Skip to main content

Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich: Everything you need to know

android-race
Image used with permission by copyright holder

At 10pm last night, Google and Samsung unveiled the Galaxy Nexus, the first smartphone to run Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich). We’ve been hearing about the new operating system since it was announced at Google’s I/O conference some months ago as the OS that would unify Android smartphones with Android 3.0 Honeycomb, which has only run on tablets so far. Like every major version of Android before it, Ice Cream Sandwich will debut on a piece of hardware co-designed and co-branded by Google. The first Android 4.0 device will be called the Galaxy Nexus (Read about it here) and will be coming out this November, though we don’t yet know what day, for what price, or on which carriers it will arrive.

Below are all of the new features of Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) that we know about.

New features

android-4-features-data-usage
Image used with permission by copyright holder

While Google cherry picked many of the best features from other operating systems to develop Android,  its engineers dreamed up quite a few original ideas in Android 4.0 too. Here are a few of them. 

  • Quick response texts: People often call at a bad time, but with this feature, you can write some pre-canned messages and as soon as someone calls, instead of answering or denying the call, you can choose to text them a busy message instead. 
  • In-line spell checking: It was wonderful when browsers started correcting text and now your phone will start doing it too. 
  • Complete data network control: If you care to, you can now monitor exactly what apps are using data, when they are using data, and shut them off accordingly. Google’s controls are so refined that you could search back a few hours or days to find an app that drained your battery or used a ton of data, identify it, and then shut off its ability to transmit background data. 
  • Instant voice-to-text: Apple may have Siri, but Android has had voice recognition for a while. Google has improved this functionality by letting you dictate a text without waiting for the voice dialog to come up. 
  • Explore-by-touch mode: Sounds play as you move your fingers across the screen. This is for blind users. 
  • Photo and video editing: Androids Camera and Gallery apps now have a built in photo editor. You can also add “Live Effects” to video–things like weird face contortions, beams of sunlight, etc. 
  • Better Camera app: The Camera app also has a very cool panorama mode that makes it easy to stitch together a big picture as well as take stop-motion photography. You can also finally tap to focus on something. 
  • Screenshots: By holding a couple buttons, you can snap a screenshot of your phone. 

Really cool new features

android-4-features-face-unlock
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Believe it or not, there are some innovative new features coming to Ice Cream Sandwich as well. Here are three of them. 

  • Android Beam: Since all Ice Cream Sandwich phones have NFC, if you tap the backs of two of them together, you can instantly share whatever you’re doing with another Android handset. If you’re playing a game, your friend’s Android will open up the Android Market to the page where they can download the game. If you’re on a Web page, their phone will open up that same page. It’s fast and easy looking. Now all we need is an army of phones with Android 4.0 and NFC.
  • Face unlock: Instead of the standard lock screen, now Android will supposedly (the demo didn’t work in the presentation) be able to recognize your face and unlock your phone for you. We’re hesitant about this feature, but if it works as advertised, it could be very cool.
  • Unified phone and tablet apps: Supposedly, Android 4.0 will be able to hot swap between tablet and phone orientations, making things like Motorola’s Lapdock sound much more appealing. It also is the first platform that will allow a single app to be written for both tablets and phones. This may not make much of a difference now, but down the line it could mean broader support for Android. Both Apple and Microsoft require separate apps from developers for phones and tablets.

Features borrowed from Android Honeycomb

android-4-features-multitasking

In addition to looking a lot more like Windows Phone, Google has brought many of the features from Android 3.0 (Honeycomb) from the tablet to the phone. This is good, considering Ice Cream Sandwich is supposed to work equally well on a tablet or phone. 

  • Unlock screen: The unlock screen has you drag a circle to the edge of another circle, though Google has enhanced its functionality, allowing you to open up the camera or notification tray from the unlock screen. 
  • Resizable widgets: Widgets can now be resized and can scroll, among other things. Very cool.
  • On-screen navigation buttons: Android phones have always had four separate buttons (sometimes haptic, sometimes actual buttons) for Home, Search, Back, and Menu functions. Well, not anymore. Like Android tablets, all of the navigation has been moved onscreen. There are now three navigation controls: Back, Home, and Recent Apps. The Search and Menu buttons have been removed entirely, though they’ll show up if an app requires them. Apps now have a menu tray that appears and changes as needed.
  • Recent Apps: By clicking on this new navigation button, you can bring up a list of recently used applications and exit them, enter them, or do whatever you like. 
  • Redesigned app drawer: The new app drawer has a tab for browsing widgets and now scrolls through apps side-to-side in a page format instead of a downward scroll, like in previous versions. 
  • Improved copy and paste: Copy and paste now has little bars to help select text and an easier menu to do with it what you wish. 
  • Tabbed Web browsing & shared bookmarks: Google isn’t calling the new Android browser “Chrome” but it’s starting to communicate and look more like Google’s notable desktop browser. The new browser lets you scroll through tabs (swipe them to delete), save pages for offline reading, request a desktop version of a mobile Website, and share bookmarks with your PC.
  • Enhanced email: Google has reworked the Gmail app to show more messages and support nested mail subfolders, etc. 
  • Improved notifications: Music can now be paused or fast forwarded in the notification tray and app makers will have greater control over the notifications that are sent out. 

Features borrowed from Windows Phone, webOS, and iOS

This isn’t a bad thing, but it should be acknowledged. Microsoft’s Windows Phone platform may be struggling to compete, but those who use it, love it. In its presentation last night, Google acknowledged that “people don’t love Android.” It was a startling admission, but helps to explain why Google’s new approach is much cleaner and looks a lot more like Windows Phone. 

windows-phone-7-people-hub-stretched-out

Below are new traits of Android:

  • Roboto font: For the first time, maybe ever, Google went into detail on its new font named Roboto. The font does look very nice on small screen, but we have to say, it looks a lot like the Windows Phone font with thin lines and no serif. 
  • Solid backgrounds and 1-color icons: Android 4.0 is full of white, black, and very simple, one-color icons and backgrounds. This is an attempt by Google to unclutter the OS, but it’s also unmistakably borrowed from Windows Phone, which is full of solid colors.
  • Grids and big pictures: Borrowing from the old Zune interface, WP7 has always had large-full screen pictures. Android 4.0 borrows this idea for its new phone app. In addition, Google has redesigned the Gallery app and a number of other sections of Android to have a gridded interface, with big pictures…a staple of WP7.
  • Swiping and gestures: Finally, we’re happy that Google is finally adopting more swipes and gestures, but it’s very clear that many of these gestures are pulled from Windows Phone and webOS. Previous versions of Android were full of touches and taps, making for a very static experience. Now you can swipe away notifications or running apps with a flick of the finger. 
  • Home tray: This idea doesn’t come from WP7, but it is borrowed from iOS. Google has finally integrated a home tray into Android. You can move any app shortcuts into this area, which will make them show up no matter which homescreen you’re on. 
  • Homescreen folders: By holding one app icon over another, you can easily create a folder of icons on the homescreen. This has been in modded versions of Android for some time, so it’s good to see Google integrating the feature. 
  • Keyboard: The new on-screen Android keyboard looks almost identical to Windows Phone. This is good, since WP7 has the best keyboard, by far. 
  • People App: Google has renamed the contacts page as a “People” page with an entry for “Me.” You can browse through updated profiles and see your friends recent social networking updates, among other things. This is borrowed directly from WP7, though we like how Android brings together entries from a myriad of different services — more than iOS and WP7.
  • Visual voicemail integration: Voicemail sucks. It’s slow to listen to and difficult to navigate. Android 4.0 integrates visual voicemail directly into the OS, allowing you to see the picture of who left a message, and then fast forward, rewind, and delete the messages as you see fit.

How do you get it? 

This is the big question. We think Android 4.0 is definitely a worthwhile update that changes a number of things about Android, but getting it may be a difficult task. We don’t know when Google will release the code for it so that all phone manufacturers can begin adopting it, but because of its lack of navigation buttons and what sounds like requirements for NFC and a 1280 x 720 pixel resolution, no other phones on the market may be able to run it currently. The only phone that might have Ice Cream Sandwich this holiday season is the Galaxy Nexus, and we don’t know when it will be available (they say November), which carriers it will be available on (Verizon is rumored), or what it will cost. It’s all up in the air right now, but we’re hoping U.S. carriers embrace this new phone.

Jeffrey Van Camp
Former Digital Trends Contributor
As DT's Deputy Editor, Jeff helps oversee editorial operations at Digital Trends. Previously, he ran the site's…
Best Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4 deals: Save big on the foldable
A person holding a partially open Galaxy Z Fold 4.

With the launch of its predecessor, it's the best time to hunt for discounts on the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4. It's not going away any time soon because it's still a very fun and capable mobile device, so there will be a lot of demand for savings when buying the foldable smartphone. We've gathered the top ways of getting the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4 for cheaper than usual, but you'll have to hurry with your purchase because these offers may disappear at any moment.
Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4 deals at Samsung
The obvious source for a Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4 is Samsung, which is offering trade-in credit of up to $725 for an unlocked 256GB model of the smartphone that normally costs $1,800. However, you can get it at $800 off, so you'll only have to pay $1,000, if you buy it with a U.S. Cellular plan.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4 deals at Amazon
The unlocked 256GB Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4 is on Amazon for its retail price of $1,800, but why would you get that model when the unlocked 512GB Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4 is cheaper at just $1,450, following a $470 discount on its original price of $1,920? It's a no-brainer to go for the version with the larger storage capacity when it's more affordable.

Read more
Best iPhone 15 deals: How to get Apple’s latest iPhone for free
The display on a green iPhone 15.

The iPhone 15 has only just hit stores but that hasn't stopped there being some great iPhone 15 deals going on right now. If you're keen to upgrade to the shiniest of new iPhones, this is your chance to do so. We've picked out all the best iPhone 15 deals going on at the moment including how to get the phone for free. Here's what you need to know about iPhone deals on Apple's latest model.
iPhone 15 deals at Amazon

Amazon has one of the best ways to get an iPhone 15 for free. Sign up to Boost Infinite and you get the Apple iPhone 15 for free. That saves you the $830 you'd normally pay, while Boost Infinite costs $60 per month and gives you unlimited talk, text, and data every month. It's a near-unbeatable deal for many people.

Read more
The Fitbit Charge 6 is a fitness tracker and smartwatch hybrid
A Charge 6 being used on a wrist.

Fitbit has finally embraced what it means to be owned by Google with the Fitbit Charge 6. Not only is the Charge 6 an impressive-looking fitness tracker with a more accurate heart rate tracker, but it's also the first Fitbit device to really lean on the vast data resources offered by its parent company, Google. These additions have moved the Charge 6 toward becoming more of a smartwatch, thinning the barriers between the two device types.

Fitbit was purchased by Google in January 2021, but outside of Fitbit's tech being front and center in the fitness section of the Google Pixel Watch, it hasn't meant too much change for the fitness tracker brand. That ends with today.

Read more