Posted by: William Stone III | August 8, 2010

The Droid Saga, Episode II: The Revenge Of Flash

The Droid Saga

Episode II: The Revenge Of Flash

It is a period of chaos on Bill’s Droid. Having been tempted by the power of Android 2.2, he installed Verizon’s pushed build of Android 2.2 FRG01B to his Droid.

The networking stack was buggy and Verizon ceased the push immediately. Nevertheless, Bill’s Droid was bitten by the bug.  Networking — particularly wireless — was almost impossible.

The Droid is crippled, and it seems no hope remains to return peace and freedom to the Droid …

Having gotten sick of waiting for an official FRG22 to appear and fix my numerous FRG01B bugs, I decided to flash back to 2.1, then install FRG22 as blogged here. My results:

Upgrade

The flash/upgrade process worked like a charm.

Speed

Apparent speed of the device has increased dramatically. I’m not clear that it appears any faster than 2.1, but running craptastic FRG01B for a day has colored my perceptions.

Networking

The networking issues aren’t as bad. They are not fixed, however. My guage for this is YouTube.

I watch a lot of YouTube videos. Prior to the upgrade they would all consistently stream virtually laglessly. This was always particularly apparent at home where I have 20MB virtually to myself on a fortuitous cable modem infrastructure spur.

After the upgrade, YouTube videos are timing out a lot. They’ll first lag, then time out.

While YouTube is most apparent, it’s not just YouTube. All Web sites seems sluggish, on either Browser or SkyFire. I’m hope that this is impacting my Flash experience (see below).

I’m installing some specific networking tools to see if I can determine exactly what’s going on. I’ll post more as I do.

Apps

The Gallery works as advertised. I find this interesting, considering how badly broken by networking issues it was in FRG01B. I would expect it to have improved, but not to appear totally lagless.

Apps that need Internet connectivity vary. None respond as rapidly as under 2.1u1. Google Voice is noticably sluggish. Even the mobile Google Reader site, which used to be instantaneous, lags.

One of the few apps that appears unaffected is GMail.

Trap! is still a bit slow, but nowhere near as horrible as under FRG01B.

2D Graphics Bug

On the positive side, the 2D graphics bug introduced in the 2.1 upgrade has been corrected. LagTest consistently shows 60fps with no sudden dips down to 20fps.

Flash

As mentioned previously, I have coined a new phrase to describe my experience with Flash on the Droid:

Craptastically fraktacular.

It’s awful. Really, really awful. It’s as though Adobe, Google, Verizon, Motorola, et al, rickrolled us:

Look, Flash on the Droid! It’s frakking awesome!

It’s definitely not awesome. It is frakked, however — indeed, it’s craptastically fraktacular!

Since the currently-available Flash 10 is still beta, I’ll reserve final judgment. However, in the interests of science I can report my experience:

I dare you tou play Falling Girl on a Droid.

Users with desktop browsers are now glued to their screen by this strange, incongruous game.  They can’t help but click it and move the girl around.  It’s one of the oldest, simplest games on the Internet.

Droid users see a girl falling slow as molasses in January at roughly 2FPS.

The simple control of click-and-hold doesn’t translate into press-and-hold on the handheld. There’s no way to interact with the game.

Even if you could, it’s so laggy as to be pointless. It’s possible that this is to some extent due to networking issues, but there’s also an unfortunate flaw in Adobe’s basic implementation of Flash:

Adobe essentially made a browser plug-in like the ones they make for desktops. The problem is that the Flash content I’ve seen so far simply wasn’t designed for a handheld device.

Unfortunately, heavily Flash-enabled sites that look amazing in a Web browser on a 15″ display tend to look terrible on a handheld. Text becomes illegible, and zooming in and out to alternate between seeing the content and being able to interact with it becomes painfully tedious.

Worse, as mentioned with Falling Girl, there is no intuitive control substitution. Flash works great when you have a mouse to click and hold, or to hover over content for more information. It doesn’t translate to a press-and-hold. I’ve no idea how to “hover” with my finger without also clicking.

After dealing with this craptastically fraktacular Flash on the Droid, I no longer have any interest in learning.

One of two things needs to happen with Flash-heavy sites:

Redesign the content to include a totally separate mobile interface, or stop using Flash.

All the Flash content sitting out there that’s been around as long as Falling Girl? It’s pretty much useless on a handheld. They’re going to have to completely re-think everything.

Flash videos are another matter entirely. They lag in general, but this may be due to underlying networking issues. I’ll forgo judgement until networking works again.

The problem with Flash videos is that the player is simply embedded into the Web site, the same as on a desktop — complete with tiny, miniaturized, impossible-to-manipulate controls.

The only way to deal with embedded Flash video on a handheld device is the thumbnail-and-player approach used by YouTube. Tap the thumbnail and the fullscreen player launches, with appropriate handheld controls.

As it stands, embedded Flash video is useless simply because the video controls become too tiny.

I’m not usually much of an Apple supporter (please, let’s not get started: it’s a topic for another day, and my thoughts on Apple are more complex than you think). However, if what I’ve experienced in the last few days with Flash 10b3, Steve Jobs may have a really, really good point.

We’ll see how it turns out, but unless the finally-released Flash 10 is dramatically different, it may pound some nails into Flash’s coffin.I don’t know how it’s going to work out, but it will be an interesting show to watch …

Summary

This proves to me that FRG01B’s networking stack was indeed buggy as a cockroach nest. It’s not clear, however, that FRG22 entirely fixes the problem.

As mentioned, I’ve installed some monitoring and networking tools to watch what’s happening under the hood a bit more closely. I’ve also now become conversant with ROM manipulation. A side-effect of this was root access to the Droid, which I’ve lacked since the 2.1 upgrade.

This has had some interesting benefits, not the least of which was wireless tethering. I am extremely impressed that the next time I see my daughters, I’ll be able to offer them wireless Internet for their laptops and handhelds. I plan to make the incredibly tedious drive from my ex-wife’s Chicagoland home to my Des Moines-area house a lot more pleasant by allowing them to be constantly connected to the Internet.

The tethering works, too — which is a bit of a puzzle, in fact. I had my Droid connected to the home router (20MB pipe). The Droid’s Internet connectivity is laggy through this pipe. However, when I tethered my laptop to the Droid, the laptop’s access speed was limited only by the wireless connections. It was by no means 20MB, but it was a workable multi-megabit connection.

Beyond the benefits of root access, ROM Manager makes the whole ROM replacement process so much simpler It’s highly probable that I’ll experiment with networking stacks by installing a variety of ROMs to see if networking is better under them.

I’ve flashed ROMs for other devices, but I’ve avoided it on the Droid so far. The device had so far outperformed all my expectations and I was in no hurry to be on the bleeding edge. However, having been forced to delve into it, I’ve become intrigued at the variety of images available.

I’m still experimenting, but as always I continue to be amazed at what the Droid can do.

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Responses

  1. […] I mentioned previously, WiFi seemed a bit flaky under FRG22. It was better than craptastic FRG01B, but not as good as […]


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