Hands on impressions: Samsung Galaxy S2 Vodaphone Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich upgrade – updated

A Samsung Galaxy S II phone with customized ho...

A Samsung Galaxy S II phone with customized home screen held in right hand. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Took the plunge today with the Samsung Galaxy S2 Vodaphone Ice Cream Sandwich upgrade. The time taken to prepare for it?

– 2 hours of fighting with Samsung’s Kies programme

– 1 hour of trying to backup my stuff onto my PC

– 10 minutes to Google a backup solution and read through the reviews to eventually choose to cast my lot with My Backup Pro

– 30 minutes of nervously checking my backups

15 minutes to complete the whole update process to ICS and restart my phone.

As you can see (read), the whole update process was really quick and seamless. It would’ve been easy too, if I’ve had a regular backup process but I’ve a habit of trying to start anew for each major update. So I end up giving myself a large task to do each time. I’m still feeling out the whole Android system I guess – I was pleasantly surprised when I found that with this update, Google Play was able to track down my entire download history of any app I had installed via Google Play/Android Market. The history for this went back almost two years (I got my first Android device, a HTC Desire – Amazon affiliate link, almost two years ago). Both impressive and slightly disconcerting. It’s a good thing I hadn’t downloaded any dodgy apps!

As I write this, I’m going through the backup restoration process from My Backup Pro and I’ve chosen to selectively install only a few apps that I knew I really wanted. It was a fortunate decision, because I presently have to wait while each app installs itself individually – and I have to press Install for each and every single app I selected to restore. And I have to do it – one by one by one.

What about those swanky new features?

As for the new features of Ice Cream Sandwich, some of it is subtle. The screen looks that little bit clearer and sharper. The text looks a little bit sharper as well (then again, I switched to a different font, Choco Cooky, pretty early when I first got my Samsung Galaxy S II – Amazon affiliate linkSamsung galaxy s2).

Android apps

Pressing the power button on the home screen now brings up a list of phone options with slightly tweaked icons and includes one new option, Restart (which proved useful to me when I finished restoring my apps and needed to restart my phone). The Restart option works very much as how you’d expect and reduces the time it takes to restart the phone. I measured it to be about 45 seconds for a complete restart.

Ice Cream Sandwich phone options

A revised menu, a new home for settings

Ice Cream Sandwich home menuNow pressing the menu button on the home screen brings up several options: Add, Wallpaper, Search, Notifications, Edit, and Settings. Where previously all you could do was add something to your home screens, now you can even do stuff like search for a particular app you’ve installed and forgotten where you had placed it. With the new search function, you could search both the web and your phone, or you could use it to launch particular apps.

This function may well have been present in Froyo and Gingerbread or maybe even in Samsung’s own Galaxy S2, but I don’t about it, and now that it’s laid out for me front and centre I may well make use of this nifty looking function.

This function does seem to make the Google Search app a little less relevant. The Search function also includes a voice search feature. It does seem that Google is trying to make sure it doesn’t get left behind in voice technology, not with Siri making all the waves for Apple.

Apart from the search function, I like the fact I can now access the settings via the menu button. Now I can free up one of the spaces for four apps I use the most. There’s also a notifications option for you to view the most recent notifications.

I did notice that they’ve tweaked the clear function a little and made it so that it also closed the notifications bar when you pressed/touched clear. You can also clear notifications individually by just long pressing and swiping left or right and the notification you’ve selected goes away with a small nifty piece of animation. Overall, the effect is subtle but pleasing.

Other tweaks

The WiFi icon at the top has now changed to include an up and down arrow, much like how it would display if you were accessing the internet via 3G. Even Vodaphone took the opportunity to tweak their main icons although the icons for the hubs still stayed the same.

Wow… look at the time… it’s nearly 3am. Right, time to pause and continue a little later.

To be continued… – Right back again.

The unlock screen has also seen a tweak, now you don’t need to swipe your finger across the whole screen in order to unlock it. The required ‘swiping area’ is now around a centimetre wide.

The settings area has also has seen quite a fair bit of rearrangement.

The key change I see here is an increased emphasis on the Back Up functionality and Developer options. Bringing up the Developer options gives you several options:

– USB debugging (a usual staple)

– Development device ID

– Allow mock locations

– Desktop backup password

– User-interface

  • Strict-mode enabled (Flash screen when apps do long operations on main thread)
  • Pointer location (Screen overlay showing current touch data)
  • Show touches (Show visual feedback for touches)
  • Show screen updates (Flash area of the screen when they update)
  • Show CPU usage (Screen overlay showing current CPU usage)
  • Force GPU rendering (Use 2D hardware acceleration in applications)
  • Window animation scale (Animation scale – defaults at 1x but can range from 0.5x to 10x)
  • Transition animation scale (Animation scale – defaults at 1x but can range from 0.5x to 10x)

– Apps

  • Don’t keep activities (Destroy every activity as soon as the user leaves it)
  • Background process limit (Standard limit – Options range from no background processes to ‘at most four processes’)
  • Show all ANRs (Show App Not Responding dialog for background apps)

This seems like a much greater set of options for developers than was previously available under Gingerbread or FroYo and in my mind, seems like an overt method for Google to court more Android developers in a time where iOS development reportedly leads to more profits (Venture Beat provides a good counter-argument to this).

Task management was another area that received a large visual boost. Now, long pressing on the home button brings up this screen.

Monitoring improvements

Among the updates that came with Ice Cream Sandwich was the option to monitor data usage and set mobile data limits according to specific data usage cycles. This is an excellent inclusion and in my eyes, one of the best new features of Ice Cream Sandwich, especially if you’re on an especially restrictive mobile data plan. The new feature also helps to show all your data using apps in an easy to read list and shows you how much mobile data has been used for each of them throughout the data usage cycle you’ve specified. Apart from setting the mobile data limit, you can also specify a warning limit to alert you when you’re about to reach your mobile data threshold. All these, easily set with just a few swipes of your digits.

You'll notice the font here is different from the ones before. This is the Choco Cooky font.

Battery monitoring also saw a useful update, where the app now includes the amount of battery power being used by some of your active apps. I’m not quite sure what criteria is use to decide what apps get shown in the list though. A quick test didn’t include WhatsApp in the list but it did include AirDroid.

The way your available storage space is displayed also received a visual upgrade. Your space used and your available space are now shown by simple line bar displays. Unfortunately, the Samsung Galaxy S2 still maintains it’s rather confusing nomenclature by sticking with the term USB storage (despite it having actually nothing to do with USBs). Under USB storage, you can now quickly see how much space is being used by Apps, Pictures and Videos, Audio, Downloads, and other Misc stuff. You can also see how much space is left for you to install more stuff in your smartphone, though this was something that was already previously available prior to the update.

Performance-wise, I don’t feel any discernible difference but I may feel differently after spending more time with it.

One more thing I noticed was that the Google Mail app under ICS used it’s own font when I booted it up and it didn’t use my present font – slightly strange considering my experience with the font system prior to this was that my choice would override everything else.

Well, that’s all for my hands on impressions with the Samsung Galaxy S2 Vodaphone Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich upgrade. Thanks for reading. If you’ve got any comments, pop one in 😉


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