Android Jelly Bean, or Android 4.1 as it’s also known, is the latest version of Google’s mobile operating system for smartphones and tablets. It’s stuffed full of new features, including spruced up notifications for all your apps and a new intelligent search function, Google Now. Perhaps most importantly, it’s also much speedier than ever before, thanks to some under the bonnet tweaks that Google calls “Project Butter”.
At a glance, there are no visual changes to the homescreen from 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich in Android Jelly Bean 4.1, but dig a little deeper and you’ll soon see the changes. For one, everything is faster: thanks to the graphical tweaks, you won’t ever be left waiting for the homescreen to populate or animations to stutter their way to completion. It’s less obvious on faster new phones and tablets, but turns older devices such as the 2010 Google Nexus S into a brand new phone.
The new pull down notification tray is the most immediately useful new feature: notifications can now be expanded with a pinch, so you can see your full inbox, a picture, or even a whole text message. It’s incredibly convenient and leaps ahead of the Notification Centre on the iPhone.
There are lots more smaller changes for the better too: voice dictation now works without an internet connection, the calendar pops up with intelligent reminders of when to leave for events based on public transport times, and the Face Unlock feature can even be set to require a blink - no fooling it with a photograph of your face.
Google Now, Google’s much hyped intelligent assistant, which prompts you with public transport cards, sports scores and other info it thinks you’re interested in, is a bold idea. But it doesn’t actually work very well right now: in a busy city, you’re simply bombarded with cards telling you you’re near a bus stop, as well as what the weather is like right now, which is usually easier to find simply by looking up at the sky.
Google’s new keyboard meanwhile has had some tweaks: it’s now much better at next word prediction, but that comes at the cost of hotkeys for punctuation. Now, whenever you want to end a sentence with a question mark or an exclamation mark, you’re several button presses away: for grammar fiends who enjoy properly formatted messaging, it’s a poor compromise.
The bottom line
Make no bones about it, Android truly has come of age. It’s now every bit as beautiful as Apple’s iOS on the iPhone and iPad and every bit as easy to use. And perhaps for the first time, that’s true on Android tablets as well as Android phones. The only problem Google now has is to get it out there: phone manufacturers can take an age to update even their flagship models, and it could be sometime before the likes of the HTC One X and Samsung Galaxy S3 get their taste of Android Jelly Bean.