefit, it's length of battery life. After three days of testing games and videos, the Nexus One's battery seemed to drain at a normal rate for Web-intensive activity (for a baseline on that "normal rate," I'm using my more extensive surfing experiences with the Motorola Droid and Droid Eris). The phone starts running a little warm after 15 minutes of video playing or so, but nothing that I haven't experienced with a similar smartphone, or a device like the iPod Touch.

Adobe claims that Flash Player 10.1 will slow or shut down during sleep or low-power modes, and make a determination about whether to render assets not actually being displayed on the smartphone's screen.

While Flash Player 10.1 might not be a battery hog, it decimates bandwidth like Marlon Brando at a buffet table; even with a corporate WiFi connection, many videos had an absurdly long load time-clips on The Wall Street Journal's Website took 2 minutes to spring to life, and a trailer for the upcoming Angelina Jolie film "Salt" needed 3 minutes. You could use that time to check your e-mail, I suppose, but it also presented the near-overpowering urge to simply click away and do something else.

Once those videos activate, however, all slights are pretty much forgiven. Picture quality is solid, with a minimum of flickers or hitches; I watched the trailer for "The Book of Eli" off the Warner Brothers site, which Adobe claims was optimized for mobile Flash, and it was comparable to the version stored on my iPod Touch's hard drive. The one caveat to watching video for an extended period of time, without touching the screen, is the Nexus One's habit of going into power-saving mode-at one point, the device went dark just as Denzel Washington was about to do his best Seven Samurai imitation on a bunch of post-apocalyptic mutants. But that is a fixable issue.

Flash-enabled games operated pretty smoothly, with either minimal or nonexistent lag times, as did Flash animations on corporate Websites such as HTC's.

The test device's Web browser opened to a page of Adobe "recommended" Websites, which provided a consistently smooth experience. Fleeing the reservation, though, produced mixed results. In a devastating revelation for fans of Hulu, which is not on that recommended list, a distribution-rights issue apparently prevents the site from being streamed to mobile devices; in any case, trying to watch episodes of "24" and other programs produced a black screen. Animations on some other sites returned either a black or white screen, which refused to load anything colorful or moving after 3 minutes.

Adobe executives told eWEEK ahead of the test that Flash Player 10.1, being in beta, will have bugs ironed out before the final release. Flash Player 10.1 is designed to run on Android 2.2 and higher, with Adobe targeting Windows Phone 7, WebOS, Symbian and BlackBerry as additional operating systems.

Adobe has found itself playing defense in recent months, after Apple CEO Steve Jobs publicly accused Flash of being a buggy battery-drainer unfit for the iPhone and iPad.

"Flash has not performed well on mobile devices," Jobs wrote in an April letter titled "Thoughts on Flash" and posted to Apple's corporate Website. "We have routinely asked Adobe to show us Flash performing well on a mobile device, any mobile device, for a few years now. We have never seen it."

Adobe countered with a public-relations push of its own. In a February conversation with eWEEK, executives from the company insisted that the ubiquity of Flash on the Web, and the porting of Adobe Flash Player 10.1 onto Android and other smartphone operating systems, meant the brand is still relevant. General availability for Flash Player 10.1 is now expected by June 17, according to Adobe.