Ultimate Guide To Nexus (Part 2)

9/26/2013 5:44:10 PM

Notification facelift

Jelly Bean introduces an overhaul to notifications, with new APIs so developers can make better use of this vital area of the user interface. Gone are the neon blue highlights, now replaced with a much cleaner white.

The first thing you’ll notice with Jelly Bean notifications is that they have increased in size. Not only does that make them infinitely more readable, but in the case of built-in apps such as Gmail, you can now get a quick preview of incoming emails as they arrive.

Notification facelift

You’ll also see that the current time is now displayed prominently on the left, with the day of the week stacked atop the date. And there are still handy buttons to jump straight into Settings or to clear notifications, and on the Nexus 7, a software-based rotation lock button has also been added.

Speaking of the tablet-centric version, while notifications take up the entire display on a smartphone, the window appears smaller on the Nexus 7, displaying the name of your currently connected wireless network or carrier at the bottom.

Jelly Bean also introduces a method for completely hiding apps from sending notifications, but Google has tucked it away in an unlikely spot. Pulling up an App Info window now includes a ‘Show notifications’ box underneath the ‘Force stop’ and ‘Uninstall’ options.

Clever updates

Where supported, dragging up on a notification with two fingers collapses it to a single row, while doing the reverse expands it. In the case of Calendar events, users can even act upon information, such as snoozing an alarm or emailing invited guests.

Likewise, incoming missed phone calls can be returned quickly thanks to a handy callback button, while your photographs can be shared with ease right after being taken. Oddly, the stock Gmail and Email apps don’t currently allow you to act upon their incoming missives, although a tap quickly opens the respective app.

For now, these two-finger drag actions are exclusive to Android’s built-in native Google apps, but that’s likely to change in the days, weeks and months ahead as developers tap into the new API to create their own third-party apps.

Widget resizing

While Apple’s iOS operating system remains widget-less, Google continues to refine the feature, with users now able to drag widgets on to their homescreen, which then automatically shifts app icons around it, enabling you to change the size of the widget, depending on how much screen space you are willing to give up for it.

Whereas previous versions of Android made it quite tricky for widgets to be placed anywhere on your homescreens, Jelly Bean now very kindly moves icons or even other widgets out of the way for you so you can get exactly the customized layout that you want.

And even more importantly, supported widgets are now completely resizable - tap and hold, and up pops a blue dot on each of the four sides. Grab one, move it to your liking and then tap outside of the widget to commit the change to your phone.

widget resizing

widget resizing

Multimedia market

The biggest improvements to Google’s content store are the addition of magazines, television shows and movies, which you can now rent and buy. Well, buy at least in the UK, due to copyright matters. And we can also finally access the Music section of Google Play over here.

The extra content now available on these shores is good news for us UK dwellers - ever since Google Play emerged from the ashes of the Android Market, we have been very impressed with the slick user interface, ease of use and the really neat integration with other apps.

Hey, good looking

Although many of our complaints with the stock Android graphical interface were wiped away with the introduction of Ice Cream Sandwich, the majority of Android users are still living with a heavily skinned version of Google’s mobile OS.

This latest major release of Android finds Google at the top of its game, showing restraint when it comes to feature bloat while streamlining what worked so well with Ice Cream Sandwich - and making it even better.

During the boot-up, Jelly Bean briefly follows the familiar white Google logo with a pulsing blue, red, green and yellow X, before being presented with the fine-tuned U I.

The custom Roboto font is still very much present and accounted for (with a few subtle tweaks depending upon where you’re viewing it), and Google has reduced Android’s dependence on neon blue accents, while retaining the same dark background.

In short, it’s the arts of Honeycomb and Ice Cream Sandwich you know and love, with the odd nip and tuck resulting in welcome improvements.

Camera action

The decision not to include a rear-facing camera on the Nexus 7 was remedied by the excellent Nexus 4 and 10, which both feature excellent front-facing snappers for video chatting. However, no matter what Nexus you have, the photo experience is excellent.

Nexus users, however, will benefit from being able to review photos straight from the camera application, and swipe away photos you don’t want to keep, similar to the way you can dismiss applications using the Recent App feature.

When it comes to looking through your pictures, you can now pinch into a filmstrip mode, making it easier than ever to find that embarrassing picture you simply must delete, with a simple swipe down resulting in the offending image being vaporized. You can, of course, get it back with a tap.

Camera action

One size fits all

Google has tailored its new operating system so it adapts itself to present information in different ways, depending on the screen size of the gadget it is running on.

For example, on the Nexus 7 tablet and other forthcoming 7-inch slates, the user interface will differ from the experience on 10-inch Jelly Bean tablets. The Nexus 7 boasts a vertically- themed Ul, while 10-inch slates will proceed with the landscape navigation and notifications interface that we’re used to, thanks to the likes of the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1.

Keyboard strokes

While we found the Ice Cream Sandwich soft keyboard to be one of the best available on any mobile platform, Jelly Bean kicks things up a notch or two by making the keyboard smarter and more accurate than before. Text-to-speech has also been improved with Android 4.1, while voice typing now works even when you don’t have a data connection.

Keyboard strokes

The keyboard’s ‘brain’ grows over time, with its bigram prediction engine evolving, depending on your text and typing habits. It’s also much simpler to switch languages, handy if you're the multilingual type.

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