Android Central

In Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, Android Beam -- that's the NFC-based device-to-device transfer service -- has been augmented to support sending photo and video content. This is done from within the Gallery app, and can be activated by holding two NFC (Near-Field Communication)-supporting Jelly Bean devices back-to-back while one has an image or video open. Then, when prompted, tap the screen to send, just like earlier Android Beam incarnations. File transfers themselves are handled by Bluetooth, so depending on your device's Bluetooth version support, your transfer speeds may vary. However, it is nice to see the hassle associated with Bluetooth file transfers all but eliminated thanks to NFC and Android Beam.

Android Beam's latest upgrade also means it can support transferring multiple files. Simply long press on a photo or video in the Gallery app, select as many items as you like, then hold the devices back-to-back to send. Like we said, though, the fact that Bluetooth is used for all the heavy lifting means that you probably won't want to send too much stuff over Android Beam if you can help it. In our experience, though, it's worked out pretty well for smaller stuff.

We should note, however, that while the new Android Beam shares a lot in common with the Samsung Galaxy S III's S Beam, the two technologies aren't compatible. Samsung's uses Wifi Direct for file transfers after an NFC connection has been established, compared to Android Beam's Bluetooth. So sending photos from a Jelly Bean-equipped Galaxy Nexus to an ICS-running Galaxy S III won't be possible. (And actually, this may present something of a technical headache when the S III eventually gets Jelly Bean.)

In any case, if you want to check out how this all works in more detail, you can find out hands-on video of photo and video transfers over Android Beam after the break.


Reader comments

Jelly Bean feature: Sending photos and videos over Android Beam


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Actually, the entire point of this is to make Bluetooth transfers easier to use so everyone will use them! Bluetooth transfers have always existed, they're easy and more convenient than e-mailing or sending stuff over the net at times, but they require you to pair phones or authorize the transfer with a 0000 code... Which is just obscure to some consumers. This just bypasses that thru NFC physical bumping.

It basically streamlines transfers by removing some of the friction of the authorization process. I imagine eventually they'll implement it over WiFi direct once enough phones are capable of it, just like Samsung has.

Except that bluetooth transfers are already Your-Mom-Can-Do-It easy already.

The biggest problem is that most people have been duped into thinking that leaving bluetooth on is a huge battery drain, and so they shut it off all the time, adding an extra step to getting anything bluetooth related to work.

Since bluetooth is listen only when not in use, and since its built into the wifi chipset, it costs nothing to leave it running, and battery impact is immeasurably small.

If you want bluetooth to be useful, you don't have to add YET ANOTHER RADIO to make it so. We have radios who's sole job is to turn on other radios? That's absurd.

The NFC chip is already in the device for a myriad of reasons so I'm not sure what you mean by "radios who's sole job is to turn on other radios". If NFC is there already, why not use it?

Bluetooth transfers have not been easy to initiate in ICS. Plus they are not reliable at all. My and my wife both always leave Bluetooth on and both phones are paired. However, for some reason the settings get erased or forgotten after a while and just transferring pics becomes a huge time-consuming chore.

I am hoping this makes it much easier and reliable. However, I don't really like Bluetooth because it has been inherently unreliable in my usage over the years. I only wish Google had used Wifi-Direct instead like Samsung. But maybe they are still ironing out the wrinkles for that and this is a stop-gap measure. Google seems to be a pretty big fan of Wifi-Direct so I am assuming we will see it soon.

Bluetooth transfers are drop dead simple to initiate in ICS. I do it all the time between my A700 and my HOX as well as my Linux machine and my old Nexus One.

Its as simple as SHAREing a file.

If your phones are erasing the settings, then you should be looking for a fix to that problem rather than wishing for wifi direct. If your device can get something as simple and mature as bluetooth to work, why would you expect better results with wifi direct, on which the paint isn't even dry yet?

Yeah, I've never had trouble doing BT transfers even between smartphones and dumb phones... The one exception can be when you've got your phone set to invisible I guess, but scanning for BT devices or initiating a BT share seems to bypass that sometimes too (specially if the devices have previously initiated transfers between each other).

WiFi Direct will be significantly faster once it's established tho... Then again there's also BT 3.0 which is also significantly faster. I've yet to try a 3.0 to 3.0 transfer, or an NFC/BT transfer for that matter. Not enough people w/current gen phones around me. :p`

Once paired, you never have to turn on visibility again. Which is a good thing.

My HOX skipped Bluetooth 3.0 and came with 4.0. My Acer A700 only came with 3.0. :-(

Both 3.0 and 4.0 hand off the data transfer to 801.11 (a form of wifi direct) anyway, but they can also transfer to devices with much older specs due to backward compatibility.

I watched the NFC session at this year's Google I/O and the NFC Beam feature in Jeally Bean, will turn on the bluetooth radio to transfer the file then turn it off when finished.

I won't dispute that, BT is already easy if both phones have a proper BT stack... You usually don't even need to enter a pairing code when you're transferring stuff, it's just a matter of hitting accept. It doesn't change the intent behind this NFC feature tho, they're just trying to bring BT transfers to the forefront.

If you wanna get really technical you could argue NFC actually complicates matters for people who are already used to it (BT you can be a couple dozen feet away, NFC you have to get close AFAIK and you still need to hit an accept prompt no? I haven't tried it yet)... :p The intent is still the same tho, to make transferring stuff more intuitive.

I agree people are constantly turning radios off in the name of saving power when they don't really need to. I leave GPS and BT on all day long, BT is never over 1% battery use unless I've been streaming music (even then it's usually single-digits) and GPS is really completely asleep unless you open an app that uses it or have a bunch of things synchronizing often and using location services in the process.

WiFi is really the only big drainer when left on, since WiFi does actively scan for signals to automatically connect to (so does BT really but I guess BT's just an order of magnitude more efficient about it). It drives me nuts when I see family members fumbling around to turn on BT or not using their headsets when they get in the car because they've turned off BT, no matter how many times I explain all of this.

I use it all the tie between my Galaxy Nexus and Nexus 7 for transferring Pictures/Video as well as with my family memebers who have galaxy nexuses

How is this different than just using bluetooth? I just transferred a 35 meg video the other night that way and it wasn't any harder than hitting the share button.

There is no pin to enter anymore.

Modern Bluetooth stacks just tell you that jj14x-android wants to pair with this key, do you want to accept?

Its a Pair or Cancel button tap, which is easier then bumping phones.
Once paired it stays paired until you unpair.

The only time you have to enter a key is if the other device is dumb as a rock, like a bluetooth headset or mouse.

It's not. I just played with my friend's S3 and my GN last night.
NFC Beam/S-Beam is method to transfer. Have to do it manually.

Two questions if anyone has thoughts on them:

1) Any reason why Google wouldn't have used Wifi Direct for faster transfer speeds? I can understand using NFC to make pairing with bluetooth only/non-Wifi-Direct enabled devices easier, but wouldn't it make since to at least enable Wifi Direct for file transfers etc (even if it's not the default)? I'd love to use Wifi Direct for something, but haven't had a chance to yet. I guess that will be possible between devices like the Nexus 7 and the Galaxy Nexus...

2) Any word if the general public will be able to get white backs for their Nexus 7s? I know those are special edition items for Google I/O attendees, but just being hopeful here. Looks pretty slick

Why isn't this compatible with Samsung's feature? Don't these companies communicate with each other when developing, you know, COMMUNICATION protocols? Also, bluetooth is ridiculously slow.

Samsung implemented their S-BEAM first before Jelly Bean released. They 'upgraded' the ICS NFC Beam.

The question should really be why didn't Google implement large file transfer in NFC Beam when they first made NFC BEAM in ICS on the GN last year, if they did and it worked, Samsung probably wouldn't have created their S-BEAM.

There is nothing about NFC beaming that requires Jelly Bean, as you point out.

The only difference is that Google did it right, (via bluetooth), and Samsung did it wrong, by going direct to wifi direct even tho the GN had Bluetooth 3.0.

Its not compatible because is is a huge kludge, where NFC is just used to launch a transfer via a different radio.

Samsung chose wifi direct, which is the future path for higher speed transfers, but not too compatible with devices out there today. Very few have wifi direct.

The interesting part about all this is if NFC is used to trigger Bluetooth connections, the transfer happens over Bluetooth at the highest speed that bluetooth can handle. Bluetooth v1 has a max data rate of 1 Mbps. Bluetooth v2 has a max data rate of 3 Mbps, and Bluetooth v3 has a max data rate of 24 Mbps. All of those are way slower than Wifi Direct. But the number of devices it can support is WAY higher than using wifi-direct.

But here's the deal....

Bluetooth 3.0 and 4.0 hand off large data transfers to..... wait for it.... WIFI! Yup they use wifi direct! (If, and only if both ends are capable)

So if both devices are at least Bluetooth 3, the transfers are probably going by some form of wifi direct anyway.

But if both ends don't have the same capabilities, it falls back to what works.

Here is where Samsung's plan fails. Its a subtle lock-in.

You were correct, they should have talked to each other. But its Samsung that should have been doing the listening.

Having NFC trigger Bluetooth is far more robust and universal.

Bluetooth 3.0 which the vast majority of new phones have is as fast as 4G, I think it tops out at 20 or 25Mbs. Yeah that's still slower than WiFi Direct (which I imagine should be able to handle at 'least double that depending on the phone's WiFi stack and radios), but it's more than sufficient for any usage case and probably close to being as fast as the NAND can be written to anyway.

In the end this is about a simple trigger and a fast data transfer. NFC is more of a easy authentication/mode activation. This is not about transferring a picture or video among friends. this is about walking up to an interactive poster and choosing what newspaper or movie you want to buy/rent then tapping your phone against the poster to download it. The interaction could pass back your wallet information for purchases. It is another way to make impulse buying easy. If I can grab your attention while at the train/subway station or airport and make purchasing digital media take less than 1 minute I've got most consumers.

Here's some more information for you all. Google has already mentioned, when questioned about Beam using Wifi, that they are working on incorporating Samsung's S Beam Wifi feature in Android Beam. Because remember, Samsung is already using BEAM, just with Wifi instead of Bluetooth 3.0. But now Google is going to support both options (Wifi Direct and Bluetooth 4.0) features in an upcoming ota update!