At the Google I/O developer conference in June, the company announced Android L, a the next version of Android with a new design language and interface paradigm — and you can get the best of it right now.
The operating system is expected to drop in Autumn of this year, and there’s already an early developer preview available. Those of you who just can’t wait for a stable consumer release can try it out now (if you have a Nexus 5 or 7). That said, some of you are curious what’s up with all this Android L business, and would like to get an early taste of the new aesthetic and features, without subjecting your precious device to the ravages of an unfinished operating system — or maybe you just don’t have the right Android device to test it on.
Luckily, there are a number of apps and modifications that will let you try out the Material Design look and feel without being rooted. Do note that this will not be a full replacement for Android L, so you won’t get new features like battery life improvements. Still, these tips might help to tide you over until the real thing arrives on your device.
You can get a pretty good approximation of the look and feel of the minimalist new Android L keyboard by using a custom keyboard, which you can get from the Play Store. You might, as I was, be inclined to pick up the suggestively named “Android L Keyboard,” which is one of the first results. Don’t be misled — the settings page is broken, and the keyboard does not support swype-style input. Instead, I recommend picking up the ai.type keyboard, and then downloading the Android L theme for it here.
This looks very similar to the Android L keyboard, and it provides a very functional keyboard experience. The aesthetic is nice, and looks way less busy than past Android Keyboards.
Obviously, one of the big pulls of Android L is its new Material Design aesthetic, so be sure to get a theme that shows it off. I wound up using the Android L theme for the Themer launcher (which we’ve reviewed) that provides a neat, Material Design-inspired home and app screen. Unfortunately, the operating system doesn’t support the slick, physically-based animations that characterize Material Design, so it loses some of the charm. Regardless, it’s attractive and a nice stab at reproducing some of the look and feel of Android L.
To extend the experience to your browsing, download Chrome Beta from the app store. The beta can be a little unstable (as per the name), but it does have a beautiful material design motif and a couple of new features, including the ability to use Google’s servers to speed up your mobile browsing.
The Lockscreen Notifications
One of the neat features of Android L is its ability to push notifications to the lock screen, allowing you to read them without having to unlock your phone. This feature, at least, you can pick up with the Android L Lockscreen.
This app displays a customizable collection of recent status notifications on the homescreen, which you can freely view or discard. Which notifications make it to the home screen can be customized inside the app, which you’ll probably want to do, because the defaults are a little bit generous.
As a final touch to fill out the Android L experience, you can pick up all of the stock backgrounds with the Android L Wallpaper app, which provides a welcome personal touch. A number of these are quite attractive, and the color scheme of Material Design is bold enough to stand out, even for simple static backgrounds.
If you’re willing to put the effort in, you can go a little a bit further. None of this is recommended, but it is an option for the curious. If you’re feeling ambitious and have a rooted device, you can swap out the normal KitKat soft buttons for the new, PlayStation-esque Android L soft buttons for free using the GravityBox Xposed Module – though, if you haven’t rooted and weren’t planning to root, it’s probably not worth the effort.
You can also download a number of apks from the developer preview of Android L from this xda developers thread. This realm is probably more for experienced tinkerers, though, because most of these apks require root access to install properly. Check in the thread for tips on getting these working, but tread forward at your own caution.
Finally, if you want to try to get some of the power and memory savings of Android L, some devices can already switch to ART (the new runtime that executes Java code in Android L), by entering Android’s developer mode’ (tap Build Number seven times, in Settings >About Phone >Software information).
From there, you can switch to ART from Developer Options >Select Runtime). However, this is still wildly experimental and will likely cause some apps to crash or not work at all. You can find out more about the process at Cult of Android. But really, ART isn’t likely to speed up your Android device by much anyway.
Obviously, none of this stuff is going to get you what you really want, which is shiny, intuitive, faster new Android. What it might do, though, is show off some of the new features of that Android, and give you a glimpse of where the future of the platform is headed. Enjoy!
Know any cool Android L features or apps that we didn’t mention? Let us know in the comments!