Android 4.2 Jelly Bean review

Posted by: Brett

Faster than you were able to say “4.1”, Android 4.2 Jelly Bean was already announced and beginning to roll out. While not a huge jump from Android 4.1, 4.2 brings a bunch of welcomed features after Google focused more on under-the-hood improvements in the former version. “Project Butter” vastly improved OS performance, improved voice search with Google Now, improved notifications, and more. So how does Android 4.2 top that? Keep reading to find out.

Quick Settings

Android 4.2 built on top of the new notification features brought in by Android 4.1. In Android 4.1, you were able to expand and collapse notifications to see more information or take action on them, like sharing a screenshot right from the notification panel. In the latest version, Google took some cues from manufacturer Android skins and built in a quick settings panel into the notification shade.

After pulling down your notifications from the top of the screen, there is a new quick settings icon in the top right-hand corner which, upon tapping, will flip to the quick settings panel. As the name states, you can quickly access settings toggles for WiFi, Bluetooth, airplane mode, your personal contact / info card, brightness settings, battery percentage, and your data usage. Instead of swiping down the notification shade and then clicking the icon, you can use a two-finger swipe down to go straight to the quick settings. On tablets, swiping down from the top left of the screen will pull down your notifications and swiping down from the right will pull down the quick settings.

Lock screen Widgets

There have always been third-party applications in the Play Store which allowed users to customize the lock screen to their liking by being able to add shortcuts, widgets, and more. Android manufacturers have also tried to do the same with Samsung’s TouchWiz allowing for five application shortcuts and HTC’s Sense allowing for four with the option of having weather, stocks, and social network updates show.

Finally in Android 4.2, Google has revamped the lock screen to allow third-party app developers to tap into the lock screen. You can now add widgets to the lock screen and interact with them just like you would on your home screen. In a sense, the lock screen now functions a lot like the home screen, in that you can have pages of widgets to the left and right of the main unlock page. You can unlock the device from anywhere by swiping up. Some built-in widgets include a calendar, Gmail, a digital clock, Messaging, Sound Search, and quick access to the camera. Also, the bottom of the lock screen has a small dotted circle which will bring you to Google Now if you swipe up from it. The widgets are presented slightly different depending on the display size. Tablets held in landscape will show the widgets in a 3D carousel off to the left of the unlock area while smartphones will show each page taking up the entire display. As I said earlier, app developers can and already have started to build this functionality into their app so users can put widgets for that app onto their lock screen.

Multi-user support

Android has become the first mobile operating system to embrace the notion of multiple users with Android 4.2. Typically reserved for personal computers, support for multiple users has become increasingly necessary as tablets have become more and more ubiquitous. Signs of multi-user capabilities leaked months before the announcement and launch of Android 4.2 and some developers even got the feature somewhat working on rooted devices. Only available on Android 4.2 tablets, the feature allows for there to be multiple user accounts just like you’d find on a PC with each account having its own settings, apps, wallpapers, home screen setup, passwords, brightness levels, and even separate high-scores and levels in a game.

The first person to use the tablet will automatically be the owner. The owner can set up and delete other accounts through the Users section of the Settings app as well as delete applications installed by other users. You can switch between different users by choosing one at the bottom of the lock screen or by clicking your username within the quick settings panel. Different accounts show up as small colored circles at the bottom of the lock screen and you can add a new one from there as well by tapping “New user”, at which point you’ll be walked through a small setup.

Camera

The camera in Android 4.2 includes a new feature called Photo Sphere which is a “street-view”-like take on taking panoramas. The ability to take panoramas was introduced in late 2011 with the release of Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, Photo Sphere offers a different take. When taking a Photo Sphere image, you can move the camera in all different directions to take it, rather than just side to side like a traditional panoramic image. When you finish, the picture is stitched together and can be viewed like a street-view shot in Google Maps by panning up, down, left, and right, hence the name “Photo Sphere“. You can upload the image to Google+ where other can click your image and pan around it with the mouse.

The camera also includes an updated quick setting dial which can be accessed by holding down on the screen within the app. There are some new scenes and modes, most notably HDR which takes multiple images with different levels of exposure – high exposure, normal, and low exposure – and then combines them to create a more balanced image. You’ll also find new photo filters in the Gallery app.

Miscellaneous

Here are some of the smaller, yet notable features of Android 4.2.

Daydream

Daydream is a feature in Android 4.2 which allows users to have a screensaver for when their device is charging or docked. You can show things like news stories, photos from your gallery, and random colors. Developers can also update apps to take advantage of Daydream just like they can with widgets on the lock screen.

Google Now

Google Now in Android 4.2 includes new cards like ones for package shipping details, nearby events, flight information, reservations for restaurants, hotel information, movie times, concerts, and more. You can also launch apps with your voice, schedule meetings, and check when your next meeting is.

Gesture Typing

The stock keyboard has been updated to allow for Swype functionality. You can form words by swiping from letter to letter rather than tapping each individual key.

Clock

The Clock app has been completely redone and fits in better with the Holo / Roboto theme. It also now has a world clock, stopwatch, and a timer. The theme change also translates to the clock widget which is now a complete solid circle rather than the old one which had ticks in it for each hour. Finally, on all digital clocks throughout the OS, the first two numbers are bolded and the last two are fine printed.

Even Smaller New Features

  • Security is now improved. You can have the device check all apps installed on the device for what Google calls “harmful behavior”. This feature seems to work like a malware scanner, but it’s been shown it doesn’t detect malware all that well. It reportedly only finds 15% of all malware.
  • There’s a new feature called Miracast which is supposed to be like Airplay on iOS devices, allowing you to stream content on your device to a Miracast-enabled TV or TV box.

Conclusion

Overall, Android 4.2 is a great update to the Android operating system. There’s no doubting that it’s catching up to iOS in terms of smoothness and I’m thankful for Project Butter, but it still isn’t all there. Apps still crash frequently and the OS lags and stutters more than it should.

Then there’s the issue with updates. Carriers and manufacturers really need to come up with a solution to get Android updates out faster. By the time a device gets a new update, there’s already another one out. There are currently no devices running Android 4.2 aside from devices in the Nexus program and that’s disappointing. Manufacturers were supposed to get development kits for the upcoming Android releases before their launch to speed up the update process (Android PDK, announced by Google at I/O 2012), but it’s hard to tell if that’s worked or not or if Google has even started the program yet. I’m hopeful, yet uncertain as to whether or not Google can solve the aforementioned issues (fragmentation isn’t the fault of Google, but carriers and manufacturers). Overall, Android 4.2 definitely gets a thumbs up from me.

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