Android 4, also known as “Ice Cream Sandwich” or “ICS”, has been out for a few months in the Android community, first as just a “raw” version from Android, and most recently as the newest OS for Android phones and tablets. The Motorola Xoom (the tablet I have) was supposed to be one of the first tablets to receive ICS, and it’s being pushed out over the air this week to them. Kevin got his yesterday, and I got mine this morning.
If they could have been just a few weeks quicker, this would have made a great Christmas present for all Xoom owners! So far I’m really enjoying all of the new features and enhancements. The only thing I can complain about (and I have the same issue with ALL Android versions to date) is the way they design their launcher home screens. They really don’t give you much room for widgets and icons, leaving huge chunks of screen real estate on the left and right sides and between objects, just so you can click the edges to flip home screens and to make everything very clear and separated. It’s not like it’s an impossible task. They could at least throw in options to change your grid size & border sizes, and make the defaults what it has now. That way, geeks like me could always dig in there and tweak things the way we like. I’m sure there are plenty of Android fans out there in addition to me, who went “the Android way” primarily for the freedom it provides in many ways–from the ability to install apps from anywhere, not just the official Market–to the ability to add all the widgets and icons you want all over your home screens, so why wouldn’t they just throw in all of the options under the hood? Maybe they’re leaving it open for the developers to build upon… which is exactly where I went to get the launcher I always dreamed of. Read on.
That’s all I can complain about with ICS though, it’s home screen layout. And that’s nothing really, because there are plenty of alternative home screen launchers available to give me what I crave. I settled on ADW Launcher Ex a while back, and I haven’t found a better launcher since. Particularly for Honeycomb (Android 3) and now ICS. ADW has been frequently updated and enhanced to work with these versions, and it shows. This isn’t a review for ADW though, so let me get back to ICS.
ICS is the first version of Android to have built-in screenshot capability! POWER-VOL-DOWN on the Xoom will snap a screenshot.
All of the built-in apps have been enhanced a great deal: The camera and video recorder both have many new features, including the ability to take great 1-click panorama photos, add live facial special effects to videos, and much more.
A new font called “Roboto” makes the entire interface look much slicker, sharper and clearer, as well many apps which use the system’s default font.
A basic photo editor is now built into Gallery (called “Photo Studio”), so you can do basic editing, color correction and even perform a lot of photo effects without even installing an editing app.
The browser is much better, faster, smoother, and includes more zoom & pan features as well as the new ability to save web pages for offline viewing.
You can create folders by simply dragging one app onto another one. (Nice feature for Android to finally have, but it’s been in ADW for a long time, so it’s nothing new to me)
It has improved spell-checking and keyboard functionality, as well as new options for typing what you speak. I haven’t tried the speaking features yet though, so I can’t comment on them yet.
You can now resize most widgets whatever way you want, which is awesome, but again, ADW has done this for some time, so it’s nothing new to me.
You can now go directly to the camera from the lock screen, and if you’re playing music, the lock screen also shows the music player options and the album art for the music currently playing.
To sum it up, I think this is an awesome upgrade from Android 3, so if you have the option on your device I wouldn’t hesitate to install it. This is also Google’s first “unifying” OS–designed for both Android Tablets and Android Phones, so you can expect to hear about it more and more in the future. You sure can’t beat the price, that’s for sure!