Android Jelly Bean rolling out to HSPA+ Galaxy Nexus, hands-on impressions

Android Jelly Bean rolling out to HSPA+ Galaxy Nexus, hands-on impressions

Summary: Google revealed the details of the Android 4.1 (aka Jelly Bean) update at Google I/O and yesterday they started rolling it out to HSPA+ device owners.


I have both an HSPA+ Galaxy Nexus (I use it with my T-Mobile and AT&T accounts) and a Verizon CDMA Nexus. As Google announced yesterday, the Jelly Bean (Android 4.1) update is now rolling out to HSPA+ devices. I installed a custom ROM last week and have been using Jelly Bean for a few days so wanted to share some experiences. I thought Ice Cream Sandwich was excellent and what we always wanted from Android and now Jelly Bean greatly improves on that experience. The primary improvements for me include Google Now, enhanced notifications, and a smoother user interface. You can check out many screenshots of Jelly Bean on my Galaxy Nexus in my image gallery. The Verge has an excellent detailed review of Jelly Bean that you should check out too.

Check out my full screenshot gallery of Jelly Bean

Google Now

Google Now is a slick new feature that appears to be the ultimate compilation of Google Search personalized for you. Simply swipe up from below the screen to have Google Now appear. The upper section shows a cool image that changes to reflect your location and time of day with a search box to enter text or voice commands. Below this is where your Google Now cards will appear dynamically. As you can see below the Google Now cards are great for the business person who commutes, goes out to lunch, meets with clients, and travels. There are no real media or social networking features, but primarily personal assistant tools to help you be more efficient and have your smartphone take care of gathering data for your in a smart manner.

The voice search lets you perform the following types of searches and actions:

  • Set reminders (one major reason I used Siri)
  • Send a text message
  • Check weather in different locations
  • Perform calculations
  • Perform a barrel roll (try it, it's fun)
  • Check out sports scores and upcoming game times
  • Get directions

I found the voice search to be fairly picky in regards to how you phrase your question too. If done "properly" you will get the results you expect, but if you don't ask how Google wants you too then you may end up with simple web search results. Unlike S Voice on the Galaxy S III, you cannot perform device functions such as toggling wireless radios with Google Now at this time. Check out this video showing a great selection of questions asked using the Google Now voice search utility.

I found it to be much better than S Voice on the Galaxy S III and any other Android voice control program. I would even argue that it is better than Siri on iOS. You can perform some things without an internet connection too, including composition of emails and text messages (voice dictation tasks). Anything requiring a search obviously requires some kind of connection.

The Google Now cards change depending on the time of day, searches you have performed, and settings that you customize. There are cards for the following:

  • Traffic: Get traffic conditions and alternate routes before you leave for work.
  • Public transit: Find when the next bus or train departs.
  • Next appointment: See what is coming up and also find out how long it will take given the current traffic conditions.
  • Flights: Keep track of your upcoming flight status.
  • Sports: Keep updated on your local sports teams and even pick up tickets if you want to watch it live.
  • Places: Quickly find a place for lunch or check out local places of interest.
  • Weather: Know what the day is going to be like before you leave the house.
  • Translation: Handy for when you are traveling outside the country or down to California.
  • Currency: Check local conversion rates instead of relying on the local vendor.
  • Time at home: Travelers will appreciate knowing local and home time when traveling.

There are settings for each Google Now card and you can check them out in my image gallery. Be patient when you first start using Google Now as it takes some time for Google to collect the data needed to have it working best for you.

Enhanced notifications

Notifications have always been a distinguishing feature in Android and Jelly Bean helps them get even better. They look better with more use of white and the Roboto fonts rather than so much Tron blue. Some notifications also now appear two blocks high, photos for example, so you can see more relavent information in the notification. You can also now perform some actions right from the notifications, such as tap to share a photo, snooze an alarm, make a quick call back, and more. You can clear all notifications by tapping the new three bar step icon in the upper right.

You also now have app level control of notifications so if you go to your app settings and app info page you can toggle the Show notifications option. The easiest way to get to this app info from a notification is to simply press and hold on it to see an App Info link appear.

NFC to Bluetooth pairing support

I recently reviewed the Nokia Play 360 speakers and followed up by purchasing my own white set of speakers. Jelly Bean supports NFC tap to pair to Bluetooth so just like my Nokia N9 I simply tapped my Galaxy Nexus to my speakers to setup the Bluetooth connection and connect. I know it is not a huge deal, but it is much more convenient than enabling the Bluetooth radio, setting up the pairing, and then connecting through menus.

Other Jelly Bean improvements

There are several more improvements in Jelly Bean. Some are listed below and if you can think of others feel free to let me know in the comments.

  • Smooth as butter: Google had an initiative called Project Butter that was used to make Android more responsive, including optimizing touches on the display. You can immediately tell everything seems just a bit smoother when you use Jelly Bean.
  • Keyboard love: I use SwiftKey for my keyboard, but Google improved the native one and uses a text prediction algorithm like SwiftKey in their new keyboard. There are also some advanced settings options in the keyboard.
  • Offline maps: You have been able to get a small portion of your maps offline in Google Maps for some time, but now you can get more of the area downloaded to your life. However, this area still needs a lot of work and if you want to get full navigation without a connection you should still stick with some excellent 3rd party navigation solutions or use Nokia Maps on another device.
  • Homescreen update: Widgets will now automatically move icons around, similar to what you see on iOS so you shouldn't get that annoying error message that there is no room for the widget as much as before.

Where and when can you get Jelly Bean?

As I started off saying, the HSPA+ Galaxy Nexus Jelly Bean update is rolling out now. There is no word on when the Verizon or Sprint CDMA version will appear as it first goes through carrier testing. You can purchase an HSPA+ Galaxy Nexus for just $349 with no contract and then use it on AT&T and T-Mobile in the US or around the world on GSM carriers. You can also order a Nexus 7 tablet that comes with Jelly Bean. I have mine pre-ordered and look forward to testing it out.

Topics: Mobility, Android, Google, Mobile OS, Samsung

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Well, technically - not like you see on iOS...

    Since iOS doesn't have widgets...
    • Yes, like iOS

      You can use widgets on iOS. Google it: "Dashboard X Brings Live Widgets To Your iOS Device’s Home Screen".
      • Dashboard X

        Where exactly can I find that on the Apple App Store, again?
        • Dashboard X for IOS

          It's for jailbroken phones only. I imagine Cidia has it.
          Randy Gallo
  • google

    another update

    ht tp://
    Jack Shepard
  • G-Nex (HSPA+) manual Jelly Bean update...

    if the OTA hasn't been pushed yet, u can force your G-Nex HSPA+ to manually retrieve the 140MB+ file.

    perform a factory reset. after the reboot, skip the Google account sign-in prompt. connect the device to a WLAN. access the device settings panel and manually check for system updates. Jelly Bean v4.1.1 should appear for download.

    ICS was a HUGE improvement (puts gingerbread to shame), but Jelly Bean raises the bar waaaay up. it's that good.

      you need to force the update via wifi...and wifi only!

      turn on wifi
      settings > apps > google services framework (**force stop and clear data)
      settings > about phone > system updates > check now

      click yes to update :)
      • Whoa... Relax

        U make it seem like the factory reset bricks the phone. I tried the google services framework over 20 MF times - never an update prompt even with a wifi connection.

        The factory reset did the trick ONCE.

        Catch your breath twinkle-toes
    • I reluctantly did factory reset BUT NO JELYBEAN...

      I tried the Google sevices route, and then factory reset route but no 4.1 update...I did receive an update a little over a week ago but it was 4.0.4. I have an unlocked G-nex but no sim in it at this time. I also have an S3 which i use on daily basis.

    you need to force the update via wifi...and wifi only!

    turn on wifi
    settings > apps > google services framework (**force stop and clear data)
    settings > about phone > system updates > check now

    click yes to update :)
  • Bluetooth

    Great article, thanks! I'm very impressed with Google Now! Can you test with a bluetooth headset? It would be great if you could test with a female voice. I find many voice activated apps don't hear my voice correctly.
  • Jelly Bean is good

    It's good, but I don't believe it's as good as the hype. For me, personally, it makes my Galaxy Nexus usable, and in most cases a pleasure to use. It does stutter every now and then, but I don't mind as stutter is the exception rather than the rule. Have noticed very annoying stutter in third party apps - and some built in apps. For example, in Google Plus, the lazy loading logic seems to be blocking the main UI thread (same on iPhone 4S by the way). Not good. Noticed the same thing in the Play Store when you go to Top Paid or Top Free - scroll down, the lazy loading logic that fetches the tiny little icons blocks the main UI thread (or perhaps it's running the same thread!? If it is: shame on you Google, shame!!). Very annoying.

    While Jelly Bean is good, there is much room for improvement. Is good to see Google finally tackling the user experience side of Android. I've been a fierce critic of lag/stuttering in the Android UI and have avoided the platform because of this. However, the improvements that Jelly Bean bring have swayed me back to Android. Just hope the Android team don't stop here - there's much work to be done (in regards to UI smoothness/responsiveness).
    • Hardware Accelerate Everything

      Go into your settings and force GPU rendering on everything. It smoothed everything out for me and now I have absolutely no stutter anywhere and I am on 4.1.
      Nathan A Smith
  • Solavei

    Solavei provides UNLIMITED 4G Nationwide Voice, Text and Data for $49, or free, through social marketing. Partnered with over 50 major US Corporations! Contact me for details !
    Password: solavei
    Joseph Montes