5 mixed-bag changes in Android 4.2

Some things in Android 4.2 are simultaneously sour and sweet, like a Sour Patch Kid.


Android 4.2 is now available, in the sense that new Android releases are usually "available." That is, 4.2 is available to those who bought brand-new, Google-derived Nexus devices, such as the very sold-out Nexus 4 or the Nexus 10 tablet, those willing to manually install the 4.2 ROM on their Nexus 7 or GSM Galaxy Nexus, and those with the ability to compile their own build from source code.

I am in the middle, having flashed a factory image of Android 4.2 onto my Nexus 7 (Wi-Fi, 8 GB storage) yesterday. Here are some impressions, evenly split for no particular reason.

Multiple user accounts: convenient, but slow to load

All tablets are meant to be casual, pick-up-to-look-up devices. You want to pass them off in the living room, share them on a trip, let your friends check their email. But most tablets are locked into a single user account, for the primary owner's presumed convenience. Android 4.2 offers tablet owners additional user accounts (tied to Google accounts) to make sharing easier.

Easier, sure, but fairly slow to switch over on a quad-core device, at least when starting up the device. And since the device boots up to the primary owner's account, it can be a while before both accounts are up and running smoothly. And the owner has to watch their space usage a bit more closely from there on out.

New notification/settings "shades": somewhat unexpected

Android was trendsetting in its notification "shade," which one pulled down with a finger from the top of the screen, revealing everything your phone and its apps wanted to tell you about. Ever since the first Android phone went on sale, you would drag your finger from the top, and a single, centered shade would come down with it.

In Android 4.2, at least on a tablet, there are now two shades. A shade on the left has your notifications, while a shade on the right shows quick settings. If you are used to casually, somewhat haphazardly flicking your finger from somewhere close to the top-center of the screen, you might not get what you were looking for. The Nexus 7 seems to give the left notification edge a bit more room, which makes sense. But it may take a while to get used to the two shades, and for the right settings shade to be useful for longtime users.

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