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be a bad thing for users, because many AOSP applications are quite bare compared to the Google applications that have superseded them.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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  • simboss - Monday, December 1, 2014 - link

    "In fact, I haven't really noticed any significant bugs at all after upgrading to Lollipop, which says a great deal about the work Google has put into testing to make sure things are stable. "

    Both my Nexus 5 and 10 have been more unstable with Lollipop, crashing and even getting in a rebooting loop.

    What devices have you used to do this testing?
  • simboss - Monday, December 1, 2014 - link

    Adding to that that the default unlocking on the nexus 10 and the notifications are less efficient than they were.
    Ars had a pretty good summary of it:
  • Brandon Chester - Monday, December 1, 2014 - link

    Nexus 5 and Nexus 6. I've had no issues with the former, and I was just speaking from my experience on the matter. I haven't seen any major complaints elsewhere though.
  • JarredWalton - Monday, December 1, 2014 - link

    I've had a SHIELD Tablet and Nexus 5 both lock up and require a reboot more often than with 4.4. Might be more of a factor of playing games (PvZ 2, AC Unity Companion), and I don't mind the change in general, but I think we'll see a few updates and maybe 5.0.2 or whatever will be needed before we really clear up the remaining glitches.
  • blzd - Monday, December 1, 2014 - link

    Same here with my Nexus 5. It would seem (quite a few others have noticed this as well) that if you don't reboot the phone eventually just dies. It's happened to me twice only to work perfectly again after the reboot, and hasn't happened since I started rebooting nightly.

    The theory is a memory management/leak bug but it's tough to tell.
  • Impulses - Tuesday, December 2, 2014 - link

    That happened with Kit Kat too tho, if you pummeled Chrome with enough tabs or generally just kept enough things open it'd eventually get weird... Keyboard would act up, my 3G or GPS would occasionally work intermittently, etc. Reboot always fixed it... On face value it sounds less stable than my older Android phones but I never did quite as much on them as on the Nexus 5 either (and/or I'd end up rebooting to flash stuff for features I don't really need anymore).
  • errorr - Monday, December 1, 2014 - link

    My Nexus 5 has been great and jank only shows up when it gets hot... Otherwise it has been awesome for me.

    Unfortunately not so for the wife. She has a memory leak somewhere since the update and her Nexus 5 is almost unusable as everything grinds to a halt.
  • Jon Tseng - Monday, December 1, 2014 - link

    One cool thing I just noticed today - apps can now change colour of status bar to match their UI.

    Websites can also do this (thought not many are doing it at the moment) e.g. BBC News turns status bar red.
  • bensulli - Monday, December 1, 2014 - link

    Hang on, why no battery life tests? One of Lollipop's biggest draws is Project Volt which claimed an increase of up to 30% in battery life. Anandtech does the most comprehensive battery life evaluations on the internet, why not here?

    Great article otherwise though! Thanks!
  • Brandon Chester - Monday, December 1, 2014 - link

    I really would have liked to, but Volta has more to do with increasing battery life through better coalescing of CPU and network usage. When you do a battery life test which is just a web browsing or video playback test, none of those improvements have much of an impact. With the current state of mobile and how sandboxing works, it's very hard to build a battery benchmarks that can string together multiple applications being used to simulate a workflow that would get better battery life on Lollipop compared to KitKat.

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