Android has always been the most adventurous mobile operating system. It’s constantly evolving and Google is always changing different aspects of it. This year’s release of Android L includes one of the biggest overhauls to the OS that we’ve ever seen. Everything from the runtime to the design scheme is changing. With all of those changes, Google made the wise move of allowing nerds and developers alike to try out Android L on Nexus devices before pushing it to mass market.
I’ve had the privilege of using Android L on my Nexus 7 since last night. As such, I thought that I’d share my first impressions of it, both for those who have it and those who don’t. Let’s get right into it.
Google made a big point of Material Design at Google I/O. The truth is, Android L doesn’t look as radically different as you might think. There are differences, sure, but the majority of things are the same. The homescreen has no major changes, nor does the app drawer. The settings have changed to adopt Material Design, as has the Calculator app. None of the other apps (aside from the dialer on phones) have changed their design, which makes the change seem much lot smaller. This should change over time, though, as more apps switch from Holo to Material Design.
The notification tray is one area that received a major redesign. No longer are there two trays for alerts and quick settings. Now there’s one unified notification tray that’s home to both notifications and quick settings. This is how it works: drag down from the top of the screen to see your notifications, and then drag down on that notification tray to view your quick settings. There’s also a button to go directly into Settings.
There are couple of major flaws with this system. One: to open quick settings, you now have perform at least two swipes — sometimes more, because it’s finicky — to get to your quick settings. While you’re in those quick settings, you also can’t act on any of the notifications that are quite visible directly below the quick settings. To access the notifications, you have to manually close quick settings and then tap on the notification. It’s a bit too much of a hassle and is something that I sincerely hope Google changes before launching Android L to the public.
The lock screen has been due for a refresh, and with Android L it’s finally received one. Notifications are now front and center, with quick access to them straight from the lock screen. Notifications are also expandable on the lock screen, just like in the notification tray. To unlock your device, you simply swipe up. You can also swipe to the left to open the camera, and on phones, swipe to the right to open the dialer. It looks busier than the previous lock screen, but it works well.
Project Volta is Google’s push for better battery life in Android. As of yet, we haven’t seen this. In fact, battery life has been worse than on KitKat. Since this is a preview build, though, we’re going to let this slide because are plenty of other bugs to squash. By the final release, we expect this to be ironed out.
Performance and ART
Android L adds in lots of new animations and features. To compensate, Google has switched the default runtime to ART, promising faster performance. However, performance has been a mixed bag so far. Some things, such as scrolling and animations, are noticeably faster and smoother, but others aren’t quite as refined. The new multitasking view stutters whenever you try to use it. At times, the notification tray will also stutter or randomly flick back up even without a screen touch. All of this is normal for a preview build, but I hope that Google is working hard to fix the problems.
As we’d expect from a preview build with a new runtime, app compatibility is varied. Some apps support Android L just fine, but others don’t. Some of the big name apps that don’t work include Twitter, Dropbox, Bible and Google Docs. There are others that are are having issues, and it’ll take a bit of time for developers to get their apps working with this new version of Android. In the meantime, it’s important to remember that this is still a beta OS and that these issues are to be expected.
For a beta build, the Android L Developer Preview isn’t too bad. It has some quirks and there are some things that we’d like to see changed, but for the most part, it works and is filled with potential. The best thing for Google to do is to listen to user feedback, take into account what all of us using Android L are noticing and then work on fixing those issues. If you don’t have the Android L Developer Preview, don’t stress it; you’ll get the fully working version in the fall and you won’t have to deal with all the bugs.
If you do have the Android L Developer Preview, drop a comment letting us know how you’re enjoying it!