Ten reasons why Ice Cream Sandwich beats Gingerbread

Android 4.0 is here and it's the finest version of the OS yet. Don't believe us? Take a look at our list of the best new features.

Now that we've had some time to fully digest the Galaxy Nexus (as well as get over its rather worrying shortcomings ), we can sit back and appreciate just how much of a step forward Android 4.0 aka Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS) is over the previous Android version, Gingerbread .

Cited by Google as the operating system that will unify the tablet and mobile landscapes, ICS is packed with innovative features and boasts a striking new design aesthetic.

But rather than assume that you're going to blindly take our word for it, we've compiled 10 of our favourite things about the new OS.

Ice Cream Sandwich browser

Browser

As much as we loved the Android 2.3 web browser, it badly needed a facelift. Thankfully Google has seen fit to do just that. As a result, the ICS browser is one of the best we've seen on a mobile. Its speed is incredible, with pages rendering quickly even on a 3G connection. Scrolling around each page seems a lot smoother.

What's really stolen our hearts are the new options. The ability to force sites to display their desktop layouts is incredibly welcome. Secretive types will relish being able to keep their browsing sessions covert with the new Incognito tabs. We'll ignore the fact that ICS lacks support for Adobe Flash because the company has already confirmed that it's dropping support for it .

Ice Cream Sandwich declining calls with a text message

Declining calls with a text message

This is a truly ingenious feature that makes it easy to avoid unwanted telephone calls from pesky relatives.

When your phone rings, you can slide the screen lock upwards to access a series of pre-penned text replies. These are along the lines of 'I'll ring you later'. Sadly, there's no option to send a message that simply says, 'Why won't you leave me alone, call me again and I'm contacting the police'.

Unfortunately this new feature has come at the expense of the screen lock mute option, which we rather miss. Google giveth and Google taketh away.

Ice Cream Sandwich data monitor

Better data usage management

Android phones are data-hungry beasts. With many networks now stipulating data caps and fair usage policies, you have to be very careful about how much time you spend online. Google is naturally aware of this and has imbued ICS with its own built-in traffic monitor.

You can instruct it to simply warn you when you're about to approach your monthly data limit, or go one step further and instruct it to throttle your data connection when you creep over your allowance.

Although you can download apps that perform a similar task, Android 2.3 has no native feature like this, so it's another win for ICS.

Ice Cream Sandwich app storage

More app storage space

App storage has always been a bone of contention with Android. Even when you've got a cavernous 32GB microSD card, you can't dump entire apps on it, regardless of the size of the microSD card present; a small portion of the data has to remain in the phone's app storage partition, and on some phones, that can be as little as a few hundred megabytes.

ICS solves this issue. With the Samsung Galaxy Nexus , the phone's 16GB storage is treated as a single partition, which means its shared between your media and app data. You can therefore fill your phone with as many apps as that limit will allow, without having to worry about any of that app-to-SD nonsense. Note this scenario may be different for ICS handsets that have a microSD card slot though, so don't get too excited. It has also led to problems with USB audio playback in cars .

Ice Cream Sandwich video effects

Better camera software

Here's a fact that may shock you: stock Android 2.3 -- that is, the pure version of the OS running on devices like the Nexus One and Nexus S -- lacks HD video recording.

The OS itself is incapable of recording anything over a 480p resolution. Phones like the HTC Desire and Samsung Galaxy S2 can only capture HD video because their respective manufacturers have coded it in themselves.

Google is bringing stock Android bang up to date with ICS, which not only features crisp 720p-resolution video, but eye-popping 1080p as well.

Ice Cream Sandwich action bar

New Action Bar

With the Android Menu button now a dim and distant memory, thanks to ICS, Google has had to get creative to make up for its absence. This is where the Action Bar comes in.

In applications where options were concealed behind a Menu button press, you'll see a context-sensitive strip of commands appearing at the bottom of the display.

This not only saves you having to prod a button to see all of your choices, but it also makes the OS more user-friendly -- something that previous versions of Android (2.3 included) often failed to achieve.

Ice Cream Sandwich face unlock

Face unlock

Compared to having to input a pass-code or trace a lock pattern, this feature offers massive time savings by simply identifying your face and unlocking the phone.

Okay, so it's not entirely foolproof and it often struggles to recognise you when you awake in a particularly dishevelled state in the morning, but face unlock remains a talking point.

All you have to do is hold the phone in front of your face and the security lock is disabled -- what could be simpler?


Ice Cream Sandwich widget previews

Widget previews

Deploying widgets in Android 2.3 was a hit-and-miss affair -- you had no idea what a widget would look like until you placed it on your home screen.

ICS adopts the Android 3.0 approach by displaying thumbnails of each widget so you can see exactly what you're getting. It sounds like a minor improvement but it saves valuable time -- and it looks great too.

Widgets are located in your app drawer, rather than being accessed via a long-press on the screen, which makes them easier to access.

Ice Cream Sandwich folders

Improved folders

When the iPhone was granted the ability to sort apps into folders a while back, Apple fanboys were astounded, yet Android users have been enjoying the art of tidying up their icons for years.

In ICS, folders are even slicker than before. Instead of a boring old folder icon, you can now actually see the stack of apps that are contained within each one. Neat!

 

 

Ice Cream Sandwich camera software

Live Effects

More of an amusing gimmick than a genuinely useful feature, Live Effects allows you to apply silly faces to people during video recording. You can give them big mouths, large eyes, bulbous noses and squashed features.

The results can be quite disturbing but they're mostly side-splittingly funny. Expect YouTube to soon be flooded with user-created videos showing off this superb time-wasting feature of ICS.

To get all the latest phone reviews, news and features beamed direct to your Android device of choice, head to the Google Play store and download the free CNET Android app today.

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About the author

    Damien McFerran has more than a decade of experience in the interactive entertainment and technology sectors. He is also the Editorial Director of Nintendo Life and co-director of Nlife Ltd. Damien is a freelance writer and is not an employee of CNET.

     

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