Google is gearing up to unleash its next major Android update on the world, we are not keen to wait for that long for the release. That’s why we’ve been putting the dev preview through its paces, and now that the more stable beta version has rolled out for everyone, there’s never been a better time to see what’s new and how it stacks up against Marshmallow.
There’s plenty of under-the-hood additions, new features and little tweaks your get your head around, not to mention a big push for better virtual reality. Here’s the lowdown on what to expect when Android N arrives.
Split screen is probably the biggest new addition, letting you run two apps side-by-side for the first time on vanilla Android.
Sure, Samsung got there first with Touchwiz, and Apple’s got it on iOS, but it’s great that Google has finally caught up – and even overtaken Apple in some ways. It works on smartphones as well as tablets, and in portrait and landscape modes, just by dragging apps to the far side of the screen from the Recents menu.
It was pretty buggy in the early dev previews, and while it’s not quite so flakey now, it still won’t work with certain apps. You can at least slide the split up and down to give one app more screen space, something that was missing in older builds.
The Recents button is also now called Overview, as you can now tap it to toggle between all your open apps. A bar at the top of the screen ticks down over two seconds, then maximises whichever app you’ve currently got selected. It only shows the last 7 apps used now, with the others closing automatically.
The Overview icon turns into a split screen icon when you’ve got two apps open at once. A long press on the icon opens the current app in Split screen view, and a second long press brings it back to full screen again.
DOZED AND CONFUSED
Doze turned up in Android Marshmallow, saving your precious battery by deactivating apps and features when you weren’t using your phone. It’s been improved for N, so it works when you’re on the move as well.
Now, Doze kicks in whenever the screen is switched off – not just when it’s off and the phone is sat still, like it would be at night. Google’s added a few more restrictions that developers can add to their apps, too, so Doze should be even more effective than it was in Marshmallow.
Android N doesn’t just save your battery, either; it’ll save your data allowance too. A new data saver toggle reduces the amount of data your apps use, and can signal them to use less data “wherever possible”.
You can select specific apps to run in the background even with this mode enabled, potentially so you don’t miss out on Instagram likes or Snapchat stories when you’re out and about.
KEY TO THE CITY
The stock keyboard has been given a shake-up, with a one-handed mode, quick access bar for those all-important emojis, new cursor gestures, and (finally) the option to grow or shrink the keyboard. Perfect for anyone with podgy fingers.
You can add a splash of colour with 13 preset themes, but there’s no colour palette to make your own choices. You can drop a custom photo on the background though, so there’s still plenty of options when it comes to customising it.
Google’s added Unicode 9 support too, which means a whole lot more emoji to play with. Human emoji should look, well, more human now, with varying skin tones so no-one gets left out.
NOTIFICATION OF INTENT
Notifications on Android were a bit of a mess, but they are finally taking shape in Android N. The whole notification centre has been given an overhaul, with more room to squeeze extra quick settings icons onto the screen.
The five most-used icons appear at the top of the notification drawer, leaving most of the screen free for app notifications, but another swipe downwards brings up the whole list. You can drag and drop icons around to rearrange them, or hide them from view completely.
Notifications now fill the whole width of the screen, and each app bundles its notifications together under one card. You can reply to them from anywhere, too – these actionable notifications work system-wide.
It’s slick, and a long overdue change.
BEST OF THE REST
Google’s made lots of behind-the-scenes changes too. It’s had a graphics upgrade with better OpenGL support, which should mean even better looking games, and Direct Boot should mean your phone is even faster to switch on in the morning.
The System Settings menu has been given a fresh lick of paint. A menu now appears on every screen, letting you quickly jump between settings pages without going back to the main screen every time.
Finally, Android N should let you kiss nuisance calls goodbye. It’s got a built-in number blocker that applies to the default messages app, phone app and any third-party apps that add support for the blocked number list.
Blocked numbers can be transferred between phones and resets with the Backup & Reset feature too, so you don’t have to worry about anything slipping through the net when it’s time to upgrade.
ANDROID N EARLY VERDICT
Android has been getting better and better with each new release, and Android N looks set to keep that pattern going when it turns up later in the year.
All of Google’s tiny tweaks add up to make the whole OS much slicker, with notifications that are actually useful and battery-saving tech that should keep you going for longer between charges.
We won’t know whether the big focus on virtual reality pays off until Daydream-ready phones start shipping, but otherwise it looks like Android fans are on to a winner when the update arrives for their phones.
Can’t wait for the official release? Here’s how to install the Android N beta right now.