Getting started with Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich

Until recently I was happy with an old-school phone-only phone. Now I have some time on a phone-that-does-more-than-calls smartphone. It is a unlocked GSM Galaxy Nexus running Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich.

First impressions are that this is great fun - a lot of opportunities to waste time of course. And it also can make and receive phone calls, but that seems like an minor side feature nowadays.

Unfortunately, the whole experience is not yet completely satisfactory. Lot of minor and major glitches abound, and it took a while to get some simple essential tools enabled.
My goal was to get the 16GB device to work mostly over Wi-Fi and use it as an offline MP3 music and .avi/mp4/flv video player. And to play long audio books well, with bookmarking capability.

Not so simple, it turns out!

Google Voice does not work over Wi-Fi
This does not work on the phone! Having been accustomed to using Google Voice on my computer, I expected a phone with no service (no SIM) should have Google Voice work over Wi-Fi. No luck. And a web search does not yield much info - no help at the Google Voice support pages certainly.
Some web pages do suggest that this is probably due to the legacy phone carriers imposing their will on Google. Maybe - but would be nice if this was clear on Google Voice pages, and it is still confusing that this holds true when there is no SIM - and no carrier involved at all.
In any case, the final answer is that Google Voice does not work on the phone over Wi-Fi. It must have a carrier voice and data plan.
Google Voice works great!
So had to buy a monthly plan from a GSM carrier. Now, Google Voice works great. It in fact works better than I expected. It seems to use voice-minutes only and sets up calls by dialing a unique outbound number. This is very quick and the called party sees the Google Voice number as caller-id. Perfect. And all other advantages of Google Voice remain intact - voice-mailper is saved as audio files and can be forwarded using email, International Calling is extremely cheap, and contact lists can be shared with the full computer app versions of Gmail. Anyone who needs international calling should actually immediately install Google Voice on any smart-phone. Certainly using the legacy carrier vendors for phone calling is pointless - they still don't have anything resembling reasonable pricing for international calls.
Video playback with MX Video Player
Vlc media player on the computer is an amazing player. It plays all the common video formats. Finding something equivalent on the Android device turned out to be not that easy. A search for video player shows too many results and descriptions are not very distinctive. So had to try a few. Most of the time, immediately uninstalled them since they really did not do what they said they did, or they lacked a certain feature.
Some crashed on hitting "Scan" when looking for media files.

A good video player offers controls to seek easily within the video, change the audio volume, and to change screen brightness, and handle all of common media formats.
MX Video Player seems to work reasonably well. Though toggling H/W decoding vs S/W decoding requires a trip to the Menu -> Settings page. Seems like this would be very useful to have right at the media listings page instead of just silently failing to play a video because the H/W cannot handle it. Better still, an automatic fallback from H/W to S/W decoding would be really nice to the end user.

Rock Player Universal Lite is nice too. It asks Hardware vs Software decoding on playback, so at least don't have to go hunting in settings and can change this based on video. And I really liked that it shows the files and folders to browse on startup. And it has nice re-size/stretch video playback buttons.
But it does not have screen brightness change commands on the playback screen. The free version has a permanent red logo embossed on playback.
So while this was a good player, MX Video Player seems better overall.

MP3 Audio Playback
For music, the Google Music app works reasonably well. It does have a problem that it does not distinguish the online Google Music MP3 files from the ones stored locally. All appear in a single list - would have a nice to have a tab that shows local folders and local audio files only.
It is possible to check options in the settings to have it only play offline media, so at least that way I know it is not going over the network.

For long audio books Google Music is not good. Installed Smart AudioBook Player - the rare app with no ads and requires no internet access when playing back books! - and it seems to work reasonably well. It maintains history of books played and positions in a History tab, though would have been nicer if each book could store multiple bookmark positions. This app does allow setting a specific folder to scan for audio books, so that can be used to restrict searches to just audio books and not require a full / root scan.
The developer is planning better integration with Android Ice Cream Sandwich lock screen, so that should be coming. This would add the capability to pause the audio from a locked screen, I presume.

Note taking
Again, lot of choices. Got around to Color Note Notepad Notes app, and this seems to be working out just fine.
It is a quick and simple notepad editing experience to create notes, shopping lists and todo lists.

It has syncing capabilities though I have not tried those yet. I am not comfortable syncing my notes to a third-party site. Though it offers a Google Sync sign-on - not sure what that means though. Does it store my notes at using my account settings, or if sign-on is only used to login to the site. Either case has privacy risks that I would not take, especially when there is not clear information regarding data flow.

Problem: Incoming calls go to speakerphone
So this is odd. Not sure if it always worked this way, but calls I receive now go immediately to speakerphone! Don't want that!
And worse - no way evident how to fix this. A web search shows other people in same boat, with no solution. This certainly falls in the category of poor user experience.
One would think clicking on phone handset icon would lead to some settings that need changing. No luck - nothing there about sending calls to speakerphone.

Web pages suggest that this may have happened because some Android App installation caused this problem. An app with permissions to change global settings may have set it. I did install and uninstall many apps so this is plausible. But this means now I have a phone that goes to speakerphone and Android does not have a easy or clear way to set it back.
Update: Looks like this may be a setting that is remembered from the previous call. So clicking on the speaker icon toggles this. But that icon is confusing and displayed only when a call is received so this has led to presence of third-party apps to permanently toggle speakerphone on/off before a call is received. This just seems like a functionality that should be in the core phone app and not require so much end-user effort to fix. Just another one of those User Interface items that are glaringly poor on Android devices - more on this below.

Problem: Apps asking for excessive permissions
Reading the permissions list of applications is quite shocking sometimes. Some ask for ability to change global settings! Why? And don't explain what settings they might change. (Even if they did disclose it, their code may end up doing more than that anyway.)

The other scary permission is the ability to read all email and contacts lists.

And just trying out a app leaves permanent traces around. Uninstalling does not remove files that the apps create in strange places. One app dropped a .csv file in root / folder. Another kept its ads around in .jpg files in a folder it created on /.

Terrible behavior. I guess this is something that comes along with the territory. Since files and directories are actually "hidden" or not necessary to know on a smartphone, it is nearly impossible to restrict what poorly coded apps do.

Problem: Unappealing User Interfaces
Most of the Google Pass have very unappealing visual user interfaces. They are extremely useful but the focus seems to be just on the utilitarian aspect of applications, and visual design is sorely lacking.

GMail app for example is still cumbersome to me - complicated icons-only display, unclear what means what, requires multiple clicks to get to see different labels (folders).

At least on phone we are not subject to the horrendous black drop-down navigation bar! (Search for "black drop-down bar" for other peoples' comments on the web on this topic!) It is one of the most visually unappealing items on the web. Of course it is very utilitarian - all Google pages on one menu - but could they not have used a lighter background color instead of the jarring black??) And why so many links - I only want to use a handful, and would like those given more prominence. Or use multi-level drop down with grouping by general categories. It is one of the most hideous items on the web right now! Hopefully it will be thoroughly revamped in time.

One app that looks very nice is the Google Wallet app. This was really very easy to use, very nice colors, icons on the start page have text and are clear as to their function, and it does all that one expects and looks good too. But this seems to be exception rather than the rule for both computer based and smartphone based apps pushed out by Google. They do very useful things, but by God, in such a visually unappealing manner!

Problem: Hardware slow to boot, and too easy to click off
The Samsung Galaxy Nexus phone hardware looks great! Unique curved style stands out from the boxy iPhone.

But there are two annoying issues. One is the on/off switch. It is on the long side, and very easy to hit when turning the phone around. I have inadvertently turned off the phone when watching a video and even when in the middle of a call. The iPhone on/off switch is in a much more user-friendly position - on the shorter top-right corner.

Boot-time seems slow to me - though maybe all smartphones take that long to start up. It takes around 35 seconds for the phone to start up. Have to turn the phone off and then on at least twice on a airplane - for take-off and after landing. (Airplane-mode is not allowed under 10,000 feet under today's US Govt guidelines and that rule is most likely overreaction by the US Govt.) Not only is the delay bothersome, while booting the phone displays a very garish and hideous video of a bright light shining through shimmering colored glass panes!

The headphones socket is also in a bad position. It is at the bottom of the phone. Which means you can't keep the phone right-way up in your shirt pocket when using headphones, the headphone plug will cause phone to tilt, or to peek out of the pocket. Would have been nicer to have the socket on the top of the phone, or even on the side (a L-shaped headphone jack would work for on the side sockets nicely).


I have also a Galaxy Nexus

I have also a Galaxy Nexus but never give me such amount of problem. Better talk to them or replace it. yeah, after buying, I faced the speakerphone problem but it stopped automatically after one day. God knows what happened. But yes, at that time I did a lot apps downloading. So that might be the cause. I don't know exactly.

Google Voice over Wifi

It actually is possible to use Google Voice (i.e. calls and texting) over wifi without a cellular plan. You'll need one of a couple third party apps to help do the job though.

Set up correctly, Google Voice+, in addition to a SIP account and an IPCall phone number, will seamlessly integrate into your phone's dialer for free.

The free version of Groove IP will forward calls to your Google Talk account, but the dialer is not integrated. The paid version integrates the dialer.

I hope that helps. I've got my old G1 set up with the Google Voice+/SIP dialing and it works fairly well with no cellular service. I'm getting ready to see how well the Groove IP solution works next.