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

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.
Written by Matthew Miller, Contributing Writer

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.

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