I've been using Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS) since January 19 when my Wi-Fi only Xoom received an update from Motorola. On February 25 I upgraded from a Motorola DROID X to a Samsung Galaxy Nexus and since then all my mobile devices have been on ICS. So I've had a fair amount of time to test drive the OS in both tablet form and phone form and it is a very nice update. Here are a few of things I like in Ice Cream Sandwich followed by some short bullets of things I think could be better.
Finally, finally, finally. It's embarrassing previous versions of Android have not had the ability (natively) to capture screenshots. Forcing users to connect their devices to a computer and use developer software to create a screenshot has been a huge miss for Android and a win for competing operating systems. Finally, you can press the power switch and the volume down switch at the same time to create a screenshot. You have to press both buttons at exactly the same time, so it can be a little tricky. Here's a screenshot of my home screen.
Nearly all my mobile music listen happens inside Spotify. I pay for the premium version that gives me access to Spotify's library on my Mac and my mobile devices. But I'm also a religious listener of the This Week In Tech podcast. Before getting my Galaxy Nexus I was uploading episodes of TWiT to Amazon's Cloud Player and listening via the accompanying Android app. But there was one critical flaw in the app: it wouldn't remember where I stopped listening to TWiT. The episodes are often over two hours and if I paused the Amazon app and came back to it hours later it'd force me to restart the podcast. I got in the habit of remembering the timecode when I paused the podcast so I could get around the app not remembering. Google's Music app doesn't have this problem. In fact, I can start right where I left off even after days of not using the app. This is obviously a simple thing to enjoy, but sometimes it's the little things that please.
Google accounts are first class citizens
In versions of Android prior to ICS there was one primary account. You could add additional accounts but exactly one was hard-wired as the primary account. This seems quite different in ICS. When I booted my Galaxy Nexus for the first time I was not prompted to sign-in to a Google Account. This step was required prior to ICS. Secondly, adding additional accounts is simple and new accounts don't appear any less important than the original. Also, the Android Market (now called Google Play as of March 6, 2012) would automatically switch from the primary Google account to other accounts in Honeycomb and Gingerbread. This has not happened yet in ICS. You can also sign into multiple Google Talk accounts at once. Prior to ICS you weren't able to use Google Talk with any account but the primary, much less sign into two (or more) accounts at once. And lastly, you can turn synching on or off on any of the core Google services including Google+.
This is more a feature of Galaxy Nexus than ICS. The Galaxy Nexus is the first mobile device to ship with ICS and Verizon was kind enough to leave the stock Android intact. My Nexus came with no bloatware and no VZW specific apps. In fact, all of the core apps such as Google Earth can be disabled entirely if you want.
Gmail is fantastic
When Google Mail became a standalone app and not something baked into Android things got pretty good. But the app in ICS has undergone significant design changes. Most of the things you probably dislike - such as having to use the menu key to start a new message - have been corrected. It's the best Gmail yet with a noticeably better layout and much nice user interface tweaks.
The stock browser on Android has been good and the version that ships with ICS is even better. There are a number of interface changes and added features that make it much easier and nicer to use. But if the stock browser is good, the recently released Chrome Beta browser is great. There's lots to love, such as mobile-to-desktop (and vice versa) synching, and if you have ICS you must check it out.
Galaxy Nexus camera was not hyped
The camera in the Galaxy Nexus was touted as the best and fastest camera to come out on Android. They weren't kidding. It's ridiculously fast and takes pretty darn good pictures. If I had to mention a negative here, it'd be how the tap to focus slows down taking pictures. That might lessen the "wow factor" of the camera's speed but it doesn't detract from its overall usability.
Most widgets are resizable
Having widgets that weren't resizable always bothered me in Gingerbread and Honeycomb. If you wanted that feature you had to add software to your device, usually in the form of a launcher program such as LauncherPro. And just adding a launcher wasn't enough, you had to pay for the pro version. Sure it was only a couple of bucks, but resizable widgets should simply be part of the core operating system. For the most part, they are in ICS. You can resize the built-in calendar widget, Gmail widget, and more. Just long press, resize, then tap on an empty part of the screen. Sweet.
Things I dislike
- menu button is now context aware which can be frustrating
- 4G battery drain. 4G is fast, really fast. But you pay for that speed big time. Normal device usage doesn't benefit from 4G speeds either. Unless you're streaming video or downloading large files or apps it's simply not needed.
- the Google search bar displays on every home screen. This is really annoying but there's probably a way to turn it off through a setting I haven't found or through an app from the market.
- the notification pull down no longer has a close button for each notification. But, you can swipe to remove each notification, which unfortunately isn't obvious.
- a long press on any home screen only gives options for changing wallpaper. There's no way to jump into the widget selection screen.
If after reading this you'd like a full review of all the new features in ICS I recommend checking out Engadget's review here.