Google has launched the latest version of its Android operating system for smartphones and tablets so here's our review of 4.1 Jelly Bean.

Rather than a big jump to 5.0 which many expected it to be, 4.1 Jelly Bean is a smaller, more incremental update to 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. We’ve been using 4.1 Jelly Bean on the Nexus 7 tablet and the Samsung Galaxy Nexus smartphone over the last few weeks. See also: Best Android Apps.

Google Android 4.1 Jelly Bean for smartphone and tablet

It's worth noting that when devices receive an update to Jelly Bean it won't necessarily be the same as the version we've reviewed here. Many vendors will tweak the user interface for their smartphones and tablets, with some applying entire overlays to it. This means the experience will vary from device to device so you can consider this a review of stock, aka vanilla, Android 4.1 Jelly Bean.

Android 4.1 Jelly Bean: Performance

One of the first things you notice when you use Jelly Bean for the first time is the speed boost. Google calls it 'project butter' and we can vouch for the fact it is lag free and super smooth.
 
This is done by extending vsync timing to all drawing and animation, triple graphics buffering and even some wizardry which anticipates where your finger will move next on the display. After periods of inactivity, a CPU input boost is applied at the next touch event to eliminate latency.

As we said in our review of the Nexus 7: the performance is slick, a polished and refined version of Ice Cream Sandwich and finally closes the gap between Android and Apple's iOS.

Android 4.1 Jelly Bean: Interface

Since Jelly Bean is an incremental update to 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich there's no major overhaul on the interface, but Android didn't need any big changes so we see this as a good thing. It's more a case of small improvements that make the overall experience better here.

The main addition is smooth animations when you, for example, open an app. Instead of just simply appearing on the screen after tapping an icon, the animation shows it gradually appearing from wherever the icon is placed on the screen. Another improvement is that widgets and app shortcuts will automatically rearrange themselves around a new object to make room for it. If there's only a certain space on the screen the widget will resize itself to fit.

One downside we've found, on the Nexus 7 at least, is that the home screens do not support landscape orientation. We assume this won't be a problem on other tablets which are designed to be used in landscape. We'll talk about other parts of the interface as we go on with the review.

See also: How to get Android 4.1 Jelly Bean.

Android 4.1 Jelly Bean: NotificationsGoogle Android 4.1 Jelly Bean notifications

The notifications bar has been enhanced and can now show more detail such as text message or a photo. Some notifications can be expanded to show more information or collapsed with a two finger gesture. For example, a new email notification can be expanded to show you who the email is from as partially what is says.

As well as showing more information users can able to respond to the notification via multiple action buttons without opening the associated app. You could respond to a missed call by calling that person back straight from the alert.

The Jelly Bean notification bar shows you the time, date and contains a shortcut to settings. As with previous versions of Android, it is accessible from the lock screen.

It remains to be seen as to whether the notifications bar will be moved on 3.x Honeycomb and 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich tablets from the bottom right hand corner to the pull down bar.

Android 4.1 Jelly Bean: Google Now

The biggest new feature of 4.1 Jelly Bean is called Google Now, the latest development in Google search. Its aim is to be one step ahead of the user giving the answers and information to questions and searches before you even carry out the search.

For Google Now to work to its best it requires to get to know you so it can predict what you want to know. It will learn what you search for on any of your Android devices or via the web on a PC or laptop if you're logged into Google. If you're happy to divulge your search habits, location and similar information then Google Now will help you out.

Google Now is easily accessible from the lock screen, by swiping up from the bottom of the screen at any time (even if you’re playing a game) or by holding the home button and selecting the Google icon.

Google Now

In its most basic form it will tell you the weather for your location but it can, and will, do so much more as time goes on. Once it learns where home and work is it can give you information on your commute, via car or public transport. There are plenty more including flight information, appointments from your calendar, local attractions and sports scores.

The information is presently neatly in cards which at a click can take you to associated apps like Maps or a more detailed list of search results. Cards can be swiped off the screen if you don’t require them. Within the Google Now interface is the familiar search bar for text and voice searches.

Google Now's major downfall is the requirement for data connections. To this end, Google Now will be a far more useful feature for smartphones than non-3G tablets since the majority of the information it provides is most helpful when out and about.

Next page: Android 4.1 Jelly Bean Dictation, Voice Search, Chrome and more>>

Android 4.1 Jelly Bean: Dictation and keyboard input

Until Jelly Bean, the voice input feature of Android has required a data connection to function. Now, you can dictate an email or text message, for instance, regardless of whether you have a mobile or Wi-Fi connection. For English (US) this requires a 22MB download.

Android Jelly Bean Keyboard

We found the diction to be better than ever, managing to dictate entire emails and text messages without mistakes. Words appear on the screen almost immediately after they've left your mouth.

If you're not keen on talking to your device then Google has improved the Android keyboard with better predictive functionality. The keyboard will try to predict what word you want to type next giving a few options to choose from, in a similar way to Swiftkey.

Android 4.1 Jelly Bean: Voice searchAndroid Jelly Bean Google Search

As usual you can use the microphone icon to perform a voice search, either from the home screen or within Google Now and Chrome. We found the recognition extremely accurate and the results are presented in a similar card format to Google Now with regular search results below.

Like Apple's Siri, you can get answers read back to you in an audible voice. It gets one over on Siri in the UK since you can search for local businesses and attractions.

Android 4.1 Jelly Bean: Chrome

Google Chrome, on the Nexus 7 at least, is the default pre-loaded web browser. It offers an excellent tabbed browsing experience and things like bookmarks, most visited sites and even open tabs can be easily synchronised with the desktop version of Chrome. There are other nifty settings like how much you want the browser to scale text plus an automatic form filler for profiles and credit card details and saved passwords.

Android 4.1 Jelly Bean: Flash

By far the biggest issue with 4.1 Jelly Bean is the lack of Flash support. This puts it in a similar position as the iPad where Flash-based web and video content is not accessible. Fans of BBC iPlayer and watching PC Advisors videos will be disappointed.

If you're happy to do a bit of hacking there is a way around this but ultimately Jelly Bean will be somewhat limited in this area until content providers and developers move away from Flash.

Android 4.1 Jelly Bean: Camera App

The camera app in Jelly Bean has a couple of small tweaks making it better. When you take a photo a new animation shows it flying off the screen, swiping to the left will bring the last taken photo back into view and allow you to continue browsing through your other snaps. If you pinch zoom out while browsing you can delete pictures by swiping them off the top or bottom of the screen, and if you delete one by mistake you can undo it.

Android Jelly Bean Camera App

Android 4.1 Jelly Bean: Other changes

There are some smaller, but still noteworthy changes including the ability store contact photos as large as 720 x 720, making the contact page look better.

Android Beam now teams up with Bluetooth for sharing images, videos, or other files. When a transfer is started by tapping NFC devices together, Android Beam switches to Bluetooth to move the data.

The microUSB port found out almost every Android smartphone or tablet can now be used to send audio. This means hardware vendors can make things like speaker docks which use the physical port to play music.

Follow Chris Martin and @PCAdvisor on Twitter.

Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean): Specs

  • Compatible Android device
  • Compatible Android device

OUR VERDICT

Android 4.1 Jelly Bean isn't a big update to the operating system. What it is, however, is a fine tuned and slicker and more efficient version of 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. Highlights are much smoother, iOS-like performance and the Google Now predictive search feature. The only major negative element is the lack of Flash support but this situation will improve over time.

Find the best price