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.
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: 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.
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.