New Android 4.1 and TouchWiz features arrive in Jelly Bean update for Samsung's Galaxy S3
Samsung has a track record of including new features of its own along with major OS updates for its phones. Earlier this year Galaxy Note owners got their Android 4.0 update, which included “Premium Suite,” a selection of new Samsung software enhancements. And it looks like the manufacturer’s set to continue this trend when its 2012 flagship, the Galaxy S III (Galaxy S3), gets updated to Android 4.1 Jelly Bean.
Yesterday we took a quick look at an early, leaked build of Jelly Bean for the Galaxy S3. But since then an newer version has come to light, revealing not only stock Jelly Bean features like Google Now and the redesigned notification shade, but a host of extra TouchWiz goodies too. Of course, remember that we're dealing with an unofficial pre-release build here, so certain functionality may be added or removed between now and whenever the OTA hits.
We’ll take a look at each major feature, one by one, after the break. We’ve also got pictures, if you’d prefer to skip to the end.
Redesigned notification shade
A standard Jelly Bean feature, Samsung has unsurprisingly incorporated the redesigned notification shade into its Android 4.1 update for the Galaxy S3. The redesigned date and time section is present up top, while the TouchWiz settings controls remain beneath. Jelly Bean’s new expandable notifications are supported too -- you can drag down on some messages to expand and view more information, for example the message body of an email, or a screenshot you’ve just taken. Certain apps even enable button controls from the notification shade too -- for example, screenshots get a “Share” button, while calendar notifications can be snoozed or dismissed.
File transfers over Android Beam
Alongside S Beam, the Galaxy S3 on Jelly Bean will support file transfers through Jelly Bean’s built-in Android Beam feature. Both use NFC to initiate the connection. However, unlike S Beam, which uses Wifi Direct, Android Beam handles the file transfers themselves over Bluetooth, making for somewhat slower transfer speeds. Regardless, both flavors of Beam seem happy to coexist in the Galaxy S3’s Jelly Bean firmware.
Task switcher and Google Now
Jelly Bean brings with it the new Google Search application, including the Google Now feature, which draws upon location and Google account info to display relevant messages like weather, calendar appointments, navigation data and sports scores.
Because the Galaxy S3 doesn’t use on-screen keys, you can’t swipe up at any time to reach Google Now like you can on the Galaxy Nexus. Instead, there’s a new button at the bottom of the task switcher when you long-press the home key, and this is what you tap to load up Google Now. The existing shortcut buttons in the task switcher -- task manager and close all apps -- remain, though with icons instead of text.
‘Easy mode’ and home screen launcher enhancements
On the surface, the TouchWiz launcher doesn’t appear to have changed all that much in Jelly Bean, but Samsung’s made a few subtle changes here and there. The most significant of these is the ability to switch between two home screen “modes.”
The first, basic mode, is what we all know and love from earlier ICS-based software -- your standard collection of icons and widgets. But in Jelly Bean on the S3, there’s also the option to switch to “easy mode,” a simpler home screen setup designed for first-time smartphone users. Easy mode automatically populates your home screens with large widgets showing your favorite settings, apps and contacts, in addition to a handful of larger Samsung widgets.
Users can switch between easy mode and basic mode through the mode control area of the “settings” menu.
Finally, we should note that some of the home screen enhancements of stock Jelly Bean have been ported over too, so icons can now be bumped out the way to make way for larger widgets. Adding folders is now a little more intuitive -- to create a folder with an app inside it, simply drag it up to the "create folder" control at the top of the screen. Folders are also displayed a little more clearly, with the application icons themselves being shown on a black and grey disc.
Similar to iOS’s Do Not Disturb mode, Dormant mode allows you to turn off certain kinds of notifications or events permanently, or during specific hours. This could be ideal if you don’t want to be interrupted by email notifications and the associated noises and light.
Other “dormant mode” options include the ability to block incoming calls and alarms or disable the LED indicator completely. And if you want to still be contactible by family members in case of emergency, you can also set up a list of allowed contacts who are exempt from the limits of dormant mode.
S Note Lite
S Memo has is no more, replaced with a cut-down version of the full-blown S Note app found on Galaxy Note devices. S Note Lite lets you create multimedia notes on the Galaxy S3, incorporating texts, drawings, sound, video and voice recordings. Think of it as S Memo with a few extra features thrown in. The version in the current leaked firmware remains a little buggy.
New ‘Help’ application
Easy mode isn’t the only way in which Samsung’s aiming to make the Galaxy S3 less intimidating to first-time users. The Jelly Bean update also includes a dedicated new “Help” application, which walks you through how to perform basic tasks o the phone. In the current leaked build the Help app covers learning basic functions like keys, the lock screen and notification area, as well as how to change important settings like Wifi, Bluetooth and ringtones. It’s possible more may be added here before the Jelly Bean OTA is ready to go.
Other odds and ends
- S Planner has undergone a slight visual overhaul -- the lines are cleaner and clearer, and it’s easier to tell what’s going on when multiple events are overlapping.
- The option to limit background data usage, which was confusingly absent from ICS-based Galaxy S3 firmware, is now available in the Jelly Bean update.
- As we mentioned in our earlier walkthrough, the Galaxy S3’s performance isn’t noticeably faster wth any of the official Jelly Bean builds we’ve tried. That’s not too surprising, as the phone is blisteringly fast on ICS.
- TouchWiz is obviously still the dominant user experience here, and we suspect most mainstream users -- or “civilians” as we call them around here -- probably won’t even notice what’s changed when the Jelly Bean OTA drops.
- Speaking of which, the latest leaked Jelly Bean build, dated Aug. 14, is mostly fast and stable, and we wouldn’t be surprised if the rumors of a late August or early September release for the (international) update pans out.