July 30, 2012, 8:27 AM —
The biggest reason Android 4.1 has won substantial praise, especially as it relates to its smoothness, and it performance on the well-liked Nexus 7 mini-tablet. It has Google Now, its default browser is Chrome for Mobile, and, heck, you can unlock it by blinking (even if that’s not so secure). That stuff is nice, but you know what? It’s the little details that make it feel like Android is no longer a distant second when it comes to the mobile experience.
I’ve been showing off Android 4.1, on both a Galaxy Nexus phone and the Nexus 7 tablet, and what people dig about both is the nearly intangible improvement to the look and feel. Here’s a few things that (don’t) stand out:
The “glide”: When you use your finger to slide between home screens, does it seem like all the objects you’ve place on those screens are gliding over to another space, or more like your phone is struggling to show you a video of what that should look like? The latter is a common experience on Android devices running 4.0 and earlier. “Project Butter” is, in fact, a highly touted aspect of Andoid 4.1, but it helps to have a frame of reference for what’s been made buttery. Beyond home screen sliding, the other major change is how one switches between apps. If there’s any delay, it’s in the moment before the app launches, rather than having a shell screen pop up and watching as all its data and images force themselves awake from a nap. Heading back to the home screen also doesn’t feel like a big request. Seems small, feels big.
Automatic widget/app shuffling: Move a big widget onto a home screen where an app or two is in the way, and those apps automatically fly into empty spaces elsewhere on the screen. This is, basically, what the iPhone has always done, but with the caveat that Android’s widgets can be resized, too, so now everything slides around as you try to make room for it. It makes the device owner feel less like a zoning board member and more like a powerful mayor.