Android

Android 4.0: Eight new features that actually matter

Google unveiled Android 4.0 "Ice Cream Sandwich" on Wednesday and showed off lots of eye candy. Here's a look at the useful stuff.

Google and Samsung teamed up for a joint announcement on Android 4.0 "Ice Cream Sandwich" in Hong Kong on Wednesday. Samsung was involved because it's manufacturing the first Android 4.0 device, the Galaxy Nexus, which becomes the latest "Google phone," following in the footsteps of the Nexus One and the Nexus S.

Thankfully, the announcement was dominated by updates about Android 4.0, which reunites the platform around one OS for both smartphones and tablets. On Wednesday, Google was mostly talking about Android 4.0's smartphone features and there were a lot to like.

While Google showed off plenty of the improvements were just eye candy, here's my list of eight new features in Ice Cream Sandwich that will actually be quite useful:

1. Android Beam

This is a secure peer-to-peer sharing mechanism using NFC that lets you quickly send content or information from one Android device to another. My colleague Larry Dignan said it reminds him of using IR to beam a digital business card on the old Palm devices.  Hopefully, Beam will prove to be more versatile and reliable.

2. Data usage tools

Android 4.0 integrates its own built-in tools for tracking and controlling your data usage so that you don't go over your data plan cap and owe your carrier extra money at the end of the month. This is more important than ever with the inevitable advent of usage caps in 4G.

3. Voice typing

There's a new "voice input engine" in Ice Cream Sandwich that allows you to dictate an extended message like an email or a text message. Don't confuse this with the iPhone's new Siri digital assistant, but it could be a very useful feature for when you're in the car.

4. Face unlock

Google has introduced facial recognition to its unlock screen. Instead of using a PIN or pattern recognition, you can now choose facial recognition as your login/unlock method. In the demo at the announcement, the feature failed, so this could need a couple iterations before it works smoothly.

5. Universal copy-and-paste

Android already has copy-and-paste but the various Android skins from the OEMs (and even some apps) implement it differently. In Android 4.0, Google has improved the feature and made it universal.

6. Quick responses to calls

When you receive a call but choose to send it to voicemail, you can now select from a series of canned messages (like "Sorry, in a meeting" or "Call me back in 20 min") and an automatic text message will be sent to the caller.

7. Screenshots

You can now take screenshots in Android by holding down the power and volume-down buttons. Thank you! This is especially helpful for us journalists, but it's also useful for IT and business pros who need to put together documentation or show an employee how to do something in Android. No longer do we have to install the whole SDK just to take a simple screenshot.

8. Camera improvements

The camera app has gotten a big upgrade. Google promises "continuous focus, zero shutter lag exposure, and decreased shot-to-shot speed." I have my doubts about zero shutter lag, but if they've improved significantly on the laggy camera app in most Android phones then it will be a welcome upgrade.

Video demo

The Galaxy Nexus

The first Android 4.0 device, the Galaxy Nexus, will arrive in November. Here's what the details look like:

  • Android 4.0 "Ice Cream Sandwich"
  • 1.2GHz dual-core CPU
  • 1GB of RAM
  • 16GB or 32GB internal memory
  • 4.65-inch 1280 x 720 HD Super AMOLED display
  • 5 megapixel rear-facing camera with LED flash
  • 1.3 megpaixel front-facing camera
  • 1080p HD video capture and playback
  • 1750mAh battery
  • Bluetooth 3.0
  • NFC support
  • Barometer
  • 8.94mm thick
  • 135g (weight)
  • Pentaband HSPA+
  • LTE available by region
See: Photos: Savoring the Samsung Galaxy Nexus

Also read

About

Jason Hiner is Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He writes about the people, products, and ideas changing how we live and work in the 21st century. He's co-author of the book, Follow the Geeks.

62 comments
williama.willis
williama.willis

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chdchan
chdchan

Nowadays many use more than one phones and there should be higher interoperability among different models or even brands. Can something like a cloud phone book be achieved with apps?

daviddag
daviddag

After my experience with the HTC Wildfire, I had my doubts about Android. Since switching to Samsung Ace I am getting to appreciate Android more, even if there are still some issues. My main issue with the Wildfire was the battery lasted less than 2 days, even with managing the background apps - and no Spitfire_Sysop I did not install the apps, they came preloaded. I never wanted stock market updates, yet there they were, constantly running in the background. The Ace both manages my apps better, but still needs improvement, (clicked on Chat once and now it keeps popping up in the background from time to time) and a stronger battery. Most of my power is still used by Cell Standby and Phone Idle. Android needs to allow users to be able to be able to uninstall certain preloaded apps that are not needed without having to root the phone and possibly void the warranty. Often there are better apps on the Market than the preloaded ones, and this will also free up space on the phone if needed. How much power will processor use? As the Nexus comes with Android 4.0 and has a 1750mAh battery and better app management, then bring it on and lets see it in action.

DT2
DT2

I had an Android phone - Motorola Droid-X for about six months. Not so much an issue with the OS as with the manufacturer and carrier. Lots of stuff that I didn't need and didn't want on the phone and no way to remove them short of rooting the phone. All that crapware would start up every few minutes and I would have to kill them to conserve battery. And, I have a holster with a magnetic flap - the phone would sense the magnet and automatically assume that I wanted to connect to some sort of home base system and turn on whenever I put it in the holster. Next thing I knew - dead battery. No way to deactivate the "feature". It had an 8-megapixel camera that took really crappy photos. I'm not really an Apple fanboi, would never own one of their computers, but some of their stuff is nice. Better camera, even at 5Mp. Liked the larger screen on the Droid better, though. Even with some of the shortcomings of the iPhone-4, I believe it is a better phone than the Android that I had. I might feel differently with some of the recent changes to Android. Will do some in-depth comparisons when my contract is up next year.

Ken
Ken

The beauty about Android is there will be an APP for most of these things you want to do, you have a choice. I like Android Assistant (probably one of many) it shows you whats running and gives you the option of closing it. Brilliant little app, I can recommend it

GovRon
GovRon

I'm excited that the new OS will somehow feature the lightcycles from TRON.

dcolbert
dcolbert

Sounds suspiciously like BUMP to me, except for limited to being only available between Android devices. Is the only significant difference that BUMP requires data to send through the cloud where Beam allows peer-to-peer ad hoc connections between devices? I mean, I can already do this, between Android and iOS devices, through Bump. What is the value add that Beam is bringing to my Android handset?

mrAverage
mrAverage

second look at something and sign in again FU techrepublic. Oh this artical is so PHONE related your opinion is worthless. I QUIT this crap site after 5 years FU and you software idiots who dwell on bits and bites of worthless drivel.................................. goood fing by software 2nd raters

wpaez
wpaez

c'mon they haven't address the main things missing on android like IPSEC VPN support!

kschlotthauer
kschlotthauer

I liked the article a lot, but the thing is, we have most those now with GB. 1. Android Beam = BUMP which I have on my iTouch and my Android. You can transfer many things. (Photos, Contacts, Apps etc). 2. Data usage tools: There are tools available on the MARKET already. I am with Verizon and you can log onto your account and get a break down of your usage. I have unlimited, so it is a moot point. 3. Voice typing: Again, this is something I use all the time. Albeit short messages, but I can still say what I want and it transcribes. 4. Face unlock: I have seen some apps for this also. 7. Screenshots: I have a custom ROM (das BAMF Forever 1.0.8) and when I press the power button, that is a choice....works perfectly! 8. Camera improvements: With the custom ROM....amazingly fast...I can take a picture and not have to wait 3 seconds for it to save. Bottom line, most of the items mentioned in the article are available now. Maybe with ICS it will be slicker and integrated better....but for now, I am happy with my custom Thunderbolt!

chris.reynolds
chris.reynolds

The device in the picture is just pasted over another picture of a hand, and that makes it look very cheap. Just saying...

daboochmeister
daboochmeister

I noticed from the presentation that they adopted an object-oriented contact list approach, akin to what's on WP7. With how much attention this got in the WP7 discussions, I was surprised this wasn't listed as an important feature (seems much more fundamental than, e.g., "quick response to calls"). I'm also surprised there hasn't been a "you stole from MS" sturm und drang on these forums yet (though I don't believe WP7 invented the idea). But without (hopefully) the fanboi-ism, it would be interesting to see a comparison of the implementations for strengths/weaknesses.

Ajax4Hire
Ajax4Hire

Camera on my Droid is a step back from my previous cellphone (Razr). The Camera "app" seemed to be an afterthought, not well organized and not easy to use. Before, I could take a picture and send to an email in a three-button press on my Razr; I could do the button press by touch, sending while still paying attention to the outside world. The Camera "app" needs a quick destination button, not everyone, no one has the time to surf thru the menus to simply forward a picture.

T3CHN0M4NC3R
T3CHN0M4NC3R

"Because apps are allowed to sit in the background running up massive bills (as well as draining battery, sucking down RAM, and hogging CPU)." Those who encounter this problem, there are already apps to fix this problem. There are also various alternative solutions if you are smart enough to use them. My favorite is to block ad sites via "Hosts" file.

markaaaaaa8
markaaaaaa8

I have Android 2.3.3 and the screenshot feature is already there.

stephanisat_z
stephanisat_z

Am I just missing something new with this feature, because I already have the ability to select from a list of excuse messages when I receive a call I can't or don't want to take. I also can make custom messages as well.

rhonin
rhonin

Downloaded the SDK for ICS and have to say I am impressed. Jason, you picked a good 8. I'm sure others could pick another and another 8. I particularly like the new functionality for mail and calendar, not to leave out the app review. My single biggest hope is that the OEMs and Carriers get this out to existing compatible phones ASAP. Would luv to see it on my SGS2.

Justin James
Justin James

Those are all interesting, nice upgrades. But they don't address the fundamental problems of the Android platform. Why do users need better data usage tools? Because apps are allowed to sit in the background running up massive bills (as well as draining battery, sucking down RAM, and hogging CPU). Where are things like better application sandboxing and other important security items? J.Ja

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