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Android ‘Ice Cream Sandwich’ 4.0 features – listed, noted, explained and with screen shots

Google's Android 'Ice Cream Sandwich' 4.0 has just been unveiled along with the very first handset to arrive running the OS - the Samsung Galaxy Nexus.

In this feature One Mobile Ring will be listing some of the key features of the latest version of Android to arrive from Google, along with providing screen shots to highlight these new abilities.

Android 'Ice Cream Sandwich' is said to offer the best of the Google's 'Honeycomb' tablet OS, along with their mobile phone platform - with the abilities such as 'swiping' applications off the screen, to close them down.

Android 4.0 has had its user interface refined, making common actions more visible and letting users navigate with simple gestures. There is a new typeface, which has been optimised for high-resolution screens which improves upon readability, whilst adding a more modern feel to the user interface.

On screen there is now an array of virtual buttons that allows users to navigate instantly to Back, Home, and Recent Apps. This ‘system bar' and virtual buttons are present across all apps, but can be dimmed by the applications for full-screen viewing.

A key strength of Android has always been its ability to multi-task, where this has been made even easier to access with a more visual feel inside of Ice Cream Sandwich. The 'recent apps' button allows users to instantly switch from one task to another, by just using the list button on the 'system bar'. The 'list button' then shows a thumbnail image of applications recently used, where just tapping a thumbnail switches to one of the apps running.

Android 4.0 has a new home screen application folder that offers a new way for users to group their apps and shortcuts more easily, just by dragging one onto another. Users can now simply drag an app from the 'All Apps launcher' to get information about it, or immediately uninstall it, or even disable a pre-installed app.

The new lock screen also allows for a lot more than just unlocking. Users can now jump directly to the camera from inside of the lock screen, or just pull down the notification window to check for messages - with a similar set of features appearing in Apple's new iOS 5 too.

Ice Cream Sandwich users can quickly respond by text message to an incoming call, without the need to unlock the device. On the incoming call screen, users simply slide a control to see a list of text responses and then tap to send and end the call.

Android 4.0 has gained a faster and more accurate text method, where error correction and word suggestion has been improved through a new set of default dictionaries. This is coupled with a more accurate heuristics for handling cases such as double-typed characters, skipped letters, and omitted spaces. Word suggestion has also been improved and the suggestion strip is simplified to show only three words at a time.

There is a new voice input engine that offers users the ability to dictate the text they want, for as long as they want, using the language they want. Users can speak continously for a prolonged time, even pausing for intervals if needed, and dictate punctuation to create correct sentences. As the voice input engine enters text, it underlines possible dictation errors in gray. After dictating, users can tap the underlined words to quickly replace them from a list of suggestions.

Android 4.0 adds new controls for managing network data usage, as mobile devices can make extensive use of network data for synchronizing and downloading apps. Where this new feature meets the needs of users with tiered or metered data plans. The Settings app shows the total data usage on each network type (mobile or Wi-Fi), as well as the amount of data used by each running application. Based on their data plans, users can optionally set warning levels or hard limits on data usage or disable mobile data altogether. Users can also manage the background data used by individual applications too.

At the heart of the OS is a new 'people' app that offers richer profile information, including a large picture, phone numbers, addresses and accounts, status updates, and a new button for connecting on integrated social networks.

The camera application now introduces a single-motion panorama mode. In this mode, the user starts an exposure and then slowly turns the camera to encompass as wide a perspective as needed. The camera then assembles the full range of continuous imagery into a single panoramic photo.

The Android web browser now lets users instantly and manage sync Google Chrome bookmarks from all of their accounts, jump to their favorite content faster, and even save it for reading later in case there's no network available.

Users can now request a full desktop version of a web sites, rather than their mobile versions. It is also possible to set preferences for web sites separately for each browser tab. For longer content, users can save a copy for offline reading.

Android Beam is a new feature for sharing across two NFC-enabled devices. It lets people instantly exchange favorite apps, contacts, music, videos — almost anything. It’s simple and convenient to use — with no menu to open, application to launch, or pairing needed. Just touch one Android-powered phone to another, then tap to send.

Android 4.0 introduces a completely new approach to securing a device, making it even more personal. Face Unlock is a new screen-lock option that lets users unlock their devices with their faces. It takes advantage of state-of-the-art facial recognition technology to register a face and to recognise it later when unlocking the device. Users just hold their devices in front of their faces to unlock, or use a backup PIN or pattern.

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Rob Kerr is a journalist with more than 14 years experience of news, reviews and feature writing on titles such as Wired, PC Magazine, The Register, The Inquirer, Pocket-Lint, Mobile Industry Review, Know Your Mobile and The Gadget Show. The mobile phone world is his real passion and forte, having owned a handset as far back as 1994 where he has seen them grow from just a business tool to a necessity in everyone’s everyday life.