Mobiles & Tablets

First taste of the Android Lollipop

Mahananda Bohidar | Updated on November 26, 2014

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Has the Android experience gotten any sweeter with the latest version?

There are some things in life that you tend to get ridiculously comfortable with as time passes. Their familiarity is a constant, making you turn to them day after day, with almost no change in how you interact with them or how you feel around them. There a lot of things in life you could say this about. Software upgrades aren't one of them.

At Technophile, we spent most of 2014 with Jelly Bean and KitKat. For the uninitiated, we’re talking about Google's mobile operating system. Not a big fan of rainbow hues (not on a 5-inch screen, anway) or gimmicky animations, we chose the unadulterated Android experience. It definitely looked like Google knew how to keep things simple and classy.

Candy store

Earlier this year, Google had announced Android Lollipop (Ver 5.0). And honestly, we couldn't wait to get our hands on it. The enthusiasm, however, had died down a bit right after the launch date. There were murmurs about the battery life and performance of the phone taking a hit after the Lollipop upgrade. Fingers crossed, we hit the 'Upgrade' button, after many annoying prompts by the phone to do so. Things haven't quite been the same since.

Take the visual cues, for instance. Lollipop has adopted something Google calls 'Material Design'. It seems to have too many colours in its interface than KitKat users are used to. The only probable defence Google has is that it had warned us well in advance by calling it 'Lollipop'. Earlier, you could browse through the App Launcher pages with a subtle, transparent layer in the background. Now, it stands out against a stark white one. The dialer display uses at least eight colours on a single screen which made us wonder, for the first couple of days, if we had installed a Windows OS by mistake.

The pull-down notification bar, which anyway had been a pretty efficient one, has seen considerable amount of change. And, not all of it is good. Now, you have to pull it down twice to access all the settings. With one swipe, it only shows us the VLC shortcut and the Snapdragon BatteryGuru status. Only when we pull it down further does it reveal the quick-edit settings for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Auto-Rotate, Location and so on. All of this could be done with a single-tap toggle switch with Android KitKat. Tweaking brightness also finds a shortcut here and, again, earlier it would show me the increase/decrease on the home screen directly, where as now it toggles between the settings and home screen for something as simple as this.

A new addition to the home screen is the ability to prioritise calls/messages/notifications based on who you want alerts from. The volume rocker prompts this bar and you choose to mute everything for an hour or two or only receive notifications from, say, Facebook, for the next one hour. In what seems like a quirky tweak, you cannot choose a silent, no-vibration setting for the 'All' mode. You are given the option only in the 'None' mode.

Even incoming calls appear in different avatars depending on what're you're doing when someone calls you. So, say you're reading something on Pocket, the incoming call will be displayed as a small floating bar on top. You can either Accept or Dismiss, but if you choose the latter, you don't have the option to send one of those pre-written messages saying "I'll call you later' or some such.

More personalised

Lollipop has also tweaked how you view apps running on the phone at any given point in time. So, say, you have three web pages open on Chrome, you're listening to something on the 8Tracks app and you also have Google docs and WhatsApp open, the little square icon on the home screen lets you view all six tabs together. As usual, you can swipe right/left on one to dismiss it or use the redundant 'x' on each tab. One of the more intuitive features on Chrome, the 'Undo' button is missing on the Lollipop. In case you dismissed a web page by mistake, you had the option to reopen it immediately. Now, if you swipe and close a web page by mistake there's no way to restore it.

One of the good things about Lollipop is its virtual keyboard, which does seem to be a lot more intuitive than the last. Despite all the convenience that SWYPE had to offer, the Android keyboard was nothing to write home about. Now, it seems considerably better at prediction as well as avoiding typos. It's not perfect. But, it's definitely an improvement.

Google has also built-in a Guest mode on the Lollipop. We imagine this being a lot more useful on an Android tablet than on a smartphone. You can toggle between profiles from the top-right corner, where it displays a tiny user mugshot. For each user profile, you can select apps that don't display notifications on the lock screen, so no one else can read it without unlocking the phone.

Lollipop has also given productivity a little boost (which it does with every upgrade). It has dedicated apps - Docs, Sheets and Slide - for documents, spreadsheets and presentations respectively, which you can even work on offline. The only downside to this was a visible lag while trying to open documents or just even launch the apps sometimes.

As far as battery life is concerned, the Nexus 5 we used didn't take a massive hit. Maybe that's because we were already used to a mediocre battery life on the device.

We checked the phone about 100 times a day on an average (we use Checky to track our usage), and we weren't surprised to find ourselves reaching out for the charger a little earlier in the day.

Performance, for us, has not been an issue so far. Although, there have been many who've complained about it on social media platforms since the upgrade.

Yes, the phone slows down by seconds with some of the apps. But the most commonly used ones like WhatsApp, Gmail, Chrome etc have been quick enough for us.

Lollipop is clearly a major upgrade for Android users, and has a big part to play in the evolution of Android upgrades, in general. No surprise then that it takes some getting used to and has some of the devout Android fans (like us) grumbling about being asked to move out of their comfort zones.

Published on November 26, 2014

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