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be a bad thing for users, because many AOSP applications are quite bare compared to the Google applications that have superseded them.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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  • kron123456789 - Saturday, December 06, 2014 - link

    Are you sure about that? The SoC labled as Exynos 5433 was found in Galaxy Note 4, but later Samsung claimed that Galaxy Note 4 has Exynos 7 Octa.
    http://www.samsung.com/global/business/semiconduct...
    Did they changed the SoC through OTA update? :)
    Reply
  • OreoCookie - Monday, December 01, 2014 - link

    Have a look at http://arstechnica.com/gadgets/2014/11/nexus-9-rev...">Arstechnica's review of the Nexus 9: you see that the Nexus 9 fares better in some benchmarks in 64 bit mode while in others, it's slower. The difference is always quite small (about 1~2.5 %), so small that it's barely above the threshold of the statistical error, I bet.

    That was surprising to some, because they expected the Denver-based K1 to get a 20~30 % boosts similar to iOS devices when comparing 32 and 64 bit modes. At this stage nobody knows whether the basically flat results are due to the unusual architecture of the Denver cores (maybe the result of the code morphing is microcodes which is optimized at about the same level) or whether it's that ART does not yet make good use of the architecture. Given the fact that in 64 bit mode ARM processor can address more registers etc. I would guess that it's the former, the unusual architecture of Denver. I really hope Anandtech subjects it to an architectural deep dive.
    Reply
  • Solandri - Monday, December 01, 2014 - link

    The 20%-30% speed boosts I've seen in iOS benchmarks from going 64-bit were grossly exaggerated by using the mean. You can't use the mean because it by definition weighs larger values more heavily. If there's a playground with a half dozen 8 year old kids romping around, a single 90-year old sitting on a bench will raise the mean age to 20. So a single large benchmark improvement can disproportionately skew the mean when the vast majority of benchmarks showed little to no improvement.

    You have to use the median in these cases. The median benchmark speedup I've seen has been about 5%-9%. If you remove the benchmarks which improved due to specialized hardware being added, the median improvement drops below 5%. Which is in line with the speedup Windows experienced when transitioning to 64-bit CPUs.

    Really, the only places where going to 64-bit can speed things up is flat memory addressing, which isn't a factor because none of the iOS devices have more than 4 GB. With calculations using long long ints (64 bit ints), which almost nobody uses. And with double floats, which outside of certain benchmarks is mostly used in scientific programming. Even most 3d game engines still use 32-bit floats because it's "good enough" for most cases (doubles don't become necessary until you start dealing with extremely large distances, like space simulation games). Most of the speed increase from Apple's 64-bit SoC comes from increasing the number of registers and from new specialized hardware speeding up things like AES by over 200%, both of which have nothing to do with 64-bit-ness. (Memory bandwidth is a bigger issue due to light only being able to travel 12cm in a single 2.5 GHz clock cycle. I'm not sure what memory controller ARM uses, but most devices have long since adopted 128-bit or larger memory controllers to get around this physics-imposed limit.)
    Reply
  • The Hardcard - Monday, December 01, 2014 - link

    The added registers and other resource are tied to 64-bit-ness in the sense that ARM decided to make architectural boosts with the move to 64 bit. True they could have added those to 32-bit ARM but there wasn't a point in doing that.

    An possible explanation for the Denver results may not be in the code morphing in and of itself. It could just as well be that it uses the full register set and all the other resources for both 32-bit ARM and 64-bit ARM emulation. Because it is not that the 64-bit results are so bad, but that the 32-bit results are so good. You could just be seeing what it would be like if ARM had added the registers and instructions to 32-bit.
    Reply
  • OreoCookie - Monday, December 01, 2014 - link

    First of all, it's part of the interpretation of data on how you obtain an average from the raw data. You argue it's the median instead of the expectation value, but a more realistic average would rely on weighing according to the instruction mix -- which varies. If encryption algorithms are constantly used (and they are used a fair bit on smartphones with all the encrypted traffic), then 250~800 % speed advantage is not an outlier, but significant in applications. Moreover, many of the benchmarks such as these (http://www.anandtech.com/show/7335/the-iphone-5s-r... are not necessarily meant to tell you how much faster the device will be in typical use (where most mobile SoCs are idling anyway), but rather probe specific aspects of the architecture in order to understand how it has evolved. Certainly I won't be the one arguing that simulating SDEs such as the Black-Scholes equation is a common real-world application in SoCs ;-) And speaking of a 20~30 % speedup on average (even if you exclude outliers) seems quite sensible given the benchmarks. If you want to argue about how to properly weight these benchmarks (e. g. that FP benchmark results which show more of an improvement are less important), that's a different discussion.

    You're also wrong when you claim that flat memory addressing is the only place where going 64 bit can speed things up: ARMv8 has twice the number of registers compared to ARM v7 which (similar to going from x86 to x64) -- and while this has nothing to do with 64 bit, but it has everything to do with being part of the new ARM ISA which also happens to be 64 bit. There are also changes to the Objective C runtime in order to take advantage of the 64 bit-ness, e. g. creation and destruction of objects was sped up by a factor of 2 (https://mikeash.com/pyblog/friday-qa-2013-09-27-ar... which can cumulatively become significant in iOS apps where you constantly manipulate objects.

    I don't think the attempt to separate improvements which have nothing to do with going 64 bit itself but are rather part of the 64 bit ARM v8 ISA is going to be practically useful because we cannot decouple the different components. Ditto for hardware encryption logic which replaces software routines: they are a real-world advantage, and the only question will be by how much.
    Reply
  • name99 - Wednesday, December 03, 2014 - link

    It's a little ridiculous to claim that speedups from AES are "unfair" on the same blog that has been complaining about how much dramatically Android's whole-disk encryption slows down the OS... Reply
  • tuxRoller - Monday, December 01, 2014 - link

    Denver is a different enough arch (internally) that there may be other reasons why it isn't faster. Reply
  • jnemesh - Tuesday, December 02, 2014 - link

    Did you see any performance benefits moving from Windows 32 bit to Windows 64 bit? Nope. Not one little bit. You wont see any here either. As with desktop PCs the main benefit to 64 bit is that it allows you to address more than 4GB of memory. As most phones are shipping with 3GB or less, you won't see any benefit to a 64 bit environment unless and until the apps start demanding more RAM. Reply
  • Maleficum - Friday, December 26, 2014 - link

    You don't have to struggle to prove your ignorance.
    After the Itanium fiasco, Intel abandoned IA64 and licensed the half-baked x86_64 where larger addressing space is practically the only benefit.

    Aarch64 is a full-fledged 64-bit architecture with a completely rewritten ISA similar to what Intel dreamed of with the Itanium. Larger addressing space is just one of the many side benefits on Aarch64.
    Reply
  • kspirit - Monday, December 01, 2014 - link

    I don't know why people refuse to accept that the Lollipop UI, with its metro-like appearance of flat tiles and bold colours isn't a blatant copy of Windows Phone. I'm not hating, I actually like Android a lot, but come on! It's wrong to be in denial like that.

    On my Nexus 4, the recent contacts in the dialler app are actually coloured squares arranged in a grid! I mean, seriously? Might as well have polished up Holo. At least it was unique to Android.
    Reply

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