Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich In-Depth Review

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To put it simply Android 4.0 builds on the things people love most about Android — easy multitasking, rich notifications, customizable home screens, re-sizable widgets, and deep interactivity — and adds powerful new ways of communicating and sharing.

‘Simple, beautiful, beyond smart’ is how the guys at Android put it and rightly so as this new Android Operating System turns out to be just BRILLIANT.

Refined, Evolved UI

Focused on bringing the power of Android to the surface, Android 4.0 makes common actions more visible and lets users navigate with simple, intuitive gestures. Refined animations and feedback throughout the system make interactions engaging and interesting. An entirely new typefaceoptimized for high-resolution screens improves readability and brings a polished, modern feel to the user interface.

Virtual buttons in the System Bar let users navigate instantly to Back, Home, and Recent Apps. The System Bar and virtual buttons are present across all apps, but can be dimmed by applications for full-screen viewing. Users can access each application’s contextual options in the Action Bar, displayed at the top (and sometimes also at the bottom) of the screen.

Multitasking is a key strength of Android and it’s made even easier and more visual on Android 4.0. The Recent Apps button lets users jump instantly from one task to another using the list in the System Bar. The list pops up to show thumbnail images of apps used recently — tapping a thumbnail switches to the app.

Rich and interactive notifications let users keep in constant touch with incoming messages, play music tracks, see real-time updates from apps, and much more. On smaller-screen devices, notifications appear at the top of the screen, while on larger-screen devices they appear in the System Bar.

Home Screen Folders and Favorites Tray

A revamped Home Screen Folder allows users to simply drag apps on another to group them together. From the All Apps launcher, users can now simply drag an app to get information about it or immediately uninstall it, or disable a pre-installed app.

Devices that sport a smaller screen now have a customizable Favorites tray that is easily accessible from that is easily accessible from the Home Screen.

Resizable Widgets

It enables users to access live application content directly through the interactive widget.Widgets are re-sizable, so users can expand them to show more content or shrink them to save space.

Newer Lock Screen Functions

Users can do more than just unlock their devices from the Lock Screen page as a simple swipe can jump directly to the camera for a picture or pull down the notifications window to check for messages. When listening to music, users can even manage music tracks and see album art.

Incoming Calls and Swipe to dismiss notifications, tasks, and browser tabs

When an incoming call arrives, users can now quickly respond by text message, without needing to pick up the call or unlock the device. On the incoming call screen, users simply slide a control to see a list of text responses and then tap to send and end the call. Users can add their own responses and manage the list from the Settings app.

Android 4.0 makes managing notifications, recent apps, and browser tabs even easier. Users can now dismiss individual notifications, apps from the Recent Apps list, and browser tabs lists with a simple swipe of a finger.

Better Text Input and Spell Checking

The soft keyboard in Android 4.0 allows for faster input of text with greater accuracy. Using default dictionaries and improved heuristics, errors such as double-typed characters and omitted spaces are seamlessly resolved.

To fix misspelled words more easily, Android 4.0 adds a spell-checker that locates and underlines errors and suggests replacement words. With one tap, users can choose from multiple spelling suggestions, delete a word, or add it to the dictionary. Users can even tap to see replacement suggestions for words that are spelled correctly. For specialized features or additional languages, users can now download and install third-party dictionaries, spell-checkers, and other text services.

Voice-Input Engine

Offers a continuous “open microphone” system (Gone are the days of press to input voice) along with streaming voice recognition system. This new technology allows users to dictate what they want, in whichever language they want, for as long as they want. Users can speak continuously for a prolonged time, even pausing for intervals if needed, and dictate punctuation to create correct sentences. As the voice input engine enters text, it underlines possible dictation errors in gray. After dictating, users can tap the underlined words to quickly replace them from a list of suggestions.

Data Network Usage

In the Settings app, colorful charts show the total data usage on each network type (mobile or Wi-Fi), as well as amount of data used by each running application. Based on their data plans, users can optionally set warning levels or hard limits on data usage or disable mobile data altogether. Users can also manage the background data used by each application as needed.

Designed for accessibility

A variety of new features greatly enhance the accessibility of Android 4.0 for blind or visually impaired users. Most important is a new explore-by-touch mode that lets users navigate without having to see the screen. Touching the screen once triggers audible feedback that identifies the UI component below; a second touch in the same part activates it with a full touch event. The new mode is especially important to support users on new devices that use virtual buttons in the System Bar, rather than dedicated hardware buttons or trackballs. Also, standard apps are updated to offer an improved accessibility experience. The Browser supports a script-based screen reader for reading favorite web content and navigating sites. For improved readability, users can also increase the default font size used across the system.

The accessibility experience begins at first setup — a simple touch gesture during setup (clockwise square from upper left) activates all accessibility features and loads a setup tutorial. Once accessibility features are active, everything visible on the screen can be spoken aloud by the standard screen reader.

People and Profiles

Throughout the OS  user’s social groups, profiles, and contacts are linked together and integrated for easy accessibility. At the center is a new People App that offers richer profile information, including a large profile picture, phone numbers, addresses and accounts, status updates, and a new button for connecting on integrated social networks.

A new information page consisting of all the user’s personal information has been created (known as “Me” profile) that allows easier sharing with other users and applications.All of the user’s integrated contacts are displayed in an easy to manage list, including controls over which contacts are shown from any integrated account or social network. Wherever the user navigates across the system, tapping a profile photo displays Quick Contacts, with shortcuts to phone numbers, text messaging, and more.

Unified Calender App

An updated calendar app that unifies all your personal agenda has been pushed to the Ice Cream Sandwich. With user permission, other applications can contribute events to the calendar and manage reminders, for an integrated view across multiple calendar providers. The app is redesigned to let users manage events more easily. Calendars are color-coded and users can swipe left or right to change dates and pinch to zoom in or out agendas.

Rich and versatile camera capabilities

The Camera app includes many new features let users capture special moments with great photos and videos. After capturing images, they can edit and share them easily with friends.

When taking pictures, continuous focuszero shutter lag exposure, and decreased shot-to-shot speed help capture clear, precise images. Stabilized image zoom lets users compose photos and video in the way they want, including while video is recording. For new flexibility and convenience while shooting video, users can now take snapshots at full video resolution just by tapping the screen as video continues to record.

To make it easier to take great pictures of people, built-in face detection locates faces in the frame and automatically sets focus. For more control, users can tap to focus anywhere in the preview image.

For capturing larger scenes, the Camera introduces a single-motion panorama mode. In this mode, the user starts an exposure and then slowly turns the Camera to encompass as wide a perspective as needed. The Camera assembles the full range of continuous imagery into a single panoramic photo.

After taking a picture or video, users can quickly share it by email, text message, bluetooth, social networks, and more, just by tapping the thumbnail in the camera controls.

Photo Editor

A redesigned Gallery app accompanies the OS with the crucial addition of the Photo Editor functions that allow for various adjustments of snapshots. Users can crop and rotate pictures, set levels, remove red eyes, add effects, and much more. After retouching, users can select one or multiple pictures or videos to share instantly over email, text messaging, bluetooth, social networks, or other apps.An improved Picture Gallery widget lets users look at pictures directly on their home screen. The widget can display pictures from a selected album, shuffle pictures from all albums, or show a single image. After adding the widget to the home screen, users can flick through the photo stacks to locate the image they want, then tap to load it in Gallery.

Live Effects and Silly Faces

It lets you change your background and add interest and fun to videos captured in the Camera app. For example, users can change the background behind them to any stock or custom image, for just the right setting when shooting video or using Google Talk video chat. Also available is Silly Faces, a set of morphing effects that use state-of-the-art face recognition and GPU filters to add great effects facial features during video capture.

Enhanced Web Browsing

The Android Browser offers an experience that’s as rich and convenient as a desktop browser. It lets users instantly and manage sync Google Chrome bookmarks (cloud services) from all of their accounts, jump to their favorite content faster, and even save it for reading later in case there’s no network available.

To get the most out of web content, users can now request full desktop versions of web sites, rather than their mobile versions. Users can set their preference for web sites separately for each browser tab. For longer content, users can save a copy for offline reading. To find and open saved pages, users can browse a visual list that’s included with browser bookmarks and history. For better readability and accessibility, users can increase the browser’s zoom levels and override the system default text sizes.

Improved email

In Android 4.0, email is easier to send, read, and manage. For composing email, improved auto-completion of recipients helps with finding and adding frequent contacts more quickly. For easier input of frequent text, users can now create quick responses and store them in the app, then enter them from a convenient menu when composing. When replying to a message, users can now toggle the message to Reply All and Forward without changing screens.

For easier browsing across accounts and labels, the app adds an integrated menu of accounts and recent labels. To help users locate and organize IMAP and Exchange email, the Email app now supports nested mail sub folders, each with synchronization rules. Users can also search across folders on the server, for faster results.

For enterprises, the Email app supports EAS v14. It supports EAS certificate authentication, provides ABQ strings for device type and mode, and allows automatic sync to be disabled while roaming. Administrators can also limit attachment size or disable attachments.

For keeping track of incoming email more easily, a re-sizable Email widget lets users flick through recent email right from the home screen, then jump into the Email app to compose or reply.

Android Beam for NFC-based sharing

One of the most exciting features of Ice Cream Sandwich, Android Beam is an innovative, convenient feature for sharing across two NFC-enabled devices. It lets people instantly exchange favorite apps, contacts, music, videos — almost anything. It’s incredibly simple and convenient to use — there’s no menu to open, application to launch, or pairing needed. Just touch one Android-powered phone to another, then tap to send.

For sharing apps, Android Beam pushes a link to the app’s details page in Android Market. On the other device, the Market app launches and loads the details page, for easy downloading of the app. Individual apps can build on Android Beam to add other types of interactions, such as passing game scores, initiating a multiplayer game or chat, and more.

Face Unlock

Another of one of Google’s innovative technologies, Face Unlock allows users to unlock their device by scanning the user’s face. It takes advantage of state-of-the-art facial recognition technology to register a face and to recognize it later when unlocking the device. Users just hold their devices in front of their faces to unlock, or use a backup PIN or pattern. This technology was created by PittPatt which was taken over by Google earlier this year (Don’t know how we missed that !).

Wi-Fi Direct and Bluetooth HDP

Support for Wi-Fi Direct lets users connect directly to nearby peer devices over Wi-Fi, for more reliable, higher-speed communication. No internet connection or tethering is needed. Through third-party apps, users can connect to compatible devices to take advantage of new features such as instant sharing of files, photos, or other media; streaming video or audio from another device; or connecting to compatible printers or other devices.

Android 4.0 also introduces built-in support for connecting to Bluetooth Health Device Profile (HDP) devices. With support from third-party apps, users can connect to wireless medical devices and sensors in hospitals, fitness centers, homes, and elsewhere. In addition, for connecting to higher quality Bluetooth audio devices, Android 4.0 adds support for Bluetooth Hands Free Profile (HFP) 1.6.

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