Android 4.2 improves on Android 4.1 in numerous ways, adding a variety of new features. Android 4.2 isn’t as big an update as Android 4.1, also called Jelly Bean, but it’s a definite improvement.
If you have a Nexus 7 or Galaxy Nexus, you should be getting this update very soon. Unfortunately, it will likely take quite a bit longer for manufacturers to ship Android 4.2 on non-Nexus devices.
Multiple User Accounts
Android 4.2 includes support for multiple user accounts. It only functions on tablets, so it’s named Tablet Sharing. (Some people speculate that Nokia may have a patent on multiple user accounts for smartphones.)
Each user account has its own “space,” as Android calls it. You can leave an Android tablet laying around and multiple people can have their own accounts, settings, home screen setups and apps whenever they pick up the tablet and unlock it.
Android 4.2’s feature includes a Swype-like Gesture Typing feature. You can type a word by quickly swiping over the letters with your finger – ideal for quickly typing with a single finger. Unlike Swype, the keyboard automatically guesses the word you’re trying to type in real-time, so you get instant feedback and don’t end up accidentally typing a word you didn’t mean to type.
Android 4.2 now includes a quick settings panel that gives you quick access to frequently used settings, including Wi-Fi and Bluetooth settings, airplane mode, a brightness control, and battery information. To access it, pull down from the upper right corner of the panel on a tablet or pull down from the panel with two fingers on a smartphone.
Samsung’s TouchWiz and other Android skins have long included a similar feature, but it’s now integrated into stock Android.
Android 4.2’s lock screen now supports widgets, similar to the popular WidgetLocker app. Out of the box, you can add Gmail, Calendar, and Clock widgets to easily view your emails and calendar events without unlocking your device.
New Camera App & Photo Sphere
Android 4.2 includes a new Camera app with a clever interface. Instead of toolbars and buttons you have to hunt for, a quick settings menu appears wherever you touch in the camera app. This allows you to quickly change settings with one hand while taking a photo.
There’s also a Photo Sphere feature, which allows you to take Google Streetview-style 360-degree photos of a scene.
Google Now Improvements
Along with Android 4.2 come new cards for Google Now, although the new Google Now features aren’t exclusive to Android 4.2. There are new cards that display information about flights, hotels, packages, restaurants, and events – Google watches your Gmail account for confirmation or tracking emails and displays this data in Google Now.
Android 4.2 includes a Daydream feature that allows Android to function as a smart screensaver. When docked or charging, you can have your Android’s screen stay on and display content from any app with Daydream support. For example, you can display a clock, view a photo slideshow, or show new content from Google Currents.
Android 4.2 supports the new Miracast industry standard for display-mirroring over Wi-Fi, allowing you to wirelessly stream video from your Android device to any Miracast-supporting display. You’ll be able to buy televisions and other displays with integrated supports for Miracast, as well as receivers that plug into HDMI ports on displays without integrated Miracast support. In time, Miracast could be the rest of the world’s answer to Apple’s AirPlay.
The Gmail app has a few improvements Gmail users will appreciate. In the message list, you can swipe an email to the left to archive it, or swipe the email to the right to delete it. Gmail also finally has support for pinch-to-zoom, allowing you to deal with HTML emails much more easily.
New Clock App
Android 4.2 includes a new Clock app. While this isn’t a groundbreaking new feature, the Clock app looks a little different from the stock apps we’re used to, complete with unusual-looking fonts. Along with the Camera, this could be a hint of where Android’s interface may be headed in the future – who knows!
Android 4.2’s support for multiple users is probably its biggest new feature – there’s no new feature quite as groundbreaking as the Project Butter performance improvements or Google Now in Android 4.1. Gesture typing, quick settings, and lock-screen widgets bring popular third-party features into stock Android and make them part of the operating system.
Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.
- Published 11/16/12