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First Look: Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4.0)

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First Look: Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4.0)

4:52 /

Google's Ice Cream Sandwich operating system gives Android a huge boost, with tons of added features and a spankin'-new look. Come take a tour!

It is finally here, the next version of Android which is better known as Ice Cream Sandwich. And guess what, it is enormous. I'm Jessica Dolcourt for CNET and I'm gonna show you around. Okay, well, I can't show you everything because we don't have half an hour, but I will hit the high points. First of all, there's the interface. Google has pretty much reworked almost every single element making it look really fresh but also familiar. Since one of the goals was creating one single operating system for tablets and smartphones, there are a lot of elements from the tablet-focused Honeycomb OS in here like the new on-screen navigational controls. Ice Cream Sandwich loses the search and menu navigation buttons but it gains a button to see most recent programs just like in Honeycomb. Search is definitely more prominent as well and Google has tried to do away with needing a menu. You can launch voice controls from the microphone button in the search bar. Menu buttons, by the way, now look like a 3-dot colon. Folders are another new feature. As an iOS, you just drag and drop icons on top of one another to create a new folder. There are 5 icons on the bottom of the home screens and you can customize these 2 just by dragging and dropping them off and on. The notifications tray looks really beautiful now and you can swipe away notifications that you no longer want to see. That's sort of a new hidden feature. The app tray looks pretty similar as before, but now it also holds widgets that you can drag and drop to the home screens and even resize. I personally think that the widgets portion looks a little bit cluttered and the grid indicators are really confusing if you don't know what they're there for. I do like the Android Market button that you can access from any screen within the app tray. Google has also completely reworked how it handles contacts. The entire look and feel of the app is new but so is how you use it. The keys are at the top of your buddy's contact image to call, text or e-mail. When you dial, the phone goes into full-screen mode which looks cool but it doesn't really fit into the aesthetic of the home screens. And when you get an incoming call, you can drag the ring over one of 3 icons to either answer, hang up, or send a text. Gmail gets some really needed enhancements as well. There are new graphics, of course, but also some neat touches and a really clean and logical interface. For example, when you start typing a name, Google will autosuggest the address and include your friend's photos as well. The menu bar makes it really easy to add attachments and get to settings and there are some really great spell-check features too. Plus you can simply drag and drop selected text now, not just press buttons to cut and paste. The camera app also got a makeover and the biggest change is that panorama mode is now front and center. I'm not really sure that this is necessary, but it is a nice feature to have regardless. It worked smoothly in my tests too. But even better in my opinion is the gallery, which gets new icons for easily sharing photos and it gets a full suite of editing tools and those can reduce red-eye, sharpen, straighten, crop, correct color and also add effects. The video tool lets you do time laps now, which is very cool, and it also adds some silly effects which are fine but also frankly very creepy. There are also some wacky and sort of impractical backgrounds that you can superimpose onto your videos for an extra laugh. The one thing I don't like about the gallery is how cluttered and visually busy the tiles are when you're looking at your pictures or screenshots. And I wish there was more space between them because my eyes are frankly just going a little bit nuts trying to find the photo I want amidst all of this. Now I know that what you really wanna know about is unlocking the phone with your face. Google admits that face unlock isn't the most secure especially because a doppelganger of yours or a photo of you will also unlock the phone. But it is cool to see facial recognition implemented in Android, but seriously, it's more of a conversational piece than anything else. I'm sure that you also want to know about Android Beam which uses a radio frequency standard called NFC to pass information from one compatible phone to another. Since all I have is the one phone right here, I have not been able to test this feature at the moment. So, overall, Ice Cream Sandwich is a really huge update that touches almost all of the attributes of the Android. It's powerful and yes, it succeeds in many, many areas. However, there is a little bit of discord when it comes to some of the graphical themes that I think can be a little confusing. And honestly, it shouldn't be there as part of a polished and mature operating system. I also think that Ice Cream Sandwich will look even better on a tablet than it does on a phone. So, Google has a little bit of work to do, but this really is a serious step up into Android adulthood. I'm Jessica Dolcourt. You can read the full review of Ice Cream Sandwich and the Galaxy Nexus smartphone on CNET.com.

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