Google has been very busy with their expansion of Android as a platform this year. At Google IO we saw the announcement of endeavors like Android TV and Android Auto. But the stars of the show were a preview of the next version of Android, code named Android L, and Google's new Material Design principles for interface design across all of their products. In the years since Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich released, we've seen the launch of Jellybean and KitKat, but both of these versions were very iterative improvements upon 4.0 and had equally iterative version numbers with Jellybean being major versions 4.1 through 4.3 and KitKat being 4.4. Lollipop is given the major version number of 5.0, and it's quite fitting as it's arguably the biggest advancement to Android in a long time. It comes with an entirely new interface based on Material Design, a new application runtime, and many new features that I could not hope to summarize in this paragraph. 

It can be difficult to begin a review of Android, as the definition of what Android is can be very dynamic. Android as an operating system that performs a set of functions is fairly well defined, but it's nearly impossible to define what Android looks like based on how it appears on most smartphones. The interface that Google has created for Android has matured greatly from its original iterations, but OEMs continue to put their own interfaces on top of Android to differentiate their devices. What applications are part of Android is also an interesting question. We can look to what applications are included in AOSP, but truth be told even Nexus users with "stock Android" aren't really getting an AOSP experience.

That may not be a bad thing for users, because many AOSP applications are quite bare compared to the Google applications that have superseded them. However, it poses a problem when deciding what should be discussed in a review of Android, and it has implications relating to how much of "Android" truly is open source. Google has also moved many applications over to Google Play so applications can be updated independently of the operating system, which bypasses many of the concerns about fragmentation from the days when application updates would come with Android updates that a user might never get. This adds an additional level of consideration when deciding which of these Google Play applications should be considered part of Android and discussed during a review.

For the purposes of this review specifically, I've attempted to take a look at most of the applications that come pre-loaded on a Nexus device which includes applications like Gmail that other people may contend are not actually part of Android due to them not being part of AOSP. It should also be noted that Google has been updating their applications to have a Material Design interface since it was originally revealed at Google IO, and some of the earliest updated applications have been excluded from the review as users are already very familiar with how they look an act by this point. We have covered many of these over the course of the year, and so readers who wish to see changes that were made to apps like Gmail and Google Sheets can look to our past coverage from when those applications were updated. To begin the review, we need to explain exactly what it means for something to have Material Design.

Material Design
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  • Impulses - Tuesday, December 2, 2014 - link

    I actually prefer dragging twice to the top right button, but that's probably because I use my phone primarily with my left hand. Always thought the quick settings button was much too close to the clear all button tho, despite only hitting clear all by mistake once or twice over the last year or so. I do agree some of the other card stacking and UI choices are questionable tho.
  • toyotabedzrock - Monday, December 1, 2014 - link

    Oh and can Google explain why Chrome crashes when sharing to Google Plus via the mobile browser interface? Or why the plus app shate function causes every other app to crash from memory depletion? Also Google search inexplicably crashes on my Nexus 5.
  • Salty Wagyu - Monday, December 1, 2014 - link

    Tapatalk has the worst jank, even ART hasn't helped much in this case.
  • sonicmerlin - Monday, December 1, 2014 - link

    This talk in Google's 2014 I/O event is very relevant:

    The speaker talks about the issues of Android's render thread priority causing lag, and how google worked to fix it in lollipop. I think it starts about 19:30 in.

    My main question though is how browsers are affected. iOS and WP browsers scroll every webpage with pixel perfect smoothness, where Android has always lagged and stuttered on heavier web pages. Does Lollipop fix this, or will developers have to code their browsers to take advantage of Lollipop?
  • lukechip - Monday, December 1, 2014 - link

    Lollipop is OK, but I preferred KitKat on my Nexus 10. On Lollipop is seems to take longer / more steps to do the same things compared with KitKat. For example, switching users used to involve:
    1/ swipe down settings
    2/ click on my avatar
    3/ enter my PIN
    Now it invovles:
    1/ swipe down notification tray
    2/ click on user icon
    3/ select my avatar
    4/ drag up lock icon
    5/ enter my PIN

    The added steps add zero value to my experience. It's just plain poor.
  • Egg - Monday, December 1, 2014 - link

    Frankly, I've been disappointed with Lollipop on my Nexus 5. First thing I noticed was highly visible frame drops swiping between Google Now and the home screen. Dashclock no longer functions. I need to swipe twice to get to the quick shortcuts... why? Meanwhile I haven't seen any improvement in the camera, which is slow to focus even in well lit scenarios... wasn't Camera2 supposed to fix this?
  • Egg - Monday, December 1, 2014 - link

    Just tested with GPU profiling, I can routinely get spikes to appear. Yikes!

    (Also, Google Now's undo toast is not full caps like the updated Photos app undo toast.)
  • tuxRoller - Monday, December 1, 2014 - link

    I really, really wish art had delivered what was promised, but for my sample of three nexus devices (n4,n5,n7-2013) it has unambiguously made things worse. All of these devices were installed using the factory image, and two were fully wiped. It's just awful. Load times are longer. The interface is more janky than its ever been. Battery is pretty much unchanged, however.
    Google would've really benefited from an additional developer release so as to avoid these issues.
  • Lavkesh - Tuesday, December 2, 2014 - link

    I have infact experienced a drop in battery life. I used to have a screen on time of little over 3 hours on Kit Kat but I havent been able to touch 3 hours so far with Lollipop.
  • Lavkesh - Monday, December 1, 2014 - link

    There are still a few areas where the animations do not even do close to 30 fps, let alone 60. The new message application is one example when you tap a conversation and it opens up. That said I do not know why the animations on my iPhone 4s feel smoother. Are they rendering it higher than 60 fps or is it physics?

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