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New Gmail app means improvements not tied to Android releases

Gmail can now access new features without moving to to a better version of Android, but it's only available to those on Android 2.2.

Gmail is particularly well integrated on Android phones, but a new app should make it even better, updating your mail with new features without having to wait for full Android system updates.

Previously you'd have to wait for an OS upgrade to get any Gmail improvements, but the standalone app means it now becomes independent from Android's core functions.

There's only one problem: it's only available on Android 2.2. This means if you're stuck on a previous version and fancied upgrading your Gmail, you won't be able to do it, which is unfortunate.

But if you're on Froyo and can download the Gmail update from the Android Market, you'll see some immediate improvements. If you scroll through a conversation, your most important message actions will stick to the top of the screen, no matter how long the email.

On a very long thread, you can also now view previous messages more easily, like in the desktop version. Simply tap 'Show quoted text' to reveal the previous message.

The updated version has limited support for Priority Inbox. If you've enabled this feature using the desktop version of Gmail, you'll see messages flagged with an 'Important' label. You can add a shortcut to this from your homescreen.

As PC World commented, the standalone app means control of the Gmail software is wrested from carriers and manufacturers, so users won't have to wait for a network update to improve it. Google Maps, Voice Search and Google Search have also been detached from the OS in this way, which means they can all be improved whatever phone or OS version you're on.

But it's obviously a shame that those stuck on previous versions of Android can't upgrade aspects of their systems in this way. Google is continuously developing Android, so we're hoping these features will improve for people stuck on Android 2.1 or 1.6.