I love some vanilla Ice Cream Sandwich…
Ok, so before this gets too out of date I believe that it may be time to actually sit down and write my review of Android 4.0, a.k.a. Ice Cream Sandwich. The first device to have Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS) installed was the Galaxy Nexus. I was lucky enough however to receive the update to the second officially updated device, the Google Nexus S. While this means that I won’t really be doing a hardware look, most of the delicious frozen treat did make it’s way on to my phone.
Google has said that their number one focus with Android 4.0 was the User Interface. It’s obvious from the myriad of visual improvements that they were far from playing around. Their new Director for the Android User Experience, Matais Duarte, has worked his magic on Android just like he did with WebOS. I don’t think that it is too far to say that he is to GUI’s what Sir Jonathan Ive is to hardware. Both are truly visionaries.
-Face Unlock (A novelty to be sure, but still.)
-Camera Zoom (come on now. It’s a software, digital zoom. How can you say that my phone’s not supported with a straight face.)
-0 Second shutter (it’s a lot quicker than it used to be though)
I’m sure that I’m missing something, but it must not be anything worth missing. Google didn’t leave much out in this release, and for the things that were, I’m sure that there was a great reason.
The Lockscreen: Before ICS I used the app Widget Locker to access my playing music and camera from the lockscreen. Now there is no reason to even have that app installed. As you can see they have adopted Microsoft’s idea of a quick way to access the camera while the phone is locked. This picture also shows the new lockscreen music player with ICS. It works beautifully. When not in use the music player disappears and is replaced by user information and the time and battery status (while charging). Not a bad layout. One other nice improvement was the ability to access my notifications from the lockscreen. I can swipe them away or with the addition of More Quickly Panel I can toggle radios on and off without unlocking my phone.
The Home Screen: The homescreen has probably taken the most getting used to of all of the changes. It used to be that I could add folders, widgets, icons and even change wallpaper simply by long pressing on the home screen. That isn’t the case anymore. Long pressing now simply brings up the wallpaper menu. You can see down at the bottom of the above screenshot that there are now four spots and the app drawer button. Those four spots were browser, messenger and screen location in previous iterations of Android, but, now they are user replaceable. I have replaced mine with folders of things that i access the most.
Folders:The folders are completely different from before. They show the top 4 items inside of them when closed and when opened the title is now at the bottom. The inside shortcuts can be rearranged now and they are incredibly simple to create. Simply put one icon on top of another and BOOM! you have a folder. It’s really that simple.
Widgets: Widgets have had some changes also. Like I said you no longer add them by long pressing the home screen. Now they live in the app drawer. The screenshot below shows the 2 tabs in the app drawer now. Aside from that though, the biggest change is that a number of widgets are now resizeable. You have to have the original size space available to place them, but then you can resize many of them. Some, like the calendar widget, can be resized from Fullscreen (4×4) to just 2×2. Oh and on top of that, the Home Launcher now supports scrolling widgets. So that calendar widget can show your schedule for multiple calendars over multiple days at the flick of a finger.
The App Drawer: There isn’t much to say about the app drawer. The home button is gone from the bottom, the widgets have been moved in and it scrolls horizontally instead of vertically now. Oh, and on the botton there is a little bar that shows where you are in the drawer.
The Notification Bar: Android has always handled notifications really well. Like I said before, Matais Duarte has put in A LOT of swiping. On the screenshot above you can see a notification being swiped away. It is great, I swipe away calendar notifications all the time. It’s just easier than actually unlocking the phone just to hit dismiss. You might also notice that the settings are accessible from the shortcut at the top. The only thing that I actually found I miss about the old notification bar is that pressing on it doesn’t show the date anymore. You actually have to pull the notification bar down.
The Camera: The Camera…wow. Another place that has seen some awesome improvements. There is a panoramic mode now and it is fast. I said that it didn’t recieve the 0 sec shutter, but it’s pretty close. Another new addition was the ability to edit pictures. I mean really edit, not just crop pictures.
The Music App: If you have used the Google Music app then you have seen the ICS music app with one exception. Yes, that’s an equalizer in the screenshot. It’s a feature that most people have been asking for and they have finally received it.
As much as I would love to say that that covers all the changes, I would be lying. These were just some of the biggest. There are more developer’s options available now. There is hardware acceleration. Even though the colors scheme reeks of honeycome, Everything has changed. Google said that they were focusing on a better User Interface for ICS and I would have to say, Mission Accomplished.
As for usability, I have to believe that my knowing Android already actually serves as more of a handicap than a help with this release. I can see differences better because I was a user before, but I also have to unlearn things that had become a normal part of use. A great example is adding something to the homescreen. I still long press and then have to back up and go in to the app drawer to get to the widgets. I also forget about the music controls on the lockscreen and the access to the camera from the lockscreen. I’m sure that I will get used to it, but I can’t help but think that it would be easier if I hadn’t had them before.
Over all though, I have been really satisfied with this release. The features are great, the improvements are wonderful and there are few places that it still lacks. Android has moved into the future and it’s great to see everyone else trying to play catch-up.
If you’re interested in picking up the update for you’re GSM Nexus S click on this link for the download and instructions.