Android Jelly Bean (4.1)

You won't be left too far behind without it, but Android 4.1 Jelly Bean is a worthy update that brings improved voice search, notifications and sharing.


8.0
CNET Rating
9.0
User Rating

View more from Google »


Google made a massive splash, in more ways than one, at its Google I/O 2012 developer conference. Not only did it unveil its new Nexus 7 tablet and Nexus Q entertainment device, it pulled the wraps off of the software powering it all, Android 4.1 Jelly Bean.

Besides having a delicious name, Jelly Bean features a whole host of upgrades, including smoother handling, a fresh look, a more intuitive UI, camera enhancements and new voice search prowess, rivalling Apple's Siri. Now, we know that many Android smartphone users are still stuck in Android 2.3 Gingerbread-land, yet to experience the joy of Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. Once you see what Jelly Bean can do, you'll want to hopscotch right past ICS and make Android 4.1 your mobile home.

Interface and unlock

Google has made a few subtle changes to the OS interface; just enough for you to tell it's a different operating system as soon as you unlock the phone. The unlock screen on stock Android 4.1 adds some animated rings around the unlock icon, and now lets you unlock to the Google Search app.

Jelly Bean's new lock screen gets some fizzy animation and a Google voice search shortcut.
(Credit: Screenshot by Jessica Dolcourt/CNET)

There are also a few more wallpaper options, including the slightly more pastel look that Google showed off in its I/O conference demo. With Jelly Bean, Google filled in the search bar, presumably to keep it in sight, and, therefore, in mind. Google also removed the unsightly grid guides you see in Android 4.0, when you drag a widget or icon onto the screen (whew). Another subtle addition is the extra security layer of blinking to Android's face unlock feature.

You can now resize certain widgets, like Google+, Gmail and the calendar.
(Credit: Screenshot by Brian Bennett/CNET)

Resizable widgets

Perhaps Google was inspired by Samsung's TouchWiz UI or even Microsoft's upcoming Windows Phone 8 start screen, because Jelly Bean's new resizable widgets feel very familiar. For example, you can alter the size of some application widgets when you place them on any of the Nexus' home screens (five, in all). Just long-press the widget and brackets will appear around it, which you can drag bigger or smaller with your finger.

Of course, there must be enough room on the screen for you to do this. Jelly Bean will help to create more space, if it's possible, by automatically pushing app shortcuts out of the way to clear a path. We found this new Android capability useful, though it's only certain widgets, such as Gmail, Calendar and Google+, that can perform the trick.

Google's new Song Search widget (above), and returned result.
(Credit: Screenshot by CNET)

One new awesome widget that we fell in love with is Song Search, which does for Android's home screens what the integrated song ID does for Windows Phone. It's a simple thing that doesn't offer the depth of third-party apps like SoundHound or Shazam, but it does return results after you hold the microphone to the speaker. Tap the result, and Jelly Bean will deftly sell you the single from Google Play.

Notifications

Google gets a gold star for integrating notifications deeper into the operating system. Pull down the notifications shade to see a list of your alerts and activities, which now have interactive elements that let you do things like respond to missed calls right from the screen, share screenshots, view the weather and so on.

You can do more than ever in the notifications pull-down in Jelly Bean.
(Credit: Screenshot by CNET)

We weren't able to see any images shared via Google+ (still working on that one), and collapsing and expanding the notifications can be tricky, since the wrong move will dismiss them instead. Google has room to fine-tune the beefed-up notifications, but we do like the additional context.

Faster performance

Android phones have earned a bad rep over the years for exhibiting clunky, even stuttering, performance at times, compared with the silky-smooth operation of Apple's iOS devices. With Jelly Bean, Google has taken steps to squash these criticisms. The company launched a new initiative called Project Butter, while crafting the new Android update. Its sole purpose was to speed up animations, menu navigation and overall phone performance.

We can definitely say we notice the difference on our Samsung Galaxy Nexus Jelly Bean test unit. From the moment we placed the phone in our hands, it was easy to see and feel its increased agility. Menus, apps and home screens opened and closed instantly. The contrast was especially clear when we performed the same operations side by side with a Galaxy Nexus running Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. This Nexus, with its older OS, was less responsive in practically every way, taking slightly longer to flip through home screens, launch the app tray and fire up applications.

Of course, we suspect that Google has made Jelly Bean's graphics more efficient, which means you shouldn't expect to see an uptick in raw number-crunching performance. Quick Linpack benchmark tests (multithread) confirmed this. Equipped with identical 1.2GHz dual-core TI OMAP 4460 processors, the Nexus phones logged essentially identical scores (72.049 MFLOPs, Jelly Bean; 71.227 MFLOPs, Ice Cream Sandwich). Similarly, running the FPS2d benchmark, a test that measures 2D graphics performance, the two Galaxy Nexus handsets notched the same 58 frames per second.

Behind the scenes, Jelly Bean also promises faster, more-efficient application updates that only rewrite the portion of the code that's changed, so you don't have to wait while the OS overwrites the entire application, each time.

Camera and Gallery

Jelly Bean brings a few notable changes to the stock Android camera application, though they really centre on the interface. Instead of the traditional static camera app screen, which mostly relies on finger taps to manipulate photos, the Android 4.1 shooter uses a new filmstrip view. To pull up the gallery of saved images, just swipe your finger to the left (we can thank Microsoft for this behaviour in Windows Phone). While you can flip through photos the tried-and-true way (dragging fingers left and right), pinching the screen widens your view and opens the filmstrip.

At last! You can now swipe from the camera to see and interact with recently taken shots.
(Credit: Screenshot by CNET)

Not only will the filmstrip allow you to scan multiple images and videos at once, you can quickly delete unwanted content with a quick finger flick upward, sending its corresponding vignette unceremoniously to the trash. Don't worry, though, you can quickly resurrect it by tapping the undo button in the bottom-right corner of the screen. All in all, it's a more elegant and intuitive UI, and it makes the camera more enjoyable to operate.

One feature we would have liked to see, however, is a burst mode or continuous-shot feature, which many smartphones have begun to include — notably the Samsung Galaxy S III and HTC One X. Still, just like in its Ice Cream Sandwich forebear, you can snap pictures in Android 4.1 while the camcorder function is rolling.

Keyboard

While Google explained that its virtual keyboard in Jelly Bean offers a more accurate dictionary for better word prediction, we haven't noticed significantly enhanced performance. Of course, it'll likely take time tapping out texts and e-mails for us to truly see if Jelly Bean has a greater gift for choosing our words. As for the keyboard's layout, itself, it sports the same key pattern and spacing found on pure Ice Cream Sandwich handsets. It makes for comfortable, if no-frills, typing.

Voice typing

Just like Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich before it, Jelly Bean can listen to your voice and convert it to text. We found the feature to work very well, consistently transcribing our spoken words accurately. It even turned our guffaws into a hilarious "ha ha".

Offline dictation in Jelly Bean is riddled with errors.
(Credit: Screenshot by CNET)

New to Jelly Bean is its ability to do these voice typing functions offline, without a data connection. Unfortunately, offline dictation was less accurate when we tested in Airplane mode, with the Galaxy Nexus tripping up over sentences that it handled easily when its cellular or Wi-Fi radio was engaged.

Search app

The popularity of Apple's Siri voice assistant may be the root cause of Google's revamped Voice Search app, but Google has acquitted itself very well in this department, nonetheless. The app opens easily and fairly quickly, with a swipe up from the bottom of the screen. Voice Search doesn't seem to be picky; we were able to drag it open on the Galaxy Nexus by swiping up from each navigation button.

Voice search gets a promotion in Android 4.1.
(Credit: Screenshot by CNET)

There are several interrelated parts to the app, which can get confusing to describe, but they all fit pretty well together, in the real world. The important parts are the search bar, which lets you talk to type your query, and a bunch of blocks of text and graphics. The latter "cards" are actually part of Google Now (see below), so we'll start by focusing on the Voice Search makeover.

You can tap any microphone icon system-wide or say "Google" to trigger a voice search. Either launches a new screen, marked by a pulsing red microphone — your cue to speak up. While you talk, a pattern of grey blocks lets you know that the app is listening. There's not much delay between the time you stop talking and the time it starts computing, and we did get cut off once or twice. However, Google's Voice Search showed some good accuracy, which is hard to come by in this stage of voice recognition software. Of course, the computer's mistakes and misinterpretations still plagued us.

We used our voices in a range of scenarios, to search for images, facts, dates, location and stories on the web. Most of the time, Google's search got it right, even for slightly longer queries. The app returns web links, thumbnail images followed by web links, or those aforementioned cards, with neatly contained answers about how high a building is, a celebrity's birthday, a country's capital and so on ... followed, of course, by a thick stack of web links. It's good to see that Google hasn't forgotten its heritage.

If you have the phone's media volume turned on and you ask a question that the app can answer with a card, it will also read the answer aloud. When Google search returns images or just a stack of links, it remains silent.

You can also use voice commands to set an alarm, play music and navigate.
(Credit: Screenshot by CNET)

Since the new Search App puts a fresh coat of paint on previous Voice Actions, there are still the usual commands to set an alarm, call a contact, play a song and get driving directions. However, Voice Actions are a little more rigid and without a prompt for what you can say, it won't be as easy to set that calendar appointment or cancel an unwanted alarm.

If the big question on your mind is whether Google's new Search can beat Siri, the answer is still somewhat up in the air. Remember: all Google did was make interface changes that spotlight its Voice Search and make it easier to call up from any screen. The nuts and bolts remain the same as in Android 4.0.

Google Now

Since Google Now is tied into the new Google Search app, you might be tempted to think of it as part of Google Siri-like voice assistant — but it isn't. Instead, Google Now is the name of an optional feature that periodically checks your GPS, calendar and search history, so it can predict your commute times, suggest eateries nearby, keep track of your favourite teams' scoreboard and so on. There's an entire list of trackable items, and you can adjust the settings for each category on the ever-present card motif.

Google Now has learned enough to recommend public transportation options.
(Credit: Screenshot by CNET)

Google Now will seem clunky at first, and that's because the feature learns over time. In the short period that we've had Jelly Bean, we haven't been able to establish the kinds of habitual routines that Google Now needs to really take the pulse of your life. Thankfully, for all its Big Brother knowledge about your goings-on, Google Now doesn't come across as a creepy omniscient presence, and, in fact, we're finding it helpful, so far. The weather report is always convenient, and we do relish the public transportation schedule and appointment reminders.

We're eager to see how accurately Google Now handles our lives, but have to reserve our final judgement at the moment. For now, we're taking some time getting to know each other, to see where the features shine and stumble.

Google Play updates

Google Play has had movies for some time, but our Jelly Bean device and the Nexus 7 tablet are the first to include full movie downloads, in addition to brand-new content types — magazine sales and TV show downloads. Google is making up some lost ground behind Apple's more mature content store, but it's a move that will please many. Rentals all come at a price, and Google intelligently gives you multiple download options, including HD quality for a dollar more. So, a movie may cost $3.99 to rent, but $4.99 to rent in HD. If you buy it outright, it could cost $11.99. Not all rentals are available for purchase, and prices vary, per flick.

Google Play will let you buy per episode or the whole season, including future shows.
(Credit: Screenshot by CNET)

Similarly, TV episodes rent for $1.99 for individual episodes; a season could cost between US$24.99 and US$34.99, or more for the HD version. Prices, once again, vary by show. Magazines follow the same model, with the option to subscribe for the month or year, or to buy a one-off edition. Bon Appetit, for example, costs US$1.99 per month, US$19.99 for the year, and US$4.99, after the fact (or as we like to call it, airport-style).

Google is just getting started with these newer forms of content, so you won't find absolutely everything you want. Google does do a nice job featuring certain titles, but it also organises content by category and top sellers, and lets you search.

We bought some magazines and a TV episode in a seamless process, since we have a Google account outfitted with a credit card. It's even easier if you have the option of carrier billing.

Android Beam update

We're huge fans of Android Beam, but we like it even more, now that Google has followed Samsung's lead with S Beam, which was the first to handily share larger files, like photos and video, from one NFC-enabled phone to the other. Now with Jelly Bean software, every NFC-enabled Android phone will be able to do it, too.

Conclusion

Despite arriving less than a year after Ice Cream Sandwich, Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, thankfully, comes with a raft of meaningful additions that go far beyond the simple bug fix and performance tweak. There are plenty of those, too, but the real benefits are easy to see and make a difference when using a phone. The new voice search experience and Google Now deliver a one-two punch that will, at the very least, make Android users feel much more engaged with search, especially since the new pull-up gesture gives you voice search access anywhere.

Although we're not sure exactly how well it works yet, or how useful it will be on a daily basis, Google Now is at least a novel feature that uses the right tools to predict the information you may want to know about your schedule, your commute, your travel information, your climate-related comfort and your favourite teams. That's something Apple doesn't offer. Unfortunately, it isn't always clear what kind of script you have to follow to make voice actions happen, so Siri's more flexible language engine wins there.

Notifications, a brawnier Android Beam and a smoother photo-viewing process make Jelly Bean a worthy upgrade from Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, and the OS to lust for, if you're still using Android 3.2. However, Google's work is far from done, and there are some additional fixes we'd want made, in order for Jelly Bean to really rule the candy shop.

Via CNET



Add Your Review 8


* Below fields optional


Post comment as
LiamD2 Facebook
9
Rating
 

"Android 4.1 Jelly bean"

LiamD2 posted a review   

The Good:google play store, updates to android phones and tablets, customizable homescreen, notification screen, comes as a nice update on samsung tablets and smartphones

The Bad:nothing yet

I updated my Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 to android 4.1.2 jelly bean after it was sitting on android 4.0.3 ics for some time. The update brings some nice features to both the android smartphone and the tablets. Some of them include: improved voice search, customizable homescreen.

I also own a Samsung Galaxy S2 aswell as the Samsung tab. I found there was a software update from android 2.3 gingerbread to android 4.1.2 'jelly bean'. (The android 4.1.2 update looks exactly like the android OS on the Samsung gs3.

I am not sure whether there is going to be a update to android 4.3

 

tabletandroid10 posted a comment   
Australia

that is really very good update.

 

DylanS posted a comment   

i eagerly waited a few months for jellybean to come out on my one xl.

overall i have found its the same, but its the little things that annoy me.

when using the internet, ICS i used to be able to write what i wanted to google into the top bar, JB doesnt work that way, forcing me to go to google THEN search.

im not a fan of the blue replacing the green, i found green a suitable colour for android

since ICS, in messaging, the voice search bugs me alot. i never use it but ALWAYS tap it accidentally when trying to backspace.

also in JB, the keyboard has changed in regards to smileys. it was much easier the old way.

 

Sam Cinanni posted a comment   
Australia

Any one know if and when the Desire S will get the update. Ive noted that Its slated for ICS but as yet not released. Maybe Telstra will bypass ICS and go straight to JB on the Desire S - heres hoping

 

GaryT1 posted a reply   

The Desire S has already got the update for ICS, it's available on htcdevs.com, and it has none of the Telstra bloatware.

 

nielsen.jake posted a comment   
Australia

Any word on when this update will be available for the Galaxy S3 on Optus?

 

JamesC8 posted a comment   

"Remember: all Google did was make interface changes that spotlight its Voice Search and make it easier to call up from any screen. The nuts and bolts remain the same as in Android 4.0." We must be eating different sandwiches...

 

StuartM6 posted a comment   

Don't hold your breath, Telstra can't even update ICS. Still waiting for ICS update six months after I got Galaxy Nexus, while rest of world is up to 4.04, so as I said don't hold your breath!!!

 

Brendamnit posted a comment   

When's this coming out? I've got a HTC One XL with Telstra




Sponsored Links
CNET's latest

User Reviews / Comments  Android Jelly Bean (4.1)

  • LiamD2

    LiamD2

    Rating9

    "I updated my Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 to android 4.1.2 jelly bean after it was sitting on android 4.0.3 ics for some time. The update brings some nice features to both the android smartphone and th..."

  • tabletandroid10

    tabletandroid10

    "that is really very good update."

  • DylanS

    DylanS

    "i eagerly waited a few months for jellybean to come out on my one xl.

    overall i have found its the same, but its the little things that annoy me.

    when using the internet, ..."

CNET Speedtest

Recently Viewed Products