GEL Gets Personal
And that segues nicely into where we see the greatest shift towards better integration as a result of GEL: personalization. Wallpapers, Widgets, and Google Now settings are all accessed and managed from within the same screen. Simply tap and press on any empty space on the Launcher and you'll wind up in a zoomed-out view of desktop panes with three icons along the bottom.
From left to right they are: Wallpapers, Widgets, and [Google Now] Settings. Lovely. No longer are we subject to Wallpapers being in a floating menu all its own, or Widgets crammed into the App Drawer (newly renamed the “All Apps Screen”).
In GEL, when clicking on Wallpapers, we get a selection strip to choose from at the bottom of the screen. The strip starts off with an image selector for adding your own images (right before the default wallpapers provided by Google), followed by the Live Wallpapers at the far right end. Whenever a wallpaper is selected from the strip, it’s previewed in the space above the selection strip, so we can get a decent idea what the wallpaper will look like on the home screen.
Once you’re happy with a wallpaper, it's just a matter of pressing the Set Wallpaper control along the top of the screen and GEL takes you right back to the desktop. Unfortunately, the previews only work for images. Live Wallpapers still seem to load as separate apps (which is, of course, what they are) and so they can't be previewed in the same fashion. This comes off as a loose end in a release that otherwise brings more cohesion to the UX overall. Perhaps this is just an oversight that will be remedied in a future Android point update.
Widget selection works as expected, based on previous Android versions. The main difference here is that Widgets are accessed independently of the App Drawer, which makes for a more logical overall experience.
In previous versions of Android, it was quite the hassle to access widgets: open the App Drawer, then select the Widgets tab (or navigate all the way to the right). Now, Widgets are in their own screen within the larger personalization settings screen, right were a new user would expect them to be, as opposed to inside the master app list.
[Google Now] Settings is the last of the three available settings icons. While it's nice to have those options so readily available, it also seems a little bit like filler. We doubt many people will bother changing these settings often enough that it needs to be available from the Personalization screen. We imagine most will treat them as “set and forget.”
The settings screen allows you to turn off Google Now, enable and manage Phone Search integration, change your Voice recognition settings (including Language, which is necessary for OK Google voice command recognition, currently only US English is supported for OK Google), blocking of offensive words, and some miscellaneous settings covering things like Bluetooth headset support for Voice Recognition and whether to store voice dictionaries locally.