We’ve taken our first look at Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, and we like what we see — but it’ll be awhile before most devices get their hands on it. With the right mix of apps, tweaks and even a custom ROM or two, you can get a lot of what promises to Ice Cream Sandwich great right now. Here’s how.
Table portion of image by Pavel Ignatov/Shutterstock.
The new facial unlock is certainly one of the most talked about features of Ice Cream Sandwich, but it isn’t the first of its kind on Android. There isn’t currently an app that’ll unlock your phone using facial recognition, but previously mentioned Visidon AppLock can unlock apps that contain sensitive information, like SMS, email or settings using its front-facing camera. It isn’t exactly the same, but the coolness factor is certainly there.
A New Lock Screen with Camera Support Built-In
Ice Cream Sandwich’s new lock screen is pretty snazzy, but you can create a far more customisable lock screen with previously mentioned WidgetLocker. Not only can you add a camera button to your lock screen for quick access to your camera app, but you can add shortcuts and sliders for any app you want, and choose from a number of different themes for your slider and clock. WidgetLocker can be a bit quirky sometimes, though, so if you want a more reliable, less customisable lock screen, some ROMs (like CyanogenMod) let you add a few extra sliders for launching apps like the camera.
Swipe to Clear Single Notifications
This is a great feature, which sadly is only available if you root your phone and flash a custom ROM like CyanogenMod (are you beginning to see a pattern here? CyanogenMod has a lot of these features).
A Customisable Launcher with Resizable Widgets
The new launcher in Ice Cream Sandwich has been slightly updated, most notably with the side-to-side method of swiping through the app drawer and the ability to resize your widgets. Previously mentioned Go Launcher is the best launcher choice to replicate both of these behaviours, not to mention a ton of other customisation options. If you’re a LauncherPro fan, it’s also worth noting that the premium version can resize widgets on the home screen as well.
Sadly, the only way to take screenshots on the phone itself is to root your phone and install an app like Screenshot It. If you don’t want to root, you can install an app like No Root Screenshot It, which connects to your computer for easy screenshot taking. CyanogenMod also has screenshot taking built-in, which is really nice.
A New and Improved Keyboard
Ice Cream Sandwich may be improving the default keyboard, but they haven’t done anything that new or revolutionary. We’ve looked at lots of Android’s keyboard alternatives, and both Smart Keyboard Pro and SwiftKey X should give you a pretty similar experience — improved targeting, lots of customisation and a better suggestion bar.
A New Font
Google hasn’t released their new “Roboto” font unto the world yet, but you can customise your phone’s system font with pretty much any typeface you want. To do this, you can either use an app like previously mentioned Type Fresh, or pick one of over 300 fonts and just flash it like you would a custom ROM. Note that both of these options require you to be rooted; there’s no way to change your font on an unrooted phone.
Viewing Desktop Web Pages From a Mobile Browser
If mobile pages are a bit too toned down for your taste, it can sometimes be hard to navigate to the desktop version of a site. Many alternative browsers, including our favourite, Dolphin, have a “user agent” setting built-in that lets you choose whether your phone loads mobile or desktop versions of pages. If you prefer the stock browser, many ROMs like CyanogenMod add this feature to Android’s browser, too.
Save Web Pages for Offline Viewing
Personally, I found Ice Cream Sandwich’s “Save for Offline” feature a little underwhelming. While saving articles for offline reading is great, it doesn’t make them more “readable” like other platforms do. Of course, no built-in “save for offline” feature can really compare to the Read It Later app, which saves articles for offline use, makes them available on all your devices, and strips the page of ads and other formatting so you can focus on what’s important — the text and pictures.
Data Usage Tracking
Android already has a lot of data tracking apps available in the Market, but our personal favourite right now is previously mentioned Onavo. Not only does it monitor your overall data usage and give you an app-by-app breakdown, but you can even set up warnings for when an app is hogging too much of your data. You can even restrict certain apps to Wi-Fi usage only, which is pretty helpful.
A More Full-Featured Camera
We’ve shown you how to take better pictures with your smartphone before, and a big part of that is having a good camera app handy. Our personal favorite is CameraZoom FX, which has all sorts of extra filters, stable shot settings and other tweaks to make your pictures look as good as possible. It won’t load instantly like Ice Cream Sandwich’s camera, but it’ll give you a lot of new features to play with in the meantime.
A Prettier, Full-Featured Gallery App
Android’s Gallery app is far from terrible, but if you want something a bit better looking, like Ice Cream Sandwich’s version, our favourite gallery replacement is definitely JustPictures. It lets you view your photos with big, pretty thumbnails, and can even connect to external services like Flickr and Facebook. If you want more of the editing features, though (and fewer cloud features), the just as gorgeous QuickPic is a great choice.
“Beam” Apps, Contacts and Photos Between Android Phones
Last is Android’s new “Beam” feature, which is pretty neat, but only available on Ice Cream Sandwich phones with near-field communication capabilities. If your phone doesn’t have the necessary hardware, you can always get by with the ever-popular Bump, which lets you transfer apps, contacts, and photos between to phones by touching them together. It can’t transfer as many things as Android Beam, nor does it work quite as seamlessly, but you can use it with many more phones, so it has its advantages.
None of this is to say that Ice Cream Sandwich won’t be great, obviously. It’s pretty difficult to replicate the smoothness and polish that Ice Cream Sandwich aims to bring to the table, but at least you can satiate your appetite with a few of the bigger features now. Got any cool apps that we missed? Let us know about them in the comments.