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.


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!


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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