I have just uploaded updates to both my Reader Widgets (Pro and Free) and SMS Bot Widget apps in the Google Play Store. There was a bug in Android 4.2 that prevented the widgets in both apps from being added to the home screen. I have also added lock screen support for Android 4.2 and made the medium Reader Widget resizeable in Android 3.1+.
Ice Cream Sandwich is the first version of Android for both tablets and phones. At the time of writing the only device running it is the Galaxy Nexus. Some of the concepts brought over from Honeycomb actually work better on the smaller screen. Using a Honeycomb tablet often means going from corner to corner to find the desired button. This is less of a problem on a phone.
ICS is certainly speedy on the Galaxy Nexus. Several factors contribute to this impression: tricks like no “bounce-back” effect when moving between the five home screens (unlike Gingerbread), hardware acceleration in all stock apps and the Galaxy Nexus TI OMAP 4460 dual core chipset. It will be interesting to see how much ICS speeds up the Nexus S.
The browser is much faster compared with previous Android phones. In fact it maybe a little too fast as some CSS animations run too quickly. When scrolling around a large page quickly the text seems to pixellate a little. Thanks to the 720p screen and the new Roboto font pages are just about readable when fully zoomed out. Unfortunately, there’s no Adobe Flash available yet. It has been promised before the end of 2011 but time is running out.
All of the built in applications have been given a much needed lick of paint. They have a more consistent look and feel now.
Matias Duarte, Director of Android User Experience, has expressed dislike for tromploy or skeuomorphic design and wants to take Android in a more virtual or digital direction. However, he has also said that some Android 4.0 stock apps have a magazine like quality which is something of a contradiction given that a magazine is a physical object. It’s hard to get away from concepts grounded in the real world even when designing a touch interface in pure software.
Horizontal swipes are now the dominant gesture for navigating and performing actions. For example, swiping on a message in the Gmail app navigates to the next or previous message negating the need for on screen buttons. This leaves more room for the message content and other controls. The swipe gesture can also be used dismiss notifications, close browser tabs, remove apps from the multitasking list and navigating between screens in Google+. This makes operations tactile and satisfying.
The holographic theme has been toned down a bit from Honeycomb. The simple, clean style without gradients or chrome has been carried over. This keeps visual noise to a minimum.
Some changes that might take a bit of getting used to are: the long press action to add home screen widgets now only changes the wallpaper (you have to use the app draw instead), to delete widgets and shortcuts you have to drag to the top instead of bottom and the app draw now scrolls horizontally instead of vertically.
The Galaxy Nexus resurrects the notification LED just below the screen. Strangely there is no granular control over the notification LED in the operating system. For example, I would like to be able to disable it for everything but calls and SMS messages but there is only one tick box under settings to enable or disable it. There are apps in the Android Market that provide this control but it should really be built in.
Home screen folders are now much more intuitive as one icon can just be dragged to another instead of having to long press, create a folder and then move shortcuts into it. Unfortunately, there is a limit of 16 shortcuts per folder as they don’t scroll. It would be great if this was fixed in a future version as well as the addition of widget support. The customisable dock at the bottom of the home screen supports up to four icons or folders but it would be even better if it supported 1×1 widgets.
The more advanced scrolling widgets have been carried over from Honeycomb and the XL one in Reader Widgets works well.
Face unlock is a bit of gimmick. It works most of the time (even when wearing a hoody or headphones it seems). However, it is very useful if you only have one hand free and need to quickly unlock the screen to say, pause audio playback. The trick seems to be getting the angle of the camera correct. I’m leaving it switched on for now, mostly for showing off.
In Honeycomb Android started to move away from the menu button that has been present since the beginning. This means all of an app’s buttons have to be present on the screen (or at least in a visible drop down menu) like iOS in something like an ActionBar. On a phone this has the disadvantage of taking up precious screen space, leaving less room for content. However, some apps like the browser get around this by hiding its address/action bar once a page has loaded. A small swipe down from the top makes it reappear.
“Legacy” apps built against pre-Honeycomb SDKs still show the menu button as three dots to the right of the multitasking key. If you build against Honeycomb or newer then the menu button will never appear even if a menu has been built into the app. This forces developers down the ActionBar route which they might not be ready for yet.This might be a reason why so few Honeycomb optimised apps have appeared.
At this point we are half way between migrating from the menu button and the ActionBar so sometimes you have a menu accessible on the bottom right and sometimes on the top right which could be an annoying inconsistency for some. The advantage of the ActionBar approach is nothing is hidden which should improve useability. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens to the menu button on old devices when they get updated to ICS.
I’m going to have to make some decisions about Paperless List which uses a hybrid ActionBar and menu approach.
There has already been a firmware update issued for the Galaxy Nexus to fix the infamous volume bug. It doesn’t seem to fix or change anything else. I wish they would release full change logs for each update.
Google has spent an enormous amount of effort to get Android to this point. It’s consistent, clean and the most user friendly it has ever been. It’s depressing that most Android users won’t get to see it in it’s purest form due to manufacturer skins. Maybe ICS is good enough to make manufacturers think again about using skins or at least tone them down and restrict their customisations to additional apps.
I am looking forward to getting ICS on my Motorola Xoom (whenever that maybe). Going back to using Honeycomb on it has me swiping on things and wondering why nothing happens.
I have had a Galaxy Nexus for just over a week now so I thought I’d post some thoughts on the hardware. It’s a big phone but thanks to the collection of curves and bevels that make up its chassis it’s comfortable to hold. The folds on the side emphasize the subtle curve of the screen in a trick reminiscent of car design. It only weighs 135g which may irk some people but it adds to that comfortable feel. The textured back is not really rough to the touch and it’s better than having glossy plastic which attracts fingerprints. The bezel is a lot smaller than most phones thanks to the absence of buttons on the front. It really is almost all screen.
And what a screen. 1280×720 pixels, bright and colourful, this is the screen many people have been waiting for. Yes, it’s pentile but the pixel density is so high it doesn’t matter. Here’s how to make someone say “Wow!” in one easy step: show them a 720p MP4 trailer on the Galaxy Nexus. There are some AMOLED artifacts such as pure white screens looking slightly grainy like paper, if you look closely enough. These are very minor though. As always with AMOLED, black is very dark and blends with the bezel. Text is very crisp and readable.
The camera is a bit of a weak point. Megapixels shouldn’t matter but low light performance does and it’s a let down here. However, it is a big improvement over the Nexus S because of the speed and features included. The 1080p and 720p video options are nice to have but will eat up the 16Gb of internal storage pretty quickly. The live video effects are great for showing off but are a bit of a gimmick.
The speed of the network connections are a real plus point. The fastest speed I have recorded on HSPA+ so far is 6.5Mbps. With dual band Wi-fi connected to my wireless ‘N’ router I get 65Mbps.
A word on battery life: it’s surprisingly good and slightly better than Nexus S. After 10hours 41 minutes with moderate use (some Wi-fi, browsing, listening to podcasts, Google Maps with latitude and GPS on, some calls) I had 46% left.
A possible negative is that there’s no support for USB mass storage when connected to a PC. Instead there’s MTP which means the memory can be access from the phone and PC simultaneously. This is good because with mass storage apps with data on the /sdcard partition would stop working. However, MTP seems to be unreliable as it sometimes requires the phone to be rebooted to get working. This is like the MHL adapter I tried for HDMI output. Unfortunately, USB game controllers, keyboards and mice don’t seem to work yet. Hopefully these issues will be fixed with a firmware update.
I will talk about Android 4.0, Ice Cream Sandwich in another post.
Just a quick bug fix release this time. The new XL widget would sometimes display no items when some were available.
I have just uploaded Reader Widgets Pro and Free V2.30 to the Market. I am pleased to announce it now includes an extra large widget for Honeycomb tablets. This XL widget is resizable and displays headlines along with the article time. They are ordered with the most recent headline first and tapping on launches a new browser tab for that article:
Here’s the full change log for V2.30:
- Resizable XL widget for Honeycomb tablets added
- Second configuration screen sped up
- Bug fix: Out of memory force close error on configuration screens
- Widget previews for Honeycomb tablets added
- Honeycomb hardware acceleration enabled
I managed to create a single apk file for this version that hides the XL widget on non-Honeycomb devices. It took me a while to achieve this as disabling/enabling the widget in code didn’t seem to work consistently. Luckily the versioning of resource folders in Android provided a solution which can be seen on the last post in this stack overflow thread.
I have just uploaded the latest version of Reader Widgets Pro and Free to the Android Market. Here’s the change log:
- Sped things up
- Force close fixes
- Dialogue appearance made Gingerbready
- Reduced app size
- Updates stopping on Gingerbread devices fixed
- Option to launch Google Listen
I find the option to launch Google Listen particularly useful as I can have a secondary widget that just tells me how many unread items that are in the label “Listen Subscriptions”. If this changes I can launch straight into Listen and start downloading new podcasts.
Many of the reviews for the Nexus S say that it is not as big a leap forward as the Nexus One. So why buy one if you already have a Nexus One? Whilst it will get Gingerbread eventually the Nexus One still has issues that can’t be fixed in software, namely:
- The screen is not a proper multitouch one. For example the rotate gesture doesn’t work in Google Maps 5.0.
- It has a tiny amount of app storage (187Mb once upgraded to stock FRG83D build). Whilst Froyo enabled app installation on SD cards, many apps have not been updated to support it. Also copy protected apps can’t be moved from internal storage.
- The battery is only 1400mAh.
- The screen is not very readable in direct sunlight.
- Wi-fi reconnection after sleep sometimes fails (I have to disable and re-enable Wi-fi to reconnect).
- Poor alignment of capacitive buttons.
The Nexus S doesn’t have these issues. It’s also blisteringly fast. How much of this is down to Gingerbread and how much is down to the Samsung Hummingbird CPU is hard to tell. Games seem to be slightly smoother with less intermittent stuttering. The concurrent garbage collection in Gingerbread probably helps with this.
Where it falls down slightly is in the industrial design. Whilst it is much better than it looks in pictures it’s still 100% plastic. Despite this it does feel solid and fits nicely in the hand. I think it is easier to hold onto the Nexus One which was sometimes akin to a bar of soap. The glossy, all black exterior is nice to look at, especially when the screen is off. The capacitive buttons switch off too which means the front looks like a homogeneous black surface. It fits nicely with darker theme of Gingerbread. The curve of the screen is subtle but handy for keeping screen off a flat surface when face down or for holding against your head during phone.
The cons are:
- Lack of a trackball. It’s not that much of an issue thanks to the new Gingerbread text selection features.
- Lack of an SD card slot. This is not a massive problem for me as I only had an 8Gb one in my Nexus One so the 15Gb “USB storage” is plenty.
- No HD video. Hopefully this will be fixed in a hack or ROM update. I don’t shoot a huge amount of video anyway.
- No notification or charging LEDs. This actually might be a pro because the trackball light on my Nexus One would sometimes wake me up at night.
I have had no GPS lock issues that some people have reported. I have not had the opportunity to test the NFC capabilities as there is nothing to test it with yet.
Altogether I am very happy with the phone. As an Android developer it is helpful to have the latest software and hardware to test with. It has already meant that I could fix some bugs in my widget apps.
The general consensus seems to be that it is the best Android phone available and I would agree with that. However, it leaves me wandering whether the pace of innovation is slowing in Android and mobile devices. 2010 was an amazing year in mobile. Perhaps 2011 will be more evolutionary rather than revolutionary.
I have just uploaded a new version of Reader Widgets Pro and Free to the Android Market. The main change is to the WebView authorization process. Google recently change the Reader authorization method for the API. However, it turns out this also affected the Reader mobile site so that automatic login stopped working in the WebView of my widgets. I have tried to find a way to get it working again but have had no success. I have asked Google for help but have yet to receive a response. So instead of getting automatic authorization to work again I decided to do the next best thing and make sure once the WebView is signed in, it stays signed in. This involves using Android’s built in WebView cookie synchronization.
I also fixed a rare force close that occurs when network coverage is poor.
Yesterday I received a free Nexus One from Google as part of their Android Developer Seeding Program. Reader Widget Free qualified for this so I just wanted to say a big thank you to everyone who downloaded, rated and provided feedback on it. It has been downloaded over 22000 times. Also thanks to those who bought the Pro version too and my other app, SMS Bot Widget. Of course a massive thank you must go out to Google for supporting Android developers like myself.
I first registered this domain on 9th April 2009 so this blog is just over a year old. I have enjoyed running it and developing it’s associated applications immensely. They are some things I have lined up which should make ubikapps.net’s second year even better than the first!