Android This Week: Faster Galaxy S; Good Fragments; Dual-Core Chip Wars;

Taking a short break from Android tablets this week, I spent some hands-on time with the latest Samsung Galaxy S 4G smartphone for T-Mobile’s network. The $199 handset is only an incremental upgrade from the prior version, but adds some key elements that will likely make this a popular purchase. Samsung’s original Galaxy S (known as the Vibrant) already provided a stellar Super AMOLED display, strong overall performance and a solid rear facing camera. The upgraded version offers the same, but adds a front-facing camera for video chat and a faster mobile broadband radio fully capable of using T-Mobile’s HSPA+ network.

The theoretical speeds of the Samsung Galaxy S 4G top out at 21 Mbps, and in strong coverage areas with optimal conditions, it’s likely users can see downloads speeds in excess of 10 Mbps. That alone makes the device a mobile powerhouse, but T-Mobile also includes a few bits of handy software with the Galaxy S 4G as well. The doubleTwist AirSync app, normally a $5 purchase, is pre-loaded and helps you move media from a computer to the phone over Wi-Fi. And the app doubles as a wireless media server to an HDTV through Microsoft’s Xbox 360 (s msft) or Sony’s PlayStation 3 (s sne).

Unlike the prior version, Samsung’s Galaxy S 4G runs Android 2.2, or Froyo, right out of the box. That’s good, because the more Android handsets running a current version, the less platform fragmentation there is. Developers can worry less about supporting different devices. Google this week took a big step to help combat this fragmentation by ironically launching what are called fragments for Android smartphone apps. These are dynamic multi-pane activity windows programmers can use to build apps that work on an Android handset, regardless of the screen size or display resolution. This approach was first used in the Honeycomb tablet version of Android and allows data to be dragged and dropped between fragments: perfect for switching views in Gmail from the Inbox to a message, for example.

While that should help with Android software, another development this week could cause problems with hardware. Samsung’s next Android smartphone, the Galaxy S II, may come to market with one of two different processors inside, depending on where its sold. The company will use its own dual-core chip in the handset for some regions of the world, while other areas will find Nvidia’s Tegra 2 chip in the Galaxy S II. While that doesn’t sound like a problem on the surface, it sets a worrisome trend towards hardware fragmentation.

In order to differentiate its Tegra 2 processor, Nvidia (s nvda) has worked with developers to create games and apps that are Tegra-optimized. This software is found in the Android Market within the Tegra Zone application. While any Android device can theoretically install and run these apps, only devices that are Tegra-powered can take full advantage of them. And users are reporting application crashes and other glitches when using these apps on non-Tegra devices. So some Galaxy S II handsets will run these mobile apps just fine, while others — which will look identical from the outside — may not. There was a time when consumers cared about whose chip powered their personal computer; I don’t think we want to repeat the trend with such personal devices like smartphones or tablets.

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