Jelly Bean first shipped on Galaxy Nexus 7 tablets, but this hasn't been reviewed since the kind readers haven't bought me one yet. However, on July 16th, the latest Android OS was made available to Google's own Galaxy Nexus phone via an Over-The-Air (OTA) update. The Galaxy Nexus was my first Ice Cream Sandwich (4.0) device and I really like it. Bar none, it's the most stable smart phone I've ever had, and yes, I had an iPhone before.

The update was smooth. I received a prompt (albeit, a bit naggy) that told me there was a system update. I told it to update, and a few minutes later (about 30-40, I think) I had a newly updated device and didn't lose a single bit of data. For those that know and care what this is, I lost root and had to do it over, but that's expected, and no big deal.

So, what are these new Jelly Bean features? Google's own site (http://www.android.com/whatsnew/) lists the major new features that they're focused on. I'll take most of these features and describe my experiences with the update based on how I use my own phone.

Fast & smooth: Project “butter” is supposed to streamline each part of the operating system, making it feel as smooth as butter. While Google spent development time with Android “under a microscope”, some of this gain was achieved by “...boosting your device's CPU instantly when you touch the screen...” Did it pay off? I think so! The entire feel of the device has been noticeably improved, and much of what little lag there was has been eliminated. Is it a complete night/day experience? No. However it's very noticeable, and I welcome the improvement.

Expandable notifications: The notification bar has been one of the best features of Android, in my opinion. I love being able to pull it down, see an update, and “slide” right back to the application I was just in without interruption. In fact, Apple recently adopted this idea into iOS! It's even better in Jelly bean, as notifications can now be interactive and expandable. Each notification can be long-pressed to see a context menu, which all have an “App info” option to present information about the app that caused this notification. On this screen, the “Show notifications” option can be unchecked to mute noisy apps.

With 4.0 (ICS) if I was in another app while talking on the phone, my choice was to hang up with my headset, or switch back to the phone app and tap “End Call”. Now, I can pull down the notification bar, click “Hang Up” on the notification, and tap the back arrow to return to my previous app. Much more convenient! My new email notification is awesome, too! Say I have 3 new emails. In the notification, I can use two fingers sliding apart on the screen (zoom gesture) to cause the notification panel to show the headers of each email. Event and alarm notifications were given a “Snooze” option that appears with the notification.

All of this makes the notifications list longer, but I think it's worth it.

Widgets work like magic: Moving widgets around on the screen was sometimes annoying. You'd have to remove app icons to make room, move the widget to the other side of the screen, then replace the icons you removed. Now, dragging a widget around causes the app icons to get out of the way and reorganize. Not a major thing, but handy nonetheless.

Seamlessly take and share photos: The camera and gallery app sports an update that makes them work together more smoothly. It used to be that if I took a pic, I'd click on the thumbnail in the camera, wait for the gallery to load and show my pic, then hit back. No more! The two apps feel like they were married. Click the thumbnail, the most recent pic in the camera slides into view immediately. Swipe left to see the next most recent pic, and so on. If you swipe right, the camera is displayed and you shoot again. Much nicer, and very easy! As far as sharing, I didn't notice anything new here. Maybe because I don't use the feature enough to notice a change, or maybe the update is minor.

A smarter keyboard: The keyboard is supposed to remember what you commonly type as phrases, and offer this as a completion option in addition to spelling corrections. As an IT person, I frequently type “hard drive”. So, when I type “hard”, “hard drive” shows as a suggestion. Handy, but I usually just ignore the suggestions, as I'm usually concentrating on not making any gross typos on such a small keyboard.

The keyboard text to speech has been updated too and works well for me most times. However it has it's moments of guessing something completely different from what I said. So, I normally default to typing, instead of proofreading a transcription.

Android Beam: NFC (“Near-Field Communications”) capabilities existed in Ice Cream Sandwich, but this goes a step further. It is now possible to share contacts, pictures, URL's and other things by simply touching two NFC capable devices together. NFS enabled Bluetooth headsets can also be paired more easily by just tapping the two devices together. No searching or pairing.

One of the more interesting things with NFC is the integration with Google Wallet. With the Galaxy Nexus, if you activate a new Google Wallet account, they load $10 onto a new prepaid Mastercard. As of August 1st, you can add any major credit/debit card into your Google Wallet! So, how does this work? I had an unsuccessful payment attempt at Bill Gray's, but the person behind the counter at couldn't figure out how to charge only $10, and leave the balance to cash. So, I paid with cash and tried it another day at Wegmans with exactly $10. I unlocked my phone to the home screen then held it to the reader which beeped and prompted Google Wallet to open and ask for my pin number. After entering it, I held my phone to the reader again and my purchase was complete. The person at the register thought this was awesome, and so did I. After a positive experience, I reloaded it with $20 more from a debit card, and bought subs a few days later. I like it! Perhaps I should have patented my idea from 1999 when I thought about a device that held all my card numbers, and I could scan it and select which card or bank account to use. Now Google took it. Ugh.

Google Now: This is one part of the Jelly Bean update that has receive a lot of hype. If you hold the home button, then swipe up from the bottom, Google Now appears. It's supposed to get used to you and your schedule, your plans, and show relevant information in “cards”. As an example, it will show flight information for any flights you have coming up, or train information for the stop you're currently waiting at. The cards appearing on this screen are configurable, and it comes with “weather” as a default.

Once of the “wow” features of Google Now, is that at any time on this screen, you can say, ”Google” and it will start listening to your commands. Alternatively, clicking the microphone on the home screen brings you to the same place. I've asked questions like, “How tall is Barack Obama?” It delayed a second, they audibly replied into my headset, “Barack Obama is 6' 1” tall.” Pretty slick! I then asked “How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?” It simply returned a Google search result. It doesn't get everything right, but it is an exciting technology move. If this was configurable, I'd guess that Star Trek fans would want their phone to respond to “Computer.”

This is nice and handy, but I have two problems with this. First, it just seems that Google is getting a little too cozy examining my information for the purpose of tailoring a screen to me. They say the data is secure, but it's securely on THEIR servers rather than my phone or my computer. My other problem with it is that it opens slowly. It usually takes 4-5 seconds to populate the screen, but sometimes longer. If this is something that I should be able to pull up at any time to show information I want “Now”, then it should be as responsive as the notification screen. It's not.

The “not so good” changes? Personally, I load multiple apps onto my phone that do similar things. I have Firefox, plus the default browser. I also have several apps for displaying pictures. I don't want a default app for these things, so I'm content to choose one each time I tap a link or picture to open. However with Jelly Bean, I have to tap TWICE. Once to choose the app, a second time to choose “Just once.” I used to just click the app icon, only checking “Make default” if I didn't want to see this choice again. I think this is a step back.

My thoughts are simple. The updates to Android that manifested in Jelly Bean are mostly very welcome, and overall I prefer Jelly Bean over Ice Cream Sandwich, for Google at the very least did a great job with the performance improvements. However, there are a few things that I preferred with ICS, such as what I described above. Is it better than iOS now? Well, that's a debate I'd rather not get into. However, Android has definitely matured to become a major competitor in the market. Much more so with Jelly Bean.