Android 4.1 Jelly Bean review
Google’s latest version of the Android operating system is here and will be rolling out to a precious few devices later this month. Unlike the last iteration, Android 4.1 Jelly Bean is more about refinement than revolution, but a new feature called “Google Now” has the potential to finally achieve some of the promises we’ve all heard from smartphone companies for years now. Beyond that, if you’re one of the (sadly small) number of people who have used stock Android 4.0, there’s nothing here that will throw you off.
Within that familiar framework, however, are changes both subtle and not-so-subtle that make Jelly Bean feel robust, grown-up, and most of all fast. Android development is beginning to look like Intel’s processor development: there’s a “tick” with major UI paradigm shifts that re-imagine what an Android device is and then there’s a “tock” with refinements that iterate on what was done before.
Is Android 4.1′s “tock” on top of 4.0 enough to convince Android users to switch to a Nexus device (or agitate to get manufacturers speed its deployment on current devices)? Read on for the full review.
UI and design
Google isn’t messing with a good thing in Jelly Bean. Continuing a trend that started with the transition from Honeycomb to Ice Cream Sandwich, there’s a bit less neon blue throughout the OS. The notification area, for example, is now accented in white instead. The majority of the OS is still themed with dark backdrops and basically clean lines. In general the attempt at a Tron-like futurism that was introduced in Honeycomb has been almost entirely excised in Jelly Bean.
With those elements removed, what we’re left with is a modern-looking OS that’s no longer trying so hard to broadcast itself as such. Jelly Bean has an understated look that’s every bit as identifiable as iOS or Windows Phone, if a little less in-your-face about its aesthetic decisions.
THE ATTEMPT AT A TRON-LIKE FUTURISM THAT WAS INTRODUCED IN HONEYCOMB HAS BEEN ALMOST ENTIRELY EXCISED IN JELLY BEAN
Android’s custom font, Roboto, shows up with a bit of variation in different spots throughout the OS, most notably in the new Google Now feature. The variation here feels intentional, not haphazard, and adds to your sense of place as you navigate through what can be an intimidating OS to a new user.
There are still a few places where the design could be tightened up. The Share menu, for example, displays in different ways depending on which app you’re using. In some cases, you get a large, thumb-able list of icons to share with, in others the traditional vertical list. Other dialogs have been made clearer, though. For example, the pop-up dialog for selecting default apps is much easier to parse now, with buttons for “Always” and “Just once.”
Other subtle additions since Android 4.0 include more animation, including one for launching and closing apps that pops up from where you tapped. Hitting an icon on the lower-left, for example, leads to that app rising up from that corner, and selecting an app from the multitasking menu has the thumbnail grow from that spot to take up the screen before going into the live app. These animations aren’t any more time-consuming than the screen refreshes in Ice Cream Sandwich, but instead add a sense of place and spatial positioning.