One of the nice things about having a rooted Galaxy Nexus is having access to the latest Android updates as soon as they’re leaked. This was especially so during Google I/O this week, as Google released a test build of Android 4.1 Jelly Bean to those fortunate enough to attend the blockbuster convention. Officially, it was only released OTA to the GSM Galaxy Nexus phones that Google gave away to attendees on Wednesday, but, as you might expect, the ROM was soon leaked for both GSM and CDMA Galaxy Nexus phones by our clever developer community. I have tested this leaked build on my CDMA Galaxy Nexus over the last 12 hours, and I’m sure you will find the results to be well worth exploring.
I have the need… the need for speed
The first thing I noticed was the pure adrenaline-fueled speed of the build (I used the 2.1 version of JDKoreclipse’s Jelly Bean build, as it was the closest to stock). This was not just the “new car smell” that comes with a fresh install after a clean data wipe, but it was much faster than that. It’s rather difficult, though, to describe the speed in terms of everyday use in a typed article, and the benchmarks I ran (Quadrant, AnTuTu) were poorly equipped to evaluate this build. Jelly Bean tested with lower scores than the average Galaxy Nexus on these benchmarks, but the boost in speed is unmistakable in daily use. Our own Mike Lewis did an outstanding article explaining the speed improvements here. Also, Android Authority has an excellent video review to give you an idea of how fast Jelly Bean is.
Jelly Bean UI Features: (1) Setup screen, (2) Complete Action Using dialog, (3) Hide Keyboard Key
A New Notification Panel
Another new feature in Jelly Bean is the revamped notification bar, including a new clock, a native weather notification panel (even if you don’t have a weather app installed), and a new icon for clearing all notifications. Also, new Gmail messages appear in the notification panel with a short message preview.
Jelly Bean Notification Panel (1) Clock, buttons, Gmail message preview, (2) Weather panel
Perhaps the most outstanding new feature of Jelly Bean is the Google Now feature. Google Now is like a personal assistant, showing you cards with your most important information, where implemented and available:
- Your next appointment
- Local weather conditions
- Local traffic conditions for your commute
- Public transit schedules from your location
- Flight schedules from your location
- Local attractions, including the ability to make reservations and even view dining menus
- Scores from local sporting events
- Translations and currency conversions when traveling
Google Now: Places and Weather cards
Most of these features were not fully implemented on my phone, but I did get cards for local weather, traffic conditions, my appointments, and public transit from my location. You can also perform searches from the Google Now view, including voice searches…
Move Over Siri
Google’s voice search feature has been updated for Jelly Bean, and functions in a manner similar to Siri (along with inaccuracies comparable to Siri’s). To test this feature, I swiped upwards on the lock screen, which pulled up Google Now. Then I said “Google” to activate the voice search, and said “pizza.” Immediately, a list of nearby pizza restaurants appeared, with their locations pinned to a map. Saying “Google call pizza” (pausing briefly after saying “Google”) brought up a list of pizza restaurants I already had in my phone book.
Google Voice Search results: (1) “pizza,” (2) “call pizza”
Here’s where Google’s voice search differs from Siri: not only does Google not yet talk back, but the search results are also not as limited as Siri’s. For example, when I did a search for “angry birds,” a window appeared showing web results, but with a pane on the bottom which allows you to swipe to the following additional categories:
- Places (including mobile phone stores and gift shops where you can get Angry Birds paraphernalia)
- Shopping (including nearby and online stores)
- Discussions (forums)
- and, most importantly, my phone (links to the app and to an Angry Birds walk-through site I had bookmarked months ago)
Google Voice Search Results for “angry birds” by category
Google has also updated the Android keyboard in Jelly Bean, equipping it with word predictions based on common phrases, along the vein of SwiftKey. During my testing, I found that, while the new functionality certainly is a boon to those who are used to using the stock keyboard, it has a long way to go to catch up to the level of SwiftKey.
New and Improved Google Apps
- Play Store
- Another feature of Jelly Bean is a revamped Play Store, in which TV shows and magazines join the books, movies, music and apps from the previous version. It should be noted that the Play Store will likely undergo a further revision prior to the final release of Jelly Bean.
Google Play Store (1) home screen, (2) TV Shows, (3) app icon appears in search results
- The YouTube app has been updated to include a UI overhaul, which puts your most recently updated channel feed front and center. You can swipe to the right to uncover your account, other channels you’re subscribed to, and the following categories:
YouTube (1) Channel Feed, (2) Account/Subscribed Channels, (3) Categories
- Maps has been updated to include an offline feature that allows you to select an area you wish to store for offline reading. It should be noted that search, layers, navigation, and places are disabled in offline mode.
Google Maps (1) select map area to view offline, (2) offline map view
- Other Apps
- Google+, Navigation, Earth, Play Music, Currents, and Drive have also received UI updates, with Drive also allowing you to upload any file type to your account. Also inlcuded in Jelly Bean is a neat “Local” app with convenient links to nearby places and recommendations.
Other Google Apps: (1) Currents, (2) Earth, (3) Google+, (4) Local, (5) Navigation
After putting Jelly Bean through its paces, I can confidently say that it is a significant upgrade over Ice Cream Sandwich, even if it only warrants a decimal point in the version number. The new features are compelling, though you can now get many of these in ICS as well, but even more compelling is the huge boost in speed. I highly recommend trying out this new release, if you happen to have a rooted Galaxy Nexus. A quick browse through the Rootzwiki forums will also reveal several custom builds that have already cropped up, so be sure to check them out as well.
Editor’s Addendum: While preparing this article for publishing, I took a phone call from RootzWiki admins b16 and birdman; they were on their way home from Google I/O. As they started driving down the interstate, birdman’s Galaxy Nexus notified him – without intervention and without a request – of his probable arrival time at home based on their current route. His GPS, by the way, was off. Similar stories have started to crop up in the forums. We all knew Jellybean had potential; it looks like we may just be scratching the surface. -AshG]]>