We’ve known about Google’s Android 5.0 Lollipop update—previously known as Android L—for months now, and finally the software is ready for public consumption. If you’re part of the Android faithful, chances are you already know the ins and outs of what Google’s new update has to offer, but if you’re just showing interest in the world of Android, we have a nice little tour to get you acquainted with the new software. Enough Lollipop goodness to spoil your dinner, that’s for sure.
Android 4.4 KitKat was already a gigantic update, but this year’s is no doubt Google’s biggest ever. There’s a huge list of changes, which Google already highlighted, and it looks absolutely stunning running on the new Nexus devices. Oh, and by the way, you can actually pick up Google’s new tablet starting today. If you’re in the market for a brand new slate—albeit a more expensive one—the Nexus 9 is probably your best bet, especially if you want a taste of what Lollipop has to offer.
Remember that cool always-listening feature Motorola introduced with the first Moto X? Google thought it was a cool feature, too, and now it’s a part of Android’s core functionality. When Android 4.4 KitKat was first introduced, you could only say OK Google right from the home screen. In Lollipop, you can now summon Google’s technology even when the display is off. The feature requires digital signal processing support to work–the Nexus 6 and Nexus 9 have it—so not every device can handle it. But if your device does, you’ll be able to ask questions, get directions and more without having to wake your device and unlock it anymore.
Double tap to wake
Who knew such a simple feature would be so convenient? This is a feature available on a lot of devices already—the G3 and OnePlus One come to mind—but it’ll finally be part of Android by default (when supported by the hardware). This makes it so much easier to quickly perform actions like checking the time, notifications and more. It sounds silly, but always having to press the power button just to wake your device up can be a pain; double-tapping the screen to wake it is so much better, and a feature you won’t be able to live without once you start using it.
Like we said in our Top 5 Lollipop features list, a big part of Android 5.0 is Google’s focus on security. By default, all new devices running the software come with encryption turned on, a measure meant to help protect data on lost or stolen devices. Additionally, Android 5.0 has better protection against vulnerabilities and malware, and there’s also a new Smart Lock feature that will secure your device by pairing it with a trusted device (like a wearable). These aren’t necessarily tangible features you’ll see and interact with on a daily basis, but you can rest assured that your device is now more secure than ever. And should your device ever get lost or stolen, you won’t have to worry about sensitive information being accessed.
Lock screen notifications
Android has never had the best notification system, but that’s all changing in Lollipop. Now, users can respond to messages directly from their lock screen, whether it’s an email or Hangouts message. Everything is displayed in a Google Now-ish carded layout, making it easy to navigate and swipe messages away. And if you’re worried about security, you can hide sensitive content for notifications that come streaming in. Users will have complete control over what shows up in notifications and what doesn’t, and there are also setting to ensure you’re not interrupted when doing something like watching a video.
This is part of Google’s new notification system, but it deserves its own shout out. With Priority Mode, users can determine the exact notifications that can get through when you don’t want to be disturbed by other spam email and messages; it’s a bit like Apple’s Do Not Disturb, but a little more flushed out. The cool thing is that you can easily set a duration for downtime, too, making it easy to turn Priority Mode on the fly. If you need some downtime in the middle of a busy workday, this is definitely a feature that can come in handy, especially if you’re constantly bombarded by notifications throughout the day.
You’ve always been able to use multiple user accounts on tablets, but Android 5.0 takes that a step further by allowing folks to loan out their devices to guests. With Guest Mode, which works on both phones and tablets, you can lend your device to someone without also giving them access to your stuff. When Guest Mode is activated, it basically creates an experience that looks as though it’s starting from a factory reset. Guests can do things like check their email, and once they’re done, all the information can easily be wiped.
Screen pinning is an offshoot of Guest Mode. Say a friend wants to use your phone to make a quick call. Sure, you trust that friend, but for added security, you can only pin the dialer, only letting them use that app and nothing else. This could be hugely convenient for parents handing their kid a phone to play with. It’s not a complicated feature by any means, but it allows users to safely hand their phone off to someone without giving that person access to their entire device.
Better Quick Settings
Android’s pulldown menu has looked the same for a while now, but it’s been revamped inside Android 5.0. Now with two swipes down from the top of the screen, you’ll see the most frequently used settings, new controls like flashlight, hotspot, screen rotation and cast control, and easier toggles for things like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and location. There are also little clickable icons for things like battery settings, general settings and quick access to Guest Mode; giving you pretty much everything you need right at your fingertips.
Multitasking in Android is fine and easy enough to use in its current implementation; it basically shows you where you last left off in an application, with the apps stacked on top of each other, which can then be swiped away or tapped on to pick up where you left off. But in Android 5.0, there’s a new Overview look that gives you much more information about what you’ve been doing, and it introduces a new Rolodex-style layout that’s much easier to navigate. The really cool thing is that some apps can create multiple “cards;” in an app like Chrome, you’ll see every single one of the tabs you had open, making it much easier to switch.
The new look and feel of Android 5.0 is all thanks to Google’s new Material Design initiative. Colors are bolder, more colorful, and the UI has been revamped to create a more consistent and intuitive experience. Familiar visual elements have been created to make navigation easier; you’ll know exactly what you’re doing and exactly where you came from, which hopefully means you’ll never get lost when digging through Android’s settings. Everything looks really beautiful, bright. After having used Android 5.0, going back to Android 4.4 just looks plain old.
When we first got our hands-on Android L running on the Nexus 7, it left us feeling really excited about Google’s mobile future. Android has always been a really powerful OS, and this year Google is adding even more features with a really beautiful coat of paint. All of Google’s own stock apps have already been Material Design-ified, and it’s only a matter of time before developers start implementing the same principles across their own apps to create a more unified experience.
A lot of our Android Lollipop experience has been on the Nexus 9, and so far we really love what the update has to offer. Plain and simple, Material Design is stunning; simply swiping around the OS, bringing down the notification shade, and jumping through different settings is fine. Of course, that’s probably because the update is so new, but this is easily Google’s best-looking and most cohesive version of Android, no question. It’s just a shame we’ll eventually see it defaced by OEM skins down the road.