Still waiting for Android 2.2? Given the slow pace of Froyo's rollout to Android phones, sometimes it feels like waiting for Godot. And if you're especially unlucky, the new version of the operating system won't even make it to your phone. But if you're impatient for Froyo, or if your phone will never get it, there's something you can do -- give Android 2.1 some of the features of 2.2. Even without the update, you can tether your computer to your smartphone, control your phone with your voice, get additional home screens and more.
Note: This article was written based on tests using a Droid X, so there might be slight differences when you try them on your Android phone. In addition, because Android's interface has been tweaked for some smartphone models, the tips in this article might not all work on all Android 2.1 phones.
Tether your laptop
Probably the niftiest new feature of Froyo is its ability to tether an Android phone to a laptop -- in other words, it can give your computer broadband wireless access through your smartphone. Are you an Android 2.1 user (or an owner of the original Droid, which will not be given this feature)? Don't fret -- you can do all this without Froyo. And in some ways, it's even better, because you may not have to pay the $20 or so fee that carriers tack on for the rights to tether a smartphone. Service contracts are often not clear about whether you are allowed to tether this way free of charge. But I've known several people who do it without paying the fee, and their service providers haven't said a word.
It's exceptionally easy, thanks to an app called PDAnet. Just install PDAnet on an Android phone, and load the accompanying software on a computer running Windows 7, Vista or XP or Mac OS X 10.5 or later. Then connect a USB cable between the computer and the smartphone, and then run the software on both devices. The computer will be connected to the Internet via the smartphone.
When you're connected, the PDAnet app on your phone gives connection information such as the amount of data you've transferred.
Instead of using a USB cable, you can connect your laptop to your smartphone via a Bluetooth connection, although in that case you'll have to go through the sometimes problematic steps of Bluetooth pairing.
There are two versions of the software. The free version has one limitation -- you can't visit secure Web sites that use the HTTPS protocol, such as the ones you use when you pay for something you buy online. To visit secure Web sites, you'll have to buy the paid version for $23.95. (According to the PDAnet Web site, there currently is a limited-time price of $18.95.)
If you use this software, you'll need to check the terms of service with your wireless provider, because your contract may not allow tethering.
Note: You may have problems using this software on a Droid X phone with a Mac, as I did. Here's the fix: When you connect the Droid X to a Mac via USB, you'll need to go to your notifications list on the Droid X and select "USB Mass Storage." You may also need to turn off the screen on the Droid X but leave the power on.
Speed up Android
By all accounts, one of the best things about Froyo is that it makes Android phones faster and more responsive. While there's no direct way to speed up an Android 2.1 phone, there are some steps you can take to make it move a bit more quickly.
The first isn't a surefire solution. I'm including it here because some people report that it works, but others say it doesn't work. I'll leave it up to your discretion to try it if you want.
Android multitasks, and many people don't close down an app in Android when they no longer want to use it. They just head back to the main screen and run another app. So that first or second or third app might still be running, sucking up memory and processor time.
Android includes routines for cleaning up apps that you no longer use, but some people believe it doesn't work as well as it should. So they use a task killer that lets them view all of the currently running apps and background services, and they kill any they don't want to run -- either automatically (for example, when the phone isn't being used) or manually.
There are several task killers you can get for free from the Android Market. I tried two of them: Task Manager from Adao Team and Task Killer from ReChild. Both work similarly -- they display all the apps currently running with a checkbox next to each, and they let you kill any app you no longer want to use by unchecking the box. I found that Task Killer displayed more tasks and services to kill than did Task Manager, although to be honest I didn't notice any speed difference after using either of them.