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printed October 25, 2014
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Review: Android 4.2 Jelly Bean

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Accessibility

Android 4.1 and 4.2 together have made the platform much better for those who have poor vision or hearing. Android can now better determine the difference between exploratory swipes (slow movements, like scrolling) and gesture swipes (quick, directional gestures, like pulling down the notification shade) on the screen, which should make navigating the menu system easier for those who have impaired vision. This feature works when the device is set to a mode specifically for uses with poor eyesight. It also now supports external Braille devices.

Business

Over the years, Android has made strides in one area that business users worry about a lot: security. Android 4.2 takes security even deeper into the platform. Jelly Bean adds no less than a dozen significant new security features and bug fixes. Probably the most important features include the ability to verify apps, certify SMS messages, leave VPNs always connected, verify web site certificates, and support for stronger cryptography. These changes make Android an even more secure platform for businesses looking to adopt it.

Bluetooth and NFC

Google has rewritten the code that controls the Bluetooth and NFC radios in Android devices. The new Bluetooth stack makes Android 4.2 devices compatible with more Bluetooth accessories and makes Bluetooth performance more reliable. Google has updated the NFC software so that it supports the latest standards from the NFC Forum. For the end user, this means more compatibility with more devices, such as Bluetooth 4.0 low-energy equipment and the newest gear from NFC equipment makers. This will be especially important for compatibility when you consider apps such as Google Wallet.

External Displays

Android 4.2 Jelly Bean adds support for external displays via Miracast technology. Android devices have long been able to share content with other screens via the DLNA and MHL standards. DLNA lets users connect to other DLNA devices (typically an HDTV) through a home Wi-Fi network. Both devices have to be using the same network. MHL lets Android devices plug directly into HDTVs through an HDMI cable. Android 4.2 still supports both these standards. Miracast is different. Miracast lets Wi-Fi devices connect to one another directly, without using a home network or a cable, because it is based on the Wi-Fi Alliance's Wi-Fi Direct standard.

What does that mean for Android users? Well, it will be easier to share content on the device (mirroring the display, controlling a slide show, playing a movie) with HDTVs -- eventually. At the moment, Miracast-enabled TVs aren't all that common, but they will be moving forward.

Further, Google is offering developers a lot of tools to to take advantage of the Miracast technology within their applications.

 

Displays

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Google Now / Search

Google Now is a feature introduced in Android 4.1, but it has been improved in Android 4.2. Google Now is a combination Google Search tool and personal assistant. You can use it to perform any sort of web search, but the real use is in customizing “cards”. The cards contain information personalized for each user, such as the weather for the current location, the estimated commute home and traffic conditions, the previous night's sports scores, upcoming flight information, package tracking, and much more. Google Now operates in the background and updates the cards as needed. To be honest, I found it kind of creepy for a while, but now have come to rely on the up-to-the-minute accuracy of the details provided by the app.

Voice search is tied deeply to Google Now. Google's voice recognition powers are incredible. You can ask the search tool natural-language questions and watch as the software translates the speech to text in near real-time and then return the appropriate results. Google Now and its voice search powers easily crush those of Apple's Siri. The accuracy of the speech translation alone is leagues better than Apple's software. Bing Search doesn't hold a candle to Google Now, either. It's some seriously good search software and assistance.

 

Google Now

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

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