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I've owned a handset that's ran pretty much every version of Android (as my main phone as well). So I've seen the evolution first hand. And personally I don't think icons were that bad in real life. But you have to bare in mind the competition back then looked worse (iOS being the exception).
What I always hated was the mesh background that sat behind the icons. Even back when Android 1.5 and 1.6 was new, I thought that looked dated. In fact I'd go further and say down right crappy. I didn't like the graphic for the handle of the icon draw either (though I did like the usability of it).