Ice Cream Sandwich on Android tablets: A visual tour

By JR Raphael (@jr_raphael)

Ice Cream Sandwich Android Tablet

We've heard all about how Google's Android 4.0, aka Ice Cream Sandwich, is changing the face of the Android phone. But what does the new software mean for the Android tablet?

Ice Cream Sandwich, after all, is the first Android release to straddle the worlds of smartphones and tablets; before ICS, we had Gingerbread on the phone side and Honeycomb on the tablet side. With ICS, it's one platform -- the same platform -- for phones and tablets alike.

For the most part, ICS on an Android tablet is pretty similar to ICS on an Android phone. There are, however, some areas where the features appear in different ways. Here's a hands-on tour of the highlights.

(Note: These screenshots were captured on an Asus Transformer Prime. Asus made some small modifications to the core Android 4.0 software, so a few visual elements -- like the customized design of the navigation buttons in the lower-left corner of the screen -- look slightly different here than they will on other devices.)

Ice Cream Sandwich on a Tablet: The Lock Screen

Ice Cream Sandwich Android Tablet (1)
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The Ice Cream Sandwich lock screen builds off the circular-pattern concept introduced in Honeycomb. ICS gives it an updated look, with the new system-wide "Roboto" font and an option to slide left to jump directly to the Camera app.

Ice Cream Sandwich on a Tablet: The Home Screen

Ice Cream Sandwich Android Tablet (2)
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ICS delivers a simplified home screen setup compared to Honeycomb's arrangement. The Google search and Voice Actions commands remain in the upper-left corner, but the upper-right corner now has just one simple icon that opens the combined app drawer/home screen customization tool. 

Ice Cream Sandwich on a Tablet: The App Drawer

Ice Cream Sandwich Android Tablet (3)
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While Honeycomb had a standalone home screen customization utility, separate from the app drawer, ICS puts all that stuff into a single place on tablets -- just like it does on phones. Tabs at the top of the drawer allow you to switch between viewing apps and widgets. To add any item to your home screen, you touch it and then drag it onto any available space. 

Ice Cream Sandwich on a Tablet: Notifications

Ice Cream Sandwich Android Tablet (4)
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Notifications on an ICS tablet are a bit different from notifications on an ICS phone. Taking advantage of the extra screen real estate, ICS on a tablet follows Honeycomb's lead and places notifications in the lower-right corner of the screen. New items pop up for a few seconds and then are reduced to icons, which can be tapped for additional information. You can now "swipe away" individual notifications, too -- flicking your finger left or right on them to dismiss them from the list. 

Ice Cream Sandwich on a Tablet: Multitasking

Ice Cream Sandwich Android Tablet (5)
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The multitasking feature in Ice Cream Sandwich is actually pretty similar to what tablets already had in Honeycomb, particularly as of Android 3.2. The main difference with ICS is the introduction of the swipe-away feature, as mentioned with notifications, that allows you to easily dismiss individual items from the list by flicking them in either direction. 

Ice Cream Sandwich on a Tablet: Folders

Ice Cream Sandwich Android Tablet (6)
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The new Android 4.0 folder feature works on a tablet just like it does on a phone: You can drag and drop any icon on top of another icon to instantly create a dynamic and easy-to-name folder. 

Ice Cream Sandwich on a Tablet: Settings

Ice Cream Sandwich Android Tablet (7)
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Android's retooled settings section is more or less identical on a tablet and on a phone. Items are now organized by groups, with fewer layers of menus, and several new options exist -- like the ability to monitor and control your device's data usage. 

Ice Cream Sandwich on a Tablet: Widgets

Ice Cream Sandwich Android Tablet (8)
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Many of the system widgets get a makeover with Ice Cream Sandwich, giving them a sleeker and more polished look that's consistent with the platform's updated design. (Widgets can also be resized, but that feature's been around on tablets since Android 3.1.) 

Ice Cream Sandwich on a Tablet: The Browser

Ice Cream Sandwich Android Tablet (9)
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Like it does on smartphones, ICS delivers a big boost of added power into the browser on Android tablets. The new Android 4.0 browser is faster and boasts a handful of new features like incognito mode, a desktop-view toggle, and the ability to save pages for offline viewing. Tabs in the browser appear at the top of the screen on tablets, providing a very desktop-like experience. 

Ice Cream Sandwich on a Tablet: The Camera

Ice Cream Sandwich Android Tablet (10)
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The new Android 4.0 Camera app translates nicely into the tablet form. The Camera app has tons of new features, ranging from panoramic image capturing to live video effects. On a tablet, the camera options all appear on a large shutter button situated toward the right of the screen; tapping the settings icon within the shutter causes additional options to cycle in. 

Ice Cream Sandwich on a Tablet: Image Editing

Ice Cream Sandwich Android Tablet (11)
Ice Cream Sandwich Android Tablet (12)
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Along with the new Camera app, ICS offers a redesigned Gallery app that includes built-in image-editing capabilities. You can crop photos, fix red eye, adjust lighting, and add a variety of effect filters without the need for any third-party applications. 

Ice Cream Sandwich on a Tablet: Everything Else

Ice Cream Sandwich has plenty of other changes and improvements -- everything from a new Calendar app to the long-awaited ability to capture screenshots and disable preinstalled system apps. The platform holds plenty of under-the-hood adjustments that improve stability and performance, too. From a visual standpoint, though, the areas shown above are some of the most outwardly noticeable changes when it comes to the tablet side of the software.

In general, moving from Honeycomb to Ice Cream Sandwich on a tablet is less dramatic of an upgrade than moving from Gingerbread to Ice Cream Sandwich on a phone. It's no surprise: With Honeycomb, Google laid the groundwork for much of what we're seeing in the ICS release. So for phones, Android 4.0 is a massive leap forward that marks the start of something completely new, while for tablets, it's more of a nice step forward that refines and builds upon what was already there.

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For a full overview of Android 4.0 and its many new features, click over to my Android Ice Cream Sandwich FAQ. And to find out if/when your device is expected to get the upgrade, check out my Android 4.0 upgrade list. It's always kept up to date with the latest info available for all phones and tablets.

JR Raphael writes about smartphones and other tasty technology. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.

Article copyright 2012 JR Raphael. All rights reserved.

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