Back when I first got my Galaxy Nexus, I spoke some of the most blasphemous words a Nexus owner can speak. I said that I wasn't going to root the Nexus right away, simply due to the fact that Ice Cream Sandwich has answered most of my gripes with software, the battery life has been decent and unlocking the bootloader would factory reset the device. Rather than resetting everything and starting from scratch, I decided that it simply wasn't worth the trouble to root at that time and I would just suck it up.
For any of you who know me and my tendencies, not rooting a device takes a lot of effort. I've owned who knows how many Android devices (probably near 50 or more now). Of those, only two have gone unrooted. I didn't root the Amaze 4G because I wasn't sure if I was going to keep it when I bought it. The only other has been the Nexus, and a month and a half without root access is a good run ... for me. Last night, however, I caved. I couldn't take it anymore. There are just some very (very) tiny things about Ice Cream Sandwich that have become an increasingly troubling annoyance.
Just days after getting my hands on the Galaxy Nexus, I wrote an article on the weak points of Ice Cream Sandwich. At first, I was worried about not having physical buttons and how the soft button counterparts would be in terms of responsiveness and functionality. Aside from not being totally dedicated space, the major difference is that with the soft buttons, there is no dedicated menu button. Instead, the menu button has to be coded into each applications and its position on the display is at the discretion of the developer of the app.
You would think that there would be some sort of consensus about the positioning of the menu button, especially among Google's own applications. Nope. Sometimes it appears in the upper right corner, other times it will appear above the soft navigation buttons, within the app itself. And the rest of the time, it finds its place alongside the soft navigation buttons, crammed in the lower right corner.
This is easily my biggest complaint about Ice Cream Sandwich. Even after a month and a half, I find myself constantly looking around for the signature three-dot button, even within the apps I use constantly. I can never remember where to look. So, after a little convincing from a close friend of mine, I took it upon myself to unlock, root and ROM my Nexus. The ROM I chose (which I will touch on at the end) happens to have the option for a persistent menu soft button to the left of the back soft button. It takes some getting used to, as when you press it, the actual menu may pop up at the top or bottom of the display. But at least I always know where to look for the menu button.
Along with scrapping the need for a dedicated menu button in the ICS update, the typical, dedicated search key is gone. Instead, you will find a permanent search bar fixed to the top of every home screen, which I never remember to use. And within third-party apps, the location (and existence) of a search function is at the discretion of the developer. Before, I could simply press the search button and search from literally anywhere a search was possible. With stock ICS, if there is no search button coded into a specific page of an app, you simply cannot search.
Again, in the custom ROM I picked, there was also an option to add a persistent search button along with the other navigation buttons. I never thought I would care too much about not having a dedicated search key, but going just a few weeks without one, I realized just how much I used it in the past. I'm like a lost puppy without it.
While it hasn't turned me mad quite like no consistent search or menu buttons, the fact that widgets have been moved from long pressing the home screen to sitting oddly alongside my apps has slowly been nibbling away at my patience. I still long press on the home screen when I want to add a widget, and I can never remember to long press on the widget preview from within the app drawer. Nothing about their new placement makes sense.
The part that really drives me crazy, though, isn't that the apps and widgets are beside each other. It's the fact that they're in separate tabs, yet if you scroll past your last page of apps, it keeps scrolling on over to widgets. While this ROM hasn't really changed widget access back to the old ways, it does allow me to disable paginated scrolling between apps and widgets. To access widgets, you have to physically activate the widget tab. It's not perfect, but that tiny bit of separation has calmed my nerves for the time being and made out-of-place-widgets less of an annoyance.
CyanogenMod is one of the most popular third-party Android development projects on the planet. The actual ROM itself is like a better, more functional AOSP ROM. In other words, it builds upon purely stock Android and adds very useful features to the mix. One of the most notable features of CyanogenMod is the use of toggles in the notification shade. Much like the Power Control Widget that comes on stock Android, you can activate things like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, screen rotation and several other settings simply by pulling down your notification shade and tapping a soft toggle switch.
This is something I always miss when I'm using purely stock software. A similar feature was added in Android tablet software in Honeycomb and Ice Cream Sandwich, but it has yet to make it to handsets. The ROM I'm using also implements this, taking some open sourced code from the CyanogenMod team.
All of these things considered, Ice Cream Sandwich isn't a bad software version, by any means. In fact, it's my favorite Android build to date and has almost completely restored my love for the little green guy. Android 4.0 has done wonders to answer most of my outlying problems with previous iterations, but I still cannot use it comfortably in its purely stock form. The Android dev team keeps missing the little things, like toggles in the notification shade and inconsistent menu button placement.
I know I said I wouldn't root until CM9 was officially out, but I couldn't take it anymore. These little inconsistencies were wearing me down, and apparently a lot of others, too. There are several ROMs and mods out there that add all of the same features: additional soft buttons, toggles, launcher replacements, etc. The ROM I chose was IML74K Android 4.0.3 Build 9-2, mainly because it was recommended to me (by more than one person). So far, it has answered every last issue I have had with Ice Cream Sandwich. This is how Ice Cream Sandwich should be.
I honestly thought I would have lasted much longer, but I only resisted rooting for a month and a half. Still, that's a record for me and I'm much happier with my Nexus now anyway. Tell me, though. Have any of you rooted your Nexus? What problems have you had with ICS? Are you happier now that you did?