Visual tour: Google's Ice Cream Sandwich -- a new era for Android

From power to polish, Google's Ice Cream Sandwich delivers a massive burst of energy to the Android platform. Here's a close-up look at many of its new features.

Android Ice Cream Sandwich: Main screen

Android 4.0, also known as Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS), marks the start of a new era for Google's mobile platform. Nearly every facet of the OS has been made over, and the very core of the Android user experience has been completely reimagined. Starting with the design: Ice Cream Sandwich replaces the harsh green and black colors of yore with a soft blue-and-gray-based scheme. 

Android Ice Cream Sandwich: Universal search field

Android's universal search field simultaneously covers the Web and most content on your phone. Tapping the microphone at right end of the box brings up Google's Voice Actions utility, which allows you to conduct a Web search, place a phone call, send a text or email, or get driving directions by speaking into your device.

Android Ice Cream Sandwich: Action bar

With ICE, you don't need physical buttons; instead, you get a trio of virtual buttons at the bottom of the display: one to go back a step, one to return to your home screen, and one to multitask, or toggle among recently used applications. The action bar on top changes depending on what you need to do -- for example, when you open Google Voice, the action bar gives you one icon to compose a new text, one to refresh your inbox, and one that holds an overflow list of less commonly used functions. 

Android Ice Cream Sandwich: Action bar changes

When you're viewing an actual message in Google Voice, the action bar changes to give you options to call the person from your conversation or compose a new message to someone else. 

Android Ice Cream Sandwich: Overflow menu

Ice Cream Sandwich lacks a certain level of consistency with the placement of some key functions. Search, for example, is sometimes an icon in the action bar, and other times an option in the on-screen overflow menu (as is the case in Google Voice). On most apps that have been optimized for ICS, the overflow menu lives within the action bar at the top. But on older apps such as this one, it appears squished in alongside the main navigation icons at the bottom. 

Android Ice Cream Sandwich: New app drawer

Ice Cream Sandwich introduces a newly designed app drawer that puts all of your installed applications and widgets in a single centralized place. The drawer swipes horizontally, with a pleasant scroll-and-fade animation effect as you move from one screen to another. An icon at the top of the drawer gives you direct access to the Android Market as well.

Android Ice Cream Sandwich: Placing shortcuts and widgets

With ICS, you simply touch and hold any app shortcut or widget in the app drawer, and the system automatically shows you a preview of all five home screen panels. You can then drag and drop the item anywhere you want. 

Android Ice Cream Sandwich: Photo gallery widget

CS allows you to interact with home screen widgets by scrolling or flipping without having to enter the actual apps. For example, the Photo Gallery widget lets you flip through thumbnails of images on your phone.

Android Ice Cream Sandwich - Home screen folders

Home screen folders get a makeover with ICS, too, with a fresh new look and highly simplified setup. Here is a closed folder... 

Android Ice Cream Sandwich - Open folder

...and here is an open folder.  Creating a folder is now as easy as dragging one app on top of another; you can add or remove more apps by dragging and dropping, and you can change the folder's name by touching it.

Android Ice Cream Sandwich - Notification bar

Ice Cream Sandwich gets a brand new notification bar that houses icons and information about incoming messages and alerts. The notifications now support a new system-wide swiping gesture that allows you to dismiss any individual item by flicking it left or right. This is a welcome touch that gives you greater control over what you see.

Android Ice Cream Sandwich - Multitasking interface

Tapping the new "recent apps" button brings up a scrollable list of all the apps and services you've recently opened on your phone, showing each app's name, icon and a thumbnail of its most recent state. As with the new notifications area, you can tap any item to activate it or flick to dismiss it.

Android Ice Cream Sandwich - Keyboard

Compared to past Android releases, the ICS keyboard is far better at predicting and correcting text, which means you can type quickly and/or sloppily and it'll almost always figure out what you're trying to say. The new keyboard has a few nice bells and whistles, too, like built-in spell checking and a tremendously improved cut and paste system. 

Android Ice Cream Sandwich - Correcting text

The familiar microphone icon allows you to dictate text anywhere in the system, as it always has -- but now, text is transcribed continuously. If the voice input mishears a word or two, error correction is quite easy: The system automatically underlines any words it thinks might be iffy, and then you just tap a word to see a list of likely alternatives and pick a replacement.

Android Ice Cream Sandwich - Lock screen features

The lock screen offers a lot more functionality now, catching up with options that some third-party utilities have previously offered. If you don't set any security options, the default ICS lock screen uses a circular unlock gesture similar to what's seen in Honeycomb. 

Android Ice Cream Sandwich - Apps from a locked screen

For some functions, you don't have to unlock your phone. For example, you can now access and interact with notifications, see album cover art and music playback controls, and jump directly to your camera without ever having to go to the home screen.

Android Ice Cream Sandwich - Calls from a locked screen

When your phone is locked and you receive a call, the lock screen features a new text-and-reject feature that simultaneously declines the call and sends a message to the person explaining why you can't talk. 


Android Ice Cream Sandwich - Camera app

The Camera app's interface boasts some significant improvements. One of the high points is the newly implemented support for zero shutter lag. That means you can snap one photo after another in rapid succession without ever having to stop or wait. It's actually a little strange at first -- and can make it somewhat challenging to get your image focused, if you're moving really fast -- but it's a fantastic feature that makes photo-capturing easier than ever.

Android Ice Cream Sandwich - Photo editing options

The photo editing options are quite robust, with commands for cropping, sharpening, removing red eye, modifying lighting and making a variety of color adjustments. The photo editor can apply quite numerous special effects, too, if you're into that sort of thing.