Last Updated: August 10th, 2012

Welcome to the sixth edition of GTKA4.0! If you are somehow just joining us, where have you been? You've only been missing the most comprehensive coverage of Ice Cream Sandwich on the internet. If you need to catch up, we already covered Gmail, Google Talk, YouTube, Calendar, and People (Contacts).

This article is for all the old school people out there that actually make phone calls with their smartphones. Today we're examining the Dialer.

For no reason other than tradition, here are some completely unenlightening about screens:


This time both versions are from emulators. "Dialer" gets a name change to "Phone," and version numbers just match the OS version. Like I said, unenlightening.



I guess we should start with the dialing part of the dialer. Like I said in the People article, the Dialer has been spun out into its own, separate app. Across the top, the tabs are now Dialer, Call Log, and Favorites.

Just when you thought the dial screen couldn't get any starker, ICS ups the ante by dropping the blocks around the current phone number and bottom buttons. We've got even less going on now.

Everything looks a little cleaner. Button numbers are more prominent, and done up in ICS blue. The button bottoms are now more like underscores, and give a nice base to the button letters. Roboto is really showing its stuff here, look at the curve on that "7."

Buttons have been switched around a bit. Voicemail has moved from the bottom to the "1" button. A long press will get you connected. Contacts has not completely left the dialer, the bottom left button will bring up contacts search. As for just typing in numbers, there's no T9 search, but it will match numbers against your contacts.

Am I reading too much into things, or does the new, rotated phone icon seem more... inviting? By pointing up, it gives off more of a "pick up" vibe than "hang up" one.

Phone Calls


Oh hey, Jessica's calling!

Wow, does Gingerbread look awful. It looks like they just slapped all the necessary fields on the screen, hit "Center" and called it a day. This was definitely designed by the same guy that wrote the telephony stack, as opposed to design by, you know, a designer.

ICS is a completely different story. Designers actually decided to make use of the screen. The background is now a high res picture of the person calling, and the layout is much better. The name and phone number get a transparent black overlay, and "Incoming Call" gets a nice, blue background.

The star of this screen is the cool answer slider at the bottom. While the phone is ringing, the little waves animate outward, inviting you to touch the phone circle. The background here is a little weird. Transparent black would probably be better looking than solid black; I can't see the bottom half of the picture!

wm__0000s_0004_Layer-20 wm__0000s_0005_Layer-21

Touching the phone circle lights up three icons. There's options for Ignore, answer, and the new one, reply with text message. The usage is exactly like the Honeycomb and ICS lock screen, just drag the circle to whatever you want. Picking text message will bring up a few canned messages, and the option to add your own. Very handy.

Time to actually answer this call:


Seriously, Gingerbread, why is "Hold" all the way up there, away from the other buttons? Did it get lost? Did you misplace it? What is going on? ICS actually puts all the buttons in the same spot: the bottom. Genius.

Now we've got the buttons arranged much more logical manner, the most used button is now the biggest. Along the bottom there's the dial pad, speaker phone, mute, hold, and add call. It's much more organized and friendlier.

You might have noticed Gingerbread has a status bar notification for a call and ICS doesn't. But don't worry, It will appear if you leave the phone app while you're on a call.


Here we can see what happens when we enable a few options. Any activated buttons get a thick blue line underneath of them. "On Hold" shows up as a blue strip under the name and number.

I would show you a horizontal screenshot, but there still isn't horizontal support. I'm not kidding. Take all these screenshots, rotate them 90 degrees, and that's your horizontal mode. Apparently speaker phone in a car dock isn't a use case Google cares about.

Ending a call in Gingerbread automatically opens the call log. No one really ever wants it to do that. ICS takes the insanity a step further and locks the phone after ending a phone call. You hang up, and are greeted with a lock screen. Why? Ending a call should be like ending any other task. Just send me back to whatever I was doing!

Call Log


The call log is much prettier. Contact pictures make a huge difference. They are now attached to every entry, which also adds the cool side effect of contact card access. Gingerbread made grouped calls an expandable list, in ICS they are listed as one item with multiple incoming/outgoing arrows (like in the first entry).

There is a search button at the bottom, but it's just the normal contact search, it doesn't search your call log.


The call details screen has actually had some though put into it now. At the top there's a People-style giant image header, and the screen will now list each call in a group. It's good to see the whole screen actually being used for information, in Gingerbread half of the screen was always empty.

The completely blank action bar is really stupid looking though.



This is a surprise. I expected favorites to be a carbon copy of the People version, but they've gone and tacked "All Contacts" to the bottom of it. That will be helpful when you think a contact is a favorite, but really isn't, and its just nice to still be able to reach all your contacts from the dialer.

Tapping a favorite will call them and the little contact icon will open their contact page.


screenshot-1322603052474 wm__0000s_0003_Layer-10

Search will now list all of contact's phone number inline, and tapping on it will call that number. That's one less tap than Gingerbread, which will bring up a "pick a number" popup for contacts with multiple numbers. ICS seems to search "All contacts" by default, and Gingerbread charges you an extra tap for that feature.

In People, search does text highlighting on the results list, so above the "Jess" in "Jessica" would be a different color. It seems to be left out of the dialer search, it was a nice touch, I miss it.



Somewhere in this app is a visual voicemail interface. The emulator can't access it, so we'll just have to look at this picture from the ICS unveiling in Taiwan. Voicemails will show up in the call log, and tapping them will bring you this screen. The plus and minus buttons will speed up the playback, and it looks like you have pause and speakerphone buttons.

Wrap Up

I'm very disappointed at the lack of a horizontal mode throughout the dialer. If you like to use speakerphone in a car dock you'll be dealing with a sideways screen. It's horrible.

Design wise, we got a nice upgrade. The Gingerbread version of Dialer was an ugly mess; ICS whipped it into shape. This is one of the few ICS designs that is actually dark, so AMOLED battery enthusiasts can stop posting basically the same comment in every single article (just kidding, I love you guys).

We even get new features with this update. Replying to a phone call with a text message is a brilliant idea. Expect every other OS to copy this in a few months. Built in visual voicemail (should you choose to pay for it) frees you from carrier crapware apps.

New design and new features? It's hard to ask for any more than that. (Other than, you know, a horizontal mode.)

Ron Amadeo
Ron loves everything related to technology, design, and Google. He always wants to talk about "the big picture" and what's next for Android, and he's not afraid to get knee-deep in an APK for some details. Expect a good eye for detail, lots of research, and some lamenting about how something isn't designed well enough.
  • Tkun

    Brb, calling Jessica Alba.

    Gingerbread looks so boring aesthetically compared to Ice Cream Sandwich. It's literally a night and day difference. I'm running a mostly stable ICS rom on my Samsung Fascinate and I'm in love with it.

  • http://twitter.com/tylerrobb Tyler Robb

    Wow this looks nice but without T9, I'm going to have to pass. If Cyanogenmod 9 doesn't implement T9 into the stock dialer, I'll be sticking with Dialer One. Great work, you're almost there Google!

    Also, horizontal mode would be nice as well..

    • http://www.AndroidPolice.com Artem Russakovskii

      Argh, I can't believe they don't have T9 yet again. Could it be due to a possible patent conflict with Nuance? I could see that as a precautionary measure.

      • B.G

        Agreed. T9 is a must.

    • Elrando

      Fuck T9, sideways, with a knife.

    • Simon Belmont

      Agreed. I had T9 in the dialer back in HTC Sense 1.0 on Android 1.5 on my Sprint HTC Hero. :)

      How could they have NOT included it in version FOUR of their OS? Oh well, maybe Jelly Bean will? ;)

  • http://apcmag.com/authors.htm?Aid=165 Simon C

    I thought the divert with text message function had been around forever? It's on my SGsii, and I thought it was on my Hero, too.
    Was definitely on my Nokia N95.

    • Dan

      WM 6.1 had it also...

  • JuastCourious

    Is ICS call log still limited to 500 items?

  • Luke

    I assume the reply with text message option is only available through the stock messaging app, and not via google voice. Having the option to choose would be nice.

    • Ron Amadeo

      GV should work, Google definitely has a text messaging app intent.

      For instance, "Send text" in voice actions (on GB) will ask you what app you want to use.

      The days of GV being incompatible with everything is over!

  • skitchbeatz

    Touchwiz had replying to a call w/ a text message.

  • Nick

    i'm curious as to how google voice will implement in ICS. i use gvoice for visual voicemail/transcription, so it would be nice if those features were built into the ICS visual voicemail interface :)

    can't believe they still didn't go for horizontal mode :-/

  • froader

    I really don't understand how the developers can omit something so simple, usefull, and time saving as predictive dialing. Dial 537 which correspond to JES to call Jessica.

    • http://www.AndroidPolice.com Artem Russakovskii

      Probably due to a patent on T9.

  • the1who

    What about three way calling. I could never get back to the original phone call, unless I just didn't know how to use the gingerbread dialer and the manage calls button.

  • http://bradhicks.livejournal.com/ J. Brad Hicks

    Looks like ICS is taking my least-favorite Honeycomb feature and dialing it up to 11: icons with no text under them. Those three icons that show up for inbound calls? I couldn't have told you what any of them would do, if you hadn't told me. The clock icon meaning "call log" went right past me, too; I expect a clock icon to bring up a clock.

    4.0 is prettier than 3.x, just as 3.x was prettier than 2.x ... but for every step forward on usability, I'm seeing at least one step backwards.

    • Addi

      I personally thing that those 3 icons were extremely obvious... If you're in a phone app, what else could they have been? The star actually means "Starred in Android", which is Google's remix of favorites. The clock... Come on now... If you're in a phone app, why would you expect a Clock? It's the phone app. And the phone icon... Kinda obvious it would be the dialer.

      • http://codytoombs.wordpress.com Cody

        I agree with your take on his complaints, but I agree with his overall complaint in regards to the in-call screen. If I really look at the buttons and think about them I can infer the meaning of most of them, though a couple are not intuitive at all.

        The thing that makes me call this a fail, is that there's no app where it's more important to have an instantly intuitive interface than the dialer. I don't use Hold/Mute very often but I don't want to stare at my phone for 5-10 seconds trying to guess if the Pause and Crossed Mic icons actually mean those things. Even nothing happens while you're figuring out the icons, a bad assumption might lead to hitting the button and the person on the other end hears her sister's voice in the background :) That is a bad user experience my friend...

        Seriously though, there's a lot of screen real estate to play with, they could have made the buttons slightly taller to squeeze in some barely readable text. I do agree with Mr. Hicks, there are apps that are really hard to use because the icon functions aren't obvious and sometimes you can't undo mistakes. On desktops it was easy to simply attach a tooltip to every button and let a user hover over it for a moment, but that feature isn't implemented on phones very often, so learning is annoying and sometimes even dangerous (yes, I'm talking to you gmail app)

    • Randy

      I think the 3 icons for inbound calls are pretty obvious to most people, but I agree with the overall gripe. As you said, the call log icon is pretty vague.

      The pause icon for hold... I might not have figured that out, and the "Add Call" button... upon first inspection I thought that button would add the current caller to your contacts.

      There's definitely some icons that have been shown here that need explanation, and don't get one. I really hope that's not a trend through the entire OS. (I haven't read the rest of these "Getting to know Android 4.0" articles)

  • Tkun

    Something that has always irked me about the stock Android's dialers is that they lack speed dial. I never understood why that was. I know that you can make a folder that has direct dial shortcuts, but that, in my opinion, is less convenient and adds another icon to your homescreen that could've been avoided if the stock dialer itself had it.

  • Blacksheep

    Wow, what beautiful UI changes, I hope at long last 4.0 stops carriers and cell phone makers from adding their own GUI's and crazy mods, no reason for it with this outstanding usability and appearance.

    Also, dude, you've got Jessica Alba calling you like every 2 minutes, everyone is jealous ;)

  • Ryuuie


    Look at all that blue and white icon buttons!

    My Nexus S's SAMOLED screen is not pleased, dammit.


    (I'm obviously kidding. :P)

    • martijnve

      As Zaphod Beeblebrox would put it:

      "It's the weird colour scheme that freaks me. Every time you try to operate one of these weird black controls, which are labeled in black on a black background, a small black light lights up black to let you know you've done it."

      • http://codytoombs.wordpress.com Cody

        I love the books, wasn't a fan of the movie and in particular hated the way they did Zaphod...Now I know why...Reading that line just made me think of Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow and I could suddenly imagine him being something approaching perfect for the role. Give me a moment while I raise a middle finger to the producers of the movie.

  • Aaron

    Someone loves italics.... lol. Not too crazy about the button to end the call... looks easy to be cheek-pressed if the proximity sensor misses for a second. Seriously, why should you have to slide to answer, but just press a button to hang up?

  • http://codytoombs.wordpress.com Cody

    I actually used the T9 search fairly often...I'm lazy about putting people into Favorites, so being able to tap numbers for the first couple letters of their name was a great shortcut, and even better when it's people who wouldn't have been in favorites to begin with.

    Also, I don't quite get this part: "Replying to a phone call with a text message is a brilliant idea. Expect every other OS to copy this in a few months." I had this on a Windows Mobile phone a few years ago and I've seen this implemented on Android before too. I agree, the fruitees will copy it shortly but I can't see suggesting it's a new feature, just one that hasn't been an out-of-the-box stock feature quite yet.

  • Gargamel

    I actually think that the incoming call screen is much more difficult to use and reduces usability considerably. In GB, you know what you are supposed to do: slide left or slide right. that's it. In ICS? Ahh, press first, then try to figure out what to do. You need to carefully look at the screen not to make a mistake, and if you touched it lightly, who knows what will happen.
    All in all, ICS is pretty, but not as useful. I tried it on my N1, and switched back. I prefer productivity over design.

    • Freak4Dell

      If you don't figure it out after the first couple of times, you probably shouldn't be using a smartphone.

      That being said, they definitely could have made it easier so that there wasn't that learning curve for the first couple of times.

      • tuti

        you see, attitude like yours is just the reason why Apple wins. Using a smartphone is not a test of intelligence or memory.

        The phone should be smart so I can be dumb :)

  • Nada

    Is it possible to disable the number "grouping"? I mean the way the numbers get formatted like (123) 123-456-789. I guess that's the US way of formatting phone numbers, but to me it's very hard to read, being used to groups of two instead of three (0123-12 34 56).

  • helikopter

    what about the bluetooth button on the in-call screen? is it possible to toggle bluetooth connectivity while in a call or it's gone?

  • Tee

    No download link...

  • iliyan

    I can't believe nobody commented on one of the most important features of a dialer - smart dialing. Do we finally have it in ICS? If i press 436, will it suggest dialing George?

  • Seth Daniel

    I'll give you one very good reason why the dialer should lock after you hang up a call: pocket dialing. It's amazing to me, but no matter how many times I tell my dad and uncle "After you hang up the call press the power button before putting your phone down/in your pocket." It makes no difference, every time my dad calls me I get another call in about 30 seconds because he didn't turn it off. Yes, it's kind of annoying to have to unlock my phone to continue doing what I was doing, but for the most part I think locking after hanging up is a great idea.

    • http://codytoombs.wordpress.com Cody

      Are these people using smartphones with capacitive touch screens and non-clickable buttons? I know I have pocket dialed with my DHD before, but that's a perfect storm of coincidences, not something normal. What you're describing is people who are using old phones with hard buttons, aka Dumb Phones. Capacitive screens and buttons (and not even that for ICS) aren't very prone to pocket dialing.

      I agree with others, it makes more sense to return users to what they were doing or apply some simple logic...If user turns off screen during call or they were already in a lock screen, then ending a call returns to a lock. Otherwise, return them to the last thing they were doing. Just to screw with people I'd be tempted to call their phone and hang up just to force them to re-enter their unlock codes :)

      • http://twitter.com/JayKingOfGay Jay, King of Gay

        Capacitive screens and buttons (and not even that for ICS) aren't very prone to pocket dialing. "
        Happened on my EVO and now on my Nexus. Didn't ever catch it on my EVO, but I heard the button noises on my Nexus yesterday when it happened. I put my phone in my pocket, screen facing toward my body (presumably to protect it). Apparently the fabric of my pockets is thin enough that my legs can activate the touchscreen.

  • Freak4Dell

    It looks nice. I agree that it shouldn't take you to a lock screen after the call is over, but other than that, I don't have many complaints.

    Personally, I think the horizontal thing is useless. Who still uses speakerphone in a car, anyway? I guess it would have been nice for Google to throw it in, since it wouldn't take much effort, but it's not worth complaining about, in my opinion.

  • Gene Gorman

    Got spoiled by my trusty (and small) Droid Eris since September 2009 but bit the bullet (re: waning battery power and capacitive sensitivity on the screen) and bought a Pantech at the Verizon store mainly because I didn't see the value-add of the pop-out keypad. Well, I definitely am bummed to lose smart dialing. So what are these external apps that make that possible?