Test drive: Adobe Flash Player on Android (beta)

Even before Adobe revealed its first full-fledged Flash Player for smartphones on Thursday, we got a chance to play online games and video from an Android phone.

Ever since Apple CEO Steve Jobs sparked a firestorm with Adobe over the relevance of Adobe's Flash technology for interactive mobile media, a stepped-up PR campaign looked like Adobe's only ammunition.

On Thursday, Adobe got its first chance to fling back a tangible response with the beta release of its Flash Player for select Android phones.

Adobe Flash Player 10.1 beta (which is already out in final form for PCs) makes a mobile debut on Android phones running version 2.2 of the Android operating system (code-named "froyo") or higher.

What does Flash on a smartphone get you? The long-awaited chance to play online Flash-based games (hands-on) and stream video directly from the browser. For wannabe-foodies like us, Adobe's player also finally makes it possible to view restaurant menus from sites written for Flash. While nobody likes online ads, the fact that you can soon view them in all their shifting, eye-catching glory is a big tip-off that the desktop and mobile experiences of the Web have just scooted even closer together.

Hands-on
We tested out an early version of Flash Player 10.1 beta on an Android phone running a pre-release version of the latest 2.2 OS. These compounded caveats mean that we might just have stumbled upon more bugs than you will. We checked out Flash games, streaming video, news sites, and other favorite Web sites that we know take advantage of Flash, and a few of our favorite Flash sites that haven't been modified for Flash mobile.

Unsurprisingly, the best performance came from Web sites that have already been optimized for mobile phones; that is, they'll render the page with hardware accelerometers and trackballs in mind. When we off-roaded from Adobe-suggested sites, we found that Flash Player worked as it would in a desktop environment, but wouldn't smoothly zoom in or pan around in the mobile set-up. Likewise, videos from sites like Funny Or Die triggered the on-board media player (watch our video for examples of these last two.) As for the popular video-streaming site Hulu? Don't even bother. It continues to block access from mobile phones.

Flash Player 10.1 beta on Android
We previewed an early version of Flash Player 10.1 beta on this pre-release Android 2.2 Nexus One. Josh Miller/CNET

Flash Player 10.1 beta will be able to handle the high-definition H.264 video codec using the phone's hardware accelerator (if present in your handset), though it wasn't enabled in the pre-release version of the app we had for testing.

In addition to the visual experience, there are a few behind-the-scenes features. First, Flash Player 10.1 beta will only render the portion of the Web page that you see on the screen, which means that if you're zoomed in, the browser won't bother trying to load the entirety of the Web page. This will help pages load faster and save on resources. Adobe also promises that its player slows down when your phone goes into sleep mode, and pauses when you receive a call.

If you visit a Web site that requires Flash or an updated version of Flash, the player should prompt you to download the right build for your phone.

Specs and availability
Now for some of the more nitty-gritty details. Adobe has only integrated Flash Player 10.1 beta with Google's native browser so far, not with third-party apps like the Dolphin Browser. An Adobe spokesperson told CNET that the Flash Player will immediately work for Nexus One and Droid phones running Android 2.2, and possibly other devices. It will also be compatible with many other Android models that upgrade to the new operating system over the air. When exactly those updates happen depends on the mobile carrier, so update times may vary by who provides your cellular service and where you are on the globe.

Adobe also claims these specs:

  • Video playback--More than three hours of H.264 playback on the Nexus One when streamed over 3G network, with hardware acceleration turned off (software decoding)
  • Casual games--Four hours of continuous playback
  • Automatically decreases RAM use by up to 50 percent
  • If you're upgrading from an earlier operating system, you'll need to download the Flash Player beta, either from the Android Market or from labs.adobe.com. If you're planning to buy a brand-new Google phone running version 2.2 or higher of the operating system, Flash Player 10.1 will come pre-installed.

    Adobe expects to issue a full release on June 17, and is planning versions of Flash Player for Symbian, Windows Mobile, WebOS, and BlackBerry. If you try Flash Player out on your updated Android phone, tell us in the comments what you think.

 

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