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printed August 22, 2014
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Review: Android 4.2 Jelly Bean

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Communications

The stock Android 4.2 Jelly Bean communications tools (phone, contacts, and calendar apps) are robust and sync data across services and platforms. For example, Facebook and Google+ contacts are seamlessly integrated into the Android contact database and cross-populate information and profile photos. Plenty of widgets are available for all three of these key services that make accessing them from the home screen panels a cinch.

The phone app itself has an easy-to-use dialpad and lets users quickly sort between calls contacts, favorites, and groups. Phone features include speakerphone, send to bluetooth, add a line, and mute. Users can also choose to reject incoming calls with text messages.

The calendar app natively syncs with Google's online calendar. It supports ActiveSync, which means corporate calendars (and contacts) are a breeze to sync, as well. The calendar widgets are one of my favorite features about Android, because they are flexible and let me see the information I want to see.

 

Comms

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Media

The Google Play Store is Google's answer to Apple's iTunes and the iPhone App Store. It's the one location wherein Android device owners can purchase and download music, movies, magazines, books, and apps. Google has made strides in recent months by signing new movie and music studios to help expand the availability of content in the Google Play Store. While it is on even footing with Apple in terms of the number of apps (about 600,000), iTunes still bests Google Play in terms of music, movies, and television shows. Microsoft's app and content store doesn't have nearly the selection of content that Google Play and iOS do, but it's a slicker and better designed experience. Google is doing its best to catch up.

The Google Play Store is a central place for all the content to be plucked from the Internet, but each media type has its own specialized application (Google Play Books, Google Play Magazines, etc.). These secondary apps are what Android devices owners use to actually interact with their media. They are all fine and work well, though media integrates with Apple's iOS platform more seamlessly.

For music fans, the Play Music app is where all the action is. It can be used to stream content from a user's online Google Music account, or to play media stored locally. If you want to load Google Music from the web to the device, it is as easy as "pinning" the content you want to the device. I'd suggest doing this over Wi-Fi.

If you're not keen on purchasing stuff from the device, you can always sideload content. It's no trouble at all to use a USB cable to push unprotected music and movies to a Jelly Bean device. Stuff that's protected by DRM, such as movies from the iTunes Store, won't play on Android devices. It's also worth noting that Android 4.0 and up (including 4.1 and 4.2 Jelly Bean) no longer support USB mass storage. Google switched to a different standard called MTP. The end result is that it is now a little bit more cumbersome for users of Apple computers to sideload content to Android devices because it requires a separate piece of software from Google. Oh, and the software kind of stinks.

 

Media

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Messaging

The stock Android messaging tools (Gmail, email, Google Talk, Google+, Google+ Messenger, SMS/MMS) are more or less carried over from Android 4.0. They are a solid set of apps that make staying in touch through multiple different channels a breeze.

The Gmail and email apps are more or less identical, but the Gmail app obviously hooks into Google's own email program. Both are capable services for managing web mail, as well as corporate email services based on Microsoft's Exchange. It’s easy to manage folders and filters, reply and forward messages, download or send attachments, and so on. The Gmail Android app is about the most robust mobile email client there is, and it easily bests those offered by iOS and Windows Phone.

The other messaging services are a bit redundant. For example, Google+ Messenger and Google Talk are really the same thing (Gmail-based IM clients). G+ Messenger hooks into Google+, Google's social network. Basically, if you have a Google account, Jelly Bean gives you a million ways to reach other people with Google accounts.

Perhaps the most notable feature is the ability to conduct Google Talk Video chats and/or join Google+ hangouts. Both let you stare at others face-to-face from your cell phone while having a conversation.

Navigation / Maps

Google Maps is one of the best free online mapping and navigation services available. The experience on Android devices is neck-and-neck with the competition. This year, Google Maps has improved to support limited 3D renders of city and landscapes (this feature is better implemented in the separate Google Earth app), offline maps, and indoor maps for large public buildings.

Google Maps' best feature aren't the excellent and detailed maps, nor the accurate live traffic data, nor the mass transit directions. No, Google Maps' best features is the integration it shares with other Google services: Local, Offers, Latitude, Places, and social networks such as Google+. These ancillary services form a suite of location-based apps with Google Maps at the core.

 

Maps

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Web

Google's Chrome browser has replaced the age-old stock Android browser in Jelly Bean. Chrome's best feature is its ability to sync sign-ins, passwords, open tabs, and bookmarks lists with its desktop-based companion. Of course, Safari does this for iOS devices, too. Chrome has its own style for managing multiple tabs, open pages, and so on. Again, it's Chrome integrated with other Google services that really sets it apart. Sharing web pages, links, or bookmarks directly to social networks or messaging platforms is all a breeze thanks to the tight connection Chrome has with Google's web services.

Of course, it's also solid at rendering web pages, and Android 4.2 adds some hardware acceleration support that makes it even snappier.

 

Web

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