SLIDESHOW

Ice Cream Sandwich: What Are the Hot New Android OS Changes?

Android has undergone a huge transformation with the Ice Cream Sandwich update. Here are a few of the biggest changes.

Spot the Differences

Ice Cream Sandwich brings some of the most dramatic changes to Android we’ve seen since the OS moved from version 1.6 to version 2.0. Everything from core applications to how you unlock the device has been transformed.

If you’re one of the lucky people upgrading from an Android 2.x device to Android 4.0, here are a few things you should be aware of.

Lock Screen

As soon as you wake up your device, you’ll immediately notice the changes in Ice Cream Sandwich. In Gingerbread you slide a button or panel on the screen to unlock the phone. ICS has replaced that panel with a lock icon that you flick out of a circle, much as in Android 3.0 (Honeycomb). The new lock screen also allows for faster access to the camera: You can immediately start the camera app without having to unlock your device fully.

Editor's note: We used an LG G2x running Android 2.2 for all "Pre-ICS" screens.

Folders

Creating folders in older versions of Android was, to be honest, kind of a pain. You had to long-press the home screen, find the option to create a folder, and make a folder on your home screen--and only then could you fill it with the apps you wanted. Ice Cream Sandwich simplifies things, allowing you to create folders simply by dragging one application onto another, à la iOS, adding all of the usefulness of folders without any of the hassle.

Contacts

The Contacts app is now named People, and it's no longer the drab and dreary application it once was. The dark gray background has been replaced with a lighter eggshell white, and contact photos are now much larger than they were previously. If you have your various social networks synced up to your device, the app will pull images from their profile, and you'll have quick access to their status updates.

Apps and Widgets

The redesigned app drawer looks more like the one in Android 3.0 Honeycomb. Pages scroll from left to right (instead of up and down), and you can quickly enter the Android Market thanks to a button at the top-right corner. Widgets no longer exist in their own space, and instead appear in the app drawer for easier access. Widgets are now resizable, too, so you can more easily place them in every nook and cranny on your home screens.

Notifications

Notifications work as they did in Gingerbread, with only a few minor tweaks. Sometimes notifications will display an image as well as an icon, becoming much more descriptive. Additionally, you can now dismiss individual notifications by swiping them left or right. The notification bar also gives faster access to the device settings, and you can now check notifications from the lock screen.

Keyboard

Google has tweaked and tuned the keyboard in Ice Cream Sandwich to better predict what you'll type next. On top of that, the keys have become much squarer (for easier typing), and you now have an option to dictate your text.

Recent Apps

The old Recent Apps box was hardly the most impressive-looking part of the Android OS. You got to see the icons of only the last eight apps you had opened, and the only way to reach that list was to hold down the Home button until it popped up over your screen. In Ice Cream Sandwich, however, Recent Apps now has its own button, which you can press to bring up a scrolling list of all your open apps. This list is much more visual than the old static box, giving you a small thumbnail preview of each application so that you can tell what is going on in the app before you enter it. If you wish to close any of the running apps, you can flick the app off the list to shut it down.

Call Screen

In the call screen, as in the lock screen, you can answer (or deny) phone calls by flicking a circle over the proper icon. If you flick the circle up toward the Messaging icon, you can send the caller a short text explaining why you can’t answer the call; you can choose from one of several stock responses or write some of your own for later use.

Gmail

Like most of the OS, the Gmail app has received a major face-lift in Ice Cream Sandwich. A context-sensitive bar now occupies the bottom of the screen, and the app has sliding panels just as the Honeycomb Gmail app does. The context bar changes depending on where in the app you are; for instance, if you're in an email message, you see options to tag that message, move it to another folder, delete it, or mark it as read. The new version of Gmail also makes it easier to attach photos and videos to your email, so you don't have to jump back and forth between apps.

Calendar

The Calendar is much easier to read, and doesn’t feel as cluttered when full of events. You can pinch to zoom in and out of the app, making navigation a bit simpler. Zooming out allows you to see all of your events at a glance, while zooming in can give you more details about individual events.

Gallery

Android 2.1 gave the gallery a much needed new look by separating albums and making them resemble stacks of photos. The Gallery in Ice Cream Sandwich continues with the same look and feel, but adds a bit more polish. You can now perform minor edits on photos you have taken in the past, and you have the option of applying various filters (if you feel the need to hipster-fy them a bit).

Browser

The Ice Cream Sandwich browser is best described as a miniature version of the Android Honeycomb browser. If you hate mobile websites as much as I do, you can set the browser to request the full desktop versions. You can save entire Web pages (including images) for offline reading, or if you find something interesting that you want to save for later. Switching between browser windows is a bit simpler as well. And the function now behaves much as the Recent Apps list does, in that you can close windows by flicking them off screen.

Music

The old boring Music app has been replaced with Google’s new Music application, which ties in with the Google Music cloud service. The app gives you direct access to the music stored in your Google Music account, and also plays any tracks that you have saved locally on the device. The Now Playing screen displays much larger artwork and feels a lot cleaner overall, too.

Settings

The rearranged device settings now let you quickly turn Wi-Fi and Bluetooth on or off, something that was previously buried under 'Wireless and Networks' on Android 2.x. One extremely useful new feature is Data Usage, which shows how much data you have used that month and alerts you when you approach your set limit. Data Usage also breaks down your usage by day, and shows you which apps are using the most data. It's handy, especially if you aren’t lucky enough to have an unlimited data plan.

Menus

Menus are now identifiable by an icon of three dots stacked vertically. Once you press the icon, you see a context menu with more options. Note that this is how menus behave on the Galaxy Nexus, a device without any of the usual physical Android navigation keys. We have yet to see how these menus work on a phone that still has a physical menu button.