CTIA09: Hands-on with the latest build of the Android "Cupcake" firmware

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Wow: Carry your baby while looking utterly ridiculous with this strange device

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We’re in good ol’ Sin City, fresh out of a pre-CTIA 2009 meeting with HTC. While most of the hardware they brought to the party were things we’d seen at Mobile World Congress last month, they had one thing on the software end that was just out of the oven: the latest build of the Android “Cupcake” release.

The firmware build number we were playing with was 1.5/CRA79. We didn’t spot any major new features in this build – but we did see a good number of things we’d heard about previously get their first implementations. Oddly, we also noticed at least one thing missing since last time.

Orientation animation:

While the currently publicly available Android build already supports orientation detection and switching, it’s a bit of a hack to get it to work. When we saw a Cupcake build at MWC, it had it enabled by default – but it was a bit slow. They’ve optimized it a good amount since, but have added an orientation switch animation to make any delays less obvious. It now zooms out and then visibly “Wobbles” – see demonstration in the video above.

Emoticon key:

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When we did our initial run through of the Cupcake build back in January, we noticed that certain text emoticons suddenly had graphical replacements. Which ones had replacements, however, was impossible to determine. In this latest build, emoticons have a key of their own on the virtual keyboard. Press it briefly, and it inputs a standard smiley. Hold it, and it brings up the entire array. It replaces the enter/carriage return key.

Slide-out drawer background:

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This change seems a bit odd to us. On the G1 and all previous Android builds, the slide out drawer (where applications are kept) had a semi-translucent grey background. In this build of Cupcake, this has been changed to an opaque checkered background. It sort of looks like carbon fiber.

“Add to Home Screen” changes:

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“Add to Home Screen” is a pop-up window that appears when you hold your finger on the desktop. It’s essentially the same as it was on the G1, with a few trivial changes: All labels now have graphical icons, and the “Application” shortcut list has been placed within “Shortcuts” rather than being immediately available from the initial list.

As we mentioned, one thing is missing from builds prior; at MWC, we noticed that YouTube was getting some love from Google with a Live Shortcut of its own. This is now gone.

On-screen Keyboard Auto-correct/Suggestions:

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We knew it was coming, but it was curiously absent in the build we played with last. When Android thinks you may have made a mistake, it highlights the word it thinks you meant in orange above the input box – but unlike the iPhone, it also offers other not-as-common options as alternative suggestions. There are two Auto-correct options: Basic and Advanced. We’re not sure what the difference is.

Other notes:

  • This is the first time we noticed any implementation of the input method framework. You can now select custom keyboards, though the default Android keyboard was the only one installed on this handset.
  • You can add words to the Auto-correction dictionary by holding them, or by manually inputting them in settings.

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