On October 5th, Google started rolling out the latest version of Android to its Nexus devices, specifically the Nexus 5, 6, 7 (2013), 9 and Player.
Like most, I waited for that notification that says it’s time to upgrade, and, once I finally received it, it was just a matter of waiting for the upgrade to install. Now that I’ve experienced the new sweeter version of the OS, here’s a round-up of everything that’s new, as well as my opinion.
The latest version carries over the Material Design look which debuted in Lollipop, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing, in fact, Material Design is probably one of the best things that could have happened to Android, and, with the latest version, it’s just got better. The UI is full of card-based elements along with colourful icons, smooth animations and lots of white and greys.
The New Launcher
When you turn on your device, the first thing you will notice is the launcher, and, although at first it looks the same, various tweaks have actually been made. First of all, the animations when interacting with apps have changed. When tapping an app to launch it, the animations now grows outwards from the icon, whereas on Lollipop the app simply slid up from the bottom of the screen.
Aside from this, the biggest difference is probably the new app drawer, which now scrolls vertically. Thanks to the new scroll that’s been introduced, it’s now a lot quicker to find the app you’re looking for. As well as this, you can also scroll through the letters of the alphabet to find your app by dragging the new scroll bar. As you pull the bar down, a large teal-coloured letter will appear above your finger as well as a pop animation on the first app starting with each letter of the alphabet.
As well as the new scroll bar, a search bar has been added, allowing you to type in an apps name to find it, something that is very handy and makes finding an app so much simpler if you have a large number installed. Also, a selection of your most used apps at a given time is also shown at the top of the app drawer.
Overall the new app drawer makes finding an app so much quicker and, though initially you have to get used to the new layout, once you are, you won’t want to go back, especially with that handy search bar at the top.
When you first turn on your device, the first thing you see is the lock screen, which displays your notifications, the time and three shortcuts at the bottom of the screen. In Lollipop and previous versions, the two shortcuts were for dialer and camera app, while on tablets there was only a camera shortcut. In Marshmallow, the dialer shortcut is no longer there and, in its place, is a Google Now Voice search shortcut, appearing both on phones and tablets, which is understandable considering the amount of emphasis Marshmallow puts on Google Now.
Google also did implement some much needed changes is the notifications area. In this version, Google has moved notification controls to the Quick Settings menu. From here, you can set up the Do Not Disturb mode with the help of a few options. You can disable all sounds, or set it up so that you are only disturbed by alarms, or simply choose a custom list of apps that can disturb you.
Another change comes in the form of the popup that appears when you press the volume button. Previously, when you pressed the volume keys on your device a popup would appear allowing you to set up Do Not Disturb mode, in this version though, you simply see a popup bar with the notifications volume control, though there is an expand button that allows you to adjust media and alarm volumes too.
Overall these changes definitely lead to a much simpler and less confusing interface for volume adjustments.
Another feature that has been adjusted is the text selection, which makes copying and pasting much simpler. When selecting a word, previously you could drag the selector to the side to select more letters, though sometimes it would grab an extra letter from another word, which would then obligate you to drag it back to unselect the letter. Now, the text selector highlights one word at a time, not letters, making the process less painless and much simpler and if you want to select up to a certain letter, you can by just dragging back a bit.
Another difference is the action bar that previously appeared when highlighting text. In previous versions, it appeared at the top of the screen inside a long bar with the options to cut, copy and paste. Now, these options appear in a much cleaner bar that hovers just above the text you’ve selected.
Google also made some significant changes in the Settings Menu. It added a new Google section, allowing you to manage everything to do with your account, such as app sync, security and all what apps have access to Google Services. As well as this, RAM usage is now a completely separate section in the setting menu, showing you the average usage for the last 3, 6, 12 or 24 hours as well as which apps have used the most, though Google has removed the ability to see the current usage.
The battery section has also been improved, now providing the approximate amount of mAhs (milliampere-hours) that each app has consumed.
Storage is also another section that’s been improved, the previous bar that displayed the amount of storage used by different content is now gone and in its place is a much simpler bar that displays the overall used storage versus the free storage. Below though, you still get a break down, showing you how much memory your apps, images and other files occupy and, by tapping on the categories, you to see a full list of the items.
Google Now on Tap
Now on Tap is the biggest and best feature in this version of Now on Tap. The new feature works by scanning your screen for as much information as possible, and then giving you curated results depending on what’s on your screen. The feature is activated by simply holding the home button and waiting a couple of seconds for the cards to pop up.
The cards feature suggestions on what to do, where to go or simply information regarding what’s on the screen. It scans for places, people, songs, movies and basically any other information it can find.
For example, if you’re texting a friend about what movie to see, mention a film’s name and activate Now on Tap, the card will give you viewing times at cinemas nearby, as well as reviews and the films trailer ready to open in the youtube app.
Another handy feature is the ability to run a voice search and Google will use the information on your screen to provide you with results. If you’re looking at a restaurant in the Foursquare app and ask Google how far it is from you. Google knows you are referring to the restaurant on your screen and gives you the right travel times.
Also, if you are listening to music; you can ask Google questions such as “what year is this song from?” or “Who’s sings this?” and Google knows who you’re referencing without mentioning any names, simply by what’s on your screen.
Now on Tap appears to work best when a certain place or name is on the screen. Also, having a higher number of apps on your device also proves beneficial, giving Now on Tap more options to show you.
In this version of Android, Google has really put their foot down regarding the battery consumption and they way apps behave to ensure your battery lasts as long as possible.
When our devices are in standby mode, most apps will carry on using data to ensure you have the latest content the next time you open it, but if you haven’t checked an app for a few hours, the chances are the app doesn’t need to be updating every couple of minutes. App Standby is Google’s way of fixing this. It basically stops apps that haven’t been used for a while from accessing the internet every few minutes to update their content. This doesn’t slow the app down next time you use it, or stop it serving its purpose, it simply reduces unnecessary data usage and therefore saves battery life.
Additionally, if an app is providing content to you on your lockscreen, those apps will continue to use data as normal.
This new feature will probably make the biggest difference to your battery life. There is nothing worse than picking up your phone after a few hours of not touching it to then realise that it’s lost 10% of battery by simply laying on the side. This new feature tries to fix this by knowing when the device is idle. Once it is, the Doze kicks in, and starts to restrict what apps can access and only allows certain periods of time where the app can access everything as usual. This feature is more effective overnight, where it essentially forces the device to sleep while you do, while only waking it up a few times through the night to allow apps to access things as usual. It restricts access to internet and cellular to everything but critical functions like the dialer app.
Real world usage
This is where the new features get interesting. When you’re actually using your device, this update doesn’t seem to increase battery longevity, but when the device is idle, there is a significant improvement. My Nexus 9 used to consume around 10% of battery overnight, now it only consumes around 1% to 2%. I am also seeing reports of the Nexus 6 consuming just 3%, down from its previous average of 15%.
Google seems to have done a pretty good job with these battery improvements, but it’s clear that the battery savings will end up depending on your usage – If you’re somebody who’s constantly using their device, you probably won’t notice much of a difference, but if you’re somebody who tends to leave your device on the side for hours, chances are you’ll notice a considerable increase in battery life.
Other New Features
Revamped App Permissions
At the original reveal of the Android M preview, Google put a lot of emphasis on the new app permission system that was implemented into the update. The permission gives the users more control over what apps can access and is very similar to the system featured on iOS. Apps will now only ask for permission when it’s needed and not all at once when you are installing an app. For the new permissions to work though, apps need to updated to API Level 23, the new API that Marshmallow introduces.
In Settings, Google has also introduced a new permissions manager, that can be found under the Apps section. The new manager presents you with a list of permission such as body sensors, calendar, camera, contacts, location, microphone, phone, SMS, storage, and three new permissions that are introduced in this version: car information, read instant messages and write instant messages. If you click on a permission, you will be presented with a list of apps that have access to it. The permission can be revoked from a certain app by pressing the switch next to it.
If you are a frequent user of Google apps, you’ve probably noticed what a good job Google does at making sure your content is available wherever you are. But, when it comes to third-party apps for the OS, this isn’t usually the case. With this update, Google decided to fix this by making your data accessible on any of your devices. It works by backing up your app data daily onto your Google Drive account, which then allows it to be accessed through other devices by simply logging into your account.
If you switch devices, the app data will simply be downloaded from Drive as soon as you install one of the apps that are on the other device. For this feature to work though, the app needs to be updated to the latest API level that was released with Marshmallow.
Custom Chrome Tabs
These days, tons of apps require access to a browser, such as Twitter or Google+, but lots of developers have been trying to get round this by implementing WebView into their apps, essentially building a stripped down browser into their apps, but because it doesn’t have anything to do with your actual browser app, there’s no way to bookmark a page or keep it open as a tab to view later.
Google’s solution to this comes in the form of Custom Chrome tabs, allowing developers to implement your actual browser inside their app, while still being much quicker than opening the browser app separately or using WebView. Developers can customise the Custom Tabs to make sure the experience is unified with the rest of the app.
Aside from Chrome, any Android browser can implements these APIs and create the same experience through their service. This means even though Chrome is installed by default, there’s no worry that other browsers are being treated as second-class citizens on the platform.
Even though this version of Android doesn’t bring as many eye-catching features as Lollipop, it does bring a number of improvements under the hood. The most important change is Google Now on Tap, a feature that is no less than brilliant is brilliant. It’s simple and easy to use and is a big time saver once you get used to using it. The battery improvements are also very handy.
The overall experience, though similar to Lollipop, is much more refined and fluid. Personally, I love the update, and I’m sure you will too.
Don’t forget to comment down below and let us know what you think of the update.
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