Android 5.0 Lollipop review: a sweet new flavor


Back in June, Google gave us a chance to see the future of Android as a mobile operating system. The tech giant introduced us to Android 5.0 Lollipop, which was boldly described as Android's most significant release to date. An overstatement? Well, we don't think so. We're several months into the future now and we're holding Android 5.0 in our hands, running on our Google Nexus 5 smartphone in its nearly finalized state. To put it briefly, Lollipop rocks, and if you want to know why, here's what we have to say about the platform's new, sweet flavor.

Before we proceed, though, we'd just like to make a disclaimer of sorts: what we're dealing with here is the stock, vanilla version of Android 5.0 Lollipop, as seen on Nexus and more recent Motorola devices, but not on smartphones by popular brands such as Samsung, HTC, or LG. Handsets that use custom user interfaces will most probably get most functional improvements from 5.0 Lollipop, along with some of the visual enhancements, but we expect those UIs, such as TouchWiz and Sense, to preserve their custom look and feel to a large extent.

Introducing Material Design


Since its commercial debut six years ago, Android has undergone a number of major visual overhauls. None of them, however, has had an effect as pronounced as the move to Material Design in Android 5.0 Lollipop. This is what Google calls its current UI philosophy, which is governed by the principles of flatness and minimalism. But unlike other UIs based on the same ideas, Google's solution is also sprinkled with a hint 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. All of this graphical goodness is accompanied by smooth animations and elegant transition effects. Seriously, even the error messages are pretty.

So by now you've probably figured out that we're happy with Android's new look. Material Design adds personality to Android – personality that was mostly lacking in previous releases. The platform feels familiar, yet fresh. It is engaging, but does not distract you from whatever it is that you're doing. And no less importantly, it is consistent in its visual presentation. You won't really find a menu or screen that feels out of place (save for the apps that have not had their UIs updated yet). 

Functionality boost


But of course, the changes brought by Android 5.0 Lollipop aren't merely superficial. New features have been added, while ones we knew from 4.4 KitKat have been improved. The lock screen, for example, now holds a shortcut to the dialer in addition to the one for the camera application. Lock screen notifications are displayed at a glance, in their own space in the middle of the screen, so you don't have to swipe down to see what you've missed anymore. Tapping on a notification launches the respective app, and a swipe to the side dismisses it. On the downside, lock screen widgets have been scrapped, but these were kind of confusing anyway, so their loss isn't that big of a deal. 

As for the Android 5.0 home screens, nothing much has been altered. As before, you're free to personalize your space with app shortcuts, folders, and widgets, backed by a static or a live wallpaper. What's changed, however, is the multitasking screen. It 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 with its large app snapshots, but on the other, the old solution could fit more app snapshots on the screen. Nevertheless, it shouldn't take long for your brain to re-wire itself and adjust to the redesigned recent apps list. 

In a typical Android fashion, swiping down from the top of the screen displays a list of notifications. These are now listed by priority, not in a chronological order, with the most important notifications at the top of the list and the least important ones pushed to the bottom. For example, email notifications have a higher priority than those letting you know that a new app has been installed. The button for dismissing all notifications is still present. 

Swipe again (or use the two-finger swipe-down gesture from any screen) and you'll be taken to the redesigned quick settings menu. We're glad to see that the toggle buttons for Wi-Fi and Bluetooth make more sense now – tapping one of the icons toggles the feature on or off and tapping on its label shows the list of available networks or devices. We're also happy to welcome dedicated buttons for locking the screen orientation and a flashlight shortcut. 

Now, you might notice that your personal profile picture is displayed in the UI's upper right-hand corner. That's neat, but it gets even neater when you tap on the icon itself. You're taken to a screen letting you switch between users. Yes – with Android 5.0, multi-user support is enabled on phones as well! Each user has their own personal space and home screens customized to their preferences. What's more, you can easily switch to a guest account at the tap of a few buttons. This should come in handy in case somebody wants to borrow your phone, and you don't want them messing with your personal stuff.

Another feature we find highly useful is the built-in interruptions filter. It works like a Do Not Disturb mode, muting beeps and boops that shouldn't go off at the inappropriate time – during sleepytime hours, or during meetings. Activating the mode couldn't be any easier. Pressing the volume down button gives you the option to filter out non-priority notifications or to mute all interruptions, either indefinitely or for a given period of time. What makes the feature even better is that you can set your own schedule and have the filter activate itself automatically at a specified time.

While we're at it, we have to mention Android 5.0's battery saver. It can be set to activate automatically when the battery reaches a critical level. It works by disabling most data connectivity, limiting the device's performance, and turning synchronisation off. And while your phone or tablet is charging, a timer indicates the time left until the process is complete. 

Under the hood


So far we've been commenting solely on Android 5.0 Lollipop 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 5.0 is the release that makes ART (Android RunTime) the system's default, thus replacing Dalvik. 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 Lollipop 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.

Conclusion


Good things come to those who wait – so goes the age-old saying. This applies to Lollipop's launch as well, as the wait for it has been worth it. Trust us, you'll agree once you take Android 5.0 for a spin. 

From the very start, Lollipop treats us to a visual experience that's fresh, engaging, and fun to use. But more importantly, Material Design carries a sense of uniqueness. It doesn't simply build upon the look and feel established by KitKat – it catapults us into a brand new chapter in the evolution of Google's design language. The result is a platform that does a great job at separating itself from the competition's offerings with its welcoming character and distinct personality. Once again, we have to note that it's yet to be seen what part of these enhancements will find a place in other manufacturers' custom user interfaces - hopefully, they will adopt as much of Lollipop's look and feel as possible, though something tells us the likes of TouchWiz and Sense aren't going anywhere for the time being.

Feature-wise, we know that many of Lollipop's features have existed for a while on other platforms or custom Android releases. Lock screen shortcuts, battery savers, Do-Not-Disturb solutions, and lock screen notifications have been around for some time. But we're not complaining. In fact, we're glad to see that third-party apps won't be required to enjoy these features – it is all now built into the OS. So in a way, Android 5.0 is a package more complete than ever before, requiring less intervention and software augmentation to do its job effectively. 

And if you're a developer, you should already know that the move to Android 5.0 is a huge leap forward. Android apps are about to get faster, more efficient, and less power hungry thanks to all under-the-hood improvements brought by Lollipop. What's more, support for 64-bit hardware makes Android's latest flavor future-proof, ready to power the upcoming Android flagships. 

So that's Android 5.0 Lollipop in a nutshell – a culmination of Google's efforts to create a modern, versatile, and open mobile operating system. It is something all mobile users should experience to get a sense of what a top-notch mobile platform should feel like. Thankfully, it won't be long until Lollipop sweetens the smartphones and tablets of millions. The OS will launch in its final state in early November, first on Nexus and GPE devices, then on other recent devices in the form of a software update. As usual, we can expect flagship products to be updated in a timely manner, while mid-range offerings will probably have to wait a bit. Hopefully, there won't be that many models left without an update to Android 5.0, because it's a fundamental update that should not be missed.

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55 Comments

1. Maryewww

Posts: 32; Member since: Sep 16, 2013

Awesome!!!

16. SuperAndroidEvo

Posts: 4888; Member since: Apr 15, 2011

+1000 You are absolutely right, the king is back, BETTER than ever. Android 5.0 Lollipop is something that will shine bright like the sun. Google is on it's A+ game & all other OS' are officially called out.

52. strudelz100

Posts: 646; Member since: Aug 20, 2014

Actually Google is headed the same direction with Android as Apple pioneered. Lollipop is looking to be hard or impossible to root. And Google updates it's closed source apps more than the OS. Slowly locking down the ecosystem. Like iOS. 64 bit OS and replacement of Dalvik with Android Native run time. Again, catching up to iOS. Look at the Nexus 9 even. Dual Core 64bit with high single threaded performance, just like the A series. This is all Google showing consumers and devs what Android has been aiming towards for years: A more locked down, monetized OS that runs 100% smooth using native runtime.

53. JadenKeuten

Posts: 15; Member since: Dec 23, 2012

Lollipop will be rooted, as it is open source and runs on linux. No questions asked. 64 bit was more of a future-proofing thing as 64 bit chips are becoming a reality in the android world, and I don't think high-performance quad core 64 bit chips are available to be made. How is switching from Dalvik to ART catching up to iOS, when Google made ART itself? They've had a fluid OS since 4.3 (some would argue 4.1, I however had smooth performance on my Nexus 4 on 4.2).

55. tnuc2014

Posts: 294; Member since: Sep 12, 2014

It does look nice. I'm all lined up to upgrade to iPhone 6 because I love iOS 8, but this has certainly turned my head. I may have to be patient with this one as I would want a Nexus or Google Play device and there isn't currently one that I like. Correction, I love the look of the Nexus 6 but it looks way too big.

2. rockers123

Posts: 137; Member since: Sep 08, 2013

Alot from Touchwiz, Toggles Health App Battery Saver App switching style Knox Search in Settings Ha ha...

5. shuaibhere

Posts: 1986; Member since: Jul 07, 2012

And they save TW is full of gimmicks... Lol... haters these days...

6. Supraman21

Posts: 467; Member since: Jun 09, 2010

Samsung wasn't first to do any of that bromigo. No one is copying Samsung.

17. SuperAndroidEvo

Posts: 4888; Member since: Apr 15, 2011

Those were all on custom Android ROM's. Samsung stole all that from the Android Developers in the root scene. lol Nothing you mentioned is a Samsung original except maybe the "Health App".

19. chistoefurpuffer

Posts: 140; Member since: Mar 11, 2013

Uh Google actually came up with the new App switching style, and everything else you mentioned are just generic features every OEM skin has.

22. rockers123

Posts: 137; Member since: Sep 08, 2013

Check the app switching inside multi window in Note 3. That was way before Android L

34. Retro-touch unregistered

This cards style multitasking came from WebOS where Matias Duarte was lead Designer for years ago In fact he reused a lot of his ideas from his team

49. rockers123

Posts: 137; Member since: Sep 08, 2013

Thanks for the info. I think WebOs had very neat features specially the multitasking. I dont know why HP killed it.

40. eldyagustius

Posts: 182; Member since: Oct 30, 2013

I don't know why people compared pure android with OEM android. If you want features or something gimmick, use OEM android. Bu you should notice that they never beat the smoothness, responsiveness, and RAM efficiency of pure android. It's your choice man. Features or performance.

3. zhiae unregistered

im getting it on my converted m8 when it hit my GPE selves

4. Wiencon

Posts: 2278; Member since: Aug 06, 2014

My friend got it on his N5 and I was really surprised how fluid it was and how good it looks. Really amazing, now I just need to buy Z3C.

7. Anterv

Posts: 178; Member since: Jul 09, 2014

I have a question; if that new material look will get only Nexus devices, or Moto G too for example ?

8. hafini_27

Posts: 949; Member since: Oct 31, 2013

Moto doesn't change the UI so yes.

9. karea12

Posts: 6; Member since: Nov 06, 2013

The MOTO G by Motorola will be one of the firsts handsets to get the Lollipop release, along with other Motos and Nexus. It'll have every piece of design, because motorola does not touch the interface, only add some apps.

12. Anterv

Posts: 178; Member since: Jul 09, 2014

Well, but look to Moto G's KitKat - icons doesn't look like Nexus devices KitKat version, or I'm wrong ?

18. tech2

Posts: 3487; Member since: Oct 26, 2012

The icons have nothing to do with the OS update. Icons will be updated when the specific app update rolls out to your region. I am currently using Moto G in UK and the new updated Newstand app has the new icon. The inbuilt 'apps' iconography will change with OS update e.g. the dialler or settings, etc.

20. Anterv

Posts: 178; Member since: Jul 09, 2014

I am not about third-party icons, I'm about OS icons(like Settings, Applications and etc.) and also I am about menu, navigation bars looking. So as I understand, Moto G will get completely same looking as shown in this review ?

21. Awalker

Posts: 1977; Member since: Aug 15, 2013

Yes. The icons on the Moto G are the same as the Nexus 5. The only difference is the Nexus 5 is using the Google Now launcher which make the icons bigger.

23. shuaibhere

Posts: 1986; Member since: Jul 07, 2012

Tbh....only nexus 5 got full blown kitkat.. My nexus 7 too retained the old interface with only changing theme from blue to white.... Same thing happened to every other nexus devices..... Because kitkat was just stop gap between jb and L... This time around we will get full OS...

27. Awalker

Posts: 1977; Member since: Aug 15, 2013

The Nexus 5 got Kitkat with the Google Now Launcher. The launcher was exclusive for a while but then Google placed it inside the Play Store for all Android devices running 4.1 and above.

29. shuaibhere

Posts: 1986; Member since: Jul 07, 2012

Yeah..i have stated that.... read the full comment....

35. Awalker

Posts: 1977; Member since: Aug 15, 2013

What I was trying to point out is that Kitkat and the Google Now launcher are two separate things.

10. gagakiller

Posts: 176; Member since: Oct 08, 2014

JONY IVE is in YOUR CONTACT LIST ???????? CAN WE BE FRIENDS ?????

25. shuaibhere

Posts: 1986; Member since: Jul 07, 2012

And next to him scott forstall...lol.. PA is making us fool...

11. hafini_27

Posts: 949; Member since: Oct 31, 2013

This is the best version ever since ICS. Can't wait to rock it on my nexus 7

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