The new, highly polished version of Android is finally reaching the masses, and it has some awesome new features in tow -- like facial recognition, Android Beam, data tracking. But what about the ones Google hasn't been talking about? Here are our six favourite features in Ice Cream Sandwich that are worth upgrading for.
An Improved, Gesture-Based Multitasker
Multitasking is so awesome in Ice Cream Sandwich we're kind of shocked it hasn't been more publicised. Pressing and holding the home button still brings up a list of recent apps just like it used to, but it's much more effective. Instead of being a simple, tiny list of icons, it's now a full-screen thumbnail view of all your open apps. You can drag up or down to see more of your open apps, and tap on a thumbnail to open it -- or swipe it to the side to quit the app entirely (almost exactly like the multitasking in webOS that we loved so much).
It's far more useful than the old multitasker and makes great use of touch gestures, which we always love. Plus, you'll see the exact same behaviour in the new Browser when you view your open tabs, so once you get it in your muscle memory, it's useful in other places in the OS.
Annoyance-Free App Navigation
One of our biggest annoyances with Android was the inconsistent back button behaviour. Open some apps, and hitting the back button will take you to the last screen you visited in the app. But hit the back button to go back to the main inbox or music library and... it will take you back to the home screen instead. Google has finally begun to fix this incredibly annoying behaviour by putting a touch-based back button in apps like this. When you open an app, just check the upper left-hand corner, next to the app's icon. If you see a little arrow pointing to the left, you can tap it to go back to the previous screen in the app -- not just the last screen you were on.
The Best Android Keyboard We've Used Yet
OK, so we've heard about this one a little bit -- as with every new version of Android, the keyboard has improved. But an improved keyboard is hard to explain -- terms like "better targeting" and "improved word recommendations" can only go so far.
Using this keyboard is phenomenal, and despite my love for third-party keyboards like Swype and SwiftKey, I'd have to say this is the best Android keyboard yet. Typing on it it super-fast and easy, and typos are fewer and further in between than I've ever experienced on Android (though correcting the occasional typo is still not as easy as Swype, unfortunately). Speech-to-text is also amazing, but you already knew about that.
Uninstall Apps Right From The App Drawer
If you've ever used a third-party launcher like ADW or LauncherPro, you're probably quite familiar with this behaviour already -- instead of having to enter the Play Store to uninstall an app (or go all the way to Settings > Applications > Manage), you can uninstall an app just by pressing and holding it in the app drawer. From there, you can drag it to the trash can at the top of the screen to uninstall it. This only works on apps you've downloaded separately, of course, not apps that came preinstalled on your phone. For that, you still need something like Titanium Backup.
A Night-Friendly Browser Mode
There are a few ways to keep your phone's screen from blinding you at night, and inverting the colours of your screen or browser has always been at the top of the list. Now, Android has a really great option for this built-in to its default browser. Just head to Settings > Accessibility and scroll down to "Inverted Rendering". This will make all your text white-on-black, thus saving you from the harsh white light that hurts your eyes so much in the evening.
New Labs Features In The Stock Browser
Also in the stock Browser is a new "Labs" feature available in the settings, which lets you try out experimental features (similar to those found in the browser versions of Gmail or Maps). The coolest is the "Quick Controls" lab, which lets you slide from the right screen edge to get quick access to your tabs, the navigation bar, your bookmarks and more. It also allows you to take these things off the screen so you have more room to view the web page itself -- they only show up when you need them.
Obviously, these aren't the only awesome features in Ice Cream Sandwich. If you're just getting acquainted with it, be sure to check out our first look at the new version of Android and all the cool features it offers, big and small (like being able to clear individual notifications from your notification drawer with just a swipe). Got any other lesser-known features we haven't seen yet? Let us know in the comments.