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Android 4.0 (On the Transformer Prime) Ice Cream Sandwich Review: Tastes Like Honey

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Subject: Mobile
Manufacturer: Google

Introduction, Interface

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The Prime seems to have no trouble achieving notable firsts. It was the first tablet with a Tegra 3 processor to go to retail, and now it’s the first tablet to have official Ice Cream Sandwich support. The update, scheduled originally for January 12th, actually went live after a surprise announcement on January 9th during Nvidia’s CES conference.

Since we still have our Prime review unit, this update provides us with a unique opportunity to compare Honeycomb and Ice Cream Sandwich side-by-side on the same device. This update is important for the Prime - and all upcoming Android tablets - because the operating system is something that’s currently holding back a number of products with great hardware.

Honeycomb was never an OS that impressed me. It’s often jerky, lacks elegance, and has poor app support. So long as Honeycomb was the version of Android shipping on tablets there was simply no chance for an Android tablet to defeat the iPad 2. The software simply wasn’t up to the high standard set by iOS. 

Ice Cream Sandwich is a chance at redemption. The rumors have spread like wildfire. Various sources have reported improvements including better multi-core support, a faster web browser, improved notifications and much more. Official announcements have generally limited themselves to commenting on feature improvements, however - going into the ICS update I didn’t have any expectations for performance improvements because none were ever provided by Google. Nvidia also never set any expectations about the improvements, if any, we’d see from Tegra 3 processors running ICS.

Now that the Prime is updated we can test ICS out for ourselves. Let’s jump in, starting with the interface updates.

Continue reading our review of Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich on the ASUS Transformer Prime!!

Interface

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At a glance you’d have a difficult time telling the Prime with Honeycomb from the Prime with ICS. There are some small changes in the appearance of the notifications area such as the font, but otherwise the desktop space looks the same as before. 

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For most users, the difference between Honeycomb and ICS is going to become most apparent once the settings display is open. It’s been rearranged, with options better categorized. It even appears that some thought has been given to location, as the settings most likely to be accessed frequently are at the top, while less needed options are further down.

There’s a new and notable Data Usage menu that displays how your tablet has used data so far. This is most important for smartphones, as few tablets end up with connections to mobile carriers. Still, the information here can be interesting and is presented clearly. You’ll have no problem figuring out which apps are data hogs, and you can also view your history of data use with an easily understood graph. 

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And what else? There's some changes to the camera and gallery apps, and you can now access the camera from the lock screen. And that's about it. 

In fact, there seems to be some things missing that I’d expected. I had thought notifications were supposed to be revised and accessible from the lock screen, but that feature doesn’t seem to be included here. I also thought the app launcher was supposed to be revised slightly and include folder support, but that doesn’t seem to be there, either. It is possible that ASUS has introduced customizations that have disabled these features, or that there is some other issue – this is the first ICS tablet, after all. But the lack of these expected enhancements is disappointing.  

January 19, 2012 | 05:22 PM - Posted by -KenC (not verified)

I have it on the Xoom and have not done a thorough analysis yet, but it definitely runs faster -- and web browsing was pretty darned fast to begin with. Yes, you can access the notifications from the Locked screen on the Xoom. The App launcher was updated, but I haven't figured out what enhancements were implemented yet, either. Many of the user features are not only nicer looking, they are easier to use. There is also a 'developer option' area in settings, which appears to be new.

Thanks for the article.

January 19, 2012 | 06:15 PM - Posted by Matt Smith

It's odd then that the Prime update didn't include those features.

I've shot ASUS an email to see if there is a reason why they're disabled.

January 19, 2012 | 06:01 PM - Posted by pdjblum

Appreciate the updated review, but really question your objectivity. Would very much like to see Ryan's impressions of the device.

January 19, 2012 | 06:18 PM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

Matt is not an Apple fanboy by any stretch. And he has way more experience with these devices in recent months than I.

I am still planning on spending some time with one, maybe the upcoming 1920x1200 version.

January 19, 2012 | 07:43 PM - Posted by pdjblum

Copy that. Just hard to believe when hard core apple guy josh topolsky praised ICS, saying he found it better than IOS. And the review at Anand on the nexus stated:
"As far as Ice Cream Sandwich is concerned, it really is Android perfected. Everything is smoother, faster and nearly all of our issues with the OS have been addressed. ICS brings Android into 2012 and gives Google a great platform to begin to introduce new features going forward. Android is now very close to UI performance parity with iOS, which eliminates a major tradeoff you had to make in the past. If you were hoping for ICS to be iOS with a Google logo on it, you'll be sorely disappointed. However if you're a fan of Android and just wished it were smoother and more polished, Ice Cream Sandwich is what you've been waiting for."

January 19, 2012 | 07:51 PM - Posted by Matt Smith

That's from the Galaxy Nexus review - so, from ICS on a smartphone.

January 19, 2012 | 09:05 PM - Posted by pdjblum

You are absolutely right. Just figured it would have improved the tablet experience to the same extent, more or less. Matt suggests little change at best outside of the battery life.

Guess I am just disappointed in that I really wanted to hear that this device was terrific in every way, and not once again, playing second fiddle to you know what.

January 20, 2012 | 01:54 PM - Posted by Matt Smith

A lot of the enhancements are either things Honeycomb already had (thumbnail multi-tasking) or things that are much more useful for smartphones (like the data usage monitor, camera app improvements, lockscreen camera/notification access).

January 19, 2012 | 11:43 PM - Posted by 8bitvoxel (not verified)

Matt, just a tip, you can remove the apps from the thumbnail view with a swipe now.... You can also press and hold to get a menu to then remove them as you've found but the reason they removed the tiny X to close these thumbs is because they implemented the swipe to clear which is better than the tiny x. Just though you should know since this "issue" took up a whole paragraph in your review, but isn't actually a problem.

Thanks for the updated impression though.

January 20, 2012 | 01:44 PM - Posted by Matt Smith

Thanks! That's much better. I have updated the review to reflect this.

January 20, 2012 | 05:44 AM - Posted by mr_raider (not verified)

Matt there is a quicker way to kills apps in ICS from the task switcher. Just swipe the tab to the right and will disappear from the list.

January 20, 2012 | 10:05 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

To create folders you just drag an app onto another app and it automatically creates folders. Really easy... Not to be disrespective but try to spend more than 5 minutes on a review. The multitasking and creating folders are much improved.

January 20, 2012 | 01:43 PM - Posted by Matt Smith

It does this on the desktop. But I thought ICS was going to offer this in the app tray, too? This does not work there.

January 21, 2012 | 11:14 PM - Posted by Cubits (not verified)

Why would you need that in the app tray? All of the apps you use should be on the home screens, at least in grouped folders. The app tray is where your barely-used apps go. I don't recall google ever promising anything about that, and my vanilla ICS equipped galaxy s is also left without that ability.

Also, after going back to back between honeycomb, gingerbread, ics, and my ipad2, the benchmarking falls a long way short of summing up the perceived performance improvements inherent within ICS. ICS, even on my ageing galaxy s is mountains faster at browsing (scrolling, but especially in zooming) than honeycomb ever was thanks to going to a panel-loading style and the much more extensive hardware acceleration. Side by side, my single core ICS phone is a match for my ipad 2, and that's a heck of a benchmark in terms of fluidity.

Playing with the prime running ICS, it is perfectly fluid between home screens where my tf-101 jerks about in HC. While ICS might not have brought that many new features to the table(t), it was clear that the goal of the update was refinement (to close the massive rift between earlier versions and iOS). In that respect, it truly hit it out of the park, regardless of what sunspider says.

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