Book Review of Android 4: New Features for Application Development

I don’t normally do book reviews, but I just happened to be working on an Android app and trying to build up my UI skills on the platform, when a Packt Publishing representative reached out to me to offer a free book in exchange for an honest review.

The book was “Android 4: New Features for Application Development” by Murat Aydin.  Before I talk specifically about THIS book, I should say that this is my third or so exposure to reading Packt published books.  I’ve leafed through a couple of Joseph Labreque’s Flash and AIR “New Feature” books.

It seems Packt style books follow a specific style.  They’re on the shorter side, Murat’s was 166 pages, crammed full of code examples.  They also seem a little dry.  When I say dry, I mean I don’t really get a sense of the author’s opinion’s and feelings on a subject – just a straightforward laundry list of features briefly explained followed by an extremely detailed code example.

Is this good or bad?  Well, I think it depends on how you read it.  When I read in bed on my Kindle, the book feels pretty light and flimsy.  When I read a tech book, personally, I like to put all the code examples aside and get a good mental picture of what the author is trying to express.  I end up glossing over all the code examples, and just trying to break out what the author is trying to convey in my head and sleep on it.

With “Android 4: New Features for Application Development”, like I said – I just happened to be making an app at the same time.  So when I wasn’t on my Kindle, I was using the Packt book reader (packtlib) available on their website.  I was pleasantly surprised to see that reading it this way was actually really nice.

Murat covered a couple new features that were immediately useful to my project: the ActionBar and Fragments.  When implementing an ActionBar, it was nice to copy and paste code from his project to mine and get quick results.  I would have liked to have seen more of a diversity of situations – in my application, there were several situations (like when I theme my app) where the ActionBar doesn’t work correctly.  Murat’s example app here was good, just a simple one.  All in all, though it was a good introduction to the ActionBar so long as you used the code examples yourself to explore.

Same with the Fragments.  My curiosity was piqued in terms of what Fragments were because I was already using the Google Maps fragment in another project.  I didn’t quite understand what a Fragment was….I just new I was using one.  “Android 4: New Features” gives some good working examples of how to create and use Fragments through code – but I just didn’t quite get a clear picture that they were just modular components with their own lifecycle until I looked at the Google Android Developer’s documentation.

So I think that’s the theme here with how I feel about this book.  I want to hear Murat’s voice more.  I’m betting he has some great thoughts and opinions and I want to hear them.  I want to hear, in his own words, what these features are and what they mean to him.  I want something to read in bed without my laptop that I can get a good mental model of what they author is trying to convey.

What I got from this book was something I could sit down with at my laptop and copy very thorough and solid code examples with a little bit of guidance from Murat.  I think that’s probably great for some people, just not my cup of tea with my “dive in headfirst attitude” where I skip the simple stuff and jump into making my own app.

Final word:

If you want to read in bed and simmer on the concepts – then I can’t recommend it.

However, if you’re familiar with the Packt publishing type of book and you like it, “Android 4: New features for Application Development” is a good one.  If you’re not familiar with Packt – ask yourself if you want constant handholding through some basic, thoughtful code examples.  If yes and you want to familiarize yourself with Android 4 – again, a pretty good book.

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