Interface, design and notifications
There was plenty of debate over what the new version of Android would be called, with “Lemon Meringue” and even the controversial “Licorice” said to have been in the running at various points.
Thankfully the lovable “Lollipop” won out, as Google revealed when it unveiled the new Android update today, but the name is hardly all that’s been improved since the last version.
Here’s exactly how Android 5.0 stacks up to Android KitKat.
Android Lollipop is the biggest change to Android in some time, finally bumping Google’s OS up a full integer to version 5.0.
It’s packed with changes, but the most obvious improvements are visual.
Google’s been working on getting its new “Material Design” aesthetic out in the world for months, and Lollipop is its culmination. One of Android’s biggest failings up to date – including with KitKat – has been that its design language never felt unified, and with Material Design Google hopes to fix that.
The aesthetic is meant to look both flat and 3D, as if you’re starting at animated paper that exists on a z-axis as well as the x and y.
Material Design reflects this with clean, bold lines and colors that transform and alter with fun animations. At its best it lets you sense the depth behind the interface, even when it’s at rest and appears flat.
This extends from app icons, fonts and interfaces to simple elements like the new navigation buttons and notification bar icons, and once you get past the changes you’ll likely agree that most things look better now.
The changes to Android’s interface with Lollipop aren’t all visual, either – voice commands with “OK Google” are more prominent now as well, and can even be used when the screen is locked and off on some devices, and there are massive improvements to notifications.
Notifications are one of the most prominent ways we interact with our devices, and they’ve been significantly overhauled in Android Lollipop.
The OS’s lockscreen is no longer a static barrier you have to get through before you can reach the meat of your phone’s functionality, but instead now has many elements of KitKat’s notification panel, plus more interactivity.
In Lollipop you can see what notifications you’ve received and what’s going on with your apps and contacts as soon as you pick it up, before you even unlock your device – and you can even respond to messages from the lockscreen.
The way you see notifications is changing as well – now rich, descriptive, and interactive notifiers will pop up on top of what you’re doing without interrupting, so you can reject a call or read a message without quitting that game or whatever. Some of this functionality was present in KitKat, but it was half-baked and inconsistent.
Android Lollipop is also getting a “do not disturb” mode a la iOS, which Android KitKat and previous versions sorely lacked. You can use it to silence your ever-buzzing phone during specific hours or, more importantly, to only let notifications from specific sources come through.
That’s extremely useful if you don’t want to be bothered by spam emails all night, but do want to be able to be woken in an emergency.
Lollipop’s quick settings bar also has new options that KitKat desperately needed, like easy buttons for flashlight, hotspots, and screencasting. Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and location options have been expanded here as well.
Connectivity, security and performance
Connectivity and APIs
With Android Lollipop Google is making connectivity a big focus – not just between different handsets, but among different classes of device as well. For example Android TV is now built right into Android Lollipop, helping you easily navigate big screens with smartwatch voice commands, phone gestures, and more.
That’s just scratching the surface, but it means your Android experience will be consistent across smartphones, tablets, TVs, smartwatches, and more. At least, that’s Google’s hope.
Google also wants Lollipop’s apps to communicate with one another more than KitKat’s do. Examples are simple, like tapping links in Chrome and having them open in specific apps instead of taking you to mobile websites. The OS already does it sometimes, but Google wants it to be more consistent.
This depends quite a bit on app developers taking advantage of Lollipop’s 5,000 new APIs. These will make the new Android OS more versatile over time, though their presence might not be noticeable for end users at first.
Google says Lollipop is also better at connecting with Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. For example Lollipop devices won’t connect to a Wi-Fi network unless they can verify there’s an actual connection there – so unlike with KitKat, you won’t be stumped wondering why you suddenly have no data because your gadget decided to connect to a turd of a network.
Safe and sound
Android Lollipop has some new security features as well, like the ability to set geographical “safe zones” where your device won’t require a PIN to unlock.
You can do the same with specific Bluetooth devices, like Android Wear smartwatches, which your phone or tablet will sense automatically and turn off its security barriers.
And despite all the changes to notifications that let you see and interact with them without unlocking your phone, Android 5.0 also has new settings that let you hide sensitive information anywhere it might appear.
Lollipop also has better protection against vulnerabilities and malware thanks to SELinux enforcing for all applications, and encryption is turned on by default on all Lollipop devices.
And multiple user profiles on a single device, including temporary guest profiles, makes it easier to share your phone with others while still maintaining control over your own stuff.
Google has reportedly also put a lot of work into making Android Lollipop run better under the hood.
KitKat’s optional runtime ART is now the standard for Android Lollipop, and Google says it will help make Lollipop run faster, more efficiently and with less hiccups.
That won’t harm existing Android apps’ compatibility, but it has let Google future-proof Android further against the inevitable onslaught of 64-bit smartphones coming in the near future.
These phones will have more RAM than existing phones with KitKat and other operating systems are capable of packing, which is a huge benefit that only future generations of Lollipop handsets will be able to take advantage of.
For now, though, Google says Android 5.0 is way more power-efficient over its predecessors, with the same phones getting significantly more battery juice out of Lollipop than they did with KitKat.
Multitasking has also been updated with the ability to have multiple cards for the same apps open at a time, letting you have more than one document or website next to one another, for example. It’s also easier to switch keyboards now too, and Android Lollipop even supports RAW images.
Android Lollipop has countless other small improvements over KitKat and other past Android versions, from greater accessibility options and easier set-up to improved graphics capabilities.
Many of these changes won’t be noticeable until phone and tablet hardware improves, but that doesn’t mean you want to wait until then before you upgrade.
Luckily Android 5.0 Lollipop begins rolling out to devices in late October and early November. Specifics are currently scarce, but keep an eye on TechRadar’s Android Lollipop hub for every new update as it happens.