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