Android 4.0 Impressions from someone who barely knows anything about Android

I stopped by the Verizon store on my way home from work today. As I walked in I was sad to inform the staff that I was a member of their arch-nemesis AT&T.

After the burning-at-the-stake rhetoric was complete, I asked about their Android devices. People have been talking about Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich recently (or “ICS” as it is affectionately acronymed) and that there’s only one device running it, the Samsung Galaxy Nexus. I hear whispers and murmurs that ICS is snappier, prettier and all-round more stable and pleasant than previous versions of Android.

Mind you, I don’t have much experience with Android, and even less with the myriad devices that run it. I’ve managed to go so long without checking them out because Android hasn’t compelled me to research or experience it in a meaningful way. The only real, practical experience I had with Android was with 2.3 gingerbread. It was not… memorable. Yeah, memorable’s a good word. ICS has me intrigued, so I thought I’d give it a try.

I had the folks at the store point me to the Galaxy Nexus so I could take a look. 4.0 definitely feels polished. More so than any 2.x version, at least. The animations feel more fluid and much less chunky. The quintessential Android “buttons” at the bottom are now soft keys on the Galaxy Nexus, and the ‘settings’ button is replaced by an App switcher. Making those buttons part of the main display made me wonder why they’d do that – but then I thought about iOS. Having the display be the focus of the customer experience makes the device simple and, up until now with the Galaxy Nexus, Android devices have complicated the phones that run it with silly navigational buttons.

I suppose I’m biased about those design choices, though. My iPad and iPhone are biased, too – but they have no emotions as they are machines to do my bidding. Suffice to say I’m glad Samsung is simplifying the physical design of their phones.

App organization is slicker in 4.0. Samsung put a dock-like sector at the lower quarter of the device. It used to house just four apps for basic phone use in older Android version, but now there’s a nifty button that shows all applications. There are also widgets to add to the home screens on the device, but that’s standard Android fare. The app switcher I mentioned earlier is handy to move around the phone, too. More so than I expected. It certainly stands in contrast to iOS’s multitask bar.

The rest of what I noticed was purely aesthetic. The biggest thing was while scrolling. Scrolling past the topmost or bottommost areas in a list show a really neat ambient blue ‘light’ in the direction you’re scrolling. It didn’t get my attention because it was pretty or anything, but because I could imagine the color being red and having it represent the direction where you’re getting shot at.

… think I’ll play Unreal Tournament 3 now. K thx bye.

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