I recently had the opportunity to upgrade my smart phone to the Samsung Galaxy Nexus and test drive Android 4.0 (codenamed Ice Cream Sandwich). After a few weeks with the new operating system, it’s safe to call ICS the most significant upgrade to the Android platform to date. The newest version of Android draws on the best aspects of a variety of previous Android iterations to create a user experience that is feature-rich and aesthetically tasteful. I have tried to distill my first impressions into three areas where Ice Cream Sandwich vastly improves on its predecessors. They are as follows:
A More Robust User Interface
The most immediately obvious improvement in Ice Cream Sandwich is a cleaner, better-looking UI. The improved notifications drop-down menu appends a built-in settings button for easy access to the device’s control center and adds the ability to dismiss notifications and updates by swiping them off of the screen. In ICS, icons can be grouped into folders on the home screens by dragging one on top of another, and widgets are now resizable. The applications pane now also displays available widgets and swipes from left to right instead of scrolling vertically. The user experience feels altogether more polished with snappy screen transitions and built-in animations for closing the applications pane and turning off the screen.
Better Email and IT Features
Android 4.0 provides a more enterprise-friendly experience for the corporate user. For the first time, IT departments can enforce Exchange ActiveSync policies requiring Android devices to be encrypted before connecting to a mail server. (But be forewarned, the encryption process in Android 4.0 is irreversible short of performing a factory reset of the phone!) Ice Cream Sandwich also makes working with email easier than ever. The new built-in spell-check functionality recognizes a wider range of terms, resolves errors more accurately, and provides only 3 suggestions for misspelled terms instead of the previous 5.
More Power to the People
The tech-savvy android fan will appreciate just how much power Android 4.0 puts in the hands of its users. Ice Cream Sandwich stops short of granting a user the ability to uninstall manufacturer-loaded bloatware, but it does take a very important step forward by introducing the disable applications feature. Instead of using an exploit to grab Root access in order to uninstall unwanted software, Android 4.0 allows any standard user to disable most preloaded applications – effectively preventing them from running. ICS also provides granular control over network data. Users can monitor how much data each application consumes and set hard limits at which the phone will stop consuming data, thus avoiding painful overage fees.
Add to this list all of the features that I have not had the opportunity to touch on and it’s pretty easy to see why Ice Cream Sandwich represents a must-have upgrade for any Android user.