[Oliver Price | Contributing Writer]
The 13th of November was a big moment for phone nerds like me. After what seemed like a delay that spanned a new Ice Age (it was about 2 weeks), Google finally rolled out Android 5.0 Lollipop to their Nexus 5 phone.
Android Lollipop is the latest pudding themed release of Android from Google; these delicious names started in April 2009 with Android 1.5 Cupcake (beforehand only numbers were used). Android Cupcake introduced support third party virtual keyboards, homescreen widgets, and a copy and paste feature. Copy and paste seems so basic, that it seems like it should have existed on smartphones since forever, but the fact that this all happened just five years ago, and the amount of progress that has happened since then is, in my humble opinion, a testament to the greatness and speed in the advancement of technology. Other version names of Android, in order, are: 1.5 Donut, 2.0 Eclair, 2.2 Froyo, 2.3 Gingerbread, 3.0 Honeycomb (which was released solely for tablets), 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, 4.1 Jellybean, 4.4 KitKat, and now 5.0 Lollipop. Since Cupcake, Android has rocketed from 3.9% of the mobile operating system market share to a massive 84.7% in Q2 2014.
Android Lollipop introduces a radical new design language called Material Design; this is a change from the flat futurism of Holo, which has existed since Ice Cream Sandwich, to a blend of flatness and layered skeuomorphism. Material Design takes its inspiration from paper; Google wants everything on your phone to come from somewhere, and have a sense of purpose and belonging with the rest of the system. An example of this is in the new stock calculator app; you know where the advanced panel is coming from, you can see that it slides out like a new sheet of paper above the background, creating a shadow beneath it.
What it looks like in a picture is only half the story though. Lollipop is chock-full of animation. It shows something coming from somewhere, expanding from somewhere else. Nothing ever just appears, everything has a purpose.
Unfortunately, there has been a problem with consistency in Google’s updates to its own apps. For example, Google’s Hangouts messaging service has yet to be updated to Material Design but still sports a very Holo-esque look. It may not seem like a lot, but it sends a message that Google doesn’t have coherency in its design and in its organisation. There’s also the strange removal of the silent setting, leaving only vibrate and priority, which silences everything except important messages.
Everyone loves biometrics, from Apple’s TouchID to futuristic retina scanners; Lollipop refines the facial unlock features that were introduced in Ice Cream Sandwich. In older versions of Android you could set your phone to recognise your face, but the implementation was incredibly clunky (left, Jellybean). Upon the lockscreen appeared a big square box to fill your face, which will immediately unlock the phone if it recognises you, whereas with the revamped smart unlock (right, Lollipop) feature there is no big unwieldy box and your phone will not instantly unlock, but give you permission to unlock your phone without a password input. Obviously, face unlock is not the most secure feature in the world, as it can be broken by downloading your profile picture off Facebook (sorry, Google+), but it will stop your friends from texting your mum, “I’m pregnant.”
For Digital Assistant fans, Google Now remains as integral part to the Android experience, with a a few improvements here and there. The main modification is that you can now say “Okay Google,” on any screen, including the lock screen, to activate voice commands, such as “Remind me to write an article on Android Lollipop when I get home,” or, “How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?”. This allows for a much more hands free and versatile interaction with your phones features.
Android Lollipop shipped with Project Volta, Google’s attempt to squeeze as much longevity out of your phone as possible; and as someone with a Nexus 5 which only has a 2,300 mAh battery in it, this is a godsend. I’ve only had Lollipop for a couple of days, but I reckon that I’ve been able to cram an extra fifteen to thirty minutes or so of screen-on time from my phone. Not life changing, but incredibly useful for getting more time to browse cat pictures on the internet. Another battery change is the introduction of a battery saving mode into stock android, this slows down your processor speed and disables anything not necessary to keep the phone running, such as fancy animations; I’ve set power saving mode to automatically enable when the battery reaches 15%, and I’ve managed to stretch that 15% for around another 30-odd minutes of screen-on time. I imagine this will help people on long walks who get lost… or those who want to order pizza at 3 in the morning.
Perhaps my favourite feature of Lollipop is the included Easter Egg, a ridiculously hard Flappy Bird clone (when I say ridiculously hard, I mean it, with a top score of four) featuring the little green android flying between lollipop sticks. If you want to access it, go to settings, click on about phone, and repeatedly click on Android Version- 5.0.
If you are wondering when your phone or tablet will get Android 5.0 Lollipop: if you have a Nexus device the rollout has already started so you should get the update within a couple of weeks; if you have a Moto X or Moto G, then you should be waiting a similar amount of time. HTC have promised to update their HTC One devices within 90 days of getting the code from Google; Sony have promised to deliver Lollipop to their entire line of Xperia devices, but have yet to give a date; if you have a Samsung Galaxy S5 or Note 4 then you should pencil in December 2014 / January 2015 for the update, but if you have an older Samsung device, then don’t hold your breath.
Android Lollipop has got off to a promising start, despite a few bugs and inconsistencies, the design is absolutely beautiful and a radical and positive move forwards from the previous versions of android. Several new features have been added with varying degrees of success, but undoubtedly, those with less success will be abandoned or improved, and those that have captured the imagination of android users will get a lot of focus. It’s now down to networks and phone companies to update their phones and tablets with their interpretations of Lollipop.