Android This Week: Droid 3; better Google Talk; Google Plus

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The Android phones keep coming from manufacturers and this week, the most prominent addition came from Verizon. Motorola’s Droid 3 is available online and arrives in stores on July 14 for $199 after contact. The original Droid, combined with the marketing muscle of Verizon advertising and the debut of Android 2.0, helped kick off Android’s strong market share growth and the Droid 3 looks a worthy successor to the line. Those that require a hardware keyboard on a new Android smartphone should consider looking at the Droid 3.

Among the major improvements, the new handset offers a 960×540 resolution display, a 1 GHz dual-core processor, and comes with Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) out of the box. The keyboard has a small, fifth row of dedicated number keys, as well. And travelers ought to appreciate the support for GSM / HSPA networks; the phone can accept a SIM card for voice and data use in more than 200 countries around the globe. The Droid 3 has a front facing camera but until it sees Android 2.3.4, it won’t be able to use Google Talk for video chatting.

Android tablets, however, do support video chats in Google Talk, which is about to improve. SRI International, a non-profit research firm, announced this week that Google has chosen its 2D video stabilization software for Google Talk on Honeycomb tablets. The software not only minimizes any shaking on the incoming video but could also reduce the amount of effort needed from a device to encode the video, which can help battery life. Although few people are likely walking and talking on video, there is a growing trend away from stationary computing as activities become more mobile.

Another mobile activity is social networking and the new Google+ service is on a roll. Google’s own Android app for Google+ is actually better than the desktop experience and while it’s not a “killer app”, it could sway some consumers to either stay on or adopt Android handsets. Google has submitted an iOS Google+ app to Apple for review, but as of the time of this writing, no such app has been approved. Instead, iOS users are relying upon a web version of Google+ which is somewhat limiting. And it’s not yet clear if Apple will allow the Google+ app to upload photos instantly in the background, which is a native function on the Android version.

Android smartphones also gained another feature not found on other platforms this week: downloadable maps. Thanks to a new Labs feature in Maps for Android, travelers can choose locations and download a local copy of the area for use offline. Traffic and satellite data won’t appear, unless the handset goes online, but basic street information for simple, manual navigation is available in areas without a cellular data signal.

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