June 29, 2012 at 12:26 PM ET
Google announced Jelly Bean, also known as Android 4.1, on Wednesday. The shiny new operating system brings new features such as a speedier interface, a new Camera app, offline voice typing, significantly improved notifications, a Siri-like voice search, Google Now and more. Here are the features we've enjoyed using the most so far.
There's been a lot of talk about something called "Project Butter" during the Google I/O developers conference and unsurprisingly the whole thing doesn't have anything to do with dairy products. Instead it's what Google has labeled the under-the-hood improvements which keep Jelly Bean running — I couldn't resist this line, I'm sorry — like butter.
Buffering tweaks, increased frame rates, a system which keeps rendering and touch input events in sync better, and touch prediction come together to make everything run just a little bit more nicely. (Yes, Jelly Bean actually tries to predict where you'll touch the screen next.)
It's tough to tell how much of a difference Project Butter will truly make, but based on a bit of time with a Nexus 7 tablet running Jelly Bean, it seems as if Jelly Bean runs more smoothly than prior Android versions. amd it's important for Google to take steps to make the Android experience as smooth as possible.
Offline voice typing
How annoying is it when you can't dictate something to your phone because you don't have a cellular or Wi-Fi data connection? Jelly Bean makes this pesky issue a thing of the past with offline voice typing.
When your device has a poor data connection or no connection at all, voice-to-text tasks are crunched locally instead of in the cloud.
So how good is it? Good enough and speedy enough. The reason that companies like Google and Apple put voice recognition in the cloud in the first place is that it makes it easier to run your voice against thousands of samples in the blink of an eye. So it's no surprise that the offline voice-to-text is slightly less accurate than the cloud-based version, which has been my experience.
I have a hunch that we'll be talking about Google Now a lot in the future. It's Google's attempt to predict what you'll need and get it to you before you even realize you need it. In theory, your device should learn your habits, interests and so on, and then offer up relevant traffic, weather and point-of-interest information.
I don't know whether it's the lousy Wi-Fi and cellular connection I get in this part of San Francisco or whether Google Now just has to get to know me better before taking charge of my life, but for whatever reason I am not being offered much information. We'll circle back and chat about this feature after I've used it more, but I'm willing to label it as one of Jelly Bean's best attributes based on its potential alone.
S-Voice, the Siri competitor included on the Samsung Galaxy S III, was a total letdown in my opinion, but Google's handling things much better.
Google's voice search is now powered by Knowledge Graph, meaning that you'll receive what Google deems to be the best answer to your query first, followed by relevant web results. In some quick tests, Google's voice search definitely made Siri look terrible, as the iOS-based assistant has a bad habit of simply offering to search teh web for you in situations where Google already has an answer.
I may be an iOS fangirl who is so attached to her iPhone that she sleeps with it right next to her head, but even I have to admit that Google's definitely doing something right with notifications.
In Jelly Bean, the notification bar can do more than ever. It can now expand, to show you a portion of your inbox, rather than just the number of emails waiting for you. (Yes, this is similar to one of the display options for email notifications in iOS, but those can't be compacted with a touch.)
Google Now cards also appear in the notifications tray, meaning that you can view relevant information just by opening the notifications rather than having to switch apps.
The changes to notifications are small touches, but based on some time with a Galaxy Nexus running Jelly Bean, it's easy to see that the time and frustrations they'll save you will quickly add up.
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