Android 4.1, also known as Jelly Bean, breathes new life into the Galaxy Nexus, offering a much improved user experience. Jelly Bean doesn’t officially launch until mid-July, but I was able to snag a Galaxy Nexus with Android 4.1 from the Google I/O conference in San Francisco.
Ice Cream Sandwich users will find Jelly Bean safe and familiar. It’s easier to do more with less effort thanks to some of the improvements. Jelly Bean’s not going to set the world on fire or magically convert iPhone fans, but it does have some significant advantages over iOS 5 and iOS 6, which won’t ship until this fall along with the iPhone 5.
Jelly Bean Performance
Google showed a slow-motion video demonstrating the results of Project Butter, an initiative to make Android’s interface smoother. Google slowed things down using a 120fps RED camera, which made me think they were doing anything they could think of to exaggerate the speed differences between the Galaxy Nexus running Ice Cream Sandwich and the one running Jelly Bean.
Fortunately, Google proved the skeptic in me wrong and delivered on its promise. The Galaxy Nexus with Jelly Bean feels like it’s on steroids compared to my other Nexus that runs Ice Cream Sandwich. Swiping between screens and opening the app drawer is almost too fast, as if the Nexus is one step ahead of the user. Nexus users won’t need high-speed cameras to see the performance improvements. Jelly Bean’s animations are a nice touch, providing a bit of polish where there used to be lag.
Google Now is my favorite Jelly Bean feature so far. Google Now manages to pull together information that matters to you at any given time. The Google Now info is displayed on cards, which are accessible by swiping up on the Nexus’ home button. The killer feature here is that cards are populated automatically, which means you can find useful information without searching for it or opening other apps.
Google Now can give you a snapshot of your day when you’re getting ready for work by displaying the weather, your meetings and what time you need to leave to make it to the office on time. It’s smart enough to know when you’re away from home and will lend a hand by displaying a card that shows you what time it is back home and what the exchange rate is if you’re in a foreign country. Searching for a flight status will add a card with departure and arrival data on it so you can keep an eye on it.
Unfortunately, it takes Google Now some time to learn what matters to you , so there’s not a lot of information to show off on my new Nexus. All I get on Google Now as of today is the San Francisco weather forecast and information about a nearby hiking trail. Over time, Google Now will learn through my search habits and other activities that I’m a Giants fan and display real-time box scores.
Google Now will serve as an indispensible dashboard assuming it can learn my habits quickly.
Another nice thing about Google Now is that it comes with a pleasant voice. Apple’s Siri is robotic and sounds like a machine, making it difficult to understand at times. Apple supposedly did this by design, but it’s distracting and makes Siri feel clunky. Android’s female voice sounds natural, relaxed and much more human than Siri.
Another thing I like about Google Now is that when I ask it a question it gives me what it considers the most relevant answer up top as a card and related search results. If it’s unable to find the morsel of information you’re looking for it automatically displays relevant search results. When Apple’s Siri can’t find exactly what you’re looking for it throws up its hands and audibly tells me that it can’t find what I’m looking for and asks if I want to search the web for it. That’s an extra, unneeded step.
Google demonstrated offline dictation at Google I/O. Unfortunately, the transcription isn’t as accurate compared to when using online dictation.
Android’s come a very long way in the past couple of years. It’ll be very interesting to see how Jelly Bean ends up competing against iOS 6.