Motorola Xoom Jelly Bean Review

As a proud owner of a Motorola Xoom Wifi edition, I expected an Android update as soon as I heard about Android 4.1 and fortunately enough, only a few days after it was released, a notification popped up, letting me know I was ready to update. Android 4.1, or Jelly Bean, as it is commonly known, is a fantastic upgrade from ICS. While it is not a complete UI makeover like ICS was to Honeycomb, it does bring hundreds of improvements on an already polished operating system. Thanks to Project Butter, the OS feels absolutely lightning quick and has virtually no lag whatsoever. Does it fare well in today’s competitive mobile OS market? Let’s find out.

As with Ice Cream Sandwich, the first thing you notice when you turn the tablet on is the updated font used for the clock and notification area. While ICS had a thinner and wider font, the new the font looks much more solid and crisper. You are also presented with an improved lock screen which, along with some new animation effects, provides you with immediate access to Google Now, a slick new feature available only with Jelly Bean.

Google Now utilities your browsing history and location to give you all the relevant information you might need. For example, using GPS, it can tell when  you are near a bus stop and show you the relevant bus schedule as well as traffic information and weather information. All of these pieces of information are shown in “cards”‘ which pop up as soon as you need them. You just swipe left or right to dismiss them. Google Now can also be accessed from any application in the tablet by simply holding any of the three capacitive touchscreen buttons (Back, Home, Multitasking) and swiping upwards.

The new keyboard in Jellybean is not that big an upgrade from ICS but certainly looks a lot cleaner and is much more accurate. One of the best features is the voice-to-text also works without an internet connection.  As stated before, the font used in the notification has been changed but the notification bar remains almost the same. Incoming notifications are much cleaner and unobtrusive. If there is only one notification in the notification area, it will automatically resize itself, allowing you to see more information at a glance. For example, whereas before you would only get to see the first few words of an email, the new notification bar allows you to read the first few lines, provided there no other notifications in the bar. Dragging up on a notification with two fingers expand it, while doing the reverse collapses it to a single row.

Stock applications have once again been slightly upgraded, making them more user friendly. For example, when opening up the Camera application, you simply swipe to the left to access your captured images; a nifty little feature which is very similar to what is found in Windows Phone 7.5. The Gallery application itself now allows you to pinch (to zoom out) so you can see all of your pictures in a single line, without having to swipe like a madman to get from one side to another. Once zoomed out, you simply swipe a picture up or down to delete it. Maps now allows you to save offline maps, for those times where you don’t have a data connection. The best thing is that you can save as many offline maps as you want.

The screen transitions which were inherent in Honeycomb (hexagonal screen transition) have been switched for a quicker Slide animation, while using the same Tron-like fading. Thanks to Project Butter, the whole OS feels a lot smoother and there is virtually no sign of lag throughout the tablet; not even when swiping back and forth through the app and widget drawers like a madman (believe me, I tried this for a few hours just to make sure).

Speaking of widgets, another cool new feature is that when you select a widget from the drawer and place it on top of another widget, the other widget will slide out of the way (if there is enough room on the screen) allowing you to see how your new widget will look like on the screen as a faint outline of the widget until you take your finger off the screen. If you decide to put the widget somewhere else, the other widgets simply slide back into their original places.

While I’ve said nothing but positive things about Google’s new OS, there is, however, one thing which really annoyed me: the new look for the Play Music widget. It looks horribly ugly and unintuitive since it doesn’t provide even basic controls like Stop or Rewind but rather gives you the option of liking a song (rather pointless in my opinion), pausing it, or skipping to the next song in your collection. I feel as though this is a definite downgrade from the brilliant music widget that was found in ICS. Play Music remains the same although the Now Playing screen is a lot more minimalistic, showing you the album art and basic media controls.

Lastly, and although this is just a minor quibble, gone are the bluish tron-like ICS buttons of yesteryear. Instead, when you press a capacitive button, you are shown a rather boring shade of grey.

All in all, Android 4.1.1 is a fantastic upgrade from Ice Cream Sandwich since almost everything is much smoother, quicker and generally better looking.  While I still have a few quibbles with it, I’m very pleased with the upgrade. If you haven’t bought a tablet and are looking into buying one, based on this OS alone I would recommend getting the Nexus 7. Android 4.1 has tonnes and tonnes of new and intuitive features, some of which I haven’t even found out about yet. Feel free to see the Screenshot Gallery here. What more can I say? Jelly Bean is sweet 🙂

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