Android 4.1 Jelly Bean review

Posted by: Brett

Although Android 4.1 is an evolutionary update rather than a revolutionary one,  you’d be hard-pressed to say Google didn’t put their best foot forward with it. Android 4.1, nicknamed Jelly Bean, improves on what was already great in Android 4.0. A new search experience, faster UI, and more are in tow. Keep reading for the full review.

Project Butter

Probably the most talked about and best feature of Android 4.1 is Project Butter. It’s a silly name but what it does is something Android users have been waiting years for. Android is notorious for being laggy and stuttery at times, no matter how many cores your device’s processor has. Google noticed this and decided they were going to “declare war on lag”. In Jelly Bean, they did just that.

They’ve added  in triple buffering a v-sync to make rendering more consistent and Android 4.1 also ramps up the CPU when you touch the screen and it will attempt to predict your next action. What all that jargon translates to is buttery smooth transitions and blazing fast app launch and exit speeds. Even with all these improvements, you’ll still run into a stutter here and there, but performance is vastly improved over Android 4.0.

Google Now

Google Now is without a doubt the best feature of Android 4.1. I see it as almost a complete overhaul of Google Voice Search on Android and certainly a jab at Siri on iOS. Google Now differs from Siri in many ways and is even better than at at some things. Google Now uses the Knowledge Graph feature Google announced in May to provide answers to questions you ask. All you do is tap the microphone and start talking and when you’re done, Google Now will essentially search for your answer and read the answer back to you. You’ll also see a “card” with an image and some more information regarding what you asked.

Google now uses these cards for other things too, not just for providing answers to questions you ask. It will, for example, follow searches and learn things about you such as your favorite sports teams, so when that team is playing, it will bring up a “card” showing the score of the game in progress. If you scroll down past the card, you’ll see a regular Google search with sites related to your query, just as you’d expect. It will also learn your location and show the current weather in the notification panel and the Google Now app. You can also use it to make calendar appointments, reminders, and timers. If you try to do something device related like turn off WiFi or turn on silent mode, it says you can’t, but you will be able to soon. Opening applications doesn’t do anything either.

Another cool thing it does is it will check for upcoming calendar appointments where you have inputted a destination and before you leave and without you do anything, it will automatically check traffic conditions, tell you when to leave with an ETA, and give you the best route. That’s not all. Google Now does a wealth of other things like show currency exchange rates when you’re in another country, show you the next train or bus when you’re at a transit stop, and a whole lot more. It does it’s best to learn about you through your searches, calendar entries, travel habits and more so it can automatically show cards relevant to you and the things you do. It’s all pretty fast, too. Google Now is accessible from anywhere, just by holding the home button (the on screen one on Nexus devices) and swiping up, from the home screen by clicking the microphone on the persistent search bar, or by swiping up in the lock screen.

Keyboard & dictation

Android 4.1 also brings a suite of welcomed improvements to the stock Android keyboard. Without using it, you wouldn’t know it changed at all, but once you start using it, you’ll notice Google has really refined auto correct and they’ve added in Swiftkey-esque word prediction. The keyboard will also learn your typing habits over time, also like SwiftKey. On of the major updates to the keyboard is that voice dictation (speech-to-text) can be used offline.

All voice dictation data has been slimmed down and put directly on the device, so when you don’t have signal, are on airplane mode, or whatever, you can use the voice dictation feature.

Home screen & notifications

The final “major” improvements in Android 4.1 are found on the home screen and the notification panel. Home screen-wise, Android 4.1 now handles widgets a bit differently and smarter than in the past. Previously, if you wanted a widget on a screen about half full, but the apps were scattered around, you’d have to drag the widget to an empty screen (if you had one), resize it, then drag it again to the desired screen. What was once a daunting task is now easy as you can now drag the widget to the screen and other apps and widgets will move out of the way automatically and the widget you’re adding will resize as needed. You can now also hold onto a home screen item and fling it off the screen to remove it.

The notification pull-down has also been updated. It features a new look with the time and date in the top left corner and the settings icon next to it. You’ll also notice there is no more blue highlighting and the font is more fresh. Notifications can be expanded so you can see more information and they can be actioned as well, so you can do things like snooze an alarm, view a screenshot you just took, and more. Notifications can be toggled on and off for specific apps in the Settings app.

Miscellaneous

Here are some of the more minor features and improvements of Android 4.1 Jelly Bean:

  • Swiping to the left in the camera brings up the last photo you took. If you keep swiping, you can go through all of your photos. Swiping a picture up will delete it.
  • Google Chrome is the default built-in browser on the Nexus 7.
  • You can download up to 80MB of map data at once for use offline.
  • There are delta app updates meaning you only download what has changed in the app.
  • There is a song identifier widget built-in which functions like Shazam or Soundhound.
  • You can turn on “Liveliness check” for Face Unlock which requires you to blink to unlock your phone. This will prevent people from using a picture of you to unlock your device (this has already been circumvented with a simple hack).
  • Photos and videos can now be shared using Android Beam.
  • There is a new easter egg in the Settings app which can be viewed by going to About phone and tapping on the Android version multiple times. Hold down on the Jelly Bean when it pops up and you’ll get smaller ones that you can fling off the screen.

Conclusion

Android 4.1 is without a doubt the best version of Android yet. It’s the fastest and smoothest version yet and you’ll definitely want to jump on it when you can. It’s currently available for the Nexus 7, GSM Galaxy Nexus, GSM Nexus S, as well as  the Verizon and WiFi Motorola Xoom which is a little disappointing, but you’ll definitely be seeing it soon on other high-end devices.

You can check out everything there is to know about Jelly Bean at Google’s website here.

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