Google Android 4.1 Jelly Bean Review
- Smooth, fast UI response
- Excellent overall performance
- Search and Notification updates are huge improvements
- Offline voice dictation and maps
- Plenty of minor upgrades throughout
- Browser has trouble with page formatting
- Google Now doesn't work well enough yet
- Upgrade schedule for new and existing devices is a huge question mark
Android continues to mature with Jelly Bean, a smooth, surprisingly comprehensive upgrade to Ice Cream Sandwich that cements the smartphone platform's top-tier status.
Android 4.1 "Jelly Bean" is a solid refinement of what is now the world's most popular OS on new smartphones. While calling it 5.0 would have been a stretch, it's more significant than you'd expect for a point upgrade. For now, you can only get Android 4.1 on a few devices, including the Samsung Galaxy Nexus ($199.99, 4 stars) and Samsung Nexus S (3.5 stars) phones, and the Google Nexus 7 ($199, 4.5 stars) and Motorola Xoom (3.5 stars) tablets. The upgrades will roll out sometime in the middle of July as over-the-air updates. There's nothing revolutionary about Android 4.1—the new Google Now feature comes close, but it doesn't work well enough just yet. Still, there are so many minor updates and overall performance improvements that Jelly Bean adds up to our new Editors' Choice for mobile smartphone OSes.
User Interface Improvements
For this review, I tested Android 4.1 on an unlocked Samsung Galaxy Nexus. Right from the beginning, the setup process was smooth, and faster than it is with earlier Android phones. Most of the default options were already checked, for example, and I had no problem adding my existing Google account. Once you're in, the OS walks you along with a series of translucent tip screens that appear over the home screen and main menu. This hand-holding is definitely helpful if you're new to the OS, though experienced users will already know many of the tips.
There's more going on here than just minor UI refinements, though. At Google I/O, Google engineering director David Burke talked about Project Butter, which was the company's effort to improve Android performance enough that it feels "buttery" smooth in use. This effort affected many aspects of the OS, such as improved vsync timing for faster frame rates on the display itself, triple graphics buffering for preventing dropped frames in video games, and improved overall touch-screen response.
On the Galaxy Nexus, there's definitely a noticeable improvement. You can now easily resize and move around icons and widgets on each home screen panel or delete apps by swiping the icon up, which causes it to disappear. The system font ("Roboto") already looked sharp and smooth before, and still does. But menu animations, finger swipes, and scrolling now feel at least as solid as they do on iOS, and possibly even a bit better in spots. The Galaxy Nexus is no longer one of the fastest Android phones on the market, but you wouldn't know that from how nicely the unit responds with Jelly Bean loaded.
Keyboard, Web Browser, and Messaging
The new predictive keyboard is another solid upgrade. I spent quite some time typing on it, and it seemed to do a much better job than before at guessing the word I meant, even whenever I typed several letters incorrectly. The prediction function works just as it does on Apple iOS 5.1.1 (Free, 4.5 stars), in that it can figure out your left finger was slightly to the left each time, for example, and then figure out what word you meant based on that and the grammar of the sentence you're typing.
The new predictive text engine also one-ups that of iOS on the iPhone, in that it still shows the bar beneath the text window with possible alternatives—rather than just one the way the iPhone does—and then pops it in with a little animated fade as you continue typing. These are small details, but they're beautiful in action. This is exactly the kind of polish Android needed.
The Web browser offers smooth handling of multiple tabs, which you can swipe among on a separate screen. One issue; while auto-rotate was turned off by default, when I turned it on, I noticed some pages had trouble formatting columns of text when flipping between landscape and portrait mode. In other words, the screen would be formatted correctly in one orientation, but then end up with a thin column and tons of white space in the other.
Adobe has officially dropped support for Flash, starting with Jelly Bean. This doesn't bother me as much as it bothers some other people. Even when it works on mobile devices, it doesn't really work all that well. The end of Flash for Android is hardly a surprise, at any rate, as Adobe said months ago it was discontinuing all mobile Flash development.
In the messaging app, tap the new message icon, and it pops up names and photos from your contact list as you type letters, including alternate phone numbers indented slightly as compared with the main one. I tested this function with a book of about 1,500 contacts and it was super-fast.
Visit page two to read about Jelly Bean's Search, Notifications, Maps, and more...
Copyright © 2010 Ziff Davis Publishing Holdings Inc.