A Look at Android L

You may have already heard about the many changes coming in Android 5.0 “Lollipop”.

Some Developers and Enthusiasts have already had a chance to check out Android’s next major release through the Android L Developer Preview.

I took a look at the latest L preview on my Nexus 5. Here’s an overview of some of the big changes to look forward to.

 

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  • A bright and vibrant interface

The current interface for Android 4 is often referred to as Holo, short for holographic. The Holo design is focused towards dark gradient backgrounds with white text. The new Android 5 design which Google refers to as “Material” is quite the opposite. Material uses a pure white background with a variety of different colors.

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While I’m glad to see a light interface return to Android for the first time since 2.2 Froyo, the pure white screens can be somewhat blinding on newer more vivid displays. This may create some minor issues with night reading in dark environments and will cause more battery usage on devices with AMOLED screens.

  • A better lockscreen experience.

Android L adds many abilities to the device while it is locked, making it easier to do more without unlocking.

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One key addition is being the notification drawer is now accessible with a secure lock screen. The notification drawer can be used to change quick settings such as Wi-Fi or volume while locked. There is also now an option to only show non-sensitive notifications while locked.

  • Multiple users for phones

User Profile support has been in Android since 4.2 Jelly Bean exclusively on tablets. Initially Google did not more see than one user on a phone realistically. In Lollipop user switching has now been designed for phones. Most everyone has their own phone and tends to keep it to themselves. However, for whatever reason people may share their phone it is now a possibility.

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Each user gets their own lockscreen security, settings, apps, and Google account. All user data (SD card) is isolated between users and there is even a temporary guest mode.

Android L is still a pre-release and hasn’t made it out to the full Android ecosystem yet so it will be interesting to see how user profiles work on phones.

  • Battery Saver

There is a completely new battery save feature which by default enables itself at low battery levels. Battery Saver sets the navigation and status bars to orange to indicate it is enabled. Battery Saver automatically lowers the brightness, turns off most background data, disables vibration, and throttles the speed of the chipset to conserve energy.

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Since Battery Saver lowers the maximum speed of the phone some apps may run slower or show some visual lag. I wouldn’t recommend using it with intensive applications like games. Google claims it can extend the battery life by up to 90 minutes, which can definitely be useful if the battery is low and you can’t charge your phone.

  • Security Improvements

Android 5.0 brings a number of security changes to the entire platform. In the Settings menu, Google has added a new Smart Lock security that allows the user to use a bluetooth device or NFC tag to bypass the lockscreen.

Next, While I wouldn’t call it a security feature, another new feature under the security settings is Screen Pinning. This allows the user to “lock” an app onto the screen. While pinned the phone cannot switch apps. Apps can be unpinned by holding down both the back and recents keys. Unfortunately this isn’t secured with a passcode. This means that it isn’t really “secure” after all but still might be useful to prevent accidentally switching apps or as a child lock.

Finally, Google has stated that in the 5.0 release device encryption will be turned on by default. Encryption has been in Android since 3.0 Honeycomb but this is the first time it will be turned on by default.

My primary concern with this is it may prevent anti-theft solutions such as Android Device Manager from loading if the device reboots, considering encryption in past Android versions prevents the phone from booting until the passcode is entered.

Final Thoughts on Android 5.0

While I think Android 5.0 “Lollipop” is a step in the right direction, with every Android release I do feel Google always leaves something out that could make the experience better or more user friendly.

For one, it would be nice if Google could include a include a night mode which could replace the somewhat blinding white color with a more relaxing gray tone for reading in the dark.

Furthermore I wish Google had included access restrictions into user profiles. Parental Controls could be set for child profiles. Storage and data limits could also be allowed to prevent a specific profile from using too much of the data plan. Of course this could potentially require much more coding and time for Google to implement.

Google usually leaves more complex settings like this out of stock Android to prevent things from being too complicated. More specific controls like this may be invented by the custom ROM community in the future once Android 5.0 is finally released to the public.