This morning Google announced the successor to Android 5.1 Lollipop, called Android M, and the company also released an early developer preview or beta for the Nexus 5, Nexus 6, Nexus 9 and more. Here’s a quick hands-on video looking at the newest software from Google.
As promised this morning Google released an early beta version of Android M for developers to test, but most of the new features are missing. We’ve gone ahead and installed it on the Nexus 6, and the video below will explain what’s new, what’s new that isn’t included, and show you a few neat aspects of Android M.
At the annual Google I/O developer event today Google revealed a lot of its plans for the Android operating system, Google Photos, Android Wear, Android Auto and more. Now that the Android M developer preview is available now, users are likely curious about what’s new. And while we couldn’t try everything today, we gave it a quick look and here’s our thoughts.
With Android M there are a lot of behind the scenes changes, things that won’t be apparent when users first install the update later this year. However, Google’s made huge improvements to how app permissions are handled, added native fingerprint scanner support, changed Google Wallet to Android Pay, introduced a new Google Photos app, improved Google Now with something called “Now on Tap” and more.
A few things we noticed immediately is the completely revamped application drawer and its persistent recent open apps area at the top, the option to change the theme color of the settings menu, and just more of Google everywhere. There are tons of changes with Android M, and the link above goes over many of those, not to mention our hands-on video below.
However, the Android M beta that’s available now doesn’t have most of it. Fingerprint security is missing, maybe because there’s no fingerprint scanner on the Nexus 6. Android Pay is no where to be found, Google Now on Tap doesn’t work, and other things are changes made that aren’t visually noticeable. That all being said, check out the hands-on video below, not to mention some screen captures of the user interface changes.
As you can see above, Android M looks a lot like Android 5.0 Lollipop. Overall the general look and feel with all the animations, effects, and material design interface changes are present. There aren’t any major changes aside from the few we’ll show you below. With Android M it appears that Google wants to refine the Android experience, make things easier, improve performance and battery life, all while keeping the same beautiful interface announced last year with Android L.
Android 5.0 and 5.1 Lollipop hasn’t been a smooth update for many. Forums are filled with complaints on app crashes, poor battery life, and other issues. Hopefully all that has been worked out with Android M, and so far we’re experiencing no problems on the developer preview. Everything is fast, fluid, and seamless.
What’s New in Android M
There are tons of changes in Android M, but many of them aren’t visible, but that doesn’t mean Google hasn’t made a few changes. We’ve been running Android M for the past hour, so can’t say too much on performance just yet, but here’s a list of a few new things aside from what was announced and mentioned above.
The application drawer is completely different in Android M, but we’re not sure if this will make it to the final release. For the first time in years apps are now on a vertical list as you scroll, rather than on horizontal pages. The top has a search bar to easily search for the app users want, then there’s a neat “recent apps” list of four apps at the top that are always present, but change as you use apps.
Then below the search and recent apps is the completely changed apps menu. We now have all the apps in the same alphabetical order, but separated by letter, so there are gaps in the list of applications. Rather than just a wall or sea of icons, everything is neatly separated. Some will like it, some won’t, and I’m not sure if I’m a fan yet or not.
This same new layout and vertical scrolling of apps has been integrated into the widgets selection, which hasn’t changed in years.
Dark Theme in Settings
Another new change in Android M that wasn’t announced or easily noticeable is the settings menu interface now has a dark and light theme, instead of just being light as before. Users can head into the hidden developer options menu and change this.
It’s a nice change that users have been asking to have for years, so many will likely be happy to see this new feature. There is also an automatic option, which we’re assuming will change based on lighting conditions, or time of the day. It’s also worth noting that in the developer options there’s also an area to customize the “quick settings” in the notification pulldown bar. This is listed under “System UI Tuner”. Awesome!
Automatic App Backups
One of the biggest and best changes to Android M that wasn’t mentioned at all today is something called automatic app backups, and more details can be found here. What this means is that any app you download will be automatically backed up to Google Drive (up to 25mb) automatically with nothing required by the end user, or app developers.
Apps settings, data, game saves, information and more (up to 25mb) will automatically be backed up to each Google account’s Google Drive cloud storage. So whether you buy a new phone, have to replace a broken or stolen one, or simply uninstall and reinstall an app, all the app data is automatically restored. This is a huge feature users have been asking about for years, and is finally coming with Android M.
Backups are reportedly to happen every 24 hours, and once you download an app everything just automatically syncs. This is one of the best new features of Android M, but wasn’t mentioned during Google’s announcement today.
Improved Volume Controls
In Android 5.0 Lollipop Google messed with the volume controls, and many users did not like the changes. In Android M they’ve redone the volume controls with something easier to understand. One tap of the volume button will change notification levels, but a dropdown arrow appears letting users instantly change all three main volume options, as shown in the screenshot on the right of the image below.
This is just one more of many extremely small changes, but changes that are making Android M a better and easier experience for all users.
Android M Easter Egg
Something almost every Android user knows (or should know) is the Easter eggs Google puts in Android. Head into settings > about phone > and tap the Android Version button 4-5 times really quick. This instantly shows you the big “M” in the picture below. Last year it was a Lollipop, and with Android 4.4 it was a KitKat logo.
However, long press this again and you’ll get an additional hidden Easter Egg. In Android 5.0 Lollipop it was a Flappy Birds like game, but this year all we get is an emoji with its hands up.
Another thing we can’t really show users, but is worth noting is something Google is calling Doze. With Doze Google hopes Android M will deliver the best battery life of any version of Android ever released. This feature is something we’ve seen on iOS, and is a welcomed change to Android. Doze mainly focuses on standby battery life, not overall usage, but Google claims this has doubled the battery life on the Nexus 9. That’s huge!
Doze essentially will recognize when a device is not being used, and tone down everything to improve battery life. When Google says “tone down” what this means is apps won’t update as often (like Facebook refresh periods) Gmail won’t sync and look for new emails as often, and in general apps and things that wake up a smartphone or tablet and drain the battery will temporarily “doze” off for a moment, and preserve battery life.
However, Doze won’t stop important things like text messages or hangouts, and we’ll likely have control over how much our devices doze, in order to keep important things like Gmail or Facebook active. Tests have shown standby battery life doubled, which will transfer into overall better battery life for all smartphones and tablets running Android M.
So far our first impressions of Android M on the Nexus 6 are relatively positive. The overall experience isn’t that much different from Android 5.1 Lollipop, only with a few small changes for the better. The more I use it the more I’m enjoying the application tray. We can’t try out Android Pay, Google Now on Tap isn’t working in this release, there’s no fingerprint options like announced this morning, so there’s only so much we can do on this early developer preview.
Everything is running extremely smooth so far. Apps open and close quickly, changing permissions is a nice and welcomed change that gives users more control, WiFi has been extremely stable, and browsing the web is extremely quick.
From what we’re seeing it is clear that Google didn’t set out to make drastic changes to the Android experience, but instead refine areas that needed improvement, add new features, and hopefully improve battery life all at the same time.
We’ve only just received Android M a few hours ago so will need more time to test all of the features, check battery life, and see just how good Android M runs on Google’s latest Nexus 6 smartphone. So far we’re pretty impressed with the few things Google is showing, but then again, this is just a very small preview, a taste, of what’s to come later this year.