Despite having the embattled Verizon Galaxy Nexus, I managed to snag a copy of Android 4.1 Jelly Bean made for the HSPA+ Nexus transplanted with my phone’s radios (whatever that means) and rooted my handset to install it. In fact, the feature set of Jelly Bean was the first thing to galvanize me into rooting my phone, something I’ve never bothered with before.
My first impressions were, “Wow, this actually worked,” followed by, “Jelly Bean is a sleek, if not simply beautiful mobile OS, and it’s going to cement the platform’s lead in the market, assuming it ever sees the light of day on existing handsets.” It’s been a week, and I know now that I can never go back.
It’s Like Buttah
In addition to polishing up static UI elements, Google has revolutionized how apps and the Launcher animate while opening, closing, and transitioning by implementing Project Butter. Project Butter allows the phone’s CPU and graphics to run in parallel (again, whatever that means) allowing the entire interface to run at a buttery smooth 60 frames-per-second, and making Ice Cream Sandwich’s animations look like cheap, congealed margarine. For you nerds out there who need a side-by-side comparison, here it is.
Putting the ‘Know’ in…er…Know-tifications
Notifications in Jelly Bean are not only more visually appealing, but feature extra information that can be hidden or expanded by swiping up and down with two fingers. Additionally, notifications are sorted in order of descending relevance, and feature tight integration with…
This is by far my most favorite Jelly Bean feature. Google Now (pictured at top) has been talked about as Android’s answer to Siri, but it is so much more. Accessible from the Launcher, lockscreen, or any app by holding down the menu soft button and swiping up (read: anywhere), Google Now not only offers voice commands and queries, but also features info cards that appear when needed.
The Weather card is always there with today’s weather and a five-day forecast, but as I approach a train station Google Now automatically reveals the Public Transit card, which lists a schedule of all upcoming departure times from that station. The Traffic card shows me how long it’d take to get to work if I’m home (and vice versa), and the Translation, Currency, and Time Back Home cards appear when you’re abroad.
As for the voice-enabled features, Google Now can set timers, make calls, send emails, text your friends, answer questions, search the web, navigate to a site, navigate to a location, display local restaurants, play a song, and all the other things it’s done the past two years — but now displayed more elegantly, and with answers to your questions being spoken in a voice that’s a bit more human than Google Now’s iPhone counterpart.
Odds and Ends
• Chrome for Android is out of beta, and works like a charm with Jelly Bean’s enhanced HTML5 prowess powering through page loads and Project Butter greasing up its snazzy tab animations.
• Apps update much faster than on Ice Cream Sandwich, which is mind boggling because ICS seemed so fast compared to my old iPhone 4.
• The stock Camera app has been revamped, playing more nicely with Gallery photos while snapping new shots.
• Offline voice recognition means you can compose texts and emails while underground or in the air (though you really shouldn’t).
• The Sound Search widget gives you super-fast Shazam-esque music tagging (along with the option to buy the track on Google Play, of course) right from your Launcher — no need to open an app.
• Improved system-wide sound levels and control, which was really poor on earlier versions of Android.
• A smarter keyboard with next word prediction and fast language switching.
• The Launcher now allows you to move and remove apps, create folders, and resize widgets more intuitively.
Jelly Bean isn’t as revolutionary an upgrade as Ice Cream Sandwich, but it adds a set of welcome features while polishing up the overall interface. Before JB, I lusted over the Windows Phone UI while ultimately choosing Android for its greater customizability and app support. However, since updating I no longer feel as though I’m making a compromise. The other mobile platforms are still playing catch-up: Windows Phone’s interface doesn’t yield to the user’s habits and personality and its app market is a barren wasteland, while iOS’s inter-app functionality is like something out of 2009 and its home screen is stuck in 2007.
The future is now, and it’s Jelly Bean. ::giggles::