Android 7.0 Nougat review: refocusing on what's truly important
By Peter K.
Aug 24, 2016, 2:47 AM
After a surprise debut and being available for a couple of months as a public beta, Android 7/0 Nougat is now officially-official at long last. Currently rolling out to the Google Nexus 6P, 5X, and Pixel C (no factory images for older Nexus devices are available yet), the latest chapter in Android's lengthy history arrives with a rather impressive list of features. Make no mistake — there is close to no fluff as almost all new features and functionalities improve the most popular OS worldwide in the most essential areas, like battery optimization, various interface goodies, and better security.
Sadly, it would take a lot of time for all Android users that are not using a Nexus device to experience these, but such is the state of the smartphone scene. Yet, we digress. We already have Nougat on our trusty Nexus 6P and we couldn't wait to delve in deep and see what's new, what's changed, what's good, and finally, what's bad.
Sit around the campfire and let's see what's good.
Although Google wants to convince us that the 72 new emoji and the multiple locale setups are the highlights of Android 7.0 given this is what one first sees when they visit Nougat's dedicated web page, but we know better. What's most important, in our opinion, are the under-the-hood tweaks that Google has thrown in with Nougat. We are talking about a new, well-known compiler - JIT, or Just in Time. It was the go-to choice for Android in the Dalvik runtime era, but was subsequently substituted for AR, which introduced a new compiler - AOT (Ahead of Time).
What does JIT do and why should you care? Apparently, JIT improves the runtime performance of your apps, which means app start faster. Additionally, JIT reduces the amount of storage each app occupies, and also reduces its overall RAM usage. As Google puts it, this would be of great use on phones with a lowly amount of both storage and RAM, such as most Android One handsets.
Have in mind that JIT is not dethroning AOT. Interestingly, Google has found a way to keep both under the same roof in Nougat, and it's none other than ART that decided what app gets compiled with what compiler. In our short first-hand experience with Nougat so far, we are inclined to say that there is a perceptible performance improvement over Marshmallow. Call it a placebo effect, but the "Android is upgrading" screen immediately after flashing Nougat did its job in less than a minute, whereas we can clearly remember that this took us a couple of minutes last year with Marshmallow.
Needless to say, navigating throughout the interface is fluid and lag-free, with merely a few minor issues that we will attribute to our Nexus 6P's initial data syncing and undergoing optimization.
Additionally, it's important to say that Nougat is the first version of Android to officially support the intriguing Vulkan API, which means one thing and one thing only - many of the games you are about to play on your Vulkan-ready device will bring about a whole lot more eye-candy and mesmerizing graphics. While it's up to game developers to update their existing titles or implement Vulkan in their upcoming ones, the advantage is clear - better graphics, motion blur, superior reflections, and dreamy water effects. We played Need for Speed No Limits for a while, and it definitely feels like a whole new game. Well, probably that's an overstatement, but the graphics definitely look better. Now, if only more developers released their Vulkan-ready games sooner...
Finally, Android Nougat introduces the so-called Project Svelte. Behind that big name, we find nothing else but background optimizations, a favorite of ours! To summarize what Svelte does with two words - it optimizes the way apps run in the background, potentially saving you lots of vital system resources like operating memory and battery juice. What's not to like? As a whole, we would say that Google has done a mighty fine job with optimizing Android and Nougat is the latest proof of that. We've had zero issues with it so far, and we firmly believe that this will be true for most Nexus users.
Doze on the go, Data Saver cut what needs to be cut
Apart from the fluid system-wide performance, Nougat also brings better standby battery life, or at least promises to do so. Doze, which was introduced along with Android 6.0 is also in Android 7.0, but this time around, it's on steroids! Doze will now save you battery juice in standby even while you're on the go. It does this by applying a set of screen-off CPU and data usage rules, which means one thing and one thing only - more juice savings coming your way. The rule application will kick in after you haven't used your phone for a while. In order to check for important alerts, apps will sync during predefined times only, which is the best possible scenario.
Fret not - if you're somehow experiencing some issues with a certain app, you can still choose what apps get to be "dozed" (read "optimized"), but we think that you'd hardly experience any problems.
Apart from a better Doze, Nougat introduces a not so novel, but rather useful feature, called Data Saver. While it's name is pretty self-explanatory, let's summarize it with a few words: this feature limits your cellular data usage, preventing apps from tapping in and abusing your monthly data quota (if you have one). Hence, apps will get to update only when you connect to a known Wi-Fi network, potentially saving you tons of cellular data, as well as battery. As it's easy to forget that one has switched such a feature on, Google has thrown in a useful new status bar icon that will inform you if your Data Saver is on. Nifty.
A multitasking dream come true
Image: 1 of 2
Oh, yes, most of us have been waiting for a variant of Samsung's Multi Window to hit stock Android for ages, and Nougat finally delivered. Dubbed Multi-window, this one lets you run two apps side by side, though lots of apps and games don't support this take on split-screen view.
All of Google's apps do, though, and that's great. Arguably, this is a feature more useful on tablets, but we had zero issues with using two apps side by side on our Nexus 6P, though you might get a little bit claustrophobic.
Oh, and have in mind that if you run YouTube and another app in Multi-window, the video won't get paused if you tinker with the other app.
Apart from Multi-window, Nougat introduces Quick switch, a feature that we didn't imagine we'd fall in love it. It allows you to quickly switch between the two apps you've used recently by double tapping your app switcher.
Okay, we know that it might sound lame to same, but we are definitely digging that one very much. It works in multi-window mode as well, allowing you to quickly change one of the apps you're using in split screen.
Making notifications great again
Image: 1 of 2
However, despite all the great features we mentioned already, the revamped notifications are most definitely our most favorite new feature so far.
Gone are the days of arguably unsightly notifications that appeared "disconnected" from the looks of the interface - the new ones look so much better.
Nougat's take on this essential part of Android is an overhaul for the good. Probably the most important change is the bundling of similar chat threads into a single notification "card", which does not only look sleek, but also helps eliminate the clutter in your notification shade. We love this.
Speaking of notification cards, these are now definitely more in-line with the overall looks of Android by employing a much more "materialistic" design that fits perfectly. Users now have a greater control over these as well.
For example, once an app displays a notification in your quick settings shade, you can press and hold the notification to access a slew of options that allow you to silence any future notifications by said app, or block the app from showing any notifications at all.
The good news is that no matter where you access your notifications from, be it from your home screen, your lockscreen, or from within a full-screen app, the behavior of the notifications' settings will always be the same — you press and hold a notification, a menu with options appears.
It's quite nice to be treated to such a system-wide coherence, which definitely elevates Android a step further.
Another great feature of Nougat is Direct Reply. It lets you reply to your texts and chats by from within the notification itself and not having to open the app at all is also a great addition to Android.
Although it might not sound exciting or so, it's the one feature that you're likely to use the most in your everyday life.
It's hard not to love the customizable interface
Image: 1 of 2
So far we made it clear that Nougat focuses on improving all the essential bits. With customizability being a pillar of the Android experience, we are most pleased to find out that Google has thrown in a couple of useful features that enable you to customize your interface even further.
First and foremost, you now get to rearrange the tiles of your quick settings, as well as add and remove these as you please. That's a feature most third-party OEM skins have been sporting for years now, but better late than never, right?
Additionally, Nougat arrives with a Quick Settings bar that houses the most important switches - Wi-Fi, cellular data, battery, Do Not Disturb, and flashlight. Apart from quickly enabling/disabling features, long-pressing on these will open the corresponding page in the Settings app.
Have in mind that the first five toggles will appear in the quick settings bar. All in all, it's a great and user-friendly addition to the OS,
though we'd argue that Google could have made this bar a bit larger - the icons are a bit tiny.
It's also nice to finally have the option to set separate wallpapers for the home and lock screens. We know, we too are surprised that this feature debuts just now - Mandella effect, anyone?
While it's not a customization feature in itself, the Settings app now boasts a hamburger menu that allows for an easy and quick navigation throughout its numerous menus.
We can't say this one gets our blood flowing, but it's definitely a useful thing to have, especially given that Google has implemented it so nicely.
See, once you fire up the Settings app, there is no indication that you such a menu even exists. Go into a certain menu, however, and the hamburger icon will immediately pop up in the top left, indicating that you can access a navigation menu by swiping left. Pretty intuitive, if you ask us.
The devil is in the detail (and the small features)
Image: 1 of 4
Apart from all we've discussed so far, Nougat brings a ton of other not so major features that still deserve a mention. Credit where credit is due!
We are particularly happy with Direct Boot, a feature that shortens the boot time when you restart your device. The tiny 'Clear all' button in the app switcher menu is another feature we've been anticipating since Lollipop. Accessibility also got some love - you can now not only change text size, but also manage the appearance of all interface elements, similar to what DPI changing does; you also get to combine a stereo audio stream into a mono one, allowing impaired users to experience media the best way possible.
One also has to love the fact that each menu item in Settings now shows essential information right there on the main Settings page. This, for example, allows you to see how much storage you've got left without even opening the Storage menu, or check your volume level, or even see what time zone you're in. Useful, indeed.
In addition, the new seamless system updates seem like a great news for users. Basically, any upcoming software updates will get downloaded in the background, essentially saving you lots of patient waiting. The user will only need to confirm the update and, voila, the device is updating!
Oh, and how could we forget the 72 new emoji and the multiple locale settings support! These, alongside many other minor features definitely make Nougat a big release that puts emphasis on what matters the most.
Conclusion and expectations: the sad reality
Android has come a long way and Nougat definitely improves on what has been accomplished so far. All the new features and functionalities it introduces are definitely rather important ones and we can't say that any of these is an unnecessary overkill or an overcomplication. Additionally, we are definitely digging that improved notifications system, which feels like the best part of Android Nougat. Performance is, so far, also great. So are the numerous added security features, little customization tweaks thrown in the interface.
All in all, Android Nougat is an excellent release. Permission to get excited granted!
However, there is something that really bothers us. Probably all Nexus users will get Nougat by the end of the month, but this is certainly not true for the majority of Android users. If the past has taught us something, it's that it will take phone manufacturers at least a couple of months to release Android 7.0 to the users of their devices. Some will do this earlier than others and while some may argue that Nougat's new features mostly matter to Nexus users, but it's still sad that Nougat will find its way to the majority of Android devices in a couple of months to a year, or even more. Speedy firmware updates are still a chimera and this does not seem like it's going to change anytime soon.
Regardless, Nexus users have a reason or two to pop the champagne.
This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. You can order presentation-ready copies for distribution to your colleagues, clients or customers at https://www.parsintl.com/phonearena or use the Reprints & Permissions tool that appears at the bottom of each web page. Visit https://www.parsintl.com/ for samples and additional information.