Google's Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich mobile operating system aims to deliver one experience for smartphones and tablets. Read our Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich review to find out if it has been a success.
The idea of Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS) is to merge Google's smartphone (2.3 Gingerbread) and tablet (3.x Honeycomb) versions of Android. This review is based on the stock, or 'vanilla' ICS experience on the Samsung Galaxy Nexus which introduced the operating system but we will refer to the tablet version also.
See also: Android 4.1 Jelly Bean review
Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich: Interface
It's worth noting that many smartphone and tablet makers produce their own Android interface, also known as an overlay. Therefore, the experience will vary, sometimes dramatically, between devices.
The interface looks neater, crisper and sleeker thanks to the light blue colour which is used throughout and the new Roboto typography.
One of the biggest changes to the interaction with the interface is the move to on-screen virtual buttons, although not all devices make use of this - tablets do more so than smartphones. They consist of back, home and recent apps, so Honeycomb users will be immediately familiar with these. Menu has been ditched so you'll have to look for a button which varies in location with three dots within an app to access the menu. A smaller change is the app menu is now in horizontal pages and includes a segment for widgets.
The app tray at the bottom and Google search bar are both static on the home screen on the Nexus. Any widgets or shortcuts glide through the space between. We like that you can group apps into folders which can be named by a simply dragging and dropping, even on the app tray.
Welcome elements from Android 3.x Honeycomb include resizable widgets, which improve the level of customisation, and the recent apps button, which provides excellent multitasking functionality. The recent apps shows you a chronological list of the apps you have running so you can easily switch between them without going back to the home screen. Simply swipe an app off the screen if you want to close it and the same is true for removing notifications. The notifications are still provided by a drop down bar, but on most tablets it appears in the bottom right hand corner.
Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich: New features
Android 4.0 ICS offers bundles of new features that will satisfy the geek inside all of us. Notifications can be accessed from the lock screen and you can even use your face to unlock the device if it has a front facing camera. This isn't as secure as something like a PIN and we got the phone to unlock with a photograph, but it's still cool.
Other improvements and additions include better text input with a spell-checker, faster web browsing, Google+ integration, Android Beam via near field communication (NFC) technology for sharing content and enhanced email handling.
An extremely handy feature is the data usage control that has been added to the settings. This section allows you to monitor and make sure you don't breach your mobile data limits in an easy and visual way. You can set both warning level and a data cap to suit your tariff plus get details on which apps are chomping the most data.
In an attempt to outclass Apple's Siri, Google has improved its voice recognition engine. It can do similar tasks to Siri, like send a textmessage or look up weather without the need to touch the screen. We found accuracy was not as good as the Apple's personal assistant, however, with quite a few mistakes when dictating a message.
On the plus side, the feature can navigate you around and look up local businesses, which are two things which Siri can't do yet in the UK.
Ice Cream Sandwich gets our approval. It successfully blends the smartphone and tablet versions of Google's Android operating system presenting a clean, sleek and more importantly consistent interface along with some handy new features.