Comprehensive redesign beats expectations, yummy
Late last year Google introduced Gingerbread, Android 2.3, and may observes were a bit underwhelmed by the lack of major upgrades and tweaks over previous Android builds. However, Google did include a lot of APIs and other improvements under the hood and the effort is only now paying dividends.
Unlike Gingerbread, however, Ice Cream Sandwich delivers a significant user interface redesign and a host of new features. The aptly-named update boasts a lot of eye candy and UI tweaks that should vastly improve user experience. Starting with a new system font, the list of aesthetic improvements is rather long. ICS features new widget designs, some redesigned icons and native apps, customizable launches, but more importantly early previews of the Galaxy Nexus show that the new OS is a bit smoother compared to similarly spec’d Gingerbread phones.
The user interface can now rely on virtual buttons rather than capacitive touch buttons, which will benefit vendors offering compact smartphones, such as the Xperia Ray. Copy and paste functionality was improved, the folder system was reworked with a drag and drop feature familiar to iOS users, certain apps can be accessed from the unlock screen now. Speaking of unlock, ICS supports facial recognition and it will let you access your phone as soon as it takes a mug shot. If it starts hurling angry birds at you, it might be time to lose some weight.
Native apps underwent some changes as well. Gmail now features offline search and you can swipe between conversations, you also can pinch to zoom in the calendar and minor improvements were made to other apps, including the browser which now supports up to 16 tabs and syncs your Chrome bookmarks automatically. Best of all, you will be able to get rid of preinstalled apps in with ease.
Google also reworked the camera app, which now features zero shutter lag, zoom while recording and my personal favorite - time lapse mode. In addition, ICS serves up a native photo editor with some rather interesting filters, such as grain and vignette, much like Autodesk’s Pixlr-O-Matic app. Google also redesigned the photo gallery and all these improvements really make us wonder why it did not go for an 8MP camera on the new Nexus.
ICS seems like a major improvement over Gingerbread, which was seen as a token update by many users. The really big question at this point is whether manufacturers will offer timely updates for older phones, which was not the case in the Android world so far. Many casual users simply don’t want to tinker with their phones and the fact that enthusiasts will come up with solutions doesn’t mean much to them.