The beauty of owning a Nexus product is the ability to stay up to date with updates to the OS and even preview the future. The past week, I’ve been tasking the M desert Google will announce this fall — Android M, that is. Google has named each update to the Android operating system after a desert in alphabetical order. Fall 2014, Google debuted Android 5.0, Lollipop. M is the next letter in the naming scheme, but Google hasn’t revealed the official name yet, as they shouldn’t. Doing so early could taint search results with bugs and inaccurate information ahead of launch. There’s speculation that Android M might be called Marshmallow or Milkshake and there was a report I read claiming internally, Android M is being referred to as Macadamia Nut Cookie. Time will tell what the true name will be.
Though I’ve had a change to play with the new version of Android, I have not had time to thoroughly test specific aspects or perform a series of proper tests. This is merely a first impression, informal review of my experience running it on the Nexus 6. Surprisingly, though, Android M is stable enough to use as my main phone operating system without much worry.
First of all, Android M is fast. Noticeably faster than Lollipop while encrypted. I’m not referring to any benchmarks or anything I can put a number on – I haven’t tested that. I’m referring to the user experience. Animations and response is snappier than Lollipop. Accessing apps after rebooting the phone is faster too. Previous to M, it took a a minute or two for the OS to load and settle before any apps would display in the app drawer or any icons would respond. Now, a blocky, low-resolution-looking icon of each app loads in the app drawer initially after boot and eventually getting replaced by the proper icon once things finish booting.
There were many new features Google announced with Android M, too many for me to cover confidently right now, but a few stood out to me worth noting. First is how “Interruptions” has been changed to “Do Not Disturb” and been made more powerful. Android Lollipop took away “Silent Mode” in favor if “Interruptions.” Interruptions was an archaic method of programming your silent mode and it just confused users more than it helped. The notification icon was also confusing when active — a star would display with no indication this is related to silencing your phone with the exception of priority notifications. With Do Not Disturb, the user is given more control over when and what is silenced and access is available from the quick toggles in the notification panel. The icon for Do Not Disturb is also a more familiar icon, resembling a do not enter or similar street sign. The icon even accompanies the Do Not Disturb button in the Quick Toggles panel. It’s a lot harder for users to get confused by this tool, and the new customization options are a welcome addition too.
Hidden in the developer settings is a theme engine. This can be set to a light, dark, or automatic theme setting. The light theme resembles what everyone is familiar with in Lollipop – mostly white and colorful user interface throughout Android. I chose to use the dark theme, which is much less colorful and, I feel, easier on the eyes — especially at night. Automatic allows Android to change between the light and dark themes based on the time of day. I haven’t tried this, but it’s an interesting feature regardless. Other blogs and forums claim that the theme engine Sony developed for the Android Open Source Project (AOSP) is in use here and existing themes will work on Android M, though I haven’t tried this yet.
If you’re one that uses the WiFi hotspot, it may interest you to learn that you can now decide whether or not to use your hotspot on the 2.4 Ghz or 5.0 Ghz band. Previously, it only worked on the 2.4 Ghz band. The 2.4 Ghz band is widely used by existing technology and has been for years. It’s not only used by WiFi, but also wireless landline phones, baby monitors, and a slew of other radio-based technology. This means network congestion. Using the 5 Ghz band means less interference from other radio devices using the airwaves, potentially a faster connection and more reliable if you are in a congested area, but shorter range indoors.
Lastly, a hidden feature worth sharing is the multi-window support only accessible if you modify a file with root access. It appears that Google has been baking the ability for multiple apps to be on the screen at once much like a PC can for quite some time. There was evidence that it existed in Android KitKat and now it’s functional in Android M, but lacks the polish Apple demonstrated with the same feature earlier this week. On phones, Android M can let you display 2 apps side by side (landscape) or stacked (portrait). On a tablet, up to 4 apps can be displayed.
While my experience with Android M has been mostly positive, it doesn’t come without bugs. I haven’t noticed many, but the ones I noticed aren’t small by any means. The first bug I noticed was related to the built-in alarm clock. I use my phone as an alarm clock daily and rely on it. I also have a 3-month old that I get up to take care of periodically in the night/morning. While my alarm never failed to sound, it did fail to dismiss it early every time. Android Lollipop (or KitKat?) introduced an option to dismiss alarms early from the notifications. It’s very convenient. But I noticed that Android M kept displaying this notification every few minutes after dismissing the alarm. Even after dismissing the alarm early 1 minute before the alarm was actually supposed to go off, it still sounded. I had to turn to a third-party alarm clock app as a result.
I had also just gotten my first Android Wear device, which was after installing Android M on my phone. I’ll say that for 70% of the time, my LG G Watch R works great with Android M. But about half of the time I stream music from Google Play Music, the Android Wear app constantly force closes. I also experienced the same problem while on a phone call. Restarting the phone resolved the issue for a while, but it’s a workaround I have had to do regularly so far.
Lastly, I have been having difficulty connecting my Nexus 6 to a PC via USB. Screenshots of Google M around the web indicate that Google is returning to the method of selecting how Android connects to devices. In the early days of Android, you chose this from the notification panel. In Android M, I have to manually choose this in the developer settings. It’s not difficult, but an inconvenience. I did install a third-party kernel and suspect that might have something to do with this problem, but I will still need to test this.
While Android M has a few bugs, it’s surprisingly stable for being a preview. If the few bugs I mentioned aren’t something that will bother you in day to day activities, then Android M will treat you well. Do note that some apps do not properly run on Android M. I haven’t encountered any yet, but people are keeping a list in various online forums and blogs.