I was excited this past Wednesday to get a notification on my Nexus S that it was ready to install a software update. Ice Cream Sandwich time! I proceeded to start the process, and as the download began, I frantically dug around in my bag for my old G1 (which I use as my work on-call phone) to take some photos and a short video of some of the steps:

Nexus S ICS upgrade

It was amusing to use my oldest Android phone to record the update of my newest one.

My update went smoothly (none of the revision issues that have been mentioned by some folks), and I’ve been exploring ICS for the past day or so. What do I think?

Well, there’s plenty of nifty stuff. First off, the performance appears to be roughly comparable to Gingerbread on my Nexus S; I don’t notice anything that’s obviously laggy. The upgrade went pretty smoothly; I had problems with G+ after it completed (there’s a photo of the crash report screen in my album above), but that was about it. It continued to crash even after a reboot, and I eventually went in to uninstall/reinstall the app. Surprise! Google+ is built into the ICS firmware…no uninstall possible. Instead I cleared the app data and set up my acccount and settings all over again (maybe a minute of work). No problems since.

Some of the new capabilities are pretty neat. Screenshots are SLICK (and long overdue)…just long-press the volume down and power button. Cool! I also had to immediately try out the panorama feature in the new camera…it works pretty well!

I haven’t tried the “face recognition” lock screen yet; honestly, that just seems like a novelty to me. But the new unlock screen is pretty cool in general. It has a “straight to photo” button (shown in one of the photos above) that saves a couple of seconds when you’re pulling the phone out for a quick shot. Appreciated. Also, you can go straight to the notifications pulldown without swiping to open the phone to the homescreen (this may be only if you don’t have a lock. I hope so.) I think that is new, but regardless, it’s pretty convenient. I often am opening the phone only to check/clear a notification.

The new information screens in ‘Settings’ are also useful…I love the detailed battery usage info that Gingerbread provides, and ICS adds to that with a data usage report. Very nice, especially for folks with limited data plans. In general, the new organization in ‘Settings’ is useful.

So…what’s not to like? Well, for all that I just mentioned that the Settings re-org was a net plus, I’m not quite as enamored of all the interface changes. My understanding is that a lot of them are from Honeycomb (which I never used), but to me they seem to be partially just for the sake of being “new”. It’s tricky to change interface elements that have been around for some time…there’s a cost to changing that which is familiar, and I question whether or not it’s always worth it.

The icon changes are *definitely* not worth it to me. They seem to parallel the (equally confusing) icon changes in Google properties in general; icons with text have mostly been replaced by not-always-so-intuitive graphics, and especially on a phone, there’s no way to hover and get more information. Within the Gmail app, I literally had to guess that I was “marking as read”, and hope that I’d be able to undo if I actually was doing something else. This icon redesign is rampant in ICS, and probably my least favorite thing.

In addition, Google managed to double-down on confusing with cut and paste; they changed how it worked, and then removed the familiar icons to boot! It took me quite a number of tries to figure out everything. Again, I expect it is similar to Honeycomb, so one could say that it’s been around for awhile…but there are a LOT more Android phone users than tablet users. For most of us, it’s new, confusing, and arguably of little value.

Admittedly, though…those are mostly nits. In general, I’m enjoying the heck out of Ice Cream Sandwich!

(Note: these are definitely just first impressions. I’ll continue to make notes, and either update this post or make new ones as notable things come up)

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