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be a bad thing for users, because many AOSP applications are quite bare compared to the Google applications that have superseded them.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

    Just an additional note, I just talked to Josh and he already tested it, there's no improvement in our web battery bench. I would be suspicious of anyone reporting otherwise because like I described above, it doesn't make sense to have significant battery improvements in a browser test because of Volta.
  • bensulli - Monday, December 1, 2014 - link

    Thanks for the response, that's fair enough. Hopefully we see some real-world improvements even if they're hard to quantify.
  • Maxpower2727 - Monday, December 1, 2014 - link

    I'm not understanding your confusion with the performance issues on the Nexus 6, which are well known to be caused by the mandatory device encryption. You pointed this out yourself in another article very recently:
  • Brandon Chester - Monday, December 1, 2014 - link

    No, they aren't. Re-read the second last paragraph of that article.
  • Maxpower2727 - Monday, December 1, 2014 - link

    Ah, reading comprehension fail on my part. I would blame the issues on the ridiculous 1440p display, but the Adreno 420 should be more than up to the task of driving that resolution without issues. Strange.
  • tuxRoller - Tuesday, December 2, 2014 - link

    Yeah, I think his conclusion is wrong, iirc. Pretty much all gaming benchmarks, onscreen, deliver almost exactly the same performance @1440 as adreno 330 @1080.
    I know some folks don't see the point in increasing DPI but in this case I don't see the evidence for it being the culprit (especially when the note 4 doesn't appear to have the same issues).
  • HardwareDufus - Monday, December 1, 2014 - link

    The big 3... Windows, Apple and Android are all very good now. It's senseless to constanstly bicker back and forth who's better. With 7 1/4 billion people on earth, a good number of them who will have cell phones, there is definitely space for 3 major players and the smaller guys. They all connect, share documents, utilize the same file formats.... in short.. who cares?

    I do prefer my windows phone... but it's not because as I perceive it is any better than apple or android... In fact Windows Phone is kind of Windows 8ish.. which I don't like... and Android/Apple feels like Windows 3.1 with it's folders of chicklet sized icons.... again which I don't like. so nothing's truly perfect... regarding my Lumia with Windows, it's just what I have and what I like,.. and is intuitive for me (yes, of course I'd like to see some level of customization available, like app ordering and so forth.... but nothing that leaves me unsatisified and I'm quite delighted I'll get Win20 too. I think my complacency shows my age.

    Reading this review... from a UI perspective... there is some give and take between 4.4 and 5.0 ... some things better.. some things less helpful... But, I bet under the covers it's performing very well.

    Where the big 3 have taken smart phones to is amazing... from highly proprietary embedded feature phones to full operating systems running on an architecture without allot of legacy bloat. Good stuff all around. Kudos to google for 5.0.
  • tralalalalalala40 - Monday, December 1, 2014 - link

    It's a duopoly. If you just use your smartphone to make calls and browse the web, then yes, microsoft and BB still matter. But MS devices are missing out on billions of hours of developer time making wonderful tools/games/etc.
  • Gadgety - Monday, December 1, 2014 - link

    " They all connect, share documents, utilize the same file formats.... in short.. who cares?"

    Great for consumers.... However, from Google's, Apple's and Microsoft's perspective, and in particular their share holders' perspective, they care, because to them, this is war.
  • blzd - Monday, December 1, 2014 - link

    That's fine, let them declare war on each other. As humble users, we should keep an open mind.

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