First Look At Android 4.0 ‘Ice Cream Sandwich’

First Look At Android 4.0 ‘Ice Cream Sandwich’

Google just unveiled their new Nexus phone, the Galaxy Nexus, along with a preview of Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, coming to phones next year. Here’s a look at the awesome new update.

Most of what’s gone into Ice Cream Sandwich is polish, making Android slicker, easier to use and (finally) more consistent across the board. It’s mostly filled with small improvements and tweaks that Google rattled off pretty quickly, so we’ve listed our favourites here in bulleted form. This isn’t a comprehensive list; this is just what Google demoed at today’s event — so there’s probably even more to come.

Basic Improvements to Android

Google’s made a lot of improvements in the way Android looks and feels, from the home screen to the notification drawer to the keyboard, including:

  • A new stylish lock screen, complete with facial recognition features that let you unlock your phone with a front-facing camera, as well as the ability to launch right into the camera with one gesture
  • A bigger emphasis on consistency with the way gestures work. For example, in the app drawer, you now swipe left to right to see other pages of apps, more like the home screens.
  • Widgets are now stored on another tab in the app drawer, making them easier to add to your home screen. They’re also resizable.
  • Folders are now easier to create and use. Just drag one app on top of another, iOS-style to create a folder. You can rearrange them in the folder the same way, and it’s all very fluid.
  • Ice Cream Sandwich’s dock is customisable, and you can even put folders into it for quick access to apps and contacts.
  • Screenshot taking is now built-in. finally.
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  • Notifications are prettier and a tad more useful, showing small contact pictures next to notifications pertaining to email, SMS messages and so on.
  • You can swipe from left to right to clear single notifications from the drawer, so your notifications aren’t so cluttered. CyanogenMod users will be quite familiar with this feature.
  • You can open the notification drawer from the lock screen, without unlocking your phone. This is actually very convenient.
  • The new keyboard has better targeting, a simpler recommendations bar, and inline spell checking. Copy and paste has also been improved, and you can even select text and just drag it around within your message fluidly.
  • Speech-to-text now decodes your phrases in real time. When you say a word, you see that word show up in the window, before you move on to the next one–you no longer have to finish an entire sentence before seeing it show up in the text window.
  • A new default typeface, humorously labelled “Roboto” (but that actually looks pretty good)

Ice Cream Sandwich also sets the stage for button-less phones, à la the Honeycomb tablets. The Galaxy Nexus has no buttons on the front; it’s all built-in to the OS. It also raises icon resolution, among other things, so it’ll look good on higher-res phones — again, like the 4.65-inch, 1280×720 screen on the Galaxy Nexus.

The Browser

The browser has a few nice features, but the biggest is certainly bookmark syncing with Chrome. Now, Android’s browser will automatically use your Google account to sync all Chrome bookmarks to your phone. It also has a feature that’ll take you from a web site’s mobile page to the desktop page in one tap, which is really great. Tab management is similar to the old browser, but you can now “flick” tabs away to close them, which looks almost WebOS-like. And, lastly, it has a new “save for offline” feature for those articles you want to save for later. It won’t tear out the article and make it more “readable”, like Read It Later does, but rather save the entire page in its current state for offline viewing.


Gmail’s entire interface has been revamped, featuring a very large, easy-to-read inbox with two-line previews so you can more easily view your messages without even opening them. The action bar at the bottom has also improved, with simple buttons for creating a new message, viewing your labels, searching your inbox and more. And, speaking of inbox search, Gmail now downloads the last 30 days worth of messages for searching, a value that you can change as much as you want in the settings. Lastly, when you’re viewing a message, you can quickly transition to the next message with a swipe gesture — going back to their whole point of “making gestures consistent across the OS”. It’s a nice touch.


The new calendar app is also nice, mostly in the realm of touch gestures. Like Gmail, you can swipe from side to side to move from day to day, and you can even pinch to zoom in on a specific block of the day. The whole thing is very smooth and fluid, moving as your fingers pinch to the exact block you specify.

Data Tracking

You can now track your data usage from Android’s settings, and it looks really slick. Not only do you have the typical “this is how much data you’ve used this month” chart, as well as app-by-app usage to see which apps are the worst offenders, but you can pinpoint any block of time on the graph and see data usage for just that timeframe. For example, if there’s a huge jump in data usage over a two-day period of time, you can “zoom in” on those two days and see which apps were using the most data during just those two days. It’s a really effective way of tracking your usage. You can also add warnings for when you reach a certain threshhold, or even cut off data usage entirely when you go over a certain level — ensuring that you never go over your data cap without your say so.

Camera & Gallery

The new camera app is designed to be fast and easy to use — they’ve minimised shutter lag, meaning the camera opens quickly and takes pictures instantly, without any loading time between shots. It’s difficult to tell how well this will work on non-Galaxy Nexus phones, but the demo on the Galaxy Nexus looked fantastic. You can also access the camera right from the lock screen, making taking those spur-of-the-moment pictures near instantaneous.

The camera also has a built-in panorama mode, in which you just scan the camera from left to right to take a panorama shot — none of this taking-multiple-images-that-sort-of-fit-together business. It’ll automatically stitch them together for you. Video recording has also improved, with continuous focus, zoom-while-recording, and time lapse features, not to mention the ability to take snapshots while you’re recording video.

As far as the Gallery goes, you get this great “magazine-style” view with large thumbnails for your albums. You can browse your library by album, by location, or even by the people you tag in your photos. It also includes a simple photo editor, letting you remove red eye, crop, tilt, and even add Instagram-like filters to your photos.


full screen

One of the cooler new “people” features is the ability to send canned text messages when someone calls you. If someone calls you and you’re busy, you can just send them a text message that says “I’m busy, call you later” (or whatever you want) with a simple swipe gesture. There are currently apps that’ll do this for you, but it’s really nice to have it built in.

Android Beam

That’s probably not everything you’ll see in Ice Cream Sandwich, but it’s a hell of a good start to a seriously polished iteration of Android. It may not have the most new features, but what it lacks in new, snazzy features it more than makes up for in ease of use and fluidity — I have a feeling this will reinvigorate my love for Android. We’ll post the video of the presentation as soon as Google does, but for now, discuss your favourite new features (or the things you wished you’d see) in the comments.


  • A lot of these were introduced in Honeycomb but have been tweaked for phone use. I’m rather happy about this, and I’m also looking forward to the inevitable CyanogenMod release that will take these great ideas and expand on them.

    As some people on the Galaxy Nexus preview video said, this is what iOS 6 will be. I’m betting bottom dollar they’ll be spot on!

    • I’m also looking forward to the inevitable CyanogenMod release that will take these great ideas and expand on them.

      +1. Many of the feature’s that ICS offers I either already have via CM7, or third party apps. The one’s I don’t have aren’t important to me.

      What I AM looking forward to with ICS though, is improvements in speed and performance over Gingerbread – and new avenues to let dev’s expand their mods/apps on the platform.

      It’s kinda ironic though that the Nexus S (which I own) has been confirmed as the next device to receive ICS, but I’ll probably wait until the AOSP code has been released and CM release the first beta of CM8 before I actually use it.

  • Lets hope they make it open source sooner, and not wait till most of the Galaxy Nexus’s are released. Right now the phones going from $700-$900, but i’ve yet to see any 32GB Models… anyone got any insight? I’ve just seen the 16gb models of the Galaxy Nexus.

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