Mobile Devices

Android 4.2 On The Nexus 7: First Impressions

Google recently pushed Android 4.2 Jelly Bean to the Nexus 7 and other devices. Here's a first look at the newest version of Android on Google's 7-inch tablet.
Google announced Android 4.2, a minor update to Jelly Bean, in late October. The Nexus 4 smartphone is the first device to ship with Android 4.2 on board, but Google has already begun sending the system update to other Nexus-branded devices, including the Asus-made Nexus 7 tablet.

Google's latest iteration of Android hit my Nexus 7 over the weekend, and I've spent a few days using it. Here are my thoughts.

One of the most in-your-face new features of Android 4.2 Jelly Bean is support for lock screen widgets. The idea is to let users get a glimpse of important notifications without having to first unlock their device. It's a bit clunky to use.

When you first wake the screen, you'll see an odd line on the left side of the display. This line indicates that there's a second lock screen page available. If you swipe over to it, you'll see the tool for adding widgets to the lock screen. There are only a few available at the moment, including a clock, calendar, Gmail, and sound search. More should become available over time.

Rather than stuff all the widgets onto a single screen, the system allows for only one widget per screen. You can slide between the screens to see your next several calendar appointments, a handful of emails, and so on. If you're looking at the email widget on the lock screen and want to open your email, you need to finish unlocking the device first. If you use a screen lock -- and you should be -- you'll need to perform that step as well.

[ For more on the devices running Android 4.2, see Google Debuts 3 Nexus Devices. ]

If you just want to glance at your calendar or see how many unread emails you have, I guess it could be useful, but the number of steps involved to access and use the lock screen widgets makes it faster to simply unlock your device and go straight to the email or calendar app.

One feature I really like is the new Gesture Type keyboard. Google has taken its own technology and developed a method for inputting text that is similar to Swype, SwiftKey, or T9 Trace. Rather than peck at individual letters on the glass display, you trace your finger from letter to letter, spelling each word as you go. I've yet to get any of the third-party tracing keyboards to work properly on the Nexus 7, so this is a welcome addition. In my first few days of using it, I found it to be accurate most of the time and a cinch to learn. Perhaps the best part is that it knows when you've finished each word, which means you don't have to reach down and punch the spacebar. It automatically adds spaces between words for you. Good stuff.

Google made a couple of interesting changes to the way the notification shade behaves on the home screen, too. In Android 4.1 and earlier, there was one notification shade that dropped down when users swiped from the top down. Now there are two.

Swiping down from the top-left corner of the display pulls down the standard notification shade with your emails, messages, app updates, and other notifications. It behaves just as you expect. Swipe down from the top-right, however, and you're taken to a new notification shade that provides access to basic device settings. These include display brightness controls, as well as the Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and wireless radio controls. Previously, all these items were included in a single shade. I'm not really sure if there's a benefit to having two shades. As far as I can tell, you can't choose which side the different shades appear on.

The other big new feature is Photo Sphere, but the Nexus 7's lack of a rear camera negates the usefulness of this feature.

Has anyone else updated to Android 4.2 Jelly Bean? If so, do your experiences mirror mine? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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