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be a bad thing for users, because many AOSP applications are quite bare compared to the Google applications that have superseded them.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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  • lpyihui - Tuesday, December 2, 2014 - link

    How about Project Volta and the battery life on Nexus 5?
  • Brandon Chester - Tuesday, December 2, 2014 - link

    I responded earlier in the comments about this. There's really no way to benchmark Volta, it has no impact on anything like web browsing or video playback tests.
  • genghisquan - Tuesday, December 2, 2014 - link

    My experience with Lollipop went from positive to negative after the first week. I absolutely loved the concept & execution of Material Design. The other things that I was excited for with 5.0 was how smooth everything would feel and better battery performance. I'm so disappointed with those two things because things feel even more sluggish than it did on KitKat, and battery life isn't noticeably better at all! I seriously have sent more complaints/feedback while using Lollipop than I ever did on KitKat.
  • Impulses - Tuesday, December 2, 2014 - link

    Thank the Google Gods there's a setting in Chrome to disable it's tabs from invading the multi tasker, or I probably would've had to switch browsers.
  • jabber - Tuesday, December 2, 2014 - link

    I was really looking forward to just ONE thing from Lollipop for my Nexus 4 and that was the potential to use RAW capability for the camera.

    Unfortunately, Google decided not to update the Nexus 4 camera API. Thanks Google.
  • zodiacfml - Tuesday, December 2, 2014 - link

    1. I don't feel the new Android much since I'm using a different launcher just to remove Google's search bar on the main screen.
    2. I like the flashlight capability, goodbye flashlight app. It still has a bug though. When it sleeps, it just stops working and the camera app will crash.
    3. I appreciate the Auto rotate shortcut missing from the the previous.
    4. Battery life seems the same. I have been using the excellent Greenify App. Yet, there should be a way to control power draining issue when the phone has little or no cellular signal.
    5. ART has probably remove very small stutters in some apps. Overall, my N5 is very smooth and quick and nothing left to ask for.
    6. Google camera HDR has become slower and faster depending on the scene. It's still the best way to get good photos from a smartphone. I hope for manual controls, RAW mode, and other powerful features such as 60 fps video capture on 720p.

    7. Now the UI and most messaging/social apps use white background, there should definitely a content aware Auto Brightness control so that it lowers the backlight for such content and then boosts again for full screen photos or videos.

    8. A very small and niche annoyance for is the missing IP Address from the WiFi information page. In 5.0, I can only find it in About Phone - Status. I currently use my phone to troubleshoot WiFi connectivity at work and implementation of 5GHz AP setup.

    9. I don't like the Photo app. It still feels the Backup Photo App. I have to download a 3rd party app for viewing pictures since they have removed the Gallery app.

    10. There should be an option to bring out the keyboard immediately when unlocking the phone. In 5.0, it will require to swipe the lock icon first which is probably useful if you to want to read your notifications first before deciding to unlock the phone.
  • darkich - Tuesday, December 2, 2014 - link

    What a disappointing review.
    Pointless talk about frame rates and not a word about aspects that actually have practical merit and value - comparative battery endurance and application loading times.

  • Alexey291 - Thursday, December 4, 2014 - link

    I know its like I'm on engadget or something...
  • IKeelU - Tuesday, December 2, 2014 - link

    As an N4 user who's been using the Google Now launcher since it was available as a standalone APK last year (for those who haven't tried it, you can get it from the google play store now and it's terrific), I didn't feel as "shocked" by lollipop as I did by kitkat. Like with all android updates, it feels like the google apps were gradually updated prior to the OS update so I was already sort of used to the design changes.

    If your apps were fully updated, and you've been using Google Now Launcher, in day-to-day use there's really just 3 main changes: notification bar, homescreen, general smoothness. All good changes IMO.
  • oturn - Tuesday, December 2, 2014 - link

    "I think what can be said is that overall, Android is pretty much at the same level as Windows Phone and iOS for animation smoothness and general performance."

    Crazy talk! I have a 2nd gen Moto X with Lollipop, and an iPhone 6. I switch between them weekly. The smoothness and general performance of the iPhone 6 / iOS is ALWAYS a breath of fresh air compared to Android, Lollipop included. I hate it, because I prefer Android, but there it is. It slaps me in the face every time. There's nothing subjective it. It's obvious.

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