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What I don’t like about +Android  4.2 (1 of 2)

This post is about #android   4.2, but it isn’t a “review”. I won’t talk about the goods and bads. I just want to illustrate what I found irritating after a few days of use. TL;DR: My impression is that Android 4.2 is less polished and less well thought than its predecessor. Here’s why.

[Disclaimer: I am using Android 4.2 on the Galaxy Nexus. I am still finding a way to order a Nexus 4 and 10, but it is difficult because (1) I’m living in Hong Kong, which doesn’t fall into Google Play service area, and (2) They are probably out of stock now.]

The New Widget Lock Screen

Starting from Android 4.2 the lock screen is widget enabled. I don’t think I will have any use of it, but still, I found a number of issues after several hours of usage.

# The widget pages are organized from the right to the left. You can only add pages to the left, but not on the right. Now let #1 be the rightmost page, #2 be the second page. The default page to show isn’t #1, but #2. The reason is that the first page (#1) is hardcoded to invoke the camera app. So, when the screen turns on, page #2 shows up. You will have to swipe left to scroll to the right page (#1) to invoke the camera.

# Recall that in Android 4.1 you have three options when you tap on the unlock ring: (1) You can swipe to the “lock” icon to return to the phone’s last unlock state; (2) Or you can swipe to the left to unlock to the camera; (3) Or you can swipe to the top to invoke Google Now. No matter what, you have a single access point of unlocking. However, in 4.2, the unlock ring only does what it did in the pre-4.0 era: Unlock to the phone’s last state. If you need to unlock to camera, you need to use the “widget page” feature. If you want Google now, there is another unlock trigger at the bottom of the unlock screen below the unlock ring. 

# This means that the point of access to unlock a phone suddenly increased to three. I have to learn three different ways of unlocking a phone to access different features even if I am not interested in using the lock screen widgets. This doesn’t make more sense than the old way.
Moreover, the behaviour of camera unlock page is inconsistent between the widget screens. Only this page unlock the screen immediately, others do not.

# Design wise, when the screen turns on and the lock screen appears, I always see a fading border on both sides indicating that there are more pages. Showing this every time the screen switch on, in my opinion, is ugly.

Using the New Widget Lock Screen

# I think the new lock screen is not intuitive at all. I spent some time to understand its behaviors, and still don’t feel very comfortable with it.
This is because the lock screen is complex. You will see there are at least two “states”. When the screen is switched on, the lock ring occupies each half of the screen. Let’s call it state #1. In this state, swiping needs to be invoked at the edge of the screen or the gesture will be ignored. 

# When you swipe to another page, or tap and swipe downward on the current widget, the state changed. Let’s call it state #2. In this state, you can have full view of the widget, you can move or remove the widget, and you can swipe normally. 

# The first problem is that I can swipe down to expand the widget, but after it is expanded I cannot swipe up to shrink it. I need to tap on the “lock” button to return to state #1.

# And the change of state can be somewhat confusing - when you swipe to another page and swipe back, the lock screen state is already different, and the behavior is different, too - in state #2, you cannot access the “unlock to phone” feature easily. You either need to tap on the widget to unlock to the widget’s corresponding app, or tap the lock to trigger state #1 and perform a slide to unlock gesture. I personally don’t expect a swipe would change the behavior this way.

# There is one thing I still don’t understand. In state #1, try tap on the widget. What I see is the widget shrinks, the background dims, and a frame with white border focuses on the lock ring. What does this mean? What I can do? What kind of feedback is this? I have no idea at all. And this even happens when I tap on an item of, say, the messaging widget. Perhaps the strangest thing is that Android doesn't seem to take it as a user interaction. Try switch on the screen, wait until it’s half dimmed, then tap on the widget several times. You will see the screen still turns off even when you keep on tapping.

# You can add at most 5 pages on the lock screen. However, you will still see the “Add new widget” page and the plus button when you already have five screens. But tapping on the [+] button does nothing.

# To conclude: the new lock screen seems half baked to me. 

A Word on Power Button Responsiveness

I’m not sure if it’s related to the new lock screen. One thing I immediately notice after upgrading to 4.2 is that the power button becomes much less responsive. I can observe a delay of as much as about 0.5 second between the power button being pressed and the phone turns on or off. This is simply unacceptable in terms of user experience. Maybe this only happens to Galaxy Nexus, maybe this only happens to my Galaxy Nexus. I'm not sure.

The New Unlock to Camera Behavior 

Still on the new lock screen, I have some words on the “unlock to camera” feature.

# To me, making the “unlock to camera” function widget-like makes no sense at all. First, it is not a real widget, the behavior is different, and it even doesn't represent the actual camera UI. It’s just an image. And it is not a real lock screen widget at all - you can’t choose to remove it, you can’t move it to another position. It’s always on the rightmost.

# As I have said, this is more confusing than the old way. And it is more inconvenient due to the way how the lock screen accepts or rejects a gesture. As I mentioned because, in state #1, the lock screen will only accept a swipe action if you tap close enough to the edge of the screen.  Tapping on the center and do the swipe doesn't work. And of course you will have to swipe your finger far enough for the system to treat it as a confirmed scrolling gesture, otherwise bounce back would occur. This means that you will unintentionally move your finger further, because you don’t have a clear indication that you will trigger the camera when you release your tap. In contrast, the old “unlock ring” gives you a clear indication - you will see a inverted icon immediately when you move your finger to the correct position, so you are confident that you can go to the camera immediately.

# Another problem is the accessibility. For example, you have 5 lock screen widgets and you are at the leftmost page. You will have to swipe 5 times in order to trigger the unlock to camera feature.

# I also found a problem with this behavior. When a swipe to the camera lock screen and switch off the screen, the camera will still load and force the screen to turn on again.
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