Google's Ice Cream Sandwich: A New Era for Android

Camera and Gallery

New Camera App
Android 4.0 includes a brand spankin' new Camera app that's chock full of surprises. The app's interface boasts some significant improvements, but the added functions are what really steal the show.

One of the high points is the newly implemented support for zero shutter lag. That means you can snap one photo after another in rapid succession without ever having to stop or wait. It's actually a little strange at first -- and can make it somewhat challenging to get your image focused, if you're moving really fast -- but it's a fantastic feature that makes photo-capturing easier than ever.

Camera editing
The Camera app has a cool single-motion panorama mode, too, that lets you take wide-perspective images. All you do is tap the panorama icon and press the shutter button, then move your camera slowly across the area you want to capture. When you're finished, you tap the shutter once more, and the software puts the whole thing together into a single seamless image. It works amazingly well.

On the video side, the Camera app now includes a range of live-video effects -- distorting your face, for example, or making it appear as if you're floating in space. They're more for fun than anything, but I found they provided some light-hearted amusement while video-chatting with friends. The Camera has a few serious new video-related tools as well, including a snapshot-capturing utility that lets you grab still images while you're recording video.

The new Camera app and the redesigned Gallery app put photo sharing front and center, with a host of on-screen options to send images to any share-ready service. Ice Cream Sandwich also includes native photo and video editing tools. I found the video editing suite to be a bit limited in its capabilities, but the photo editing options are quite robust, with commands for cropping, sharpening, removing red eye, modifying lighting and making a variety of color adjustments. The photo editor can apply quite numerous special effects, too, if you're into that sort of thing.

Other Ice Cream Sandwich sprinkles

I could write an entire book trying to cover and review everything that's new in Ice Cream Sandwich. I haven't even gotten into the revamped system settings menu -- it's far simpler and easier to use -- or the new NFC-based "Android Beam" function that lets you share info with other phones by tapping the devices together (cool in theory, but fairly limited in practice at the moment).

You've also got random flourishes like the long overdue ability to capture screenshots and the new fine controls for managing and monitoring your network data usage. Many of the system apps are vastly improved as well, including Gmail, Calendar, People (formerly Contacts) and the browser -- which now features faster page loading, automatic Chrome bookmark syncing, offline page saving and graphical tabbed browsing.

But you get the picture. Ice Cream Sandwich is more than just another upgrade; it's a significant new beginning for the Android platform. It isn't perfect -- the software has a handful of inconsistencies and areas for improvement -- but it's astonishingly good. I suspect it'll go a long way in delighting both hardcore enthusiasts and casual smartphone users.

Bottom line

Android has always been a powerful platform. With Ice Cream Sandwich, its power reaches new heights -- and its polish makes the power more palatable than ever.

JR Raphael is a Computerworld contributing editor and the author of the Android Power blog. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.

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For comprehensive coverage of the Android ecosystem, visit Greenbot.com.

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