Google employs more than 20,000 people worldwide and the number of them working on Android are in the single digit percentage range. Google's business is search, but it has always had aspirations of more. Android isn't just a chance to capitalize on mobile search for Google, it's also an opportunity to grab power in the next era of personal computing. If you believe that smartphones will eventually replace mainstream PCs, who wouldn't want to be to smartphones what Microsoft was to PCs in the early 1990s? 

Previous versions of Android have been cautious, evolutionary steps along a path to being a more open/flexible alternative to iOS. Starting with Honeycomb (Android 3.0) however, Google began to step out of the shadow of its competitors and really start to define Android as a mobile computing platform. Honeycomb was limited to tablets but its successor, Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4.0), would bring unification to Android across both tablets and smartphones.

Today we look at both ICS and its launch vehicle, Google's Galaxy Nexus.

The Android vs. iOS Debate

It's very clear to me now more than ever that Apple and Google have completely different goals with their mobile OS strategies. Excluding the unclear strategy behind Chrome OS, Android is pretty much Google's primary operating system. The unified tablet/smartphone strategy behind Ice Cream Sandwich makes sense because for Google to succeed in the OS business it needs to deploy Android on everything from smartphones to notebooks. We've already seen the strengths in having a smartphone platform with a strong app ecosystem. Things become even more appealing if you have a phone, tablet and PC that all run the same OS and apps. As Android is Google's one-size-fits-all operating system, it needs to have a broader and slightly more ambitious focus than iOS otherwise it risks losing the race in the long run.

Apple is in a different position. It already has a successful desktop/notebook OS that is continuing to grow. While iOS has been a runaway success for Apple, the Mac OS X platform is a solid option for any user who needs more than their iPhone or iPad can provide. The two OSes may converge or at least borrow heavily from one another, but in the interim they can remain independent. If you need more of a computing experience Apple is happy to sell you a Mac. If you want the it-just-works appliance experience in your phone or tablet, Apple has a whole bunch of iPhone/iPad configurations to offer you.

ICS isn't a step towards iOS. If anything it proves that Google is committed to its own trajectory. Android is an OS that, although more closed than many would like, still allows more flexibility than iOS. You can sideload apps not purchased in the Market. The file system isn't completely hidden from you. You can even override the default zoom level on web pages. Apple and Google both pour tons of time and research into figuring out the best way to do something. And, to be honest, I feel like Apple generally does a better job of "getting it" for the very mainstream consumer. Rather than attempt to make the perfect mold however, Google gives you one that's a bit more flexible.

I've said this before but I do believe that Apple is trying to deliver more of an appliance experience, whereas Google is providing you with a modern take on a traditional computing experience. If the appliance is a smartphone, then both approaches are equally capable - it's just a matter of personal preference.

What's new in ICS really falls into one of three categories:

  1. Improvements in UI frame rate due to OpenGL ES rendering (non-skia) path
  2. UI tweaks
  3. New features

Nowhere in this list is a fundamental change in the way Android works. I feel that this is a very important point to understand and likely the cause for lots of disagreement when it comes to just how impressive (or not) ICS is.

ICS is smoother, more polished and has its own set of new features that make it a significant step forward for Android. What ICS is not however is an outright clone of iOS. If you prefer the iOS experience to Android, ICS will do nothing to change your opinion. If all you were missing from Android was a smoother UI, then its fourth major release should be almost everything you could ask for.

 

OS-Wide OpenGL ES Rendering
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  • sjankis630 - Wednesday, January 25, 2012 - link

    I can comment that my Galaxy Nexus' black is as black as midnight to a blind man.
    The only time I see some grey type tones is when the website is colored that way.
    Reply
  • walkman - Sunday, January 22, 2012 - link

    That was a shocking detailed and informative review -- It's the sort of article that makes Anandtech my first choice for tech reviews.

    - The article mentioned new processors just around the corner. Was this referring to any processors other than Krait? I haven't heard any news about Krait since November PR -- Are we looking at April or June? And do we think anyone besides HTC will use Krait?
    Reply
  • Omid.M - Sunday, January 22, 2012 - link

    Processors around the corner:

    Krait
    Tegra3
    OMAP5
    Exynos 5250

    It's going to be a bloodbath for the next 12-18 months.

    If iPhone 5 uses the MDM9160 (?) modem with LTE, I'm jumping on that. Tired of tweaking battery life on my Thunderbolt. Not sure I want to do the same with a Galaxy Nexus LTE.

    And what's this I'm reading about connection issues / dropped calls on the VZW Nexus? Ridiculous.
    Reply
  • Rictorhell - Monday, January 23, 2012 - link

    I am a big fan of this site and I read the reviews and articles all of the time and I find them very informative and useful, but, I have a request.

    When a review is written, particularly about a certain smartphone or tablet, it is mentioned whether the device has an SD card slot and you always tend to differentiate between whether it is a “full-sized” SD slot or a “micro”SD slot. That is useful to know, but there are several actual types of SD cards available, each with a different maximum storage capacity, and you don't specify in your reviews which types of SD cards are actually supported by the device being reviewed and I think that is a bit of an oversight.

    To the best of my knowledge, standard SD cards only have a maximum capacity of up to 2gb, while SDHC cards can go up to as high as 32gb, and SDXC cards, while only available right now in sizes up to 128gb, are supposed to theoretically be able to be manufactured in sizes up to 2tb.

    There is a huge difference in size between 2gb, 32gb, and 128gb. Given that smartphones and tablets have substantial built in limits as far as storage capacity, I think it would be very helpful to know which type of SD card is supported by which device, if that is possible.

    If I read two reviews about two different Android tablets and both reviews mention that both cards have a full-size SD card slot, as a user with a lot of media files, I'm going to be interested to know if one of those tablets can support SDXC cards while the other one cannot.

    I consider that to be a major feature, to me, just as important as battery life. If you do reviews of tablets and smartphones, or even ultrabooks, and neglect to specify how much storage potential these devices have or do not have, you are making it very easy for the hardware manufacturers to simply put in second rate storage and format support, knowing that it will not be covered in reviews by sites like Anandech. Not only is this going to stunt the evolution of these devices but it's also going to mean less options for consumers.

    Anyway, thank you for your time.
    Reply
  • peevee - Tuesday, January 24, 2012 - link

    Anand, please include OS version number (and carrier when applies) in the charts for performance and battery life tests. They make huge difference, as browser speeds improve, they consume less CPU time and less energy when browsing.
    For example, the discrepancy between iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S looks outsized and probably is the result of testing iPhone 4 with iOS much older than the current version, probably not even 4.3, and 4S with iOS 5.
    Reply
  • skinien - Tuesday, January 24, 2012 - link

    What a review!!! I'm not in the market for a new hone right now, but when the time comes, I'll be looking here for a review on prospective phones. GREAT WRITE UP! Reply
  • sonicmerlin - Thursday, January 26, 2012 - link

    I'm sorry, but you're ignoring the fact that ICS STILL lags. If you load up a heavy site like theverge, try scrolling around while the site is loading. Your entire page stutters and freezes until everything is done loading. ICS also lags more as you load more apps onto your phone, just like all previous versions of Android. Also notice how all UI elements are flattened when pages are rendered. Try zooming in or out. The new page info appears all at once, rather than pop up individually as in iOS and WP7. This can result in lag on heavy sites.

    For whatever reason tech "nerds" don't seem to notice the very obvious fluidity issues. Yes once you've loaded up a site it's easy to pan around, but people don't sit there patiently waiting for websites to load. Nor do they appreciate the frequent microstutters due to garbage collection issues, or the massive standby battery drain issues that tons of Android phones experience. And even the basic phone UI itself still lags behind your finger, demonstrating an irritating rubberband affect.

    It's stupid. Android will never stop lagging until Google rewrites the OS to give the UI thread priority, instead of putting it at the same level as app priority.
    Reply
  • rupert3k - Friday, January 27, 2012 - link

    Learned loads from reading this, really impressed with how far Android has come.
    The stuttering when scrolling, zooming or browsing always annoyed me, stoked to learn ICS is fully accelerated.

    One wonders if we'll see any Motorola Nexus style devices once Google settles into their new ownership. Be nice to see a Motorola this nice!

    Hope we see high dot pitch Android devices to combat Retina, not happy with AMOLED at present it seems a bit yellowy & over saturated to me, surely LG or Samsung can also spec Retina style IPS or at least offer the choice between AMOLED & IPS 330dpi.

    Bring on the Quad high DPI Android & iOS tablets!!
    Reply
  • bruce3777a - Sunday, January 29, 2012 - link

    Hi,

    Please bear with me:)

    If a phone was upgraded from Gingerbread to ICS and It appears to be able to still work with the apps from many banks

    It seems like these apps were not compatable with tablets running honeycomb so it was necessary to just use the browser.

    If a tablet is upgraded from Honeycomb to ICS, or if a new tablet is purchased that has ICS would/should that automatically make it compatable, or is there still something that the banks would need to do to make it universal to both phones and tablets that use ICS. Thanks in advance for any insight.
    Reply
  • Lucian Armasu - Monday, January 30, 2012 - link

    I think I figured it out. I just saw this:

    http://score.nena.se/nenamark/view?version=2&d...

    And I remembered it's not the only time I see 1196x720 pixels being rendered in a benchmark. Anand, if you're reading this, could it be because the buttons are NOT rendered by the GPU, and instead are rendered by those Cortex-M3 2D cores? They would have to render much fewer pixels, but they are also much slower than the GPU, and also pretty old tech I think.
    Reply

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