All of the algorithmic geniuses at Google are busy working on Android 7.0 right now, and they’re temporarily calling it “Android N” and showing off a handful of new features for 2016.
The good news is that the Android team at Google has been able to make meaningful changes to your phone and tablet in just five months, and it’s available to test out right now.
Is Android N worth braving through an unfinished, crash-prone version of the operating system? Yes and no. Here’s what I like about Android Developer Preview so far.
1. Multitasking is now a thing on Nexus devices
Switching between recent apps isn’t true multitasking, as much as Google’s concurrent activities tweak to Android 5.0 Lollipop was a step in the right direction.
That’s why I’m excited that Android N lets two apps live side-by-side with true multitasking capabilities. It’s a meaningful enterprise play for Nexus devices, and it’s about time.
I’ve been using similar functionality on my iPad Air 2 with iOS 9 for several months, and LG and Samsung phones and tablets have had their own form of split-screen for years.
Holding down on the recent button in the bottom left corner immediately splits up the screen when I’m in an app, and I can resize the window of certain apps to a degree, but not all.
Google still needs to work out certain aspects of its multitasking mode. Switching between apps in the bottom or in the landscape left window is easy, but I can’t change the app in the top-right window once multitasking has started.
2. Quick settings just got much quicker
It’s funny, one of the smallest additions to Android N is having the biggest impact on my day: the new Quick Settings menu that appears at the top of the notifications shade.
Toggles for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Do Not Disturb, Airplane Mode and Mobile Data now show up with one downward swipe from the top. Before all of those settings were hidden in a second menu.
You can still access more than five settings. There’s a little arrow for others, including Hotspot, Auto-rotate, Flashlight, Cast and Night mode, and a second swipe also works to reveal them all.
What I like most is the fact that the new quick settings row remains unobtrusive. This puts the focus on notifications, whereas LG’s uses large switches that take up almost half the screen.
I’m also really pleased to see that Google is allowing users to re-sort quick settings. Android has always been about your phone and tablet on your terms, and Android N takes this a step further.
For me, Hotspot is now one of the leading five since I can live with Airplane Mode being tucked away in the second menu. I only use it for take offs and landings, but I’m using MiFi for my MacBook Air all of the time when working remotely.
3. Direct Reply without leaving an app
Notifications are more organized, detailed and interactive in Android N, and it makes using the new operating system update a seamless experience in its early days.
Direct Reply has me replying to messages and taking action on other notifications from the little pop up alert. I don’t have to exit what I’m doing to respond to a Hangout within the actual app.
In addition to being able to reply to messages inline, there are actions for apps I’ve been using all day long, including archiving, dismissing and snoozing with a quick tap on the notification.
Apple introduced the very similar Quick Reply with iOS 8, but when it comes to inline messaging on an iPhone, it’s limited it to its iMessages app. Google is opening this up to all developers.
4. Google doubles down on Doze Mode
The biggest complaint I hear about when talking about phones with people is “I like my phone, but the battery life is awful.” That’s why people are clamoring for the easily-swappable LG G5 battery.
Google has its own fix, and it comes in the form of software. I’m calling it Doze Mode 2.0, even if the Android team failed to give it a proper name, and it’s better than the original “sleeper hit.”
Basically, while Doze Mode 1.0 in Android 6.0 Marshmallow put devices into a low power state when stationary, Android N takes that to the next level whenever the display is off.
5. I didn’t have to flash my device
It’s a easier than ever to download and install this Android Developer Preview because it can be downloaded straight to your device without having to flash it or tether it to a PC.
Google made it as straightforward as transitioning to a new system update, and that’s a big deal in the long run. Why? Because it means the beta is going to be more inclusive.
The more people test out Android N, the more feedback Google is able to collect. That should lead to a properly vetted, more feature-inclusive version of Android in about eight months time.
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