Category: Android

Running Ice Cream Sandwich on the Nexus S

After ignoring the update notification for 7 to 10 days, I finally took the plunge and updated my Nexus S to ICS 4.0.3. After all, that’s part of why I wanted a pure Google phone – early access to OS updates.

I was a bit apprehensive after seeing that a lot of people had run into problems with ICS and it had been pulled by Google. But I figured there must be some way to go back if I ran into serious problems. Here’s a list of ten things I’ve experienced with ICS that stand out to me – some good, some not so good.

1. Constant Google+ crashes related to a Picasa Sync database.

I was regularly getting popups telling me Google+ had shutdown or was no longer responding. According to the crash data, the problem had something to do with a failure to upgrade a Picasa-related database from version 5 to version 4. That’s right – it seemed to be trying to downgrade the database schema.

After several days of trying to figure out the problem, I found a post online that explained it was a simple matter of updating Google+ from the Android Market. Sure enough, I browsed into the market, found an update to Google+, and my problems disappeared. For some reason, the update only appeared when I went to the listing for the app. The Market app wouldn’t recognize the need for an update simply by visiting the list of my installed apps even though other updates had shown up.

2. Left swipe to access the camera from the lock screen.

I think this was a great addition to the phone. I’m still getting used to doing the left swipe and find myself doing a right swipe and getting ready to touch the camera app I used to have pinned on my home screen. I end up needing to hit the power button to suspend the phone, hit again to wake it up, and then left swipe to get to the camera. I figure in time I’ll get it down.

3. Settings are accessible from the notification tray.

This was actually one of the items that got me to try the update to ICS. Having quick access to settings from anywhere is very helpful. Just swipe down and tap the icon.

4. Auto-rotate seems to have some problems.

I noticed a couple of times that rotating the phone wasn’t automatically rotating the current app even though I knew the app should support it. Another Google search shows this is a fairly common problem, but I haven’t found a solution for it yet.

[Update: Apparently, this problem can often be correctly by a simple reboot, but I’m still unsure about what causes the problem.]

5. No more silencing the phone from the lock screen.

It used to be a simple matter of swiping across the lock screen to toggle in and out of silent mode, but now that ability has gone away. You can access the notification tray from the lock screen and quickly access notifications without needing to unlock the phone, which can be an added convenience.

[UPDATE: I’ve discovered this functionality is still available by holding down the power button. The popup menu contains buttons for silent, vibrate, and normal modes.]

6. Easy screenshots!!

Holding the power button and the down volume button for a second will generate a screenshot. This is a terrific new feature that I’m glad to see.

7. Look at all those new contacts.

I was a bit surprised when I first opened up my contact list and saw some unfamiliar names. All of my Google+ and Twitter contacts had been pulled into my contact list alongside my GMail contacts. I suppose that might make sense for some people, but most of those contacts are not people I actually know. Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to restrict the list back to just my GMail contacts.

8. What happened to my wallpaper?

I’m not sure how it happened, but the default Gingerbread live wallpaper was replaced by a close up of green grass at some point during my use of ICS. I never attempted to change this and I’m still not sure how it happened, but one minute I had colorful stripes shooting across my background, I experienced some kind of momentary lock up of the screen, and I had new wallpaper. I actually like the green grass so I’ve kept it around, but it’s still a big mystery as to what happened.

9. Creating home screen folders is easy.

I never did anything with folders on Gingerbread, so I’m not sure if anything like this was possible, but it’s very nice being able to quickly create folders to organize apps on my home screen. Now Angry Birds only occupies one space instead of three.

10. Improved scrolling through apps.

I always liked the way your list of apps scrolled off into the distance at the top and bottom of the screen on Gingerbread. I knew that had gone away in ICS and I thought I’d miss it, but the new page scrolling is far better. It’s much quicker to scroll through apps to find the one you want going one page at a time rather than flicking the list and hoping you stop it at the right location.

Well, that’s my “top ten list” for ICS experiences. Perhaps I’ll update it as I continue to use the update. If you’re still wondering whether to upgrade or not, I suggest doing some searching online to see what others are experiencing. Then once you know what you might run into, go ahead and take the plunge.

How can I quickly create UI mockups?

Notepad MockupsIf you’re trying to figure out the best UI layout for a mobile phone app, you might want to get a small 3″ x 5″ spiral bound notepad and use it as a quick testing platform.

I’ve been in the habit of carrying around a small spiral-bound notebook (about 5″ x 7″) for jotting down ideas. I used it a little bit for sketching out screen designs for mobile apps, but I had to consciously think about the size of a mobile screen compared to the size of the page on which I was drawing. However, I’ve recently found that a slightly smaller notepad is just about the perfect size for these UI mockups.

The size of a 3″ x 5″ notepad is pretty close to the size of a mobile phone, which allows you to get a quick feel for whether or not screen elements are sized appropriately. You can also hold the notepad in one hand to check the feasibility of single-handed use. The notepad is also small enough to carry in a pocket to quickly experiment with UI layouts while waiting in line at the store or other places around town.

If you’ve found a cool way to experiment with UI layouts, go ahead and share it in the comments.