Android M Developer Preview: Features and Review

During Google I/O 2014, Google released the Android L Developer Review to the community so as to allow developers to test their apps on the new Android version. Android L was later released as Android Lollipop to the mass public. In Google I/O this year, Google similarly released the next version of Android Developer Preview – Android M – to the community. I have been testing it out for the past week. Let’ see how the next version of Android is shaping up.

androidm-lockscreen

Android M, at the moment, feels less like a dramatic leap and more like a necessary upgrade.

Past versions of Android – Gingerbread to Ice Cream Sandwich, Jelly Bean to KitKat, even KitKat to Lollipop – all marked major improvements in interface and functionality. Lollipop to Android M, however, feels more like an upgrade to Lollipop than the next big step forward. For the most part, if you’re used to using stock Android, running Android M won’t seem very different at all, especially coming from Lollipop. Most things still function the same as always, your favorite Android apps don’t tend to lose compatibility with future versions of Android, and so on.

M does have a multitude of changes, however, and we’ll start by covering the most apparent ones.

androidm-appdrawer

The app drawer has been revamped from the traditional Android side-scrolling. Now, you scroll up and down to find your apps, with your four most used apps at the top of the screen just under a search bar for your apps, akin to the Start Menu in Windows. Interface overhauls like this are mostly a matter of opinion, but for me, I find vertical scrolling much more inconvenient than before, and prefer swiping between different screens of apps in alphabetical order. Finding the exact app I want requires slightly more time and effort, and for a smartphone, I feel like the user experience should be more inclined toward making it easier. For the final version of Android M, I rather hope that they add an option to switch back to the old app drawer for stubborn conservatives like myself who prefer to keep our UI consistent.

androidm-themecustomization

This is yet another area where Android M feels more like an iteration on Lollipop than a true evolution. While the Developer options in Settings offers theme customization (something I hope is expanded upon beyond simple Light and Dark themes), for the most part, Android M’s aesthetics are all traditional Android and Lollipop fare. Unlike in Lollipop, there is no major design overhaul in Google’s apps. Material Design is still the next big step, and it remains present in Google Now and other Google apps.

androidm-materialdesign

Material Design is already pretty solid, so I doubt there will be major changes to it. Any changes to be made to it in the future will likely be very minor.

androidm-appinfo

Part of Android M’s feature set is improved battery management which is most noticeable whenever you put your phone into sleep mode or leave certain applications idle for long periods of time. This shouldn’t be very problematic to most users, but if you happen to use certain legacy applications – such as IM clients that are supposed to always be open and online – you may find yourself bumping into some strange issues. These new battery features result in some strange power-saving attempts, and I feel it may be the reason behind the issue in the image you’re about to see.

androidm-apppixellated

Do you notice how some of those app icons are extremely pixelated in comparison to the rest? I’ve never encountered this issue on previous versions of Android, so if I had to guess the reason behind it, it would be intended to reduce the performance required to keep the home screen and app drawers constantly rendered. The new battery-saving features, I would estimate, extended my phone’s battery life by about two hours, which was very nice considering the battery life issues I had previously.

New to Android M’s App Settings are a multitude of features – notification priority, application permissions and battery optimizations. These battery optimizations may cause issues with older, legacy applications. To fix that, go to “Battery” and disable battery optimization. This will make that single app consume more power than it would otherwise, however. For the most part, the battery optimizations should come across as a very welcome change, and once the little bugs I mentioned are ironed out (likely by the official release), it’ll mark a great step forward for battery life on Android phones.

Aside from that, application permissions are perhaps the most major feature addition to Android M. This means apps like Facebook that want to access and control almost everything on your phone.

androidm-apppermissions

Fortunately for you this behavior can be controlled now. So if you don’t trust an app’s set of requested permissions, all you need to do is hop over to Settings and disable the features you don’t want the app to use. It’s important to note that this may cause issues in some apps, especially if you attempt to use features relying on permissions you disabled. For privacy advocates, this should come across as a very welcome change.

As far as hot new apps to take advantage of Android M’s new APIs … those aren’t here yet, so I can’t comment on them. Those likely won’t come along until Android M’s proper release, so until then you’ll be using the same – but still perfectly solid – apps and features you’ve been using with Android in the past.

Android M Developer Preview feels a lot like Lollipop 2.0. Lollipop was meant to improve battery life but was plagued with memory leaks and battery drain that have since disappeared from Android M. Material design is still as nice as always, and we may see advanced theme customization by the time of the proper release.

Even in its early state, Android M already feels like what Lollipop was meant to be, with Material Design back in full force, various battery life optimizations and bug fixes. The new features are quite promising – controlling application permissions and notification priority are wonderful features for power users, adding capabilities previously only possible with rooted devices and custom ROMs.

I had my minor irks, such as with the App Drawer, but Android M will likely be a very hot choice once it’s finally completed and released. I look forward to using the final version of Android M.

Until then, the Developer Preview doesn’t offer many major improvements and feels more like a single step forward than a true revolution.