Until recently, applying operating system updates to smartphones and tablets has been a no brainer. But iOS 6 with Apple Maps has given some users pause, particularly if the old OS has no glaring issues. That describes Android Android 4.1, which TabletPCReview praised in comparison to iOS 6, claiming it “offers a clear advantage in two key areas: voice recognition services and maps,” and “offers more features and greater customization.”
To Google’s credit, the search giant has steadily improved Android since hastily launching version 3.0 (Honeycomb) in 2011, making it an OS suitable for both tablets and smartphones. Its latest version is still code-named “Jelly Bean” like its predecessor, version4.1, but Android version 4.2 brings some excellent new features to Google’s mobile operating system, in addition to a general performance boost.
In other words, Google took what was good in 4.1 and made it better in 4.2. Here is the new stuff.
Support for multiple user accounts seems to be the tablet feature du jour. Amazon brought it to the new Kindle Fires earlier this year, and the new NOOK Tablets have something similar with NOOK Profiles. Now, Android has multiple account support. Well, at least Android 4.2 tablets do, as some speculate a Nokia patent is keeping the feature from Android smartphones.
It makes more sense on tablets anyway, as they are more likely than smartphones to be shared by a family. With Jelly Bean 4.2, user accounts are very basic, with one sole account (the “owner”) able to create new accounts and delete old ones. Each account must go through the Google Android setup process and once complete, each can apply its own settings and secure login. Android 4.2 supports up to eight total accounts including the owner, and each has its own apps and media, but “any user can accept updated app permissions on behalf of all users,” according to an Android prompt. Logging in and out of accounts can be done through the lock screen, which is also accessible through each user’s settings drop down.
All told, it’s a useful and welcome Android addition, but one that needs work in regards to security and management. The owner should be able to restrict downloads and media, and have more granular control and access to each account. Google will likely bring about these changes in future Android updates, however. We hope.
There are two new widget enhancements with Android 4.2. The first is the addition of widgets to the lock screen. Lock screen widgets only include a clock, calendar, Gmail (folders, including G Chats), and a Google Play Music song match similar to SoundHound. A tap and unlock will open the tablet up into the respective app. There is room for five widgets, and the music match is ideally suited for smartphones, especially for those situations where you hear a new song on the radio while driving. The lock-screen music match widget is much easier, and less dangerous, to use in that situation than any other app buried on a homescreen or in the app tray.
The other new feature is that widgets will now automatically resize to fit in crowded home screens when moved. Newly-placed widgets brought in from the app tray will not automatically resize however, and some widgets require a minimum amount of space.
Daydream is Google’s answer to the screensaver. It can display gallery images and Google Currents info while the device is idle or charging. In use, it seems to slow charging times and consume battery life, and is a relatively useless, but harmless, addition.
Android has always handled notifications better than iOS, and with Jelly Bean 4.2, users can now expand and manage individual notifications, including those for calls and the calendar. We weren’t able to test call notifications as we tested 4.2 on the Nexus 7 tablet. In regards to the calendar, users can now snooze from the notifications dropdown, or expand meeting notifications into a separate popup box when tapped. Photos and screen grabs can now be shared through the notifications as well. It’s not revolutionary, but it makes the best that much better, and makes iOS notifications look extremely clunky by comparison.
Couple new accessibility features that open up the Android experience for the visually impaired. Users can now magnify any screen, be it the home screen, an app, or on the web, with three taps, and then navigate with two-finger swipes.
More notably, Gesture Mode combines taps and swipes with speech output to make navigation possible for blind users. Following a minor learning curve, it’s an incredibly novel and a surprisingly effective way of using Android Jelly Bean and all its functions.