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Android L Preview: there's a lot to be excited about

Posted: , by Nick T.

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Android L Preview: there's a lot to be excited about

To say that the past couple of days have been exciting for Android enthusiasts would be an understatement. After all, there's a fresh, new flavor of Android on the horizon, as Google confirmed at the I/O conference opening keynote. It is being referred to as "the L release", which seemingly breaks Google's tradition of naming its major Android versions after sweets, and it brings both visual and functional changes to the platform, as well as tons of improvements under the hood. At the same time, developers will benefit from the tons of newly-added APIs, which will enable them to create apps more powerful than ever.

Now, there's one thing that must be highlighted before we dwell any further. The Android L release is not quite ready for prime time, and ordinary folks won't be getting it over the air until later this year. What we do have access to, on the other hand, is an early preview version of Android's latest flavor. As a matter of fact, we've been test-driving it on our Google Nexus 5 smartphone, and the following preview is based on our experience and impressions that have accumulated while using it. Keep in mind that the platform's design and the way its features work might change by the time its final release is out. Some of the screenshots below have a KitKat feel to them, yet the look of the respective screens might end up being quite different. With that out of the way, allow us to demonstrate what Google has crafted.

Introducing "Material Design"


We feel obliged to begin with a comment on the overhauled visual presentation of Google's platform – the adoption of the so-called Material Design. As before, the UI design in Android L is governed by the principles of flatness and minimalism. But now, there's also a sense of depth that can be felt throughout the user interface – while switching between apps, while interacting with notifications, while scrolling through the contacts list, for example. This effect has been achieved through clever uses of shadows under objects and by "layering" elements, as if they're stacked on top of each other. At the same time, the interface isn't distracting. It lets one focus on whatever it is they're doing instead of drawing their attention with shiny buttons and sparkly transition animations. All in all, the L release does bring a huge number of visual changes, some more radical than others, all the while building and improving upon what Google has already established with KitKat.

Speaking of minimalism, it is about to become omnipresent with Android L. Take the on-screen buttons, for example. They are now represented by basic shapes – a triangle, a circle, and a square. Simple as that. Toggle switches, radio buttons, and sliders have been redesigned as well. Menus, dialog windows, even the on-screen keyboard have a simpler layout. Over time, Google's suite of applications and services will also be treated to a fitting redesign.

Functionality boost


But of course, the changes brought by Android L aren't merely superficial. Functionality has been given a boost as well. One of the first changes that we noticed was the overhauled notification panel. Swiping down shows all pending notifications, but not in chronological order, as it was in previous Android versions. The L release brings the most important notifications to the top of the list, while the least important are pushed to the bottom. For example, email notifications have a higher priority than those letting you know that a new app has been installed. On the lock screen, notifications are now displayed at a glance – a much appreciated improvement – and a tap on one is how you interact with it. 

While the notification list is displayed, a second swipe down brings forth the redesigned quick settings menu. Note that the two-finger slide-down gesture for instant access to this menu is now gone. As before, you're given toggles for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and GPS. What's new, however, is the added control over the screen's orientation, which lets us lock it in portrait mode, or let the system control that automatically. 

The overhauled multitasking menu is one of the things that you'll either like or hate. Recent apps are listed as cards stacked on top of each other, and you scroll through with a swipe up or down. On one hand, the design looks great, but on the other, the old solution could fit more apps into the screen, while the new presents us with no more than three at a time. If we want to switch to the fourth app, for example, we need to get to its card first and then tap, while the old interface would have been able to fit its snapshot as well. Nevertheless, we don't find this too annoying, and let's not forget that the design of the recent apps list might change by the time Android L is released.

While digging through the Settings menu, we came across the newly-added Do Not Disturb mode. When enabled, it blocks whatever interruptions you specify, be it phone calls, messages, or both. You may still allow your starred contacts to bother you at any time, however, and alarms will not be muted even when DND is on. Do Not Disturb can be toggled on manually, or scheduled to be in effect over a specified time window. 

Notifications, Quick Settings, Do Not Disturb in Android L
Notifications, Quick Settings, Do Not Disturb in Android L
Notifications, Quick Settings, Do Not Disturb in Android L
Notifications, Quick Settings, Do Not Disturb in Android L

Notifications, Quick Settings, Do Not Disturb in Android L


Google has also built a battery saver into Android L. It works by dimming the screen, limiting cellular data connectivity, and reducing the performance of the device in order to reduce its power consumption. The battery saver mode can be set to enable itself automatically when the battery level drops below a certain point, or you may turn it on manually when that's needed. 

To make Android more enterprise-friendly, Google has built data separation features in L. In plain words, one Android phone will be able to run both the user's own apps and their corporate ones without that posing any privacy or security threats. This will also allow Samsung Knox Independent Software Vendors (ISVs) and developers to reach a wider audience outside of Samsung branded devices.

As for the minor tweaks that we appreciate having in Android L, a shortcut to the Phone app has been added on the lock screen. It is located in the lower left-hand corner and triggered with a swipe to the right. It is also nice to see that a search option has been built into the Settings menu, letting one easily find whatever it is they're looking for. Last but not least, Android L's call notification now hovers above the UI, which means that your running app won't get minimized if someone is calling. 

Under the hood


So far we've been commenting solely on Android L features that we can see and experience. But the fact of the matter is that the OS' new version has also undergone some serious changes under the hood. We won't be going over each and every tweak as the list is a lengthy one. We will, however, highlight the most notable ones among them. 

Project Volta is what Google calls its new set of tools and APIs made to enable apps to run efficiently, thus using less battery power. Among these APIs is the Job Scheduler which allows a developer to optimize the power use of their apps while running in the background. And with Battery Historian, devs can get a visual representation of when and how their software is using energy.

Android L is the release that makes ART (Android RunTime) the system's default, thus replacing Dalvik. Note that the latter has been available in KitKat all along, but in an experimental state. ART takes advantage of ahead-of-time (AOT) compilation, effective garbage collection, and improved development and debugging features. Switching to ART should result in improved device performance without that requiring any app modifications.

Another improvement in L that is projected to boost performance is the added 64-bit support. Java apps will run immediately on 64-bit architectures with no need for developers to modify them. In addition, the extra address space will allow RAM capacity in Android to reach the 4GB milestone.

And game developers can benefit from the added support for OpenGL ES 3.1. This would give them the option to use new shader and texture tools while making their games' visuals. Plus, there's the new Android Extension Pack (AEP), which is a new set of extensions to OpenGL ES that promise to bring desktop-class graphics to Android. Games will be able to take advantage of tessellation and geometry shaders, and use ASTC texture compression across multiple GPU technologies.

Expectations


We're pretty sure that the impact which Android L will cause upon launching will be felt by users and developers alike. Google's new Material Design philosophy improves in key areas where room for improvement was available, while most of whatever wasn't broken hasn't been touched. Functionally, Android users will benefit from much appreciated battery life improvements, enhanced notifications, and a whole bunch of minor, yet notable additions to the system's feature set, such as the Do Not Disturb mode and the built-in battery saver. And developers will be able to take advantage of a bunch of new APIs, which will enable them to make apps more capable than before.

So as you can surely see, there's a lot to look forward to in the upcoming Android L release. Yet sadly, details as to when the new flavor of Google's OS might come are scarce to non-existent. Chances are that the final version of Android L will be launched this fall, (along with some new Nexus hardware, we hope). In the meantime, we'll keep on exploring the depths of Android L and we'll inform you of any new discoveries that we come across.

48 Comments
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posted on 27 Jun 2014, 10:47 7

1. StraightEdgeNexus (Posts: 3418; Member since: 14 Feb 2014)


Looks elegant. But I dont like the new quick settings panel and the excessive colorful UI is not of my tastes frankly.

posted on 27 Jun 2014, 11:02 11

4. PootisMan (Posts: 203; Member since: 02 Aug 2013)


Its is a preview so maybe some things will get changed in the final version.

posted on 27 Jun 2014, 11:10 1

6. StraightEdgeNexus (Posts: 3418; Member since: 14 Feb 2014)


I hope so. +1
but still seems unlikely, they'd rather fix bugs than change design.

posted on 27 Jun 2014, 12:11 5

31. EgyDroid (Posts: 107; Member since: 10 Oct 2013)


Someone will make a mod to bring back the old quick settings panel....

NEVER UNDERESTIMATE THE XDA DEVELOPERS...lol

and +1 for the username.... :)

posted on 27 Jun 2014, 12:44

34. StraightEdgeNexus (Posts: 3418; Member since: 14 Feb 2014)


Hehe thanks bro. :)

posted on 27 Jun 2014, 11:48

21. techspace (Posts: 693; Member since: 03 Sep 2012)


I think they should have made something similar to the control center on ios 7 instead of having quick settings in the notification center...swiping from the back button and multitasking button to access the control center and swiping from the home button to access Google search/now would have been much more convenient to us.
I don't have any problem with the ui, I think its good but the only thing that I didn't like is that 'huge' font size is not available in the settings , we have it in KitKat, maybe they will add it when its released to us.

posted on 27 Jun 2014, 11:51 1

23. aayupanday (Posts: 517; Member since: 28 Jun 2012)


Yeah Black & White would've been awesome :p

posted on 27 Jun 2014, 12:47

35. StraightEdgeNexus (Posts: 3418; Member since: 14 Feb 2014)


Lol no! I didnt mean that, just saying the new ui is brightly colored and too much in face.

posted on 27 Jun 2014, 12:06 5

29. SuperAndroidEvo (Posts: 4184; Member since: 15 Apr 2011)


I think it's a nice & needed change. Android doesn't want 5+ years to go by with the same identical OS. A little flare is just what the Dr. ordered.

It looks stunning.

posted on 27 Jun 2014, 10:52 6

2. xfire99 (Posts: 542; Member since: 14 Mar 2012)


Android keeps evolving!
But I dont like the new back/multi/menu buttons and they should kept the old ones instead.

posted on 27 Jun 2014, 11:09

5. j.khan95 (Posts: 51; Member since: 09 Nov 2013)


Yes they look meaningless

posted on 27 Jun 2014, 11:11 7

7. StraightEdgeNexus (Posts: 3418; Member since: 14 Feb 2014)


*Kindergarten blocks ;)

posted on 27 Jun 2014, 11:38

16. techspace (Posts: 693; Member since: 03 Sep 2012)


And many people are calling them PlayStation buttons...yes, maybe the old ones are better but they have been used for a long time and the newer ones aren't that bad, the real solution to that problem is to allow users to customize those buttons

posted on 27 Jun 2014, 11:52

24. protozeloz (Posts: 5378; Member since: 16 Sep 2010)


according to rumors those are just placeholders and will be changes when its released on Q4

posted on 11 Jul 2014, 17:53

49. bob_monkeywarts (Posts: 143; Member since: 14 Apr 2014)


Yeah. A home button should look like a home button, not a circle. A multitasking button should look like sort of a list-thingy, not a square. I guess the back button looks OK, though.

posted on 27 Jun 2014, 10:57

3. Duketytz (Posts: 496; Member since: 28 Nov 2013)


I think it should be confectionery rather than sweets. But anyway it's a brilliant article!

posted on 27 Jun 2014, 11:13 3

8. PapaSmurf (Posts: 8614; Member since: 14 May 2012)


Just by looking at Android L, I'm porting it to my M8 as soon as it's available and getting this year's Nexus.

posted on 27 Jun 2014, 11:27 1

15. hassoups (Posts: 373; Member since: 06 Jun 2013)


i still like sense better for some reason, no doubt the best experience on a smartphone right now. tempted to buy an m8 just for sense too

posted on 27 Jun 2014, 11:49 3

22. StraightEdgeNexus (Posts: 3418; Member since: 14 Feb 2014)


Sense 6 looks great. But I dont like how they f*ed up app drawer and recent apps menu. Otherwise great deed of design.

posted on 27 Jun 2014, 12:29 1

33. hassoups (Posts: 373; Member since: 06 Jun 2013)


i agree about the app drawer, vertical scrolling becomes a problem with a lot of apps.

posted on 27 Jun 2014, 13:18

39. PapaSmurf (Posts: 8614; Member since: 14 May 2012)


You get used to it within a matter of a couple of days. This phone is simply amazing.

posted on 27 Jun 2014, 11:39

17. StraightEdgeNexus (Posts: 3418; Member since: 14 Feb 2014)


Hehe, thought you didnt like stock android... :)

posted on 27 Jun 2014, 13:17 1

38. PapaSmurf (Posts: 8614; Member since: 14 May 2012)


Android L is beautiful. Enough said.

posted on 28 Jun 2014, 13:11

44. fzacek (Posts: 1880; Member since: 26 Jan 2014)


The pure Android feeling on a Nexus is just unbeatable...

posted on 27 Jun 2014, 11:15 1

9. ahhxd717 (Posts: 318; Member since: 08 Dec 2011)


I like the look overall, still not too keen on the shapes for the on screen buttons and the recent apps menu. But I'll have to use it to get a good feel of it. Can't wait to get it on my Nexus 7 though :)

posted on 27 Jun 2014, 11:16 2

10. isprobi (Posts: 204; Member since: 30 May 2011)


This is the most boring OS I have seen since MS-DOS on PC. It may be bad enough for me to switch to another OS so I can at least stay awake.

posted on 27 Jun 2014, 11:18 3

11. isprobi (Posts: 204; Member since: 30 May 2011)


This is the most boring OS I have seen since MS-DOS on PC. It may be bad enough for me to switch to another OS so I can at least stay awake.

posted on 27 Jun 2014, 11:43 8

19. StraightEdgeNexus (Posts: 3418; Member since: 14 Feb 2014)


Lol k. Switch to whatever you want, dont whine. :)

posted on 28 Jun 2014, 13:12

45. fzacek (Posts: 1880; Member since: 26 Jan 2014)


Troll. I bet you don't even have an Android...

posted on 27 Jun 2014, 11:25 2

12. AfterShock (Posts: 2812; Member since: 02 Nov 2012)


It's pretty nice to use.
Fast, fluid and not saw hard on eyes as made out to be.
Enhanced settings like do not disturb is kool.
Worth checking out if you can.

posted on 27 Jun 2014, 11:26

13. AfterShock (Posts: 2812; Member since: 02 Nov 2012)


It's pretty nice to use.
Fast, fluid and not saw hard on eyes as made out to be.
Enhanced settings like do not disturb is kool.
Worth checking out if you can.

posted on 27 Jun 2014, 11:26

14. AfterShock (Posts: 2812; Member since: 02 Nov 2012)


It's pretty nice to use.
Fast, fluid and not saw hard on eyes as made out to be.
Enhanced settings like do not disturb is kool.
Worth checking out if you can.

posted on 27 Jun 2014, 11:44 1

20. StraightEdgeNexus (Posts: 3418; Member since: 14 Feb 2014)


Woah triple take? Disaster!! ;)

posted on 27 Jun 2014, 11:57

25. AfterShock (Posts: 2812; Member since: 02 Nov 2012)


Dang lol..posted an booked, my bad.

posted on 27 Jun 2014, 12:48 1

36. StraightEdgeNexus (Posts: 3418; Member since: 14 Feb 2014)


Sh*t happens! :p

posted on 27 Jun 2014, 11:40

18. cncrim (Posts: 518; Member since: 15 Aug 2011)


It is kind nice and exciting to get the new look and UI, the draw back is it getting more cumbersome, now day OS/manufacture getting flatter and flatter everyone consider as it as modern but once they try to push the limit of flatness, the simplicity will be out the window. Picture worth a thousand words, for example home button now is a circle and recent app is retangle, and many feature in the setting too.

Please Google whatever redesign you do, don't change the fundametal concept of picture UI.

posted on 27 Jun 2014, 11:59 1

26. livyatan (Posts: 701; Member since: 19 Jun 2013)


Great job Google but.. still no clock on-screen(while off) clock!

posted on 27 Jun 2014, 12:04

28. chocowii (Posts: 327; Member since: 30 Jan 2014)


You mean like Nokia's Glance screen?

posted on 27 Jun 2014, 12:50 1

37. StraightEdgeNexus (Posts: 3418; Member since: 14 Feb 2014)


Daydream? Many options for daydream on play store.

posted on 27 Jun 2014, 12:03 1

27. chocowii (Posts: 327; Member since: 30 Jan 2014)


And they say white Xperia UI is ugly.

posted on 27 Jun 2014, 12:06

30. josephnero (Posts: 315; Member since: 16 Nov 2011)


Awesome

posted on 27 Jun 2014, 12:23

32. tettech (Posts: 65; Member since: 18 Dec 2013)


I'm actually grown to like the direction that Android is heading with its design. Although, there are some minor areas where I find inconsistent or not to my liking, but that's just my taste. I'm interested in playing with the stock Android once the new version release.

posted on 27 Jun 2014, 13:33

40. dufis (Posts: 23; Member since: 27 Jun 2014)


then i get 4.4.3 or 4.4.4 on moto g?

posted on 27 Jun 2014, 13:47

41. rahul.niks (Posts: 67; Member since: 31 Oct 2013)


With this, it doesn't look like stock, but i don't feel it to be minimal, i think this design will eat much ram, i hope i am wrong. Anyways, its absolutely fantastic work by Google, surprise us everytime.

posted on 27 Jun 2014, 15:42 1

42. Antimio (Posts: 277; Member since: 11 Nov 2013)


If iOS 8 was massive, this must be Colossal!

posted on 27 Jun 2014, 19:24

43. HoPhonTab (Posts: 35; Member since: 03 Jun 2014)


Lol because of that battery saver ,and the time left to charge and etc.
I think you don't need to install the Battery Doctor :-) or any other battery saving app

posted on 28 Jun 2014, 13:15

46. fzacek (Posts: 1880; Member since: 26 Jan 2014)


And with the Do-Not-Disturb you no longer need to install automatic silencing apps...

posted on 01 Jul 2014, 13:08

47. janaa (Posts: 1; Member since: 01 Jul 2014)


Instead of waiting to get latest update from Google, atleast we can give a shot to this to see how does it looks like on our own phone ....
remove the space
http s://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.vive​k.theme&hl=en

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