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be a bad thing for users, because many AOSP applications are quite bare compared to the Google applications that have superseded them.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
Comments Locked


View All Comments

  • tralalalalalala40 - Monday, December 1, 2014 - link

    iOS users welcome Android users to 2015, only 8 years late on a smooth UI!

    Better late than never. Consumers win!
  • blzd - Monday, December 1, 2014 - link

    Didn't iOS just get the ability to install a custom keyboard? lol fanboys.
  • ruthan - Monday, December 1, 2014 - link

    Im still waiting for PC support - with app in window mode and multimonitor support and virtualisation and more PC HW drivers. They already have x86 build for tablets, even small 1 man project Android-x86 is now number 8 on linux distrowatch.

    Linux is dammed (something wrong fix it from terminal.. is show stopper for normal user) but Android could be way for good free desktop PC, users already know how to use it.
  • HackerForHire - Monday, December 1, 2014 - link

    I was hoping for a paragraph or 2 on the improvements in low latency audio. It's unfortunate that audio always seems to be left out of the mix for most OS reviews.
  • tuxRoller - Tuesday, December 2, 2014 - link

    Look at reddit for this. Folks have adjust tested it and it still isn't usable (midi to USB).
    The system audio latency hasn't changed, iirc.
    Regardless of I/o talks Google simply doesn't care about either audio or low touch latency.
  • BobSwi - Monday, December 1, 2014 - link

    Didnt care for it, actually was the main factor in trying out rooting my Nexus 5. Flashed Kitkat and then Slimkat 8 in less than 2 hours from never having done it before.
  • REBERY - Monday, December 1, 2014 - link

    Odd that you would do an entire review on Android and miss arguably the single biggest improvement that this OS provides...namely, the ability for "OK Google" to be active at all times (a la Motorola). Having a personal assistant always available is a huge plus.
  • Impulses - Tuesday, December 2, 2014 - link

    Kit Kat was already halfway there with the stock launcher (post updates), you could call it up while within any app or with a locked phone if it was charging.
  • pgari - Monday, December 1, 2014 - link

    I have yet to acept the Lollipop update in my N5, as I did not like the Calendar update with its new Material Design (lost ofnow in the weekly view you see only six hours per day, forcing you to scroll)
    As others, I also do not like the mostly white background neither the lost of the separate keys in the Keyboard and Calculator (as shown in this review)

    Regarding ART, you mention that it stores a pre-compilation after the first use of the application, so reducing the available storage space, but did not quantify by how much.
  • dblkk - Monday, December 1, 2014 - link

    The more I read about lollipop the less interested I am, and the more I hope Samsung doesn't force the upgrade on my Note 4.

    Everything moving to white instead of black is a huge one for me. As a Note 4 owner/user, blacks are my batteries best friend, and as a 30yr old I feel black background white text is easier on the eyes, especially in a darker environment.

    I also see a lot of the specific apps that are coming with lollipop are already available for download in the play store. I've tried them all, mail/calander/messanger and ive still reverted back to samsungs software. Mail is nice, but my main accounts are live and yahoo. The organization and just readability in the 'email' app are in my opinion vastly superior to inbox/mail. Messanger is nice, but I like samsungs messages just a tad better. My common's are on top of the feed, and instead of random colors assigned to people, its all custom and for me set up as a photo for each. The calendar app, I don't see much of a change, and don't care to much about. The app drawer with its transparency on kit cat are much nicer than the white background that just jumps out at you, and the notification center on my note 4 is way more easy and functional than the upgrade will be.

    I haven't looked into the 64bit and performance upgrades with lollipop vs kitcat, but I have no issues at all right now, so that's I guess welcome performance boost, but not needed and not going to make me upgrade.

    I do really hope that lollipop wont be forced, and if it is that this whole white theme can be brought back to dark. But honestly just don't want to upgrade.

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now