Review

Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean) review - Android's sweetest flavor yet

When Google officially announced and showcased Android 4.1 Jelly Bean at the I/O conference, it was understood that Google wanted this to be a somewhat minor update to last year’s Android 4.0 (Ice-cream Sandwich) update, so in this review, I’ll just be covering all new features. However, if you want to have an in-sight of what Android currently offers, you should read our Ice-cream Sandwich review then proceed to read this.

How does Jelly Bean look?

The build’s aesthetics generally looks like ICS but with a few tweaks here and there, which is a good thing. The problem that Android had previously was that the UI was and still is inconsistent in some areas. Jelly Bean adapts itself on the dark “Holo” theme, which is the Tron-like blue, black and gradient grey theme you can see in the settings below:

The theme itself is also a part of the open-source project for Android, which basically means that developers can adapt the theme to their apps, which was originally introduced in the ICS source – a good example of a current application that uses this is Boid for Twitter (pictured below).

Boid looks fantastic, and I believe that by Android having an actual theme, it could make applications a little more aesthetically consistent in future. However, I do feel that something like this should have been done a long time ago, but still, it’s better late than never.

Notifications

The notification slider is one of the greater features of this build and it’s easy to use. You can close or remove notifications by swiping left or right on them, and your Gmail notification will show the last few email headers in one notification. The option of collapsing and closing all of the notifications is still present also. I think the only bit of criticism I can give the notification slider is that the colour scheme could match the system theme a little better, because in my opinion, the notification slider looks like it is part of another operating system.

Social integration with Google+

Google announced at its I/O conference that it was pleased with the fact Google+ has been used primarily on mobile so it has enhanced both its Android and iOS app, and also incorporated the ability to share things via the notification slider. For example, if you wanted to share a screenshot from your Android on Google+ or simply give this notification a +1, you can do this all from the notification bar, which does make things easier seeing as having to manually go into your image gallery or the social media application of choice does take a little longer. This simply is a quick method and takes away navigation time, which is always welcomed.

Typography

A new font is present in Jelly Bean and it actually looks cleaner and nicer than the default ICS font. This new font is modern, easy to read and generally blends into the theme and the UI extremely well. The font itself is an improved revamped Roboto font and is used for notifications and demonstrations on the introductory setup page when you first boot your Android 4.1 device. The font was also used for the logo in the unveiling of Jelly Bean.

The performance

I think the majority of Android users are concerned about “Project Butter” and the performance improvements it has to offer and I can honestly say it’s butter better. The Android system now takes into account the device’s CPU, GPU, RAM and battery; and as a result, this allows maximum optimization at no cost of performance or power. For me, the most notable changes were when I purposely swiped slower on my application grid to see if things would judder or lag and it was pretty smooth, whereas on ICS there was noticeable lag – I continued to play with the system and its use in applications and I got the same positive performance and feedback from the system. 

Functionality

The functionality is pretty much like Android 4.0’s, so as a whole, there isn’t a whole lot left to do to improve it. The system multi-tasks extremely well without a loss in performance and the ability to share things on social networks whether you’re on the web or in your gallery was really embraced in Android 4.0. This means that only minor things were tweaked in Android 4.1 such as the ability to view pictures after you take them by swiping left or right, as opposed to clicking the one thumbnail previously available and accessing the gallery from that.

Additionally, Android now lets you sync details with your email account and other accounts from the settings menu, meaning that Google wants you to use cloud storage and services to store and transfer data, and this is really the thing that keeps me tied to Android – I never lose my data.

Google Now and voice searching

Functionality also improves with Google Now integration which is Google’s answer to Apple’s Siri. The idea behind this application is that is uses data entered on Google services and social networks. Google then uses this information to pick out things that you may be interested in and will also give you suggestions of things to do, depending on your location.

Google has powered this service with its new language engine meaning it can point out different words which are spelt the same depending on the context in which it is used. This means words like ‘Worcester’ and ‘Wooster’ will never get confused with each other, which then means results are often proven extremely accurate. I think Google has really innovated and made a service which covers all grounds of accurate voice searching. This is simply one voice searching application worth using.

Android Police had previously posted a voice command demonstration of Google Now which we covered, but it will give you an idea of what Google Now can really do in the video below:

Conclusion

All in all, I’d say Google understands that ICS was its best release yet, both performance wise and visually. The release of Jelly Bean uses the same theme, meaning that it gives developers a lot of room to embrace the system theme for their applications.

The whole idea of Jelly Bean, which you can see throughout the refined UI and performance improvements, is that it is an improved ICS build with an extreme advantage over functionality including the best voice searching we’ve ever witnessed, thanks to Google Now.

However, I and many get the feeling that Google won’t push Jelly bean updates to many devices, which was also a real problem last year when a lot of OEM’s denied pushing ICS builds for their devices – it also explains why HTC, Samsung and Asus were the only three companies named as the ones who will be releasing Jelly Bean updates to their devices at the I/O conference. As a result, I generally feel that Android 4.1 devices will simply be for high-end devices, until I’m proven wrong.

I think that if you’re planning to jump ship to the Android platform from another mobile OS, then you should really invest in an Android 4.1 device – preferably the Galaxy Nexus, Nexus 7 tablet or whatever the next Nexus phone may be. The AOSP version of Android is something me and resident Neowin writer, Tim Schiesser have praised repeatedly in the past, both for its UI and general lightning-fast response to gestures.

Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean) is slick, beautiful, fully-functional and it isn’t the same clunky and ugly OS we saw a few years ago. Android 4.1 screams 'modernity', both visually and with its text and voice search features incorporated within Google Now.

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49 Comments

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My question is: Can this version tether? If not, it is no good to me and any other tethering system will win... I believe Android 2.4+had tethering removed for some reason, I have 4.0 now to try. I see No such settings [rumor is, providers requested to remove tether, Google happily complied.?]

However there are bad points:

The keyboard in messaging now doesn't give you the option of a ? or ! at the end of a word, meaning you have to click another button to access those characters.

I also don't like it how JellyBean downloads itself, then bugs you to install. While in a sense this is great, it's taken up over 100Mb of my 500Mb monthly allowance on 3G

That said, the change in smoothness made a good OS better.

Mr Spoon said,
However there are bad points:

The keyboard in messaging now doesn't give you the option of a ? or ! at the end of a word, meaning you have to click another button to access those characters.

I also don't like it how JellyBean downloads itself, then bugs you to install. While in a sense this is great, it's taken up over 100Mb of my 500Mb monthly allowance on 3G

That said, the change in smoothness made a good OS better.

Huh? On most carriers OS updates do not go against your data limit. Even if it did I'm sure you could get your carrier to credit it back since it was an OS update. Unless you walk around with all wireless turned off or you root (which they frown upon or prohibit in Verizons case) there's no way to stop it.

Now to wait for the Cyanogenmod team to bring it to my phone (GS2) since I know that EVEN if my carrier/manufacturer did bring it it would be destroyed by TouchWiz... Go Cyanogenmod team!

simplezz said,
This is quite a big improvement in my eyes.

Very. Little aesthetic improvement, but huge functionality and system improvement. Great update.

Going by the JB changelog aparently you can also block notifications from any app you want, which would be a nice feature.

Some games like GunBros sometimes show notifications about offers, and while they aren't really annoying (maybe I get one once a month or every two months) being able to block stuff I'm not insterested in is cool.

Jellybean is limited to the galaxy nexus and nexus 7 tablet for now as google has stated, so it prolly will be months to get it officially but i bet there will be a rom poking around somewhere soon

psionicinversion said,
Jellybean is limited to the galaxy nexus and nexus 7 tablet for now as google has stated

Also the Motorola Xoom and the Nexus S.

Jelly Bean (4.1) is definitely a step in the right direction; The only problem I have, which isn't even Google's fault, is that my fairly new phone (Galaxy SII Epic 4G Touch) probably won't get it due to Sprint. Google needs to lay the hammer down on these carriers to help get rid of some of the so-called "fragmentation" that exists.

Sprint, and the rest of the carriers, are the true problems of Android, not the OS itself. Google has built it into such a beauty, and it is as smooth as iOS, and more functional.

EvoFlux said,
Jelly Bean (4.1) is definitely a step in the right direction; The only problem I have, which isn't even Google's fault, is that my fairly new phone (Galaxy SII Epic 4G Touch) probably won't get it due to Sprint. Google needs to lay the hammer down on these carriers to help get rid of some of the so-called "fragmentation" that exists.

Sprint, and the rest of the carriers, are the true problems of Android, not the OS itself. Google has built it into such a beauty, and it is as smooth as iOS, and more functional.

I'd say root it and flash a ROM to get the update when it's available. I never let carriers get in the way of my freedom. My HTC One X was locked to Orange UK, and I refused to let them determine when I get my updates. Just take caution, and know that your warranty will no longer be valid.

Coming from an Omnia 7 with WP7.5, I love my new Galaxy Nexus & my new Nexus 7 (delivered today from PC World UK) is better than I ever thought it would be. I love the new UI that Jelly Bean has. Very smart, seems to have a Tron theme which is cool :-)

WP7 said,
Coming from an Omnia 7 with WP7.5, I love my new Galaxy Nexus & my new Nexus 7 (delivered today from PC World UK) is better than I ever thought it would be. I love the new UI that Jelly Bean has. Very smart, seems to have a Tron theme which is cool :-)

Jelly Bean didn't bring a new UI, ICS did. Jelly Bean is only a refinement.

I just finally got ICS on my Razr Maxx... I can imagin this won't hit it till a year from now lol but what about Flash alternative?

sava700 said,
I just finally got ICS on my Razr Maxx... I can imagin this won't hit it till a year from now lol but what about Flash alternative?

You'l get Jelly Bean sooner than that. But Flash Alternative? Really? Sideload Adobe Flash and move on.

JB is a great improvement over ICS, Been using JB for a while now.

And FYI, it is not up to google to push OS updates to devices. It is up to the manufacturers to do it. Blame Google all you want but the manufacturers cause the delay. Applying their own special software and all the extra testing....would be easier if companies just went with pure google OS and focused more on the hardware aspect.

techbeck said,
JB is a great improvement over ICS, Been using JB for a while now.

And FYI, it is not up to google to push OS updates to devices. It is up to the manufacturers to do it. Blame Google all you want but the manufacturers cause the delay. Applying their own special software and all the extra testing....would be easier if companies just went with pure google OS and focused more on the hardware aspect.

Agreed, and I know it's not up to google to push OS updates to other devices, however, only three OEM's were announced. All of which are primarily launching high-end devices. I do agree with you though, Vanilla-AOSP Android builds are superior and really should be embraced more. I hate clunky OEM skins, TouchWiz is a culprit. Sense 4 isn't as bad, but I'm still a vanilla kind of guy.

neonspark said,
looks a lot like metro....which is not at all unexpected given google can't do an original thing ever.

Get your eyes checked because (fortunately) it doesn't look like metro at all.

ichi said,

Get your eyes checked because (fortunately) it doesn't look like metro at all.


You don't get it. This Microsoft cheerleader liked Android therefore it must be Metro. And she gave Google a back handed compliment in the process because Microsoft is great.

neonspark said,
looks a lot like metro....which is not at all unexpected given google can't do an original thing ever.

What doesn't look like Metro then according to you?

The Android system now takes into account the device's CPU, GPU, RAM and battery; and as a result, this allows maximum optimization at no cost of performance or power

Four CPU cores, 1gb of RAM, and NOW they start adding in features OSes had over 20 years ago.

(Not even dipping into NT, even assembly based 16bit Windows 3.0 managed CPU, RAM, and even GPU with 8514 or ATI compatibles.)

These are some of things people like myself have been vocal about with how Android works, how Dalvik work and why it is a bad OS model.

Back in 2.2 and on 256mb devices, the lack of OS management of processes was painful, with Android literally killing a call or messaging to free up RAM for a background process or docking the phone and the 'dock app' launching.

Today, if the device is memory starved, it will still dump critical processes and apps, although it is a 'bit' smarter about priority, to give the illusion of fluidity. However, this fluidity is not free as it is sucking CPU for a smoother UI at the expense of battery and background processes because the GPU usage is STILL not even close to iOS let alone WP7.

Which the lack of GPU usage is another big technical argument that Google continues to ignore, as it is a major OS design flaw that involves how the Dalvik JVM is duck taped to the kernel and the GPU ignorance of the Linux kernel. Goofy little WP7 is fully GPU accelerated and is doing GP-GPU when browsing, Android can barely get the GPU to take off in a game.


The problem for 4.1, Windows 8 RT and Windows Phone 8 are literally around the corner, and when people see similar configuration devices running significantly faster, they are going to start asking the questions of why is Android slow. (iOS will have some explaining to do as well, but Android it will be in the user's face, and not just Number on the iPad taking 5 minutes to load a spreadsheet.)

thenetavenger said,
However, this fluidity is not free as it is sucking CPU for a smoother UI at the expense of battery and background processes because the GPU usage is STILL not even close to iOS let alone WP7.

Utilizing the GPU actually increases per-process memory usage, although it does take some work off the CPU.

thenetavenger said,
Which the lack of GPU usage is another big technical argument that Google continues to ignore, as it is a major OS design flaw that involves how the Dalvik JVM is duck taped to the kernel and the GPU ignorance of the Linux kernel.

Android has been using the GPU for compositing since the very start. Window transitions, menu transitions, etc. are all hardware accelerated since even before Android 1.0.

While it is true that the contents of the window were drawn using software on the CPU on Android < 3.0, things have now changed. From ICS onwards, the GPU is used by default to draw the contents of windows on all applications targeting API level 14 and above.

It is worthwhile to note that most Android implementations do not use the traditional DRM/KMS GPU interfaces provided by the Linux kernel. Most current SoC GPU drivers expose some sort of private ioctls (i.e. for the command streams), which are used by Android's userspace implementation (libEGL_*.so). Linux is GPU aware, but it is not the kernel's role to utilize the GPU; the kernel's role here is to provide userspace applications with an interface to utilize the GPU, hence "GPU ignorance of the Linux kernel" pretty much doesn't make sense.

thenetavenger said,
Goofy little WP7 is fully GPU accelerated and is doing GP-GPU when browsing, Android can barely get the GPU to take off in a game.

Where did you see that WP7 uses GP-GPU when browsing? I Googled and did not find any information to back this up. Android does use the GPU in all WebViews on Android >= 3.0, and on Samsung devices running Android >= 2.3.

thenetavenger said,

Four CPU cores, 1gb of RAM, and NOW they start adding in features OSes had over 20 years ago.

Only recently have OS's been doing what project butter does (and that's what the article is talking about). That is to say - run a triple buffered UI compositor at a constant 60fps vsynced to the display. "20 Years"? You're in a fantasy land. The reason WP was already doing this is because its UI is rendered by silverlight, which was designed to do all that from the get go. It's all superficial though.

thenetavenger said,

(Not even dipping into NT, even assembly based 16bit Windows 3.0 managed CPU, RAM, and even GPU with 8514 or ATI compatibles.)

I'm sorry to inform you, but Windows wasn't even using a unified compositor until Vista's Aero came out. That's 2006/7 at the earliest. And even then, I doubt it was triple buffered, or even vsynced if the horrid flickering is anything to go by.

thenetavenger said,

These are some of things people like myself have been vocal about with how Android works, how Dalvik work and why it is a bad OS model.

Dalvik is a JIT compiler, it has nothing to do with managing and vsyncing the UI to the display. You seem to be a bit confused by all this. And by the way, WP's dotnet also uses a JIT, so if Android is a bad OS model, then WP must be too.

thenetavenger said,

Back in 2.2 and on 256mb devices, the lack of OS management of processes was painful, with Android literally killing a call or messaging to free up RAM for a background process or docking the phone and the 'dock app' launching.

At least you can run multiple background processes on Android. On Windows Phone, applications that aren't in the foreground are frozen completely. Say goodbye to IRC or network connections.

thenetavenger said,

However, this fluidity is not free as it is sucking CPU for a smoother UI at the expense of battery and background processes because the GPU usage is STILL not even close to iOS let alone WP7.

You really have no clue what you are talking about do you? The GPU is doing all the rendering, that's how it's running at a constant 60fps and vsynced to the display. The battery life improves for exactly this reason. The GPU is in a much better position to do that kind of thing for less.

thenetavenger said,

Which the lack of GPU usage is another big technical argument that Google continues to ignore, as it is a major OS design flaw that involves how the Dalvik JVM is duck taped to the kernel and the GPU ignorance of the Linux kernel. Goofy little WP7 is fully GPU accelerated and is doing GP-GPU when browsing, Android can barely get the GPU to take off in a game.

Do you ever read back what you write? Project Butter is running the UI at a constant fps vsync. That's exactly what Sliverlight does. That's the only reason you get a smooth experience. There's no drop is frame rate throughout the UI. It has nothing to do with CE, NT, or WP, it's all down to silverlight. Flash does the same thing.

thenetavenger said,

The problem for 4.1, Windows 8 RT and Windows Phone 8 are literally around the corner, and when people see similar configuration devices running significantly faster, they are going to start asking the questions of why is Android slow. (iOS will have some explaining to do as well, but Android it will be in the user's face, and not just Number on the iPad taking 5 minutes to load a spreadsheet.)

You live in a fantasy world:
1. Android JB, Nexus 7, etc are out now. Windows 8, RT, etc are all months away.
2. Android devices run much faster than WP right now. Look at any benchmark. IE is slow, and doesn't render websites properly on WP.
3. The Nexus 7 is selling like hotcakes. Who's going to buy Windows RT when it has no applications? Even Windows 8 x86 is going to struggle to sell with the universally reviled Metro interface.

But good look with that

simplezz said,

2. Android devices run much faster than WP right now. Look at any benchmark. IE is slow, and doesn't render websites properly on WP.

You are joking right, Even my Nokia 603, which is symbian belle phone runs faster than my brother's Ace2. Having friends with iPhone, android and WP7, also owning Symbian device myself, i can say android is the most laggy. WP7 doesnt have some features i use everyday, but i still love the fluidity and lagless experience of WP7.

simrat said,

You are joking right, Even my Nokia 603, which is symbian belle phone runs faster than my brother's Ace2. Having friends with iPhone, android and WP7, also owning Symbian device myself, i can say android is the most laggy. WP7 doesnt have some features i use everyday, but i still love the fluidity and lagless experience of WP7.

So you pick a low-end phone to use in a comparison? Amazing. Now what do you mean by 'faster'? Also, he was talking about the browsers. IE on WP. Are you sating the web browser is faster on your Nokia? Could that be due to your network? What method did you use to test this? Just opening the browser and counting 1.. 2.. 3.. doesn't suffice.

You must be the one joking. Also if that's the only negative thing you can say about his entire post you need to get a life and stop being butt hurt.

KCRic said,
So you pick a low-end phone to use in a comparison? Amazing. Now what do you mean by 'faster'? Also, he was talking about the browsers. IE on WP. Are you sating the web browser is faster on your Nokia? Could that be due to your network? What method did you use to test this? Just opening the browser and counting 1.. 2.. 3.. doesn't suffice.

You must be the one joking. Also if that's the only negative thing you can say about his entire post you need to get a life and stop being butt hurt.

Calm down mr. butthurt.
If ACE 2 is low end phone than bald is hair color.

let me check the specs:

ACE 2 = Dual core processor, with dedicated GPU, and 786 RAM = $363
Nokia 603 = Single core processor, No dedicated GPU and 512 RAM = $200

so whos phone is low end device? Nokia 603 still beats android with low specs, and as i can see you cant read because of blind love for android, lemme quote his line again for you:

"Android devices run much faster than WP right now."

Android without lag is a joke, thats why there is project butter. Next time get your facts right before jumping on someone.

simrat said,
Looks sweet, unless companies ruin the UI with bloat and fugly shells.

The beauty of Android is that if you don't like the default shell, you can replace it. There are plenty of alternative launchers on the market. If iPhone or WP users don't like their shells... too bad.

Asmodai said,

The beauty of Android is that if you don't like the default shell, you can replace it. There are plenty of alternative launchers on the market. If iPhone or WP users don't like their shells... too bad.

If I didn't like Windows Phone I wouldn't have bought a phone running it...

.Neo said,

If I didn't like Windows Phone I wouldn't have bought a phone running it...

They aren't saying they don't like Android phones or the Android system... They are saying that companies will likely ruin it by adding their own some bloated software on to the original system including an ugly shell- not that they don't like the Android system or interface itself... But if you buy something and realize you don't like the interface that the phone company designed specifically for that phone, you have the option to change it if you would like.

great news, another OS from Android that wont be coming to my phone (Bionic). At this point I will just be happy if Verizon can finally push ICS.

jerzdawg said,
great news, another OS from Android that wont be coming to my phone (Bionic). At this point I will just be happy if Verizon can finally push ICS.

I have a Droid 4 and both of our phones will be getting ICS is the near future (I believe Motorola said Q3 which means by the end of Sept.) We're supposed to get upgrades for 18 months from the release of the phone and since the Bionic was released in Sept. of 2011 that means you should get Jelly Bean (probably sometime next year) but whatever is launched next year (4.2?) you will not. The jump from Gingerbread to Ice Cream Sandwich was HUGE and it's taking longer than normal to update devices but ICS->Jelly Bean is not such a big jump.

jerzdawg said,
great news, another OS from Android that wont be coming to my phone (Bionic). At this point I will just be happy if Verizon can finally push ICS.

If you are that impatient waiting for ICS, why don't you flash an ICS rom? That's the whole point of Android.

simplezz said,

If you are that impatient waiting for ICS, why don't you flash an ICS rom? That's the whole point of Android.

Not all phone have 100% working ICS rom yet. Desire HD is one of them. No camera, some bug with bluetooth... Try finding a 100% working sense rom, XDA doesn't have any and most people have move out/waiting for official code from htc to be release. Oh yeah, and the fact that HTC still haven't push ICS officialy is really disgusting. They should be force to release new OS at most 1 month after the release, specially in phone that still new (in canada, not much phone get over here and until 2 weeks ago, only the Galaxy S2 was a new phone in Telus Lineup. No once S/V/X downgraded version or other phone).

Most have done so... Apart from HTC as far as I can tell. I mean Moto's ICS update sticks relatively true to ICS.

RedFlow said,
Most have done so... Apart from HTC as far as I can tell. I mean Moto's ICS update sticks relatively true to ICS.

Samsung's TouchWiz is worse though IMO. Sense actually isn't bad when compared to that. I have serious hatred for TouchWiz, though.

Zeikku said,

Samsung's TouchWiz is worse though IMO. Sense actually isn't bad when compared to that. I have serious hatred for TouchWiz, though.

I agree TouchWiz is by far the worst manufacturer skin. It's just far too bloated. Sense 1.x and 4.x are by far the best Sense skins, especially Sense 1.x. It improved the GUI back when stock Android was pretty horrific. Android 4.x interface is very nice. I prefer the stock Android interface over the manufacturer GUI's.

Anyways, Jelly Bean is by far the best Android release yet. I thought ICS was pretty damn good, but JB is much better. It's faster, the notifications are better, the voice search is amazing, Google now/Currents are nice features. Just all around better

tsupersonic said,
I agree TouchWiz is by far the worst manufacturer skin. It's just far too bloated. Sense 1.x and 4.x are by far the best Sense skins, especially Sense 1.x. It improved the GUI back when stock Android was pretty horrific. Android 4.x interface is very nice. I prefer the stock Android interface over the manufacturer GUI's.

Anyways, Jelly Bean is by far the best Android release yet. I thought ICS was pretty damn good, but JB is much better. It's faster, the notifications are better, the voice search is amazing, Google now/Currents are nice features. Just all around better

Agreed on all points. I really hope Android keeps these aesthetics. Words cannot describe how hard it was to flaw the OS. The only real flaws mentioned is the notification color scheme being inconsistent annd the fact only three OEM's were announced to be pushing Jelly Bean OTA's - all of which have superphones and tablets out - which indicates that primarily, high-end devices will get the update.

Other than that it's fantastic. I had to give the Galaxy Nexus back though, now working on a community-built HTC One X build which is partially working .

Zeikku said,

Samsung's TouchWiz is worse though IMO. Sense actually isn't bad when compared to that. I have serious hatred for TouchWiz, though.

Amen to that.

.Neo said,
Would be nice if more manufactures would just stick with the default UI.

No. It wouldn't make it different than Windows Phone. However I would love to see at least one device released each year that is completely stock from all three major manufacturers.