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Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich: Standard Applications

Review of Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich: Interface and Control. Part I

Describing the functionality of Android I omitted a new option of working with apps. Highlight an app to access all information about it. You can also stop it, uninstall, etc. This approach is unique and has not been used in other OS yet.


  1. Web Browser
  2. Calendar
  3. Clock
  5. Email
  6. Gallery
  7. Google+
  8. Maps
  9. Market
  10. Messaging
  11. Movie Studio
  12. Музыка
  13. People
  14. Dialing
  15. Search
  16. Security
  17. Bottom line

Web Browser

The browser is different from both Android 2.x and 3.х. It resembles more the one from Honeycomb, but its kernel (works on Webkit2) has been completely redesigned. Google tried to create a browser maximally emulating the desktop version, taking into account its mobile nature anyway.

Browser interface resembles rivals in mobile devices: search line and Tab icon (you can open up to 16 pages, but bookmarks are visible only in tablets, because there is not enough place for them in phones). When you open every new link it can be done in the background mode without leaving the page you are viewing at the time. Moreover, during the files download (including formats not supported by the phone, which can only be saved) you can save them in the background for convenience. On the other hand when you download an mр3 file you can use instant playback. I think this browser version is the most convenient.

Viewing html pages allows double tap to center the text. Double tap again to go to the full page again. In settings for every open page you can select fonts and zoom separately (system fonts and their settings can be changed; upper and lower limits are set and you can see the sample from the menu). Font and background colors can be inverted (from black to white and back) and it can be interesting in certain conditions. The page does not display controls (e.g. search line), but they reappear when you move the page. While entering the address the tip pops up (latest addresses, bookmarks and online searches). Bookmarks can be synchronized with your Gmail and Google Chrome accounts. It can happen automatically without your intervention. Any downloaded page can be saved for offline reading. It is useful when you have no time to finish the page and would like to return to it later. Remember that the browser supports copy and paste option in other apps. There is a fully functional search function on a page. You can also choose viewing mobile versions of pages or switch to the desktop mode. In the latter case all elements of a web page are downloaded without any adaptation. Think you will not feel much difference, but the download speed will decrease a bit. Finally we should mention that the browser remembers all fields: auto completion of personal data (e-mail, full name, etc.), or fields with passwords and log-ins for particular web pages. In settings you can access standard fields to complete, which makes the experience more convenient and enjoyable. All settings are separate and the browser can be easily customized. Pictures download can be disabled and fast search can be limited depending on the type of connection (let's say, active in Wi-Fi and inactive on the carrier's network).

For particular websites you can choose separate settings, for example geo tags. Obviously, encoding type can be also chosen for every page or it can be made by default. In Labs is available full-page mode and pop-up menus if you apply a long press near the corner of the screen. It is not required, because the browser takes up the whole screen anyway. The browser remembers cookies, but they can be disabled as well. If you want to stay invisible use the incognito mode. The browser creates one anonymous page and the website will not detect you.

For particular websites you can choose separate settings, for example geo tags. Obviously, encoding type can be also chosen for every page or it can be made by default. In Labs is available full-page mode and pop-up menus if you apply a long press near the corner of the screen. It is not required, because the browser takes up the whole screen anyway. The browser remembers cookies, but they can be disabled as well. If you want to stay invisible use the incognito mode. The browser creates one anonymous page and the website will not detect you.

As you see the browser has the highest number of settings, which makes it one of the best for the mobile environment. It does not support flash, which will become available soon (Android 4 is the latest version to support flash as Adobe decided not to work with its mobile version). In phone settings you can check how much carrier data you use (it is not the billing data and the carrier will give you different and probably higher numbers). There is a tab with the WiFi use info. For the mobile network you can set an alarm for reaching the limit, which is handy if you have a data limited plan. The utility explains how an app is used and it is pretty convenient.

We also have to mention the performance of the browser. Google emphasizes that the browser was optimized and is much faster now. For example, they mention comparison data in SunSpider 9.1 and V8 (v6).

Проверив эти результаты, могу подтвердить, все сходится и выглядит именно так. Отмечу, что в сравнение есть Nexus S с версией Gingerbread и ICS, что позволяет оценить прирост производительности вне влияния железа телефона (оно одинаково, так как это один и тот же аппарат).

Having checked the results I confirm that everything looks precisely this way. In comparison test we have Nexus S with Gingerbread and ICS, which allows assessing performance increase without the influence of hardware (basically we are dealing with one and the same model). It was more interesting to compare Google Galaxy Nexus with Galaxy S2 as the second one has a dual core processor to be used by the browser. Theoretically, it should boost the performance. I tested it on several websites, which I opened with the flash on Galaxy S2 switched off. On average a web page opened 2.5-4 times faster with the help of Android 4. If measured in seconds through WiFi it took 2-3 seconds, which is an excellent result. I can confirm it with AnandTech tests.

The next table provides our results for Nokia N9 (PR1.1/MeeGo), Samsung Galaxy S2 (Android 2.3.5/standard browser), Samsung Omnia W (WP7/Mango/IE9), Google Galaxy Nexus (Android 4.0.1/standard browser) and iPhone 4s (iOS5/Safari). In all cases we used WiFi connection, one open tab in the browser, while other apps were idle. Look at average scores after three measurements.

  Samsung Galaxy Nexus Samsung Omnia W Samsung Galaxy S2 Nokia N9 iPhone 4S
RightWare Benchmark 88028 31528 41122 26231 87208
SunSpider 0.9.1 (ms)
The lower parameter is better
1941.1 6866.3 3562.9 3556.0 2259.4
V8 (v6) 1116 108 281 119 337
Peacekeeper Futuremark 477 145 254 124 314
Download time for Mobile-Review.com web page (first download after the restart of the phone and opening the browser) 9 seconds 9 seconds 7 seconds 10 seconds 9 seconds
Download time for Mobile-Review.com (second download) 2.5 seconds 5 seconds 4 seconds 6 seconds 3 seconds

I think that the results of tests and real life data are quite clear. It is worth mentioning that we did not use an average based on three measurement, but aggregate score of twenty measurements. It proves that the browser on Android 4.x is one of the fastest on the market. It is also the mist feature rich and does not have true rivals (Opera offers similar features, but this browser is not available pre-installed). After a month of everyday use I had no issue whatsoever (apart from one instance of freezing over), which is rather excellent.

Calculator. A standard mode is accompanied by additional features.

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Calendar. The design was thoroughly redeveloped, but the rationale behind stays the same. By default you see a week with all events and you can zoom in/out with two fingers to expand or collapse the hours grid. There are four variants of display: day, week, month and events list. There is also support for a random number of calendars from different sources, while every calendar can be highlighted with its own color. Among useful additions it is worth mentioning the display of weeks numbers and home time for travels (all events stay in the home zone without automatic reset). We also have customizable sound signals for events. When you create events in the calendar participants can be added. In this case they will get an alert via email. Similarly events can be added from mail to the calendar. I will not dwell too much on standard features: repeated, overlaying and other events, which is traditional for modern phones.

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Clock. By default Android has a black screen instead of a clock on the screen. This can be changed if you open the clock and leave it there to show date and time. The energy usage will go up, but you will always know the time instead. Unfortunately, you cannot put the phone into the pocket under the circumstances as the screen will not be locked. Alarms can be set for repeat on particular days of the week and Snooze is supported too. For every alarm a name can be assigned together with the vibro mode.

Downloads. Here you can access all downloads through the browser. These files can be sent via email or deleted. Interestingly, in the file manager these files can be sent in any way including Bluetooth, but it is not possible here.

Email. The mail app has been thoroughly revised – you can now not only respond to a message but also forward it while reading it. The messages support HTML, attachments (images are viewed immediately), you can choose your own directory for downloading attachments. You can customize fonts for messages (five sizes but you can always pinch to zoom so this is rather a convenience option).

The mail app supports folders for IMAP/Exchange accounts. The search works for both mail stored in your phone and on servers. The settings of every folder are customizable.

There are now ready response templates and you can add your own. The autofill feature prompts you with addresses when you start typing in.

Especially for corporate users the mail app now supports EAS v.14: authentication, ABQ strings, admin attachment limits, roaming policy.

You can put a resizable mail widget on a desktop.

The Gmail app is pretty similar to the mail app except it has Labels and some other exclusive for this service features.

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Gallery. The looks of the gallery have received a general overhaul: it is a thumbnail matrix, you can sort the contents by albums, places (if geotags are available), time, people and tags.

In the slideshow mode the app views all images one by one with rather simple visual effects. As usual, you can select multiple items in the gallery. The quick edit feature allows you to crop and rotate an image as well as see where the picture was taken on a map. The image editor app features a real lot of tools and it can fully replace Instagram and other similar editing tools – it can do everything they can plus a little bit more.

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Google+. It is a very basic client of the Google+ social network with the Messenger instant messaging app.

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Maps. This app uses Google maps and it features navigation for cars, public transport and walking. By default it uses online navigation although you can save maps to the cache but I think that offline navigation is becoming obsolete as online navigation is a lot richer and interesting.

You surely are familiar with the functionality of Google maps so I won’t be going into details. Google maps is the most popular cartographic service and although its functionality varies depending on the country but stays on a very good level.

The Navigation mode allows you to follow a route with voice prompts and photos of the streets you are moving along.

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Market. The application market for Android devices.

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Messaging. Messages are viewed as a chat. A feed can be as long as 5000 messages. You can select some of the messages to block them from deleting or forward them. Depending on the contents a message automatically becomes either an SMS, an MMS or an email message. There is also a local search option for messages.

Movie Studio. This app allows you to edit your movies, add music, images or titles.

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Music. Your music is viewed as Album thumbnails and you can arrange tracks by artist, album, song, playlists and genres. Now there is also the Recent tab which displays all album covers if the phone is in the landscape orientation. This tab does not make any sense the developers probably added it just because iOS has it. While viewing an album you can Thumb UP a track – all thumbed up tracks are viewed in a special playlist.

Ice Cream Sandwich has received completely new music rendering and I think music now sounds better. There are more equalizers – 8 presets and a custom one. All equalizers are tweakable. There are also Bass Boost and 3D effects available.

While the music app is in the background the player controls are displayed in the status bar you can use even if the phone is locked.

The player quality will be sufficient for most users as its functionality is quite rich.

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People. This app views all your contacts. It has three tabs: the first one is the classic groups. You can create your own groups and they will be synced with your Gmail account. Groups can also be imported from Google+. The Contacts tab views all your contacts from all accounts (you may specify contacts from which accounts you want to be displayed e.g. turn off Facebook contacts). You can add any contacts to favorites then it will be displayed in the third tab with a big avatar picture. The last tab displays people you contact the most.

There are some new information fields available for contacts like relationship: father, partner, concubine etc. There are so many fields they will surely satisfy even the most demanding users. MS Outlook sync works fine (some fields that are unavailable in the menu are added automatically).

You can set up automatic sync of a contact with his related social network account then his contact tab will also display his latest statuses and posts.

In my opinion the People app is redundant as it merely doubles the regular contacts list. It is probably just Android’s response to Windows Phone 7 with its similar hub. I have used ICS for a month and I never felt like I needed this app at all.

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Dialing. This app combines the dial app with the recent calls list and the contact list (which very logically only displays contacts with a phone number). The call log groups calls from/to one contact displaying the direction (incoming/outgoing). Call details are not available here (time, duration). All three tabs of this app feature a search bar at the top to help you look up a contact.

This app is so convenient there is no need whatsoever to use the People app.

During an incoming call the phone tells you the country and the city from where the call is being made.

Search. The search bar is at the top of all desktop screens and there is its icon on the home screen. The search works locally on the phone (contacts, messages, menus etc.) and on the web. You can specify the default search engine (Bing is also available). You can also view the Google search history which is very convenient.

Security. You can now encode all data stores in the phone and protect is with a PIN. There is also the new facial recognition feature that allows you to unlock the phone by means of the front camera by simply looking at it. in case the facial pattern is not recognized you will be offered to enter the PIN or the graphic key. This feature is actually pretty convenient and easy to use in real life.

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Bottom line

Android 4.x is not a mere cosmetic make-up of the previous versions – it is a big step ahead most importantly in terms of the performance and stability. A number of standard apps have been thoroughly revised and can now boast of excellent functionality. The ICS browser is so good it makes me wonder what the developers can possibly better in the next OS. I think it is the best mobile browser on the market today and the competition has nothing like it.

However, I find the People app completely redundant and as it is today it is also pointless as it is a lot more convenient to use dedicated apps to work with social networks.

The ICS interface looks great and makes everyday use very pleasant. This is something Android lacked before as compared to iOS which is extremely user friendly to new users. Meanwhile Windows Phone 7 is going through goring pains and is experiencing problems caused by the growing number of apps while. All the other mobile OS seems to be falling far behind this lot. I think that as of today we have only iOS 5 and Android 4 competing with each other and if you are looking for a top device you should be rather looking into the hardware of phones and tablets running these OS.

After a month with Ice Cream Sandwich it has made a very good impression on me.

Do you want to talk about this? Please, go to our Forum and let your opinion be known to the author and everybody else.

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Related links

Review of Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich: Interface and Control. Part I

iOS5: The Fifth Element

Windows Phone 7.1 – Mango Update

Eldar Murtazin (eldar@mobile-review.com)
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Translated by Robert Mugattarov (mugattarov@gmail.com)

Published — 08 January 2012

Have something to add?! Write us... eldar@mobile-review.com



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