Hands-On: Flash Player 10.1 and Android 2.2 Froyo
Phone Scoop spent some time testing Adobe's new Flash Player 10.1 beta for Android handsets as well as Android 2.2 Froyo. Does Flash deserve all the fuss it has generated? We find out.
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Phone Scoop had the opportunity to spend some time testing Adobe's Flash Player 10.1 beta for the Android platform. According to Adobe, FP 10.1 is built directly into the Android browser, and that is the only place where users will be able to consume Flash content. There is not stand-alone Flash Player software that is accessible outside of the browser.
The demo unit supplied by Adobe has a bookmarked web site that contains shortcuts to Flash-optimized web sites and services. These shortcuts cover the gamut from news, to social networking, to dedicated video sites to games. I put them all to the test on the Nexus One.
The first side I visited was PhoneScoop.com. I loaded a page that had a video embedded in it. The YouTube video player worked perfectly directly within the web page itself and played the video as yo'd expect on the desktop version of PhoneScoop.com. I then loaded the same page on the iPhone. Rather than playing the video within the web page, the iPhone instead opened the YouTube application and displayed the video that way. (See video below.)
I then visited Hulu.com. All of the content on Hulu.com worked as intended by the designers of the web site. I was able to navigate and play various videos with few problems. Video playback worked just as it does on a desktop web browser. I did the same with MTVMusic.com, which is a great place to watch music videos for free. All the video played just fine.
There are a few small issues, though. First, the Android browser on the Nexus One was rendering the sites in full HTML mode with the Flash embedded on the web pages. At first, you'd think "Hooray!" and be happy. However, the video players on the web sites are so small, that it is nearly impossible to interact with the controls. Sure, the Play button is large before the the video starts, but once it gets going, it is futile to pause, stop, or adjust the volume of any clip short of canceling the web page or navigating away. I tested this on a number of sites, and it was consistent no matter the site and video player design.
I even attempted to zoom in so the controls would be larger and easier to use, but they simply can't be made big enough to use effectively.
The other problem is speed. Hulu, for example, is so heavily laden with videos that it took forever to open the web site. (Mind you, I performed all the tests over Wi-Fi, sitting about 5 feet from my hotspot.) Even with the fast 1GHz processor in the Nexus One and blazing fast Wi-Fi mere inches away, video loaded slowly on almost every site I tested it on. Video-heavy sites, such as MTVMusic.com, practically killed the Nexus One's browser. Granted, those sites are heavy-duty and the most demanding sites out there, but even regular sites were slow-ish. (See video below.)
Once the video got playing, though, it looked and worked great for the most part. I noticed few slow-downs, pixelization, and other interference, and the sound came through with not issues whatsoever.
I am concerned about the speed, though. For it to be pushed to hard over Wi-Fi leads me to believe that the 3G experience won't be as good.
Besides video, I also tested Flash-based games. These performed incredibly well. The colors, graphics, and overall performance of the Flash-games that work with the Android browser get no complaints from me. I can't speak to how developers will feel about writing applications in Flash versus any other platform, but the games really do look great. I noticed no lags, no speed issues, no performance problems of any kind with the Flash games. Best of all, they didn't crash the browser.
Flash Player 10.1 requires devices running Android 2.2 and up. (Android 2.2 should be available soon to the Google Nexus One and Motorola Droid.) Adobe will be offering FP 10.1 to other devices, such as the HTC Incredible, EVO 4G and Desire once those devices are updated to 2.2.
In sum, I will say this. Having a Flash-capable browser does indeed lead to a richer experience across the web, and one that requires less futzing between the browser and a dedicated video player. However, speed and performance were inconsistent, I am sure some users will be frustrated at times with how well the content performs. Also, the difficulty in scaling video players on mobile web sites is a real concern, and it led to problems adjusting or halting playback quickly and easily. Adobe insists that this is a beta version of Flash Player 10.1 for Android. It's not a 1.0 piece of software. I fully expect that the software and performance will improve over time.
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