Android 2.1 spins up

Kicking off the year with the release of its Nexus phone, Google has set the tone for a year which will be all about mobile phones.

But, while the Nexus is little more than an HTC phone, it does have a powerful weapon: Android 2.1.

The Nexus is the first mobile to ship with the latest version of Google’s mobile operating system and while most other makers will follow suit shortly, we look at some of the features that make Android 2.1 so desirable.

Voice control
You may not want to be seen in public talking to your phone, but voice control in Android 2.1 is a key feature. The Android developers have added voice input to almost all input fields on the phone which means that users can send SMSes, Tweets and emails just by talking to the phone.

And if you use Google’s maps you can simply tell it where you want to go to get directions. For users with access to Google’s Maps Navigation, this includes voice directions.

Google Earth and 3D
Android 2.1 also ships with 3D support and the latest version of Google Earth. Which means users can use 3D spinning, zooming and, of course, voice search.

With better 3D controls built-in, users can expect to see a range of new 3D capable applications appearing in the Android marketplace shortly.

Android’s contact management has also been significantly improved to include support for importing contacts from a wide range of sources, including Facebook. Being built-in these capabilities can be expected to perform much better than other customised and third-party solutions.

GMail boost
Good news for power GMail users is that Android 2.1 now supports multiple concurrent GMail accounts. So, if you have more than one GMail account, Android can have them working concurrently and feeding incoming mail into the same inbox.

Picture it
Google has also improved the photo handling capabilities in Android 2.1 including the ability to browse all pictures on a 3D wall. Albums are also grouped by time, date and location which makes them easier to manage.

Interactive background
This doesn’t necessarily improve the usability of a phone but the new background capabilities in Android 2.1 mean that they can be 3D or even interactive. A watery background could, for example, react to being touched by rippling. It’s cool but not entirely necessary.

To date the Nexus is the only phone shipping with Android 2.1 installed by default. There are reports of various phones being hacked to run the newest OS but officially there is no word on when, and which, other phones will be able to upgrade to Android 2.1.

Obviously many of the HTC phones will be the first to upgrade along with Motorola and Samsung.

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Android 2.1 spins up