Whether or not you should upgrade to Android 4.2 or 4.3 really depends on your needs. These two upgrades both kept the Jelly Bean name mostly because they are subtle refinements of 4.1 Jelly Bean rather than revolutionary new launches on their own. That’s not to say that these releases aren’t worthwhile, only that they might not be 100% necessary for every user.
So if you’re stuck on 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich or 4.1 Jelly Bean, should you upgrade? Well, if your wireless carrier hasn’t pushed the update out to your phone by now, you’re probably out of luck by now. Aside from buying a brand new phone, you could always root your phone and flash a custom ROM of a newer version. It’s a difference process for every single phone, but you can learn a lot over at the XDA forums, and this comparison of popular ROMs can help you decide which to flash. Plus, these tools can help you flash your chosen ROM.
Whether you’re considering flashing a 4.2 or 4.3 ROM, buying a new phone, or just curious about what changed, read on to learn more.
From 4.1 to 4.2
Gesture typing is one of the great features of Android, and something that is hard to live without after getting used to it. For one-handed typing, it can greatly improve your typing speed. However, since the 4.2 update, Google has released their keyboard onto the Google Play Store, meaning that anyone with Android 4.0+ can use it. Plus, there are always other gesture typing keyboards like SwiftKey out there. There are easier ways to get a good keyboard that don’t involve system updates.
Miracast is Intel’s standard for wireless display streaming, so if you have a Miracast-compatible TV, set top box, or dongle, you could stream media from your phone or tablet to your TV. Although, if you get something like a new Galaxy S4, Samsung has their own set of wireless display technologies under the AllShare Cast moniker. Learn more about Miracast here.
Support for this feature is actually pretty limited. The custom ROM on my Galaxy S3 does not support it, and even the stock Galaxy S4 running Android 4.2 doesn’t have it. But new Nexus devices definitely have it. While it’s a pretty cool feature, allowing the user to take 360 degree photos, I can’t help but think it’s a little gimmicky. When will those kind of pictures ever come in handy?
Camera App UI
The Camera app saw a UI refresh with this update, removing the black bar surrounding the camera shutter button and leaving just the camera mode button, shutter button, and settings button. It looks much less cluttered and easier to use in my opinion.
This is actually a pretty cool addition to Android. By swiping to the right, you go to the Camera app, and by swiping to the left, you can add other widgets like Google’s Sound Search, a music player, or a news app. Since it’s open to developers to use, the potential for it is great.
This one took me some getting used to after always having settings toggles at the top of my notification shade. However, since my custom ROM allows me to pull from the top right to reach Quick Settings or anywhere else to reach notifications, I’ve grown to love it.
By default, there is a button with a face and small boxes to indicate Quick Settings in the notification drawer. Tapping it takes you to the Quick Settings menu, which is not customizable unless you run a custom ROM (which explains why mine are so different from the default). There’s even a profile switcher icon despite the fact that phones can’t switch profiles! Which brings me to my next point…
Multiple Users (Tablets Only)
Tablet users get a cool new feature that allows them to have multiple profiles on one tablet. This could be useful for having a family tablet that everyone can use, but I don’t fully understand why it’s not a feature on phones. Sure, tablets are naturally more shareable devices, but I definitely let my friends use my phone from time to time, and it’d be cool to have a “guest” mode.
The Clock app now has Timer and Stopwatch tabs, which do exactly what they sound like. I enjoy Google’s simple interface for these much more than any third-party app, but there are definitely third party apps to do this.
I’ve never, ever found this useful. It’s supposed to make your phone display photos or the clock when docked or charging, like a screensaver. Potentially useful, if that’s your kind of thing, but I’ve found it to be a huge gimmick.
From 4.2 to 4.3
Restricted Profiles (Tablets Only)
Restricted Profiles build on the multiple user support in Android 4.2, allowing you to restrict certain profiles, like if you didn’t want your child to be able to access apps that could cost money. This is pretty cool, but again, only for tablet users.
Bluetooth Smart Support
If you have any fancy, brand new Bluetooth 4.0 Low-Energy devices, Android 4.3 will support them.
OpenGL ES 3.0 Support
This should help to improve graphics performance as the standard shifts from OpenGL ES 2.0 to 3.0, but nothing hugely noticeable right now.
Camera App UI
The Camera App has been tweaked slightly, getting rid of the circle of settings in favor of a half circle. Not a huge deal.
Improved Dial Pad
Now when you type in the Dial Pad, contact names and numbers will appear that match what you’re typing. My old Samsung Infuse running 2.2 Froyo had this feature thanks to Samsung’s TouchWiz additions, so it’s nice to see Google finally adding it to stock Android.
We don’t know much about the next version of Android except for the name. Google confirmed recently that it will be 4.4 KitKat, in partnership with Nestle. Why did they strike a deal with a candy company for this when they could’ve gone with Key Lime Pie like everyone had speculated? Who knows.
There’s a lot of speculation about what could be new in KitKat, and Google has only fueled that fire by saying on their website that “It’s our goal with Android KitKat to make an amazing Android experience available for everyone.” Does this mean that they’ve solved the fragmentation problem? Have they optimized this next version of Android to run on devices with very little RAM? Only time will tell. Expect to see KitKat officially announced in late October/early November, hopefully with the announcement of some new Nexus devices, like the rumored Nexus 5 and a refreshed Nexus 10.
Google has clearly moved away from making the software updates so major, like the transition from 2.3 Gingerbread to 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. With the recent introduction of Google Play Services, Google is looking to keep phones updated via the Google Play Store rather than system updates, which, while it won’t solve the fragmentation problem, will make those stuck on older OSes not feel so bad about it. If you can run all the same apps and have a similar UI, are the system updates that necessary?
Android has come a long way since its inception, and we have a good round-up of Android’s interesting history you might want to check out.
What do you think? Are Android 4.2 and 4.3 tempting enough to make you buy a new device or upgrade your existing one? Or will you be sticking with Android 4.0 or 4.1? Let us know in the comments.