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Innovation

Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich on the Galaxy Nexus (video and gallery)

Ice Cream Sandwich is a major update to the Android operating system and after five days I have a few thoughts on this new OS update.
Written by Matthew Miller, Contributing Writer on

I purchased my Galaxy Nexus last week from a US importer and have been using it extensively since I posted my quick first impressions. I will follow up soon with more details on the hardware and respond to questions from readers, but wanted to spend some time talking about Android 4.0 (aka Ice Cream Sandwich) now that I have had a chance to really try it out myself.

You can check out my extensive screenshot image gallery that shows over 75 screens from ICS, along with a 13 minute video walk-through of ICS, and a few of my experiences and thoughts. I also link to some extensive reviews of Ice Cream Sandwich at the end of this post.

James posted an article yesterday on his experiences with Ice Cream Sandwich hacked onto a Samsung Nexus S 4G so if you have one of the older Nexus models you may want to try it out or wait for the official Google release. I have to say that Ice Cream Sandwich loaded on the Galaxy Nexus is a wonderful experience and Android 4.0 is the most significant update we have seen on Android since launch a couple of years ago.


Image Gallery: Check out over 70 screenshots of Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich on the Galaxy Nexus.
Image Gallery: Home screen and folders
Image Gallery: Photo editing in landscape

Major new and improved features and functions

The major new features and functions found in Android 4.0 that I tried to touch on in the video below and that I will explain in just a bit more detail include the following:

  • Lock screen changes, including face lock
  • Home screen changes including cool folder creation
  • Notification changes
  • Software buttons and three dot menu button
  • Settings changes
  • Task switcher
  • Keyboard improvements
  • Gmail
  • Exchange support
  • Web browser improvements
  • Camera software changes
  • Gallery and integrated advanced photo editing
  • Screen capture functionality

Lock screen

You now have the ability to use your face to unlock the screen, but it is really more of a novelty than a security feature since a photo or even a quick partial glimpse will let you unlock the phone. I don't usually lock my phones, so I have been enjoying face lock as it give me a quick and simple way to at least get a partial lock on my device.

Home screen

Many Android devices are skinned by HTC, Samsung, and Motorola and I honestly don't mind HTC Sense (primarily for the Exchange support and widgets). I haven't owned an Android smartphone for several months and was honestly a bit tired with Android's inconsistencies, instability, and generally poor battery life. I like the new home screen 5 panel layout in Ice Cream Sandwich, except for the non-removable Google Search bar. You will now find five screens that can be customized with widgets, folders, and app shortcuts. When you get to the end of the home screen panels a blue flash appears to let you know you have to go back the other way.

To create folders, you simply drag and drop shortcuts on top of each other. The shortcut you place in the top left corner of the folder will appear as the folder icon. You can also rename the folder after you dynamically create it.

From within the launcher you also drag and drop shortcuts and widgets right to the home screen. I do feel a bit limited by the home screen size, but through the usage of folders I am getting used to it.

Notifications

Notifications have always been a strong point for Android, although Apple did a great job of copying them in iOS 5. I like that the familiar shade still slides down when pulled, but now you can simply slide individual notifications off the display to acknowledge them rather than clearing out all notifications at once. You can also easily access the settings at the top of the notifications area.

Software buttons and menu

You have been used to back, menu, home, and search buttons on Android devices since the beginning of the platform, but now you will see back, home, and task switcher buttons. The buttons are on the screen and rotate when you rotate the device. They do take up part of the display so that cuts down on viewable area. Within apps you will often see three dots in a vertical line that now serve as the menu button.

Settings

The settings area is extensive and gives you quick access to a ton of settings for optimizing the device. The data usage utility is slick (see my screenshot gallery) and allows you to view your usage and set warning limits. I like that the data usage graph utilizes a logarithmic scale too. In the battery settings you can also get access to a graph of your battery usage.

Task switcher

Google took some cues from webOS, this makes sense given that they hired their UI guy, and implemented a task switcher that has a cards interface for most recently used apps. You can slide the card left or right to remove it from the recently used list, but it does not close the application (just check the running apps utility for the status). The task switcher can be accessed from multiple places within the OS.

Keyboard

The updated keyboard works very well and so far I have not felt the need to install Swype or another keyboard input method. Text prediction is good and always you to reduce the number of taps needed. You also get the voice to text support in Android.

Gmail

As a Gmail user, I couldn't be happier with ICS. Gmail is fantastic and closely mirrors the user experience in Gmail in a web browser.

Exchange support

One reason I always felt the need to use HTC Android devices was the fantastic Exchange support. I found the Exchange experience in Samsung TouchWIZ devices to be horrible while Motorola is decent. Exchange is useful in ICS and so far I am able to read my email, create email, dynamically search my GAL, view and manage my calendar (including finally be able to create private appointments), and view and manage my Exchange contacts with no problems yet. I thought I was going to need a 3rd party app, but so far ICS is working with Exchange for me.

Web browser

The web browser is fast and there are quite a few settings. There are some weird column justification issues on some websites, but honestly I am very satisfied with the web browser. Flash isn't supported, but I personally don't care for my web browsing usage.

Camera

I have a post going up tomorrow comparing photos taken with the Galaxy Nexus and other smartphones, but you will also notice the camera software is updated. All options are accessed on the right side of the viewfinder and include flash settings (no redeye reduction), white balance, exposure, and scene. The video recorder also has some fun, quirky effects such as squeeze, big eyes, big nose, and more. There is also a utility for capturing panoramic photos.

Photo performance is amazingly fast and you can take photos one after the other with virtually no lag at all.

Gallery

The gallery is fast and very dynamic so you can jump through photos in seconds. If you tap a photo you can choose an option to edit it and when you do so you will see light, effects, and cropping options to make several different interesting changes to your photos.

Screen capture functionality

I know this is primarily useful to reviewers and developers, but it is great to finally have native screen capture functionality in the OS. You press the volume down and power button together to capture a screen. You will find you shut off the display or turn the volume down all the way several times as you work to figure out just the right timing to push them down at the same time. You do not press one and hold it while then pressing the other, but I will let you discover the trick. Also, if you have automatic photo uploading turned on in Google+ you don't have to worry about all your screenshots getting sent up as the screenshots appear in another folder on your device and don't get uploaded. You will need to share them or connect via USB and get them off your Galaxy Nexus.

Summary thoughts on Ice Cream Sandwich

I bought the Galaxy Nexus primarily to try out Ice Cream Sandwich and after five days I am sold on the updated operating system and look forward to spending lots of time with the Galaxy Nexus. I have found that Facebook support seems to be problematic and is not well integrated. There are also a few application incompatibilities, such as with Kayak, but I imagine these will be resolved as developers work for ICS compliance.

Ice Cream Sandwich is a more modern looking OS that will compete well with iOS 5 and Windows Phone 7.5. It is still more for the geeky crowd who want to dive into lots of details, but appeals to others too with slick user interfaces and consistent behavior.

Extensive reviews of Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich

Some others have spent a significant amount of time with Ice Cream Sandwich and I recommend you check out their in-depth articles found here:

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