Nexus S 4G and Android 4.0.4 Ice Cream Sandwich: A 10-day Journey

Back on April 2, we reported about the leak of the official Android 4.0.4 Ice Cream Sandwich build for the Nexus S 4G on Sprint along with step-by-step instructions to manually install it (available now as an OTA update). Sitting at work while reading the article, I immediately cancelled my plans to eat lunch that day and reactivated my Nexus S that had been patiently lying on my kitchen table waiting for this day. I have always waited for the OTA updates in the past, never wanting to take a chance messing up my phone or computer, but this update was too important for old habits. The instructions were as clear as they come. I had to register for a free Jumbo Files account before the site would let me download the software, but after a 15 minute download, the rest was a piece of cake. The whole process took about 35 minutes, total, including the registration. Find out if it was worth the wait after the break.

I cannot remember a time when I was more excited about a software update than this one. For many Android users as of late, firmware updates have been the source of bitter sweet sentiments, even causing a lot of people to refrain from updating at all in fear of the unknown. Again, I was always the one who waited and let the early birds take the chance. No more playing it safe. When the new ICS boot-up animation started up, I was practically jumping up and down in place telling all my workmates to gather ‘round. You’ll have to forgive my excitement in that moment.  I have never rooted my phone nor done anything like this before. The only phone-to-computer action you saw in my house was for file transfers only. My successful attempt at modification had given me a new found sense of empowerment and pride.

As I went through the initial setup steps, because my phone had been fully wiped in the process, I immediately noticed the smooth response when swiping between screens and opening apps. I realize this is not a big deal for a lot of users, but for me, this is something that I do everyday to get to my important apps and widgets, so homescreen lag is a major turn off. Luckily for me, ICS on the Nexus S 4G didn’t suffer from this issue.

It has now been 10 days since I have been using ICS on my Nexus S 4G and here is the good, bad and ugly of my experience.

The Good

ICS is super smooth! This was a major concern of mine as the Nexus S 4G only has a single-core processor and 512 MB of RAM, yet Google has done a fantastic job in modifying their latest software to work smoothly on last year’s hardware. Google decided to keep the symbols below the screen active, as opposed to being incorporated onto the screen like the Galaxy Nexus. I feel this was a good move because the screen size on the Nexus S is only 4 inches and it would indeed be too cramped to have 100% stock ICS crammed into the display.

The software enhancements that come with ICS are the real treat in my opinion. For instance, the new Gmail app is so much more clean, elegant and a joy to work with. ICS finally added the ability to natively assign different text message notification tones to specific contacts. Lacking this feature out of the box and being forced to find an app to perform this function really annoyed me back in the day.

I am proud to state that we now have a built-in 4G toggle widget! You would think that you could have found a widget in the Play Store for this but there weren’t any that worked. What was then a 4-step process has now been reduced to a simple tap on the homescreen. Lastly, ICS is just so gosh darn beautiful to look at. I was a major nerd and visited my neighborhood Verizon store just to compare my Nexus S to their Galaxy Nexus and I couldn’t see a difference in color or screen response between the two.

The Bad

ICS may not have altered the overall smoothness and response on the Nexus S 4G but I have seen some noticeable effect on battery life. I can safely say that my battery now lasts roughly 25% less that it used to. Luckily I’m never far from a charger, but this will be a drastic adjustment for many users who have been used to getting through most of the day if not the entire day with Gingerbread Android 2.3. Perhaps this can be addressed in a future software update, but it’s important to be prepared for it now.

Another issue is that the phone will get hot when doing simple tasks like writing emails, reading news and checking my calendar. It’s mostly when the phone has been doing things for about 10-15 minutes or longer, but my phone never used to get hot at all in the past. It is not uncommon for phones to get heated when they are active, but again, this is a noticeable change since the update.

Lastly and sadly, the phone volume has become even softer than before. The Nexus S, like the Galaxy Nexus, has never been a phone that you could count on being able to hear while at the bar or club. However, I am unhappy to report that you will almost certainly need to find some naturally loud ringtones from the Play Store or online to help compensate for this change. It can be remedied for sure but admittedly, it’s a bummer to see the sound quality suffer more, rather than receive a much needed improvement.

So there you have it ladies and gentlemen. After my experience, I can say that overall, I love what ICS does for Android, and I am very happy that the big “G” didn’t forget about last year’s Google experience device supporters. In my opinion, the ICS improvements for the Nexus S 4G greatly outweigh its shortcomings. So was it worth it for you? Let your thoughts be heard in the comments below.

 

 

 

 

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  • Ben

    My wife just downloaded this update and was wondering if you can change the camera button or add others like vibrate on the unlock screen. She misses the ability to quickly put her phone on vibrate like you could on the ginger bread unlock screen.

    • http://www.talkandroid.com/ Stacy Bruce

      Ben, you would need to use an app like Widget Locker or a custom ICS ROM that enables custom lockscreen options. As far as stock ICS goes, you do not have the ability to add your own shortcuts. For an easy fix, I highly recommend Widget Locker. It is well worth the price!

      • Ben

        I will check it out.

        Thanks!

  • Tony Rosario

    Hi Ben, Stacy is right, there is no way to modify the lockscreen without root or perhaps the Widget Locker app.  I, myself, also wanted this feature.  After about a week, I discovered that if you hold the power button down, it will now give you the options for Power Down, Airplane Mode and switching your phone between Silent, Vibrate and Ringer.  This is just as quick as using a widget and is one of the many nifty ICS changes you will discover as you play with the phone more. If you prefer a widget on the homescreen, definitely give Widget Locker a look or you can try the one I use called Widgetsoid.  It allows you to customize your own Powercontrol bar with the functions you want.  Mine just has Vibrate, Silent, GPS and WiFi.  Enjoy the new update!