Android 4.1 Jelly Bean review

Features Marin Perez 15:59, Jul 03 2012

We review Android 4.1 Jelly Bean and see how it stacks up against iOS and Windows Phone

The latest version of Android will be landing in July for some devices and we've had a few days to dig through Android 4.1 Jelly Bean on the Galaxy Nexus and Nexus 7. In this review, we'll see what's new with the software and if it gives Android a leg up against iOS and Windows Phone.

The Good

The most important thing about Android 4.1 Jelly Bean is that everything is much faster and more fluid. With "Project Butter," Google has finally made Android as fluid as the competition.

Whether you love or hate the iPhone, you can't deny that Apple got the responsiveness of the touchscreen right. Touching an iPhone or swiping through screens feels exactly like you would expect it to (I would also argue that Microsoft got this right on Windows Phone). Too many Android phones come with an ever-so-slight delay when interacting with the touchscreen or opening apps.

That's pretty much gone with Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, as the devices running this software are much snappier. It's not perfect by any means but it's such a better overall experience. This also lays the foundation for a new class of buttery-smooth apps.

Android 4.1 Jelly Bean also brings expanded notifications, as you can get more information when you slide down the pull-bar menu. For example, when you get an e-mail notification, you can see the first few lines of the message within the notification bar. Getting more ambient information lets you know whether you should automatically click to that app or if you can save it for later. It's going to be opened up to third-party developers and it's quite brilliant.

Jelly Bean also brings a revamped search experience and what could be considered a competitor to Siri. When you tap on the search bar, you can do much-improved voice searches. This isn't just saying "San Francisco restaurants" and getting a list of links, as you can ask questions and Google's voice search will answer them for you.

Google Now is also an interesting push into the next generation of search. To activate this, you hold the home button and slide up to the Google icon. This will launch a series of cards that can automatically display your nearby weather, traffic commuting times, sports scores of your favorite teams and more.

The goal of Google Now is to deliver you information before you even know you want to search for it. Because it has all of your search history, Google Now knows a ton about you and some of its results are quite pleasant. Google Now is still a little rough but it will only improve and deliver better results.

Android Jelly Bean also has some tweaks to the camera user interface, as you can now quickly review shots by swiping left and right on your screen. If you want to delete a shot, you simply swipe it up and it's gone. This is a much better way to review your photos than having to dig through the Gallery app.

I don't use widgets that much on my phone but Jelly Bean now has intelligent resizing, so that can definitely come in handy. I love that the voice dictation can now be done offline.

Jelly Bean isn't the quantum leap forward that Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich was, but it is a great evolution of an already-powerful platform. Once you start using Jelly Bean, you'll never want to go back.

The Bad

If an update is great but not many people get the update, is the update that great?

I have no idea how long it will take for you to start using Jelly Bean, thanks to the poor Android upgrade history. Sure, if you buy a Nexus 7, use a Galaxy Nexus, Nexus S or a Motorola Xoom, you'll be able to get Android 4.1 in July, but there's no clear-cut answer when users on handsets will get the latest version of Android.

Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich was announced more than a year ago and it's still on only 10 percent of all Android devices -- and there is a large swath of devices that will never officially get it. Even with an amazing new handset like the Galaxy S III, I'd be shocked to see it get Android Jelly Bean by the end of the year.

Google is trying to address that by offering handset makers an earlier look, but when you factor in the time it takes to tailor custom user interfaces on top, and how long carrier certification takes, I wouldn't expect your Android handset to get Jelly Bean any time soon.

While Jelly Bean has made great strides with the overall performance, I still noticed a few times when it would lag. The bane of Android users is having an app freeze, not respond and then go to the home screen with the "Unfortunately, XYZ has stopped" notification. Sadly, those experiences are still going to be had with Jelly Bean.

The software itself is fantastic and that's why it saddens me to know that by the time Jelly Bean is in the hands of the masses, we'll already have a newer, better version of Android.

The Final Take

Jelly Bean is the most polished version of Android and it provides an amazing mobile computing experience. The Project Butter elements really showcase how Google wants Android to be and Google Now gives us a glimpse into the company's future.

Android 4.1 Jelly Bean matches or exceeds what we're going to get from iOS 6 and Windows Phone 8. It's just a shame it's going to take so long to roll out.

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