The Keyboard

The stock Gingerbread keyboard was a significant step forward, but the ICS keyboard is really good. I don't know that there's much that's truly groundbreaking about the ICS keyboard, but it's at the point where short of Swype for those users who care about it, I would be very disappointed to see any third party keyboard replacements from HTC, Motorola or Samsung.

The basic layout hasn't changed from Gingerbread, although there are a few subtle differences. You get the same standard four row keyboard with two alternate modes (numerics and symbols). Where the Gingerbread/ICS keyboards differed from the standard iOS or Windows Phone keyboard is there's a fifth row of punctuation keys by default above the rest of the keyboard. This fifth (or first, depending on how you look at it) row actively changes into a list of predicted words. The word in the center is what the autocorrect engine believes you're typing, while the words on the left/right are alternates. While Gingerbread allowed you to scroll horizontally on this row, the items are fixed in ICS. As a consolation, you can bring up additional autocorrect suggestions by tapping and holding on a word in the prediction row. Accented characters are available by pressing and holding on keys that can be accented. Popup menus also exist for punctuation and the smiley key.

Keypresses are still accompanied by a magnified duplicate of the key itself. Unlike in Gingerbread where the magnified key hovered unconnected, the ICS keyboard connects the magnified key to the key itself. In my opinion this makes the keyboard look less chaotic when you're typing very quickly. Rather than giving the impression of random letters flying around everywhere, the animation serves its intended purpose better: letting you know what you just hit.

 

There's also a hidden Android Keyboard debug settings pane with some different themes that can be selected. 

Gingerbread vs. Ice Cream Sandwich - Keyboard & Autocorrect
  Gingerbread Ice Cream Sandwich
Keyboard

Quick Punctuation

Autocorrect
Autocorrect

Facial Recognition

Android has historically offered multiple options to secure your phone or tablet. Ice Cream Sandwich continues the trend. You can choose a basic PIN with a minimum of four numbers and a maximum of 17. There's an alphanumeric password option, simple slide to unlock and no security at all. ICS adds a new option to the list: Face Unlock.

The feature is exactly what it sounds like. ICS can store a photo of your face and use it as authentication for unlocking your device. While you only need a single picture to start, Google recommends taking multiple photos in different lighting conditions, with/without glasses and with a clean vs. unshaven face if applicable. As a backup you have to provide ICS with a PIN in case it can't recognize your face (either due to lighting conditions or because of a recent tumble down some stairs).

Google warns that someone who looks like you would be able to unlock your device, making Face Unlock less secure than a long PIN, pattern or password. Admittedly a thief would have to either be really lucky or know what you look like to fool the technology, but it is a valid point.

The feature actually works surprisingly well in practice. With Face Unlock enabled the lock screen has a front facing camera live view window that you're supposed to use to center your face. With the exception of really bright (with the light shining into the camera) or really dim scenarios, Face Unlock worked for me almost every time. When it works perfectly using your face to unlock the phone is extremely quick. In the right conditions I've seen ICS unlock itself a split second after I even saw my face on the screen. On average though the process is slower than typing in a PIN or using any of the other unlock methods. Furthermore, if you use your phone a lot at night (especially in cars) you have to hit the power/lock button then tap the lock icon to circumvent Face Unlock and go directly to your PIN/password/pattern. Finally, don't try to use Face Unlock to unlock your phone while driving - that's a recipe for bad, or worse, death.

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  • thecraw - Saturday, January 21, 2012 - link

    couldn't stop laughing at that statement, sure no one is forcing you to use itunes, its your own problem if you want to backup your iproduct or upgrade your iOS etc.. yes no one is forcing you right... Reply
  • steven75 - Friday, February 10, 2012 - link

    Have you never heard of iCloud? I mean are we in bizarro world here or is everyone really THAT clues on iOS 5? Reply
  • augustofretes - Monday, January 23, 2012 - link

    I found comments like yours absolutely hilarious, because I don't own an iPhone, nor I'm interested on buying one, I'm perfectly happy with my Samsung Galaxy S II running CM9 ;-)

    You're not being objective, unless, of course, you only see your homescreen and never open any application.

    The iPhone 4S is not perfect, I completely agree, but the interface is more fluid, this is fact, pinch-to-zoom is not a smooth, even on a GNex, as it on the 4S, but it's pretty smooth now.

    Sorry mindless fanboy.
    Reply
  • kebab77 - Sunday, February 05, 2012 - link

    Serious performance boost for phones currently on Android 2.3.x:
    http://www.bestsmartphone.com/2012/02/05/android-4...
    ... Samsung Galaxy S2 still top of the pile!
    Reply
  • macs - Wednesday, January 18, 2012 - link

    My only suggestion is that there are some device that need a sort of priority for a review. Galaxy Nexus and ICS should be on this list like the Apple products (you already do that) and maybe a flagship WP 7 device like Lumia 800/900.
    We can wait a bit more for device like Razr, Lumia 710, various HTC, various Samsung,...

    In 1 H 2012 my priority list will be Galaxy S 3, first device with Krait and Ipad 3.

    Back at reading, I know this will be a good read!
    Thank you
    Reply
  • roedtogsvart - Wednesday, January 18, 2012 - link

    Anand, just thought I'd throw this in there:

    For something like $25 (Verizon) you can buy an extended battery and gain an additional 250 mAh (1850 vs 2100) that adds basically no perceptible thickness to the device, though I did not precisely measure. Have you tested with the extended battery? I feel like it makes an already amazing phone even better.
    Reply
  • Brian Klug - Thursday, January 19, 2012 - link

    I managed to snag an extended battery for the RAZR review, but didn't get the chance to do the same with the CDMA/LTE Galaxy Nexus. I've seen that battery however, and it is a novel design - the back doesn't get thicker, just flatter (the whole phone is as thick as the bulge).

    We've seen pretty linear scalings before, so you can assume that extra 250 mAh will scale linearly as well.

    -Brian
    Reply
  • 3DoubleD - Wednesday, January 18, 2012 - link

    The task switcher is blazing fast on the Transformer Prime, so I'd say it's a Galaxy Nexus limitation and not an ICS limitation. Reply
  • Lucian Armasu - Thursday, January 19, 2012 - link

    Anand didn't say it's an ICS issue either. He said it's a GPU issue, because older GPU's still can't handle HD resolutions very well, just like Tegra 2 GPU barely could, too.

    But I'm sure on lower-end ICS phones with lower resolutions, it should work faster, so it's not like every ICS phone will need a Tegra 3 GPU-level from now on.
    Reply
  • GnillGnoll - Thursday, January 19, 2012 - link

    He said it _could_ be a GPU issue. Something which I strongly doubt, it's not like the task switcher adds that much graphics load over rendering the normal UI. Reply

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