We've managed to enjoy some extended face time with the new Galaxy Nexus since it was launched in Australia in the weeks before Christmas last year, and we've grown quite attached to Google's new Ice Cream Sandwich operating system. Here are our five favourite parts.
The differences between Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS) and Gingerbread (Google's previous version of Android for smartphones) are far more pronounced than the upgrades between versions of Android before it. ICS has a whole new look and feel, and although most of the core elements of the user experience (like the pull-down notifications curtain) remain the same, there are plenty of differences to love or loathe, depending on your opinions.
Buttonless user experience
The most significant change to Android in ICS is its software keys for navigation. Instead of relying on manufacturers to include a row of buttons below the screen, ICS now lets users press on the screen instead. The advantages associated with this design are mostly aesthetic, in our opinion, giving Android phones a chance to look sleek and different to previous models.
Interestingly, this removes a consistent "menu" button for the mix. Earlier Android devices had either three or four hardware buttons, so users always had a Menu key at their disposal. ICS users will see a menu icon only in apps that require one, indicated by three stacked dots, like a vertical ellipsis.
In the place of the Menu key, Google has included a persistent multitasking key, similar to the multitasking key that we saw on Android Honeycomb tablets last year.
Task manager: swipe to kill
This new layout for multitasking has one killer new feature built in: when you press the multitasking button, you see a scrollable list of all the apps you've recently used. In theory, the system saves the state of these apps when you exit them, and frees up the memory to do the next task, but you may still find that your system slows down after you've opened and closed a bunch of services.
Fear not! If you swipe your finger across any of the apps listed in the multitasking list, the app disappears, and the saved state is ditched from the system memory. A few swipes later, and you should find the zippiness of your system restored.
This same "swipe to remove" gesture also works in the pull-down notifications curtain. If you find that you have a long list of notifications, but you don't want to close them all at once, just swipe your finger across those that are least important, and they will be removed from sight.
Blazing-fast new browser
If you remember, way back when Google acquired the Android OS, its intention had always been to put the internet into the hands of more people. That's why the Android project remains open source to this day. It's fitting, then, that with every new release of Android, its default web browser gets faster, and ICS is no exception.
Whenever we test a new phone at CNET Australia, we always run a series of BrowserMark benchmarks. These tests run in the browser and test the browser's ability to perform specific browsing tasks. The results speak to a combination of contributing factors, the most prominent being the processing power of the phone and the architecture of the browser.
When we ran these tests on the Galaxy Nexus, we saw our first six-figure result on a mobile device; a score of 101,711. In comparison, the iPhone 4S scored an averaged result of 87,665, and the Galaxy Tab 10.1v scored 91,507.
Again, there is a number of factors affecting these results, with none of the devices above using the same processors, but it does speak to a big leap forwards in the way the Android browser handles web content through the default browser.
Perhaps the most useful new feature is the new Data Monitor built into the main system menu. In this menu item, you'll see your data use graphed over a customisable month (you tell Android when your billing month begins) and your data use is itemised by the apps that are sucking down your data.
This is great for assessing the data use of a singular app, as much as it is for monitoring data as a whole. Are you concerned that you might be watching too many videos on YouTube? Are you curious how much data you use streaming music over internet-radio services in a month? And, if you are at risk of blowing your data cap, you can set a switch off limit. Overall, the Data Monitor is fascinating, and a responsible tool from Google.
The Roboto font
We don't expect everyone reading this article to be as crazy about fonts as we are, but there is something awfully pleasant about using a phone with such a clean typeface. Anyone with a Galaxy S II who has switched the system font to Comic Sans will understand this all too well.
Roboto is a unique font created by the Google design team for the Android OS, and while it is similar to other san serif fonts, there is something about its slightly boxy corners that we really like.