The Jelly Bean (4.1.1) update for the Nexus S is finally here. I got the update notification yesterday and I must say that Google has done a tremendous job of turning things around with Android 4.x. Even though the Nexus S is now and old phone by all standards, it is snappier now on Jelly Bean than it ever was with its original Android Gingerbread (2.3.x). Also, one the new features, missing in iOS, is the Google Now (pictured here) feature which shows you weather, traffic, transit, calendar and everything else in one view based on your day’s outlook.
I bought my Nexus S about 18 months ago when it first arrived in Canada and while the hardware was good, and I loved the AMOLED screen, the Android OS was very disappointing. Everything from the browser to the keyboard to the unintuitive interface was very annoying; specially coming from an iPhone. After about a month of constant use, I put it aside and never touched it again until Ice Cream Sandwich was available. There are two main faults still that exist with phone (both hardware and software) which I mention below, but otherwise the improvements are night and day. The animations are smoother, the interface is much more intuitive as well as better looking, and it is all thanks to Google hiring Matias Duarte.
Issues prior to 4.x
- Unintuitive application navigation – The best example for this was google’s own Google Voice app. Sometimes you could get into say a text chat, and have no way to go back to your inbox sine the back button just closed the app. There were many other examples.
- Horrible keyboard – Although lots of folks love the swift keyboard and have learnt to type by swiping across the keyboard, I am still old fashioned and like to use my thumbs to type. The old keyboard besides being inaccurate, also had the problem of the touch keys below it (Nexus S specific). Since the back, menu, search and home buttons are all touch sensitive, and they are just below the keyboard, you could easily press one of them by mistake and be out of the app you were typing in. I use the same thumbs on my iPhone and never had this level of inaccuracy.
- Horrible browser – The default Android browser was horrible for HTML5 web apps and was just slow. I tried many others, including Firefox beta and Dolphin browser, but none were as solid as Safari on the iPhone.
- Overall Stability – Apps frequently crashed or would be terribly slow to respond. Besides the fact that I have yet to see an app that looks better on Android than it does on the iPhone, apps on Android occasionally crashed which did not help the user experience.
Issues after 4.x
- Keyboard – The keyboard is still an issue and it is pretty much the only one left. Unless you use a third party keyboard that works well, the default keyboard is still way too inaccurate.
- Browser – While the default browser that ships with Android is still not up to par with Safari, Chrome for Android is a much better choice. As a second alternative, the Dolpin browser has some great features like gestures and voice commands that are fun to play with.
Prior to Android 4.x my opinion was that anyone who bought an Android phone was only doing it to be “different” and not have the phone everyone else has. The iPhone was by far the better phone. With the 4.x updates, Google is much closer in competing with Apple so we better see some impressive hardware come this fall for the iPhone 5 (or the new iPhone, if they go with the iPad naming scheme).