Are you sick of waiting for your phone network to serve up Ice Cream Sandwich for your Galaxy S II? Is your old Android stuck on Gingerbread without any hope of an upgrade? Never fear, as Giz is here..
Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich to its friends) is packed with great new features but Google’s own figures show that you are probably running the earlier Gingerbread incarnation of the OS. Thanks to the flexibility of Android and the ingenuity of its developer community however, you can get most of the new features on your old phone right now. Here’s how.
Ice Cream Sandwich has a great new keyboard — sadly, one of the features that ‘skinned’ releases of ICS such as that on the Samsung Galaxy SII have dropped — featuring a much improved autocorrect and more accurate keypress detection.
An almost perfect clone of the ICS keyboard, this app is free with a paid version for extra features like adjustable height and themes. Keyboard preference is a personal thing, but we reckon this is better than most of the others available on Gingerbread.
The stock launcher is another of ICS’ great features that you probably won’t find on many phones other than the Galaxy Nexus, due to manufacturers’ penchants for ‘improving’ the OS with their own skins. This is a shame, but you can get a pretty good idea of what it is like using this free app (you can pay extra for more features) that accurately apes the program launcher from Android 4.0. You won’t get the resizable widgets, but the new app drawer is there with most of the look and feel of the ICS launcher.
The ICS browser now supports tabs rather than ‘windows’ and makes it easy to swap between the mobile and desktop versions of a site. It is also faster and supports offline reading.
There are several alternative browsers available for Android, although one of the most interesting — Google Chrome — is sadly ICS-only. To get the best mix of features and generally improve your Gingerbread browsing we recommend Dolphin Browser HD.
Dolphin HD has tabs, desktop/mobile support and the ability to pretend to be other browsers (e.g an iPhone browser, plus has an excellent plugin architecture that can add features like bookmark sync, offline reading and more. The UI is well thought out and recent updates have given it support for gestures (drawing custom glyphs on screen to activate various functions or bookmarks) and voice navigation.
ICS comes with a nifty data usage monitor that lets you track which apps are hogging your 3G connection and slap a quota on any that are being particularly greedy, potentially saving you money if you don’t have an unlimited data allowance.
Onavo Count is arguably even better. It analyses your data use and breaks it down by app. You can set limits on individual apps, restrict some apps to wifi-only, set alerts for excessive use and more. Onavo even warns you when you install a new app if other Onavo users have tagged it as a data hog.
Face Unlock is incredibly gimmicky, but you can’t deny the wow factor of being able to unlock your phone with a glance.
There aren’t any apps that have managed to integrate facial recognition into the unlock screen as yet, but Visidon AppLock will let you restrict certain apps using your fizzog as a magic key. It works fairly well, which — to be frank — is about as well as ICS Face Unlock works.
Roboto is the distinctive new font that Google designed to bring some much needed clarity to the Android interface. It is an acquired taste, but if you really want it on your phone then you can have it providing you are willing to take a small risk.
Unfortunately, you can only swap the system font if you have rooted your phone first as this requires more access than you are allowed by default. Rooting your phone is beyond the scope of this post, but if you manage it you can download Font Changer and grab Roboto via this link.
Caution: Rooting your phone will invalidate your warranty and might turn your phone into a useless lump of plastic if you mess it up. Please be careful out there.