It’s been about two weeks since I started using Jelly Bean, both on a Nexus 7 tablet and also on a Verizon Galaxy Nexus. And soon, thanks to the efforts of the development community, many of you will get an early upgrade to Jelly Bean thanks to the release of its source code on the AOSP. Your best shot of getting the new OS won’t come from manufacturers, as they have yet to firmly commit to upgrades, but it’ll come from sites like XDA, where eager developers compile builds of Jelly Bean for specific devices. Or, you can wait for more finished products, like CyanogenMod 10, which is already in the works. We’ll be reporting on the ports as they happen on Pocketnow, and when we hear specific release dates from manufacturers, we’ll be sure to pass the information on to you.
First, let’s start with Project Butter, Google’s alleged “war on lagginess” in Android. I should start off by saying that for me, no Android phone or tablet feels fast enough….whether dual-core, quad-core, 1GB or RAM, or double that, I find lag all around. Opening folders, opening the task switcher, and even tasks as simple as launching the phone app can be saddled with lag and stutter. It’s annoying! So it’s no wonder that when Google announced Jelly Bean and its promise of a more fluid UI thanks to bumped framerates and touch-input prioritization, I was super excited. Would this be the end of Android lag?
Yes and no. Jelly Bean dramatically smooths out all native parts of the operating system: folders “snap” open without hesitation, the task switcher opens as quickly as a lively multi-tasker, the app tray brilliantly pops into place and is effortless to navigate, and scrolling in the web browser is untroublesome and feels a lot like scrolling in iOS (dare we say!).
Where Project Butter has less of an impact, of course, is in third-party apps. While it positively impacts scrolling and various UI elements in all apps, we found certain apps like Facebook, Netflix, and Spotify to exhibit the same performance that is found in Ice Cream Sandwich, meaning, hiccups still do happen, and the apps take a couple of seconds to launch in most cases.
xLet me put this another way. As a phone reviewer, I’m fortunate to have a choice of phones to use. Currently I’ve got a quad-core Galaxy S III running the latest version of CM9, and it’s blazing fast. I’ve also got a Galaxy Nexus, a fast phone in every respect (though a bit less capable than the Galaxy S III on paper) running Jelly Bean. I much prefer to use the Galaxy Nexus with Jelly Bean, because it feels noticeably faster than the Galaxy S III. Project Butter is a huge win.
Moving on, Google Now has impressed the hell out of me. Let me explain. Shortly after using the device, Google Now had accurately guessed where I live and where I work. I didn’t have to do anything…it just figured it out. With this information, it provides me with travel times when it anticipates I’ll be changing my location. If it’s the morning, it’ll show me the time it takes to get to work thanks to live traffic. If it’s the afternoon, it’ll anticipate that I might be leaving the office.
Not only that, but Google Now taps into my search history. For example, the other day, on my desktop PC, I searched for a local sandwich shop because I wanted to see their menu. Later that day, I see a notification and an accompanying card “16 minutes to the sandwich shop”. Whoa! While Google Now still has a lot of learning to do to really be at the point-of-need, it’s an amazing start. I even have caught it giving me a notification (as if to predict the exact hour that I’d leave work!) in the afternoon, telling me “14 minutes home with moderate traffic”. Amazing!
Beyond anticipating travel times, there are a couple of other scenarios where Google Now is pretty amazing. While at a restaurant, it knows my location and will present me with a card for the restaurant. From there, I can pull up search results with Zagat reviews and food recommendations. Pretty cool!
Google Now has unbelievable potential. I haven’t seen the roadmap, but can extrapolate some future possibilities. Here are some:
- You’re traveling for a business in a new location. It’s lunch time. Google Now knows you are vegetarian based on your search history, it also knows you eat at 12:30 because that is when you leave your main office each day. At 12:30, in your new location, it will give you a notification suggesting a well-rated nearby vegetarian place.
- You’ve recently search for reviews of a new Samsung television. Google Now, upon approaching a Best Buy, notifies you to a sale going on today at Best Buy for that same television.
- Based on your Gmail history, Google Now knows that you’re spending the weekend at the Jersey Shore, and that you’re debating where to stay. Google Now will present you with a list of the top five hotels at your destination, with a mention of rating, price, website, and phone number.
The upgraded Google Voice Search is ridiculously fast and accurate. It’s not as deeply-integrated as Siri, but it’s more reliable, and, as mentioned, quicker and more accurate with deciphering your questions. I’ve had a lot of fun using it to define words, convert currency, or confirm some information. If it’s a known fact, it’ll present the information in a beautiful card. Otherwise, it’ll do a Google search.
And then there is notifications. In a lot of ways, the new notification functionality is a long way from being utilized: developers need to update their apps, and with a tiny fraction of users on Jelly Bean right now, it’s not worth their while to do an update anytime soon. That said, built-in apps have some great notification functionality. For example, when you take a screenshot, you get a Share button built right into notifications. That saves a step. Or, when you have new email, you get to see a one-line preview of the email. That saves a step.
Then, there’s some little stuff. Like the camera: it’s now
a bit easier to review your previously-taken photo, and to shuffle through a batch of photos. And the launcher: you can quickly “toss” away icons or widgets by flinging them to the top of the screen and no longer do you have to do the icon-shuffle if you want to fit a widget. The launcher of Jelly Bean is still rather limited, as you can’t customize the folders, change the number of icons in the dock, or remove the persistent Google search bar. But, that’s why third party launchers exist. Finally, the keyboard has been updated. It does indeed learn and try to predict your next word. But I hate that, much like I dislike Swiftkey. When I type, I want to focus on punching the correct keys, not studying the prediction bar to see what word I might type next. That might just be a personal preference. Nevertheless, the Jelly Bean keyboard, to me, feels like it did in Ice Cream Sandwich.
Overall, I’m ultra-impressed with Jelly Bean. And I’m saying that after having the buzz-of-newness wear off. Jelly Bean is infinitely faster and more smooth than Ice Cream Sandwich is on even the best of hardware. That alone is hugely compelling.