A Jelly Bean ROM might be worth rooting for

Taylor Martin
 from Concord, NC
Published: July 2, 2012

Google booked the Moscone Center in San Francisco, California last week to show off some of its latest work – partner hardware and their own hardware and software – to a crowded room of enthusiastic developers and press. And, to be completely honest, Google had some pretty exciting stuff up its sleeves to impress even lowly me, who apparently hates everything. (I don't even like 7-inch tablets, yet I pre-ordered a Nexus 7. I'm still not exactly sure why.)

I think it's safe to say Google Glass stole the show this year. But by no means was Glass the most important thing to come of the event. That's a toss-up between the Nexus 7, the overpriced (but made in the U.S.A.) Nexus Q and Jelly Bean. The Nexus Q is significant, both because Google manufactured it and because they did so in America. And the Nexus 7 is also important because it's a worthy attempt by Google to take the knees out of one of its biggest underdog competitors, Amazon.

Jelly Bean, however, is significant because it fixes a few of the biggest outstanding issues with Android.

Lag, for instance. Project Butter, which was unveiled during the Android part of the I/O keynote, is an attempt to eradicate the incessant lag that has become commonplace on Android. Graphics are now triple buffered; the interface runs at 60 frames per second; vsync timing has been extended to all drawing and animation and runs at a 16 millisecond heartbeat to keep frame rates in tune; touch input has been synchronized with vsync for smoother scolling; and to ramp up the CPU after a period of rest, a CPU input boost has been implemented to reduce latency. Of course, none of this completely stomps lag out. There are likely to still be episodes of lag here and there. But, as out own Aaron Baker noted in his Jelly Bean walkthrough video, the improvements are monumental for the platform as a whole.

And while Jelly Bean is mostly just an evolutionary update, there are still quite a few other notable features worth getting your hands on. Google Now, for example, is a voice-controlled assistant service that doesn't require any user interaction to work. We'll admit, it's a tad creepy, but it learns you through your Google search activity. Cards, chock-full of information, will appear periodically throughout the day. There is also a new way to rearrange the icons and widgets on your home screen, an improved and more information-packed notification shade and a slew of other minor and major improvements. (One of my favorite is the added ability to share pictures and videos via Android Beam.)

There is plenty in Android 4.1 to be excited about, no doubt. But there is a numbing side to this story that no Android user can forget. Android updates are a mess, and while Google is creating and developing their Platform Development Kit (PDK) for its partner manufacturers, there is little hope for a better update process any time soon.

Unless you're using a Nexus device, you won't likely receive an official Jelly Bean update before October. And October is being optimistic; most Android updates don't get pushed before six months. Some devices never even see updates, despite the Android Update Alliance that was formed between Google and partners.

With Jelly Bean being such an incremental change and considering Google has a knack for releasing at least one Nexus phone (not a tablet) alongside a new iteration of software each year, there is reason to believe there will be another software update before 2013. If that holds true, official updates to Jelly Bean may come right around the time another OS version is announced. This is exactly what we are currently witnessing with Ice Cream Sandwich. As of June 2, only 7.1 percent of Android devices have either released with or been updated to Ice Cream Sandwich and it has been available for seven months. This puts the majority of Android users at least two OS versions behind. Come December and that could become three versions behind.

Personally, I can't stand being on an old version of software, especially when it comes to Android. (I'm already dying to get my hands on the Nexus 7 for that very reason, and I'm beginning to wish I had never sold my Samsung Galaxy Nexus.) While I can't suggest rooting (and subsequently voiding your manufacturer warranty) to anyone, if you want Jelly Bean before the next version of Android is unveiled, it may be worth considering. It may be the only way. (Just know that if you do so, it's at your own risk and discretion.)

I expressed my satisfaction with the HTC One X in May, claiming that I, unusually, had no urge to root the device. Normally, that's the very first thing I do with any new Android phone (unless I'm reviewing it, of course). But the One X has been a fantastic phone, and I have never needed root access on it. It works just as it should, straight out of the box. Aside from purchasing a unit with a dud battery (which I have since replaced), I have had no complaints.

However, as soon as a stable Jelly Bean ROM is made available for the AT&T HTC One X, I plan on immediately unlocking, rooting and flashing Jelly Bean to the One X. More than likely, I will have moved on to another phone by the time the One X is officially updated to 4.1. The global One X already has a port, so I have my fingers crossed for the AT&T version to get one sometimes soon, too.

Tell me, readers. Will you be rooting to get your hands on Jelly Bean a bit early? Or will you wait it out, possibly to only become yet another software version behind? Will the Android update process ever get any better?

Products mentioned