'Cupcake' Update Sweetens Android-Based G1 with Google

REVIEW: The update code-named Cupcake provides an appealing but modest mix of fixes and feature enhancements for the already feature-packed Android-based G1 with Google smartphone. However, the mobile software upgrade leaves some glaring shortcomings unaddressed.

T-Mobile in May started rolling out an update for the Android-based G1 with Google smartphone. Dubbed "Cupcake," the update provides an appealing but modest mix of fixes and feature enhancements to the already feature-packed smartphone, with some previously glaring shortcomings remaining unaddressed. Overall, I would classify Cupcake's enhancements as nice to have, but not enough to compel anyone not previously interested in the G1 with Google to finally make the purchase.

I triggered the update via the System Updates dialog found in the Settings-About Phone dialog. 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.

One of the most notable enhancements Cupcake makes to Android is providing an on-screen keyboard, giving users a quick way to input data. The on-screen keyboard 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.

For a look at the Android 1.5 "Cupcake" firmware update, click here.

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 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."

Cupcake updates Android's browser to the latest version of WebKit, and in the process adds a few capabilities users should find beneficial. For instance, the browser now supports an excellent Find in Page tool to help users find content within an open Web page. This will allow users to easily cycle through all detected instances of the desired word or phrase.

The browser also now supports cut and paste, allowing the user to select and copy text to the clipboard to be shared with other applications via the Menu+V paste keystroke combination. Unfortunately, I found that the paste command does not play nicely with the on-screen keyboard, necessitating the use of the physical keyboard.

Bluetooth capabilities in the initial release of Android on the G1 were limited, as the Bluetooth API was removed from the Android SDK (software development kit) a few weeks before the product first shipped. Cupcake improves Android's Bluetooth capabilities somewhat with the inclusion of A2DP support for stereo Bluetooth capabilities. Indeed, I found it quite straightforward to connect the updated G1 with my stereo-enabled Motorola S9 headset.

On the other hand, I was very disappointed to find that Cupcake provides no detectable improvements to one of the biggest drawbacks in the original Android release-the software's subpar handling of e-mail attachments, particularly in the POP3/IMAP e-mail client. I originally criticized the inability to view, modify or save attachments that come in via the POP3/IMAP client, as I found I had no control over the attachments whatsoever. (The Gmail client provided handling for a few attachment types, like JPG.) Sadly, with Cupcake, this remains the status quo.