Google's new OS update, Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, promises to offer smartphone owners some nifty enhancements when it debuts next month as an over-the-air update. Jelly Bean upholds the Android tradition of food-related naming conventions, and is "fast, slick, and feels like what [Android 4.0] Ice Cream Sandwich" should have been when it launched half a year ago, says Armando Rodriguez at PC World. Incremental improvements to the operating system help iron out many of the more noticeable wrinkles, and new animation gives the user interface "a more polished look." Here, four notable features:
1. Vastly improved voice search
You can tell Google went "all out when it came to mobile search," says PC World's Rodriguez, and a new voice command function takes advantage of Google's unparalleled search capabilities. To use it, you simply say "Google, [insert question]." This isn't just a "gimmicky" Siri knock-off, says JR Raphael at Computerworld. Google's new voice tech "blew me away" with its speed and accuracy. For example: When asked how tall Adam Carolla is, Google called up his photo and height while reading the results out loud. When asked about nearby Thai restaurants, it presented a map and pinned down local spots.
2. Google Now
This new feature contextualizes old data to feed you fresh information based on your current location, time of day, and search history, says Bloomberg Businessweek. For example, once you swipe into Google Now, "if Google knows you commute to work at the same time every day, it will provide a card showing how long it will take you to get there, offering faster alternatives if the usual route is slow. ... If you're catching a flight, it will tell you if the plane is delayed, what terminal it's in, and when you should leave." (Watch a promo video below.)
3. A less fussy camera
One of the more annoying aspects of Ice Cream Sandwich: You had to exit the Camera app to see photos you'd already taken. Now, you can just swipe the camera screen to view your photo galleries.
4. Better notifications
"Notifications have always been one of Android's strengths," says Computerworld's Raphael. Now they're much stronger, and allow you to instantly access several facets of a notification. For instance, users can tap into a meeting reminder and immediately email everyone who's invited to tell them you're running behind. The new notifications also integrate Google Plus, says CNET. "For example, when a notification of a Google+ update arrives from a contact, a person can tap its +1 button or share it."