Android 4.0: The ultimate guide (plus cheat sheet)

How to find your way around Google's 'Ice Cream Sandwich' operating system and make the most of its new features

In the world of mobile technology, things change fast -- and there's no better example than Google's Android operating system. In the span of three and a half years, Android has evolved from a rough and limited newcomer into a sleek and polished platform that dominates the smartphone market.

With the release of Android 4.0, aka "Ice Cream Sandwich" (ICS), late last year, Google ushered in a new era for its mobile OS. Android 4.0 gives the platform a unique visual identity and a long-overdue coat of polish. It introduces a host of powerful features, too. Like any major OS update, Android 4.0 can require a bit of adjustment, whether you're coming from a previous version of Android or from another smartphone platform.

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What about "Jelly Bean"?

Although Google announced Android 4.1, aka "Jelly Bean," in June, that release is just now starting to roll out to devices and likely won't reach the majority of phones for a while. Android 4.0 is the OS that most of us are getting to know right now; it comes preloaded on many new phones and is currently being rolled out to existing handsets. And as the version number indicates, Android 4.1 is more about refinement than revolution; once you're up to speed with "ICS," "Jelly Bean" is a short hop away.

Not to worry, though: We're making your "ICS" transition easy. This guide has all the info you need to get comfortable navigating through Android 4.0 and utilizing its updated features. And the accompanying cheat sheet provides quick reference charts that show you how to perform an array of tasks in Android 4.0.

Note: For the purposes of this story, we're focusing primarily on Google's stock Android 4.0 software as it applies to phones. Many manufacturers modify the software with their own custom interfaces; depending on your device, some elements of the operating system may be slightly different from what's described here.

So sit back, relax, and get ready for a treat: It's time to tuck into Google's "Ice Cream Sandwich."

Just want to know how to do a specific task in "Ice Cream Sandwich"? Check out our Android 4.0 cheat sheet.

Home screen and system navigation

As with past versions of Android, the heart of "Ice Cream Sandwich" lies in its home screen; it's the main way you'll get around and get things done. If you've used Android before, the first thing you'll notice is how different the home screen looks in the 4.0-level release: With "Ice Cream Sandwich," Google phased in a completely new graphic design, revolving around a blue-and-gray "holographic" interface and a custom font called Roboto.

Appearances aside, some things work a little differently in "ICS" than they have in the past. Follow along for a guided tour of the Android 4.0 home screen.

The Android 4.0 home screen has a completely new design and several new features.

The Android 4.0 home screen has a completely new design and several new features. Click to view larger image.

Status/Notification bar: The status bar always sits along the top of your phone's screen. On its right, you'll see the current time along with your battery level and data connection status; on its left, you'll see alerts and notifications, which have gotten a serious boost in Android 4.0.

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