Google just unveiled their new Nexus phone, the Galaxy Nexus, along with a preview of Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, coming to phones next year. Here’s a look at the creamy new update to the Android operating system.
Most of what’s gone into Ice Cream Sandwich is polish, making Android slicker, easier to use, and (finally) more consistent across the board. It’s mostly filled with small improvements and tweaks that Google rattled off pretty quickly, so we’ve listed our favourites here in bulleted form. This isn’t a comprehensive list; this is just what Google demoed at today’s event–so there’s probably even more to come.
Basic Improvements to Android
Google’s made a lot of improvements in the way Android looks and feels, from the home screen to the notification drawer to the keyboard, including:
- A new stylish lock screen, complete with facial recognition features that let you unlock your phone with a front-facing camera, as well as the ability to launch right into the camera with one gesture
- A bigger emphasis on consistency with the way gestures work. For example, in the app drawer, you now swipe left to right to see other pages of apps, more like the home screens.
- Widgets are now stored on another tab in the app drawer, making them easier to add to your home screen. They’re also resizable.
- Folders are now easier to create and use. Just drag one app on top of another, iOS-style to create a folder. You can rearrange them in the folder the same way, and it’s all very fluid.
- Ice Cream Sandwich’s dock is customisable, and you can even put folders into it for quick access to apps and contacts.
- Screenshot taking is now built-in. You can snap one by pressing Volume down + Power. Finally.
Notifications (pictured) are prettier and a tad more useful, showing small contact pictures next to notifications pertaining to email, SMS messages, and so on.
- You can swipe from left to right to clear single notifications from the drawer, so your notifications aren’t so cluttered. CyanogenMod users will be quite familiar with this feature.
- You can open the notification drawer from the lock screen, without unlocking your phone. This is actually very convenient.
- The new keyboard has better targeting, a simpler recommendations bar, and inline spell checking. Copy and paste has also been improved, and you can even select text and just drag it around within your message fluidly.
- Speech-to-text now decodes your phrases in real time. When you say a word, you see that word show up in the window, before you move on to the next one–you no longer have to finish an entire sentence before seeing it show up in the text window.
- A new default typeface, humorously labelled “Roboto” (but that actually looks pretty good)
Ice Cream Sandwich also sets the stage for button-less phones, à la the Honeycomb tablets. The Galaxy Nexus has no buttons on the front; it’s all built-in to the OS. It also raises icon resolution, among other things, so it’ll look good on higher-res phones–again, like the 4.65 inch, 1280×720 screen on the Galaxy Nexus.
Camera & Gallery
The camera also has a built-in panorama mode, in which you just scan the camera from left to right to take a panorama shot–none of this taking-multiple-images-that-sort-of-fit-together business. It’ll automatically stitch them together for you. Video recording has also improved, with continuous focus, zoom-while-recording, and time lapse features, not to mention the ability to take snapshots while you’re recording video.
As far as the Gallery goes, you get this great “magazine-style” view with large thumbnails for your albums. You can browse your library by album, by location, or even by the people you tag in your photos. It also includes a simple photo editor, letting you remove red eye, crop, tilt, and even add Instagram-like filters to your photos.
One of the cooler new “people” features is the ability to send canned text messages when someone calls you. If someone calls you and you’re busy, you can just send them a text message that says “I’m busy, call you later” (or whatever you want) with a simple swipe gesture. There are currently apps that’ll do this for you, but it’s really nice to have it built in.
That’s probably not everything you’ll see in Ice Cream Sandwich, but it’s a hell of a good start to a seriously polished iteration of Android. It may not have the most new features, but what it lacks in new, snazzy features it more than makes up for in ease of use and fluidity–I have a feeling this will reinvigorate my love for Android. We’ll post the video of the presentation as soon as Google does, but for now, discuss your favourite new features (or the things you wished you’d see) in the comments.