I have already written a review of the Asus EeePad Tranformer tablets with Android which can installed with Android 3.2. It’s been a little frustrating waiting for the upgrade to the latest Android operating system 4.0 – known as Ice Cream Sandwich. It’s taken a little over two months to get the update, which isn’t too long, but due to lack of official communication from Asus went from rumour to rumour about the actual release date. The OTA (Over the Air) upgrade started on the 23 February 2012, but it was the evening of the 24 February before my tablet registered in the UK was upgraded. Whilst this has been a little frustrating at least Asus have created an official release, as some other tablets are stuck with older versions or else need the operating system to be manually installed. Oh and at least this being Android and based on open source that final option is available at all. Based on past experience on the desktop I’m sure that Microsoft will be charging a significant upgrade charge when they release a new upgrade to their tablet operating system (assume it does take off – and doesn’t share the fate of their previous attempts at mobile operating systems such as WinCE and PocketPC).
Anyway hands-off to Asus for creating this upgrade and pushing it out to the existing tablets rather than just concentrating on new customers.
What’s good, what’s bad and what hasn’t changed
First thing to consider is that this is still Android. It’s the same basic operating system and will continue to run as it did before. Many of the changes are not big ones and that’s not neccessarily a bad thing. Sometimes the saying “If it ain’t broke – then don’t try to fix it…”, whilst new features can be welcome a change that breaks existing features would be a bad thing (I’m thinking of Windows XP to Windows Vista – and all the software that no longer run and the abysmal performance it brought).
The upgrade process
The Over The Air (OTA) upgrade provides a very simple upgrade. The notification pop-up states there is a Firmware upgrade, which was already downloaded, but not installed. The install took a little while, but not as long as I thought it would for a major OS upgrade. After a reboot it boots into Android 4.
Whilst not the most significant change the login screen is usually the first you see. The look of the login screen has changed slightly and there are new options for authentication. In the slide mode you can now move one way for the home screen and the other way goes straight into the camera. More useful on a mobile phone, but I can see that coming in handy if you want to take a photo quickly.
Another new feature is the ability to use facial recognition. This is not however available on the EeePad Transformer, or at least not on my particular model.
Improved desktop and scalable Widgets
There have also been some visual changes to the Android desktop. Mainly some new icons, fonts and changes to the colour theme.
The notification widget has been improved which now makes it easy to enable and disable certain features and to change the brightness of the screen, and the Application menu and Add application / Widget has been made easier to use and looks better.
The scalable widgets is a new feature, but only applies to a small number of widgets that have been written to support the new funcationality. These new widgets can be scaled to be bigger or smaller as required.
Application icons can now be stacked so you can save desktop space by sharing the same widget position.
People application and Gallery
The upgraded people application now integrates with the social networking side so as to show latest status from within various social networking sites.
The gallery now links direct to a photo editor allowing you to make some changes to the photos, including red eye removal, crop and sharpen etc.
The Chrome browser is also available for Android 4 ICS, although that needs to be downloaded through the Android market.
Under the covers
Some of the changes have happened under-the-covers, particularly with regard to developers, who now have access to new features or easier ways to program for the tablet. One of the significant things is that Android 4 is the same operating system used on both mobile phones and tablets. This makes sense with the different sized tablets as some tablets are only slightly larger than tablets.
One good feature is the ability for the USB ports to act as a host controller. This was included in version 3.2 as well, but will be useful for those on mobile phones who didn’t have that capability. There is not much that uses that at the moment, but this means that future hardware will be more likely to work with Android apps designed to support them.
Once very useful feature is the addition of a built in spell checker. This is integrated into some current applications (eg. the Android browser) and available for developers. This means I can spell check my blog posts as I write them through the browser. This one feature on its own makes the upgrade worth while.
What has broken?
Whilst each upgrade to Android has been designed to so as old apps continue to work unfortunately there are some applications that don’t work under ICS Android 4. All the applications I’ve tried so far seam to be working with the exception of a bug within the Google+ app. Whilst the app works well when launched the background task that handles auto-upload of images etc appears to be broken as it regularly flags up a crashed application error. I’m not surprised to find one application that doesn’t work well, but I am surprised that this is a Google application from the owners of Android.
Whilst writing this post – I have just been notified of an update to Google+ which appears to have fixed this.
There was also a new flash update that needed to be installed before flash could be used. Once installed that works as well. I think flash is essential for any tablet and is a significant advantage that Android has over other tablets. In future this may change, but for now my daughter would not be able to do her homework on the tablet without having flash available (see: Flash on a tablet – children’s homework / iPlayer and other features).
There are also some other changes. For example with the keyboard it’s now possible to create a selection for copy and paste by using shift and the arrow keys and the touch selection is also easier. The menu button now occupies less space and is easier to use.
There are other improvements to some of the features I don’t use so much on my tablet. For example the voice recognition can be very useful on a mobile phone, but is not something I use much on the tablet.
There are lots of new features and improvements in Android 4 Ice Cream Sandwich. The OTA upgrade was quick and easy and has provided some new features and improvements. Well done to Asus for providing the upgrade for existing tablets as well as their new Transformer Prime tablets.