Android 4.0 “Ice Cream Sandwich”: A beautiful Android optimized for both tablets and phones [dotTech Analysis]

Android 4.0, recently made available for the Galaxy Nexus, the Nexus S, and a few other devices, is Google’s answer to the criticisms that Android has previously fetched. It features a new visual style, better user experience, and several new features designed to make your phone easier to use. But while the majority of Android received a huge overhaul, there are little bits that sometimes poke through to annoy you. Join us as we examine under microscope the good, the bad, and the little things that make up Ice Cream Sandwich.

This is part one of a two-part series on Ice Cream Sandwich. Part II will be getting and installing CyanogenMod 9 for numerous devices.

The Good

Google has made a huge amount of progress in Ice Cream Sandwich. By hiring webOS designer Matias Duarte, Google was able to get a fresh start on Android and rethink things from top to bottom.

Better Notifications

Notifications are much better in Android 4.0. Instead of needing to clear all notifications to get rid of one, you can simply swipe off the screen to get rid of it:

Notifications will also show relevant pictures and icons, instead of simply the app’s icon.  For instance, a missed call will show your contact’s photo, or a reply on twitter the user’s avatar.

*While you see toggles in this screenshot, this is because I am running a custom ROM. This is not part of Android 4.0.

Data Usage Meter

If you have a limited data plan, you know the pains that come with going over your monthly data allotment. Luckily, Ice Cream Sandwich now includes a built-in data usage meter that has the ability to turn off data after a certain amount has been used:

You can set the limits either by dragging the right-hand bars or by tapping the left-hand numbers.

Modern Look

One of the best parts about Ice Cream Sandwich is that it all has a unified, beautiful look called “Holo”. The launcher has the same color scheme has the same color scheme as the notifications has the same color scheme as the Settings menu, et cetera. Take a look at the revised lockscreen:
It oozes new design and unity, with lines and circles and the new Roboto font. Android is like this all over, with simple blues and whites and greys.

Multitasking, finally with thumbnails

I’m sure you’re probably used to the multitasker built into your phone, but it’s probably not nearly as cool as the one built into Android 4.0. While before, switchers were just collections of recently used icons, they are now a flowing list of thumbnail pictures:

To manually quit an app, just swipe it neatly off the screen.

Better built-in apps

In Android 4.0, the built-in apps are roughly 1000x nicer than previous versions. Take a look at YouTube and People (the Contacts replacement):

You’ll instantly see the difference. People is a whole new beast, and also includes things like your contact’s recent Google+ updates:

You also have much nicer Dialer and Messaging apps:

All in all the new Ice Cream Sandwich apps are a thousand times better.

A better browser

Ice Cream Sandwich has much more responsive browsing. Its speed was actually surprising, and again it matches the Holo theme wonderfully. And, it has a Labs section that lets you enable cool features, like the new Quick Controls. This come in the form of a little swipe-on menu that lets you easily switch windows, enter a URL, access settings, and more:

To enable Quick Controls, go to Settings > Labs > Quick Controls.

And if you need quick access to your bookmarks, history, or saved pages, you can just long hold the back button.

The Bad

Even with all the progress that has been made in ICS, there are still little oddities that have yet to be put to rest.

Google search bar on homescreen

One little issue some people are having with Ice Cream Sandwich is the omnipresent Google search bar.
Luckily, due to Android’s openness, it is entirely possible to create launchers with options to disable this, like the AOSP-based Trebuchet and Nova launchers do.

No volume controls on lock screen

In adding the camera shortcut to the lockscreen, Google made room by removing the Mute option from the lockscreen. While some probably never used this, others rely heavily on this to quickly mute their phones.

This will hopefully be resolved in a future update, perhaps by adding the mute option by dragging up on the screen.

Still no restart button

In order to restart your phone, you’ll have to power it down and then power it back up again. The only way to add this is either to have it included at the factory by your manufacturer, or to install a custom ROM yourself.

No widgets in pull down notification

You may have noticed that I have toggles in my Notifications screenshots. However, this is part of CyanogenMod. A normal notifications window has just notifications, the data, and your carrier.

The Little Things

Some times, it’s not the huge changes that make you happy. It’s the little ones. Ice Cream Sandwich finally includes an easy method of deleting apps, a way to take screenshots, and changeable favorite icons.

Screenshots

Yes. This. Finally. To take a screenshot in Android you just have to hold the volume down and power button together for a second. I’d add a screenshot, but it’s slightly difficult to take a screenshot of a screenshot animation, and the evidence is all over this article.

Owner Information on lock screen

If you’ve ever lost your phone, then you know that you’ll be constantly fretting about whether anyone will return it. I once dropped my phone while getting on a bus near my house, and the battery and battery case came off. However, I didn’t even notice I had lost it until a man showed up at the door and asked if this was anyone’s phone. He knew to look at the right house because I had my address set to show as my phone booted up.

When I upgraded to my Android phone, I actually didn’t even notice this feature was missing. However, it turns out Google added this in Android 4.0. To enable lockscreen text, just go to Settings > Security > Owner Info and type in a custom message to appear on the lockscreen. Can you spot it here?

Quick lockscreen camera access

Everyone’s missed a great shot because their phone was too slow to get to the camera, and they had to unlock their phone, go to the correct app, and tap on it. Now, you can simply swipe to the left instead of to the right. While this has drawn some criticism for replacing the mute option, it’s still a great way to access the camera fast.

Learn the use of an icon by long pressing it

If you’ve used a computer or phone for any period of time, you’ll know that there’s odd little icons that frankly make no sense. What does that little icon on the bottom right of the Gmail app mean?

Deleting apps from the launcher

To uninstall an app you used to have to go to Manage Apps > App > Uninstall. Now, you simply have to long tap the app as though you’re adding it to a home screen and drag up to the uninstall button:

Bluetooth tether

In Android 4.0, you no longer need to use WiFi or USB to tether. Using Bluetooth to tether means that you’ll drain your battery slightly less, and that it won’t clutter up local WiFi networks. It also can mean greater speeds if there are a large number of networks in the area, although this is unlikely.

Repeatedly tap on the Android version

This is really more of an easter egg than a feature. When you repeatedly tap the Android version number, it’ll present you with a little pixelated Android robot. Long tapping it will launch you into a Nyan-esque odyssey:

This just goes to show that Google engineers are people too and like to have fun!

Conclusion

Ice Cream Sandwich is awesome. Not only is it beautiful, it also includes numerous new features like bluetooth tethering, better notifications, and a cool data usage monitor. However, while ICS made huge leaps forward in terms of usability, it’s still more complicated to use than other mobile operating systems, especially iOS.

Complication aside, Android 4.0 is an amazing leap forward and well worth looking for in a new phone. It shows what a few Google engineers can do when they work with designers.

Software Reviewed: Android 4.0 “Ice Cream Sandwich”

Devices Used:

Join us next time as we install CyanogenMod 9 on our phones and tablets!

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18 comments

  1. rajabs28

    Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) is the latest version of the Android platform for phones, tablets, and more. It builds on the things people love most about Android — easy multitasking, rich notifications, customizable home screens, resizable widgets, and deep interactivity — and adds powerful new ways of communicating and sharing. Android 4.0 makes common actions more visible and lets you navigate with simple, intuitive gestures. Refined animations and feedback throughout the system make interactions engaging and interesting. The major features of this are:
    Home screen folders and favorites tray
    Resizable widgets
    New lock screen actions

    To know more about we can visit Samantha01′s writing

  2. jongminyoon

    Hi, Anybody comment me~ :p

    That’s Awesome~~!! ” the SIPMLE NUMBER on the default Battery icon”

    How to run only simple number percentage sign on the battery icon?
    How can I this sign? :-)

    Best Wishes!
    Jongminyoon

  3. Locutus
    Author/

    @Sundog: When I initially wrote “a few other devices”, there were really only unofficial releases, but since then, it’s been released for a very limited number of devices including the Transformer Prime and Xoom tablets. Other than those devices I actually can’t think of any.

    Unfortunately, due to the age of the Droid (assuming you’re talking about the ORIGINAL Droid), it’s unlikely Ice Cream Sandwich will ever be released. According to the official Motorola website:

    We are planning to upgrade DROID RAZR™ by Motorola, Motorola RAZR™, Motorola XOOM™ and DROID BIONIC™ by Motorola to Ice Cream Sandwich. We will provide more precise guidance on timing after post-public push of Ice Cream Sandwich by Google, as well as any possible additions to this list of devices.

    You can check with the websites of other manufacturers for information about their phones.

    However, in the “custom ROM” category, you may be a little luckier. While the Droid is a two year old phone, a little scouring on the XDA-Developers site came up with this:
    http://forum.xda-developers.com/showthread.php?t=1445209
    It’s a ROM developed by a fairly well-known user (my source for that? in a “will we get ICS thread”, someone said “kabaldan will probably port it”). It lacks the use of the camera, but it still at least includes the cool features like all that stuff listed above.

    For devices other than the Droid, you can go to the forum’s home page (http://forum.xda-developers.com/index.php) and look for your device. For instance, my device, the Vibrant, is approximately a quarter the way down the page. From there go to “[device] Android Development” and look for something labeled ICS, Ice Cream Sandwich, or something similar. Be sure you pick out something labeled [ROM], not [KERNEL] or something else.

    There’ll probably be lots of posts that are simply Gingerbread (2.3) or Froyo (2.2) ROMs that have Ice Cream Sandwich themes, including every single post labeled CM6 or CM7. Make sure you know what you’re looking at before downloading anything!

    For instance, I have the Samsung Vibrant. The biggest, by far most active thread is for the ICS Passion ROM, which is actually what I currently run and what you see in the screenshots above.

    After selecting a ROM, the installation process can vary a bit, but usually you can use ROM Manager (get it in the Market), flash ClockworkMod Recovery from ROM Manager, and follow the instructions in the forum posts.

    Best of luck to you if you actually read this entire thing! I’m slightly worried I made this a little complicated. :P

    Best of Luck,
    Locutus

  4. Sundog

    @Ashraf: “…Android 4.0, recently made available for the Galaxy Nexus, the Nexus S, and a few other devices…” Q1) Which few other devices?
    Q2)I have the same question as Dru (How can I get ICS for my Droid?), but being a newbie, I need more information about “You will be able to get it when it is officially released for your phone or if a custom mod is released.” Where/how do I find out if it is officially released for MY phone or if a custom mod is released for it?

  5. tejas

    I’m very happy with the RedPill ROM (built on CM7), and the Simplicity theme at this time. I see a couple of things in ICS that I like, but as a whole, I don’t see much that intrigues me.
    Swipe items off the Notification pull down…… I can do that now.
    The Mutitasker looks promising, but we’ll see.
    I don’t like the new theme at all, but I don’t like Gingerbread’s either……. ;)
    I use 3rd party apps for messaging, contacts, launcher, and other stuff, and will continue to do so.
    I look forward to ICS, but really it’s CM9, and what Dorian does with it, that I’m really waiting for.

  6. Ashraf
    Mr. Boss

    BTW with 4.0 widgets in the notification pull down menu still isn’t supported natively but Google has started allowing custom widget apps to put widgets in the pull down menu. So you can use apps like Widgetzoid to place toggles in your drop down bar.