Jun 29 AT 5:27 PM Dustin Earley 61 Comments

Now that Jelly Bean, Android 4.1, has been released to developers and made available as a custom ROM, reports are coming in from all over the web on just how great it is. Naturally, I had to find out for myself. So how does Jelly Bean stack up? Even as a developer preview, compared to both the competition and former versions of Android, it’s a wonderful step in the right direction. Here’s why:

Project Butter

When Jelly Bean was first announced, there was a lot of back and forth on Project Butter. According to Google, Project Butter will make Android much more visually pleasing. It increases frame rates and keeps them consistent, along with improving touch input and finger tracking, to create a smoother experience.

After playing around with Jelly Bean for a day, I can say this is very true. Everything from opening and closing animations, to list scrolling, to just zipping around the OS is amazing. I remember when I first started using Ice Cream Sandwich, I thought it was a huge improvement in stability and speed over previous versions of Android. I can’t even imagine what it would be like to go from a Gingerbread device to Jelly Bean. The jump from 4.0 to 4.1 definitely has some major changes performance wise, but from 2.3 to 4.1, Android is an entirely different beast.

Seeing is believing when it comes to Project Butter, and while the super slow motion video provided by Google does show quite the difference, you really need to spend some quality time with Jelly Bean to see just how much it affects the overall experience.

Enhanced Notifications

Older Ice Cream Sandwich notifications.

Personally, the thing I could not wait to get my hands on the most in Jelly Bean was the enhanced notifications. I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again, Android has the best notifications in mobile computing. Hands down. And somehow, Jelly Bean still manages to improve on them.

Not only does the new notification shade in Jelly Bean look slightly different, it has some added functionality. Notifications are now expandable. Say you get an email, and you want to see more information on it without having to enter the app. Simply place two fingers on the notification, and swipe down to expand it for more information. You can also swipe up on expanded notifications to put them back into their compact state.

Newer Jelly Bean notifications.

Along with expandable notifications, Google has also introduced quick actions. Certain notifications will give you the option to comment, like, reply or perform a similar action right from the notification shade – without even having to open the app.

After taking a screen shot, I was able to press the share button right from the notification, select Gmail to send it to myself, and pop into the compose email form to without ever having to visit the gallery like in Ice Cream Sandwich.

Thanks to Project Butter, everything about the new notifications performs better than ever before as well. Android was already well ahead of the curve when it comes to notifications, and Jelly Bean gives it an even bigger lead.

Design

If it wasn’t clear before, it certainly is now. Each major mobile OS developer has claimed their own unique design style, and they will be sticking to it.

Microsoft is going hard with Metro. Which, for better or worse, is based around monochrome squares and big lines of bold text. Sometimes cut off, sometimes not. I can appreciate the minimal, clean look of Windows Phone and its Metro UI, but it can be slightly boring.

In unveiling iOS 6, Apple has revealed they will not be backing down on the skeuomorphism. There is more faux stitching, fake leather, grey linen and glossy glass than any one human should have to endure. It has become a sort of trademark for Apple now, especially after what Android is doing with Holo, and Microsoft with Metro.

Compared to the skeuomorphic design in iOS, the design in Jelly Bean is such a breath of fresh air. Take Siri and Google Now (more on that in a bit). Siri presents information in a variety of different ways. Sometimes on a small graph, sometimes in a score board but always with a dark linen textured background. Google Now, when asked for information, presents it in clean, white, easy to read cards. Ask Siri how tall Kobe Bryant is, and you’ll get a little basketball card looking graphic. Ask Google Now, you’ll get a picture of Kobe with how tall he is next to it.

Of course the UI design in Jelly Bean isn’t perfect.

I’m not totally gaga over feeling like I’m trapped in Tron world at certain times in Android 4.x, but Jelly Bean has improved in certain areas over ICS. Buttons are squared off now. There’s less blue in the notifications shade (but not in the status bar). Little things like that. Even with the occasional overly futuristic vibe, Jelly Bean looks very modern. And now that Holo themed apps are being released from most of the big name developers, you can really start to feel a cohesive design language in Android.

Ice Cream Sandwich opened the door to the future of Android design. Jelly Bean works to refine that design for the better. If you don’t like Holo, you may want to consider leaving Android now. Because from the looks of it, it’s here to stay.

Google Now, Google Search and voice recognition

Google Now has got to be the biggest announcement out of Google I/O 2012. It’s the next level of Google Search, Google voice recognition and the Big G’s answer to the virtual assistant craze. And it’s better than I could have possibly imagined.

To get to Google Now, you have to hold down on the virtual home key, and swipe upwards to the Google logo that will appear. Once inside, the UI for Google Now is very clean and organized. At the top of Google Now, there’s a search bar that allows you to enter text. There’s also a microphone icon, for voice input, and a note that reminds you neither of those are necessary. You can just say, “Google,” and the voice input screen will pop up. That same voice input screen is also accessible from the persistent Google Search widget on the home screen. Either way, your results will be brought up in Google Now.

Underneath the search bar are your cards. A card of information is what you will get when you search for something, but they also appear in Google Now by themselves based on several different factors: Where you are, things you’ve searched for in the past, flights you’ve made, calendar events, sports scores you frequent. For example, when I open Google Now there is a card showing the weather all ready for me. The more you use Google Now, the better the preloaded cards become.

But that’s not all. Google Now will actually provide you with certain information without even being asked – like directions to your house when you leave the airport. It’s mind blowing.

All this is great, but what it really comes down to is how it actually functions in real world scenarios. Fortunately, I can say like a dream.

Voice input is absolutely amazing. Google Now manages to pick up everything I say whether it’s posed as a question or command. I haven’t run into any major problems. Cards have yet to pop up with things I don’t care to know or see. They actually work. And even if they didn’t, a regular Google search appears below the card of info Google Now shows you for further reading, if necessary. As for Google’s AI voice – best I’ve ever heard. Much more human sounding than the competition.

Google Now isn’t even finished yet, but it’s entirely usable right now. In many ways, it’s been much more impressive than any alternative personal assistant software I’ve ever used. Google Now isn’t just the future of Google Search, it’s the future of Google. It’s so advanced, it’s almost scary.

Wrap up

Jelly Bean has taken everything good introduced in Ice Cream Sandwich, and improved on it. While some would consider Android 4.1 more of a refinement release, there is also more than enough new features present to make it feel totally new again.

Google Now is fantastic. Project Butter makes Android run better than ever before. The new notifications are a welcome improvement over an already great system. I really can’t find a whole lot to complain about. Jelly Bean is most certainly the next step in Android’s maturity. I absolutely can’t wait to see what Google comes up with next.

If there’s anything else you’d like to hear about, I’d be more than glad to help out in the comments below.

Dustin Earley: Tech enthusiast; avid gamer; all around jolly guy.

    Most Tweeted This Week

  • Dustin Earley

    This admittedly turned into a little more than a first impressions post, but I didn’t dive in quite deep enough to call it a full review.

    • LukeT32

      In the process of rooting my GNex… Give me a few hours and I will vouch for your info. :)

  • Varemenos

    Ya Holo is way better than the other 2

  • apo

    But you pretty much summed up everything which was to say.
    Yeah, Jelly Bean is amazing and I can’t wait to make my sister try it coming from her GS2 gingerbread.. :)

  • spazby

    awesome, i can’t wait for wifie’s nexus to get updated…

  • droilfade

    “Jelly Bean has taken everything good introduced in Ice Cream Sandwich, and improved on it.” This is what an update should aim to be. Push your existing product beyond its limitations and innovate. All this while seamlessly integrating the changes into the existing version. Google has hit a home run here.

    • http://nickvettesephotography.com Nicholas Vettese

      And as long as the OEMs (Moto, Sammy, HTC, and others don’t screw with their base, this will be awesome. Because of Moto’s inconsistency, I will not be purchasing a new Moto device, and ask people to stay away.

      I on the other hand, will be getting an unlocked Nexus. I was hoping they would have introduced a new Nexus phone at I|O this year, but they didn’t.

      • killrgummibear

        that i’m pretty sure they’re saving for the 5 devices coming out later this year. hopefully 5 dif manufacturers each with the latest version of android minus the OEM skins n extras. i can’t wait for this next nexus.

      • professandobey

        )

  • Chip K

    Really sounds cool, but I just downloaded ICS and now J.Bean is coming out…will it be available for my MAXX ?

  • hum

    Hum, for the ones using Jelly Bean can you answer to my question please?
    I’m moving soon to quite a big french city and those Google Now services will be useful, but I don’t know if GPS has to be always enabled for it to work? Let’s say for exemple I’m leaving my house and I’m at the train station, do I have to enable GPS for it to detect that I’m at the train station?

    Thanks :=)

    • jbe

      If you have wifi on, by default location service detects your location based on the ssids being broadcast around you.

    • masterpfa

      It would probably be more accurate if GPS is switched on, GPS is only used when required for example when navigating

    • hum

      Thanks to both of you!
      I’ll be doing some experiments with and w/o gps.
      At least I know 3G has to be ON.

  • uknowme

    Sounds like heaven.

  • Ironzey Lewis

    I love it. For some reason I was thinking that Voice actions didn’t work as good on Ice Cream Sandwich as it did on Gingerbread. This update made the lady that lives in my phone a lot smarter and faster. I love it!

  • Seb

    Apple just got a motion in its favor, which could lead to a ban of the Galaxy Nexus in the USA…

    And as the patent is related to search / Siri, it could be very bad news for Google Now…

    What do you guys think? It’d be bad to have the Nexus 7 banned because of this kind of thing…

    • Seb
    • masterpfa

      The request for a ban is only a preliminary ban and refers currently to the Galaxy Nexus only. But no doubt the Crapple Minions are waiting to receive their own personal Nexus 7, to go through that with a fine tooth comb.

      • Marcd

        Seeing as their voice assistant is another pathetic “me too” I think apple has good grounds.

        • Herb

          Trollololol

        • Mr. G

          Apple has good grounds? Do you know what they’re filing a lawsuit against? Look it up: it’s ridiculous. And if it’s so called ‘me too’ is better than what Apple has: good. As the consumer, I want the better product. I don’t want them to blow each other out of the water.

        • Peter

          Oh it’s a “me too” alright, but it definitely isn’t pathetic. When Siri came out, I thought it was ridiculous, who’s going to talk to their phone and listen to that crappy robotic voice read back to you. I’m looking at this Jelly Bean and I’m sold already.

          So it’s a “me too” alright, but it definitely ain’t pathetic.

        • Jimmy_Jo

          another pathetic “me too” …. Really?! Why is it that no one realizes that Google’s phone was in production BEFORE the iPhone and Voice Actions was in use BEFORE Siri

  • Ardrid

    Excellent article. I’m looking forward to trying out 4.1 for myself when I finally grab the latest Nexus phone. I feel sorry for everyone who won’t get a chance to use 4.1 on their current devices because of carrier/OEM nonsense.

    • Seb

      You should get it fast before it gets banned by Apple…

      • Ardrid

        I was referring to the GNex successor. That said, I’m tired of Apple and their frivolous suits, and even more tired that courts are actually falling for this garbage. MS should’ve let them die…

      • Mr. G

        It won’t. Can’t really, seeing it’s open source. Though, the US legal system might just find a way…

    • Ardrid

      Oh, and the Google Now vs. Siri comparison is absolutely nuts. That’s the power of having all that search data at your fingertips and having a truly integrated solution that utilizes all of that data. Mind-blowing to say the least.

      • Seb

        That’s actually what’s covered by Apple’s patent apparently…

        • http://nickvettesephotography.com Nicholas Vettese

          But Apple uses Nuance’s backend for the voice detection. Google is using their own data they collected. Apple is freaking scared to death of Android, and their WWDC proved it. Why not bring up RIMs demise or MSs flailing tablet woes? Nope, they go for Android, because they know what is happening.

  • sunrise

    For me the question is…which user experience is faster…Galaxy 3 running ICS with the S4 processor, or Nexus running Jelly Bean on a slower processor.

    I want the Galaxy 3, but don’t want to wait a year for Jelly Bean update.

    • ZRod

      You know the saying “Once you go Nexus you don’t go back”? It is true for a reason.
      On my first Nexus phone, the Galaxy Nexus, and I will never get a non Nexus phone ever. Getting the updates fast far outweighs the benefits of a bit faster processor for the reasons above.
      A little speed boost < Updates to make life easier and the phone faster

      • masterpfa

        I agree totally, I am on my second Nexus device, previous device Nexus 1 and awaiting delivery of my Nexus 7.

        Many times have friends boasted about their newer higher spec’d phone, only to be trumped once I get my OS update, ICS and now Jelly Bean.

        Nexus FTW

      • Jimmy_Jo

        Really??? Nexus means faster updates? Just not on Verizon. A rooted Galaxy S II is better than a Galaxy Nexus. Honest. A rooted Galaxy S III is going to be SICK!!!

    • aoi

      I’ve actually compared with my friends’ S3, and it’s about the same!
      They just couldn’t believe how a Dual core could compete with their beast. Haha.

      • http://nickvettesephotography.com Nicholas Vettese

        Isn’t the S3 a Dual Core phone in the US?

  • redraider133

    That is crazy how much they improved things. I mean everyone thought ICS was so smooth and from the videos JB blows it out of the water. Google is really going full swing and not doing minor things like apple did with IOS6

  • CTown

    Thanks for the reat review. Well since you asked there also is a way to turn off notifications at the system level. Just hold an app, drag it to “app info”, instead of remove or install and unheck the box that says “Show notifcations”!

    (Just to give credit, I learned this off Phandroid but I can’t find the specific article to link to.)

  • binary

    “I remember when I first started using Ice Cream Sandwich, I thought it was a huge improvement in stability and speed over previous versions of Android.”

    Are you kidding? ICS was a step backward when it comes to speed. I own SGS2, SGS3 (and few other phones) and both those phones laggs with ICS. SGS2 was much smoother with Android 2.3.3 than SGS3 with ICS. I’ve played with Galaxy Nexus 4.1 today and yes, its realy fast, but it still laggs from time to time when I’ve pushed home screen button.

    • xallies

      That is completely untrue. Ics is so smooth. U cat even begin too compare it with gingerbread. If Touchwiz UI is laggy u have found ur culprit.

    • redraider133

      Blame the lag on android skins.

    • Jmaxku

      “I’ve played with Galaxy Nexus 4.1 today and yes, its realy fast, but it still laggs from time to time when I’ve pushed home screen button.”

      Doesn’t lag in the video. In fact, I noticed it went to the home screen faster than the iPhone 4S with iOS6

      O__o

  • Dr.Carpy

    There is one complaint I have about Google and Jelly Bean. That is that I have the Galaxy Note, and the Galaxy Note 2 isn’t going to be available until October. So I won’t be able to taste the sweetness that is Jellybean until then. Boo-Urns! Boo-Urns!

    • ZRod

      If it even has JB. Even if it does have JB, you will have it sooner then any non-Nexus phone by about 2 months.

  • Sgb101

    This is the first time I’ve regretted going for the one x. Should of gon nexus, I want jelly bean!

    • http://nickvettesephotography.com Nicholas Vettese

      I think HTC will have you on J Bean sooner than later. HTC, next to ASUS, has at least been trying.

  • Nathan D.

    Can’t wait to see this come to my tablet, project butter will be so great to have

  • Mike

    jelly bean should be called ICE SE
    its no different not to mention its still 4xxxx

    • http://nickvettesephotography.com Nicholas Vettese

      If the changes in 4.1 are any indication, imagine what 5.0 will be like?

    • Jimmy_Jo

      That makes sense. Those Google guys are idiots. It’s not like when we went from version 2.2 to 2.3 they changed the name from Froyo to Gingerbread!

      (digital sarcasm is so hot right now)

  • snarklove

    I’m looking forward to this update and am assuming this makes for an appreciable boost to the user experience BUT–

    None of these major Android updates have done anything to solve what in my opinion is Android’s most performance serious problem, which is the major lag that so often occurs when switching tasks — or sometimes when just pulling up the soft keyboard.

    The introduction of JIT in the Dalvik VM (Android 2.2), innovating the graphics subsystem (Android 2.3, Android 4.0 and now with Project Butter), and throwing more and better hardware at the problem (which happens continuously of course), have had no effect on what is obviously a built-in weakness to the Android software architecture. But oh well.

    • apo

      The thing is that, switching apps is a seemless experience with JB and such is the case for the keyboard.
      I think you should give it a try before giving your opinion which may be true based on the previous experiences you had with Android, but certainly not with JB I’m affraid :)

    • Herb

      At least switching tasks is possible. I’ll take a little lag over a lack of multitasking.

  • Stella

    Awesome review. I’m impressed in what Google has done to improve upon ICS smoothness with Project Butter. The new notification and Google Now are the instant standout hits for Jelly Bean. Now, I must get my hands on it.

  • A.Woodbury

    Now this is what an update is all about! Proud to be an Android lover

  • txbluesman

    I am completely stoked and ready to get me some Jelly Bean on my Nexus S. It will feel like a new device again and let me hold out a little longer waiting on the next Nexus phone they may be working on. Hopefully it will be the 5 different manufacturers making the next Nexus phones. In the mean time, I will be enjoying some JB.

  • dVyper

    All I want from 4.1 is the smoother operation. Not too fussed about everything else. This is the update I can easily wait for. 4.0 on my One X is fine for the moment :)

  • Leo Young

    Wow. Looks quite impressive. A little bit of bias showing in the review, which is a drag but otherwise, nice to see.

  • awundrin

    A very well written review IMHO. I am looking forward to trying Jelly Bean on the Nexus S I’m going to buy in the near future. Sounds great.

  • Janis

    Wait a minute, you gripe about Apple’s skeuomorphism, and then you rave about Google Now’s “cards”? Huh. (Although I agree with you on the preference; textures do belong in wallpapers.)