Saturday morning

This nice Saturday morning, I was wondering is there anything new on when the Android OS 4.0 dubbed (IMHO quite weirdly) Ice Cream Sandwich is going to be available for my lovely Samsung Galaxy S2 (O2 UK); and… I got pretty surprised seeing it’s here already for few days in fact! Make a note that the update (Android 4.0.3) is not yet available for all UK carriers, only Three and O2. Other carries work hard to get it released soon. Users in Korea, Poland, Sweden, and Hungary can now upgrade as well, others, still have to wait, which includes US. Of course, there are ways to upgrade any Samsung Galaxy S2 right now but I would not recommend it, it may simply not work after this with your particular carrier. To get your O2 phone updated, all you need is a computer and Samsung Kies application and a USB cable. Simply install Kies, run it and plug your Samsung phone to the PC. Kies tells you there is an update for you, accept it and off you go… installation in progress. The upgrade only takes a short while. For a starter, I was nicely surprised with Kies, while it looked bad and felt slow in a past, it now looks nice and works much better. It looks quite similar to other software…yes, you guessed it, iTunes.

So, is the new Ice Cream a sweet thing? Well, let’s see. For sure, it is different! It looks different, acts different, feels different, tastes different, just kidding, I licked my screen and tastes plasticy as usual 😉 I am not going to talk about all the changes as this is a mini review (well, supposed to be originally…) , but will certainly say about most noticeable new things. On a minus, with the update I lost my entire home screens setup and other little settings. Of course, all the installed applications and other important data (i.e. Address book) are still in place.

Screen Lock

As you probably know already, you can now unlock the phone with your face. It works well but it offers low security. I’ve done quick test by making a photo of my head using my computer webcam, and by pointing the phone’s front camera into the photo of my face on LCD screen, got the handset unlocked, no problem.   

The home screen

The icons are slightly changed, would say look much hi-res, but not prettier, rather more functional. The WIFI icon shows now activity of download and upload (rather annoyingly, do I really need to know is there any data exchange right now?). Time font seems slightly bigger, or more precisely, taller.   

Settings screens

These look more futuristic and you get a little more functions to play with now. The Developer options menu looks changed a lot; it gives a lot more for… developers testing their application, no use for standard users though. This actually means that the new OS is more developer friendly, so we should see a new wave of really good apps now coming on this platform.   

New/improved built-in applications

There seems to be small visual or functional tweaks to all existing application. I will mention few of these and some new ones here.   Data usage application is a brand new and very handy application. If you on anything but unlimited data access plan, this will help you greatly to control your data “spending”. The application is colourful and easy to use.

Voice command and voice talk

are well improved. You get the continuous voice recognition so you no longer need to speak into your phone in phrases, pausing to get one word or phrase recognized before proceeding to the next. Pausing will not make the OS recognize what you say after the pause as a different chunk of input. The text dictation supports now punctuation as well. Voice command/talk doesn’t support the natural speaking (i.e. Where is Bob?) as Siri on iPhones (not yet :P) but there are apps making it more Siri-like. Speaktoit Assistant would be a good example and it’s free too. You also get an open microphone experience now which means you can say “Hi Galaxy” to your phone to enable voice commands on Voice Talk rather than tap on a button, something which you don’t even get with Siri apparently. This only works from inside the app though, which makes sense, this function drains your battery a lot as has to listen to everything all the time. A great alternative to this to enable listening mode is pushing a Home button twice from anywhere you are. You can dictate updates to your Tweeter and Facebook accounts too.

Navigation

Nice surprise here as well; it has improved a lot. This really is a good alternative to your TomTom device as long as you ok to allow it to use data on your plan. If you don’t drive too often like me, it’s all you need, really! Now, you can speak the destination, I tested it and works great (would say better than on old TomTom devices). It feels much quicker too. Of course, the calculation waiting time depends on your Internet access speed rather then on the processor as the Samsung Galaxy S2 dual core is a speed monster.

Internet Browser

Can this beat now the Opera/Opera Mini or else? No… but you can open now 16 windows, which should be enough even for me. It feels faster now as well, but no killer features here that I could spot. There is also a useful Incognito window function now as well, which is helpful for… hmm… looking up your favourite poetry which you don’t want anybody to know about 😉   

Recently open applications

This improved feature beats easily anything you get on any other mobile OS (well, if I am not wrong ;). Now, it not only shows what you have/had recently open, it actually shows you a current screen preview of the content like computer OS Windows 7 does for example. The list can be long and you just scroll up and down through it. Incredible!

Camera and its editor

You get a slightly improved camera, too. There are more shooting modes with worth mentioning Panorama mode. Still there are better apps for panoramic photos which would let you do full 360 degrees and in higher resolution, however, the built-in panorama mode is a definitely a step forward. There is a brilliant anti-shake too, love it! An improved Editor is present here as well, nothing worth mentioning really apart of some blur effects which seems not enough in terms of improvements…

Widgets

There are couple of new Google widgets, for photos and posts search (well I think are new, don’t remember these); not much really. There is apparently a little bit more customisation allowed with some widgets now.

System power saving mode

On top of custom power saving mode which was always here, you get new System power saving mode. Not much known of it but it will probably work all the time unlike the custom one and will extend some your time between charges.

Others

Contacts is somewhat improved, Music player as well; I saw some nice sound effects and a basic music visualization. Some lyrics support is added on, too. PowerAmp is not beaten here anyway. General feel and look

The keyboard input looks and feels better (IMHO), that includes SWYPE mode. Home screens scrolling is a tad smoother I would say. There should be some spellchecker improvments as well.  

Thing I don’t like

The new pattern lock screen looks bad; these small circles are awful. And no, you cannot change it. While you can set your paired Bluetooth device (wireless speaker for example) to be used for media audio output (under Profiles tab so it suggests it would make it pernamently a default device for this), it doesn’t remember this most of the time; so, you still have to tick this every time you connect with your Bluetooth device you want to send music to.  This can’t be that hard to get right, is it? You still cannot group icons by putting on each other, why? Widgets cannot be resized, still, and some more…

Closing notes

Is this O2 UK Samsung Galaxy S2 Android 4.0.3 update a nice thing? Well, yes. Compared to a famous update to iPhones, it will not make your phone slower but it will not change your phone that much either. It is a nice, welcomed and free addition, definitely must have. I am sure there is more to it that what we see now, it will lead to better applications and widgets. Other thing is that I have been testing it for only few hours and I just did not notice some changes nor cared to look them up on Google. The update will give a little bit of freshness to our lives which is good! One more thing, it feels like some things that should be in this update are basically missing (i.e. camera and its editor should have many more new features, mentioned icons grouping doesn’t work); is that because what you get here is some kind of Android 4.0.3 Ice Cream Sandwich and Samsung TouchWiz interface/applications set fusion? I don’t know for sure but it appears so, weird… I would not be surprised if this Samsung update on different carries will vary in terms of features and look. It also looks like non-Samsung Android phones will definitely look different and have more changes in it.

— Update #1 — 01/04/2012

The issue with Flash Player. I noticed that Flash Player doesn’t work after the update. I tried to uninstall so I could reinstall it but the uninstallation process frozen on me. After a phone restart, the Flash Player was not listed as installed anymore. The Flash Player installation through Google Play wasn’t starting up now, I was getting an error message saying “Error. Your order is processing, your item will be available in a few minutes.” and nothing was happening. Clear data on Google Play Store application did not originally help so I did also Uninstall updates. After the phone restart, the Google Play store was showing back as Market. I run it and this time the Flash Player update worked just fine. The flash content is working back now as well. The Market also became the Play Store afterwards. Now, I seem not the only person that happened to, so, if you still before the update, I would suggest uninstalling Flash Player and restart the phone before the OS update. After the update, install the Flash Player back, untested, but IMHO should work fine. This may save you some hassle.

— Update #2 — 22/04/2012

Part two of the review. Due to the high popularity of my review I have decided to add a conclusive second part of the review. Thanks to weeks rather than hours of testing I could spot more. Please read the second and last part of the review there.