It feels like a very long time since Google took the wraps of Android Lollipop back at Google I/O 2014. But now the wait is over: Android Lollipop has begun rolling out to select Nexus and Motorola handsets and tablets in the UK. The update itself is one of the biggest in Google’s history and introduces a raft of changes, updates, tweaks and optimizations.
Below is our pick of Android Lollipop’s best new features. Enjoy!
This is the BIG one, the face-slapper, the first thing you’ll notice when you boot up your phone –– providing it runs stock Android, of course. Material Design is Google’s new name for its radically altered design language. It looks great (as you can see below) and, importantly, it isn’t exclusive to Android. No, Material Design is coming to all Google services and apps across all major platforms and formats, including PC, Mac, iOS and the like.
This is Google’s new initiative for improving battery life. It’s hardwired into Lollipop and runs deep inside the OS. At its core, Volta represents a concerted effort by Google to address one of the biggest problems affecting smartphones today: battery life. Using APIs like ‘Job Scheduler’, Volta makes your phone smarter about how it performs certain tasks and what it does when it’s not active –– i.e. sitting in your pocket or on your desk.
And best of all, it works too, as noted by the always-scientific ArsTechnica: “Installing the L preview on our Nexus 5 gave us two extra hours of runtime. These tests were done on a beat up, daily-driver phone, so the final numbers aren't necessarily indicative of what the L preview could achieve on a new device. It's the difference that matters.”
And as somebody who has long suffered with diabolical Nexus 5 battery issues, this is perhaps one of the best new features inside Android Lollipop. An extra two and a bit hours of juice effectively makes all my problems go away, more or less completely rekindling my love for last year’s Nexus.
Multitasking in Android Lollipop has had a Material Design-inspired facelift and now goes by the name of Overview. Everything is now organized in stacks of cards and Overview gives you access to lots more in one setting than the previous version. Another cool feature of Overview is the ability to create multiple cards, so, if you’re writing an IM to one person in, say, Whatsapp, but have another conversation on the go, you can switch between the two in Overview.
Notifications look a lot different in Lollipop. But it’s not just a cosmetic change; accessing your updates and interacting with alerts from email, IM or your social feeds has never felt more intuitive. Android Lollipop also brings notifications to the lockscreen and lets you interact with them right there, so you can achieve, delete and flag updates without even unlocking your phone.
And if you have notifications you don’t want appearing on your lockscreen, well, Android Lollipop has a solution for that too. Simply add them to your “redacted” list of private notifications you don’t want appearing on your lockscreen. Inside Notifications-proper, you can also expand and view messages, reply and set mute options for certain messages, say, Facebook updates, for instance.
Android just reclaimed its crown as King of Notifications.
Previously, Android used the Dalvik engine to run third-party and core Google applications. But in Android Lollipop, Google has switched over to ART. We won’t get into the details of ART here –– it’s rather complex –– but the basic premise of how it works is this: applications have a large install footprint and can, as a result, operate in an “always ready” mode, so when you select it the application will spring into life faster than it would with the old method.
Google says ART is 4x faster than Dalvik and will improve the performance of any Android handset it runs on. Nexus 5 users were given the opportunity to switch earlier on in the year, but once Android Lollipop drops for everybody within the next few months, more and more handsets and tablets inside the Android Kingdom will begin benefiting from ART.
New NFC Tricks
Android Lollipop will re-download all the applications you currently use on your phone direct from Google Play when you sign in. This is a new feature and a welcome addition –– Apple’s had it for years. But, there is another way to bring content from your old Android to a newer model: NFC.
The feature is called tap and go and, as the name suggests, works by tapping two handsets together. Once you do this, a link is initiated, and the content from your old phone will begin transferring to your new phone. In our tests it worked great, but it didn’t switch the passwords across for obvious reasons.
Like iOS’ “Do Not Disturb” mode, Priority lets you setup an environment on your phone where you’ll only be served certain notifications when you’re busy working on something. It’s a method of streamlining what can and can’t come through to you so you won’t be disturbed, for example, by your Auntie’s incessant requests for you to join the FarmVille community.
When you set up Priority mode, Android asks you which applications you’d like to allow in a handy drop down menu. It also lets you set up a timer for the mode too, so if you’re only busy for an hour, just set it for an hour and it’ll revert back to normal once that time is up. Priority is an awesome feature that lets you keep in contact with important stuff while blocking out all the usual guff your phone normally bothers you with.
If your family or friends are always asking to borrow your phone for whatever reason but you don’t want them going elsewhere in your phone, looking at messages and your pictures, for example, then you’ll love Pin Apps mode. This is a simple and very useful addition to Android Lollipop that lets you add an extra layer of security to your phone when somebody borrows. Below is an example of how it works in practice.
Your child asks to play a game on your phone, you agree, but before you hand it to them, you tap the pin on the application in Overview. Once this is done, they’re locked to that application, and if they want to go elsewhere, well, they’re going to need your passcode. And, guess what: only you know that.