Lollipop – sweet or not sweet, that is the question

Android 5.0 Lollipop
Android 5.0 Lollipop.
Photo credit: Google blog.

One of the things I really love about a Nexus device is that you get software updates straight from Google, without having to worry about the manufacturer/service provider delaying, or worse, blocking them. I usually still have to wait a week or so before my Nexus 5 receives the OTA though, so I was pleasantly surprised to receive the OTA for Android 5.0 Lollipop just 3 days after Google started rolling it out (:

Over the past 2 weeks, a lot of people have asked me how I feel about this new OS. So finally, after completing my last paper of my NUS life (yay?), here are my thoughts on it (: Do note that this post is non technical and will be purely on what I like and dislike about the stock version of Lollipop (as compared to the stock version of KitKat), which means those features which I did not/do not use are not covered here. If you’re interested to find out more about the features I didn’t mention (some are really quite awesome, like Smart Lock) and what other people think of them, there’s always Google :P

TL;DR version here.

The sweet stuff

Lollipop Easter egg!

Haha as with every new Android OS I use, the first thing I do is go play with the Easter Egg! As most of you probably already know, Lollipop’s Easter egg is a Flappy Bird clone, which, BTW, I think is a brilliant nod of acknowledgement to Flappy Bird’s dev, Dong Nguyen. What most of you probably don’t know, is that this stupid Flappy Android game is IMPOSSIBLY DIFFICULT because the jump height of the Android is almost equal to the height of the gap between the lollipops ):< Haha but it’s the most interactive Easter egg so far, and… addictive :P To access it, go to Settings > About phone > Android version (keep poking it) > huge lollipop image (long press this; poking it will change its colour) > Flappy Bird clone.

Lollipop Easter egg Lollipop Easter egg
Lollipop Easter egg. My best score on the Flappy Bird clone is only 5 T.T

Material design

I’m referring to the visuals of material design here, i.e. the UI and animations only. Aannnddd. Omgosh it’s SO PRETTY!!! This was the thing which I was most excited about and I’m completely in love with how it looks ♥♥♥ Especially the keyboard, which I’ve actually been using since the Android L preview came out hahaha :P the KitKat one is hideous compared to this beautiful one! Other small details which I’m loving include how the background of the clock app changes colour from blue to black depending on the time of day, and the redesigned font Roboto, which is less skinny and now has rounded dots (yes I notice these sort of things). The animations are gorgeous as well, though I find that they make transitions significantly slower. BUT it’s pretty enough (and ok, it’s only a few milliseconds slower) that I’m not changing the animation speed.

If you do want to turn off or adjust the animation speed, however, you can do so under Settings > Developer options > Window animation scale / Transition animation scale / Animator duration scale. Also, those interested to find out more about material design can check out its specifications, which I found to be quite an easy read.

Tap/long press animation
The animation you get when you tap/long press a button in Lollipop.

Quick settings

The majority of my happiness with the new quick settings can be summed up in 2 words: AUTO-ROTATE TOGGLE! I’m soooo glad this is on phones instead of just tablets. I use this option a lot, so it’s really nice to finally be able to toggle it without having to switch away from the current app I’m in. Remember to enable Auto-rotate screen under Settings > Accessibility first though! I also like how I can adjust the brightness level (more on this later) directly from here.

Another nice touch is the flashlight toggle, so you no longer have to download a separate flashlight app for stock Android. Though it doesn’t really affect me much, since I just use my favourite Google Now add on app, Commandr, and say (or type, but saying it is easier) “Ok Google, turn on flashlight” :D The only thing which I find slightly annoying is that you now have to swipe up / press the back button twice, instead of once, in order to exit quick settings.

Quick settings
Quick settings. The exclamation marks at the Wi-Fi and data icons show that I’ve no internet connection cos Singtel is being retarded again.

Battery saver

This is a super useful feature that extends the battery life by quite a fair bit. A prompt with the option to turn this mode on is shown when the battery is low (18%) / very low (5%), and it turns off automatically when you charge your phone. I tested it out by turning it on at 18%, surfing a bit before going to sleep, and my gosh, the next morning when I woke up it still had 14% left?!! Pretty impressive, especially since Nexus devices aren’t known for their battery life. Of course, if you’re using your phone the entire time it won’t last that long, but Google states that it should extend battery life by another 90 min on normal usage.

Battery saver
Check out those reddish orange status and nav bars when battery saver mode is on! Ugly border around this image because most of it is white ):

You can turn the battery saver mode on manually by going to Settings > Battery > menu (the 3 dots on the top right) > Battery saver if you want. BUT I wouldn’t suggest doing so unless you really need that extra battery life, as it makes the UX quite terrible. No animations, no vibrations, and that jarring reddish orange status and nav bars, to name a few.

Oh and special mention to the new battery estimates which tell you how long more your battery can last / will take to charge. I’ve found this to be quite accurate as long as you keep your current usage constant, i.e. don’t go from just chatting on Hangouts to playing a processor intensive game and expect the estimate to be accurate.

Battery estimates Battery estimates
Battery estimates for time left till the phone dies / is fully charged.

Adaptive brightness

This is like auto brightness with limits and I think it’s awesome. With adaptive brightness on, it auto adjusts your screen brightness within a fixed range depending on the level of brightness you chose. For example, I like to leave my brightness level at 0%, so with adaptive brightness, my screen brightness changes from 0% to 30% (random number, I don’t actually know the exact range) depending on the ambient light. I do still have to adjust my brightness levels occasionally when I’m under direct sunlight, but in general I find adaptive brightness to be a lot more accurate (especially with indoor lighting) and responsive as compared to auto-brightness. Totally loving this feature! :D

Non-intrusive incoming calls

You know how annoying it is when somebody calls you while you’re using your phone and are not free to answer it, but yet don’t want to appear rude by rejecting the call (or maybe you’re just avoiding somebody)? In KitKat, your only option was to wait until the person gave up, as incoming calls took up the entire screen. In Lollipop, incoming calls appear as a heads-up notification when you are using your phone, giving you the option to continue what you’re doing without accepting or rejecting the call! I don’t find myself needing this often, but it’s definitely a good to have feature.

Incoming call as a heads-up notification
Incoming call as a much less intrusive heads-up notification.

Calendar events

The new calendar app has extremely pretty events (as you might already be able to tell, I’m a sucker for pretty design haha)! Each month has a different themed “header” image which has parallax scrolling for the text – December’s one is a ski slope. The design of the calendar events are more readable compared to the old one, and I love how minimalistic it is. Another nice design feature is that when you create an event, Google automatically shows an image for it, depending on its location / name. Also, most of the event creation fields now have dynamic suggestions which appear as you type. I’ve also noticed that there’s some machine learning algo here – the more I use it, the more accurate these suggestions get.

Schedule view Individual event
Schedule view and an individual event.

Another awesome thing is that this new calendar app seems to have taken a leaf out of Google Now, i.e. it’s now really smart. It grabs information of important events – like my upcoming overseas trip – from your email and automatically creates an event in your calendar, complete with all the flight details! Love it :D

The not so sweet

PlayStation-esque navigation buttons

Why, Google, why?!! This is the only visual aspect of material design which I don’t like. Yes, the triangle (back), circle (home), and square (recent apps) buttons do give a cleaner overall appearance, but they really look like they got ripped off wholesale from the PlayStation controller keys. Seriously?

Lack of control for heads-up notifications

This feels like an incomplete feature. There is totally no control over this on the user’s side; whether or not a notification gets a heads-up card depends on the notification priority set by the app developer. Which means it’s very prone to abuse. A prime example would be how Facebook messenger sets its notifications to max priority, which is absolutely ridiculous because they already have chat heads! And if you put the chat heads at the top of your screen, the heads-up notification ends up blocking it. GENIUS. Also, if you swipe the heads-up notification away, it disappears from the status bar as well, which is super annoying because I either have to let it continue blocking my content while waiting for it to disappear, or swipe it away and risk forgetting to address it later ):<

Heads-up notification
Heads-up notification and chat heads. Ridiculous design.

If done properly, this will be a very useful feature. While on KitKat, I was using Heads Up! – notifications, which gave me complete control over my heads-up notifications. Aside from being able to choose which apps get the heads-up notification privilege, I could also adjust stuff like how long it stays on screen, which part of the screen it appears at, and other filtering options. And I loved it, even though it didn’t look that pretty.

Recent apps

Previously, the cards in recent apps were separate and laid apart. Now, they are stacked on top of each other, like a vertical wheel for lack of a better description, meaning I can see much less at a glance. To make things worse, viewing it in landscape rotates the entire damn wheel thingy so it becomes even more squished. Also, I can no longer exit the recent apps screen by tapping on the blank space outside the recent app previews, even when I’ve no recent apps to show. I have to either press the recent apps button again, or the back button, and I do not like this. It goes against the design affordance of exiting an overlay by clicking / tapping outside of it and makes me feel like strangling somebody. And then there’s that bug which causes previously closed cards to mysteriously reappear.

Recent apps in landscape mode
Recent apps in landscape mode, with Search taking up multiple cards. Look at all that waste space at the sides.

Another thing which I don’t like is how it splits some apps into multiple screens. I noticed that this seems to only be the case for Google apps – when I open a document in Drive, recent apps shows 2 cards, one of Drive and one of my document; when I open the same document in Dropbox, recent apps only shows me 1 Dropbox card with a preview of my document. While splitting up the Google apps into their different “steps” is nice in way, all these quickly add up and turn recent apps into a huge mess. This was a nightmare when my individual Chrome tabs were separate cards – I tend to have >30 tabs at any one time. Thank goodness you can disable the Chrome one though: Chrome > Settings > Merge tabs and apps.

Recent apps
Recent apps in portrait mode. Imagine having to scroll through this stack ugh.

Clear all notifications button

The designer who thought it was a good idea to shift the clear all notifications button in the notifications tray from the top right to the bottom right ought to get whacked. If you have 1 or 2 notifications only, fine. If you have a lot of notifications, the bottom notifications get stacked under the top ones and you have to scroll to the bottom of it to find the clear all notifications button, instead of having it fixed to the top -.- Also, because I’ve enabled lock screen notifications, I now have to unlock my phone before I can pull down the notification tray, scroll all the way down, and clear all my notifications. That, or clearing everything one by one. *sighs* I really miss being able to clear everything with just 1 tap.

Notifications on lock screen Notifications tray
Notifications on the lock screen and notifications tray. Notice how you don’t see the clear all notifications button.

Gallery is gone

Now there’s only the Photos app, and I am sad. Even though I used both Photos (for auto backup, auto awesome, Stories, editing tools, and search) and Gallery app almost equally, I really liked the Gallery app for the way it organised my pictures into folders ): I did find a workaround-of-sorts in Photos – main menu (the 3 lines on the top left) > On device – but again, lots of scrolling required to view all your folders. Yes, I know I can just use another picture management app like QuickPic (which is actually pretty good), but for now I’ll just stick with Photos.

On device view in Photos
On device view in the now default Photos app.

Month view in the calendar app

I know I’ve said that the new calendar app is really pretty, and that includes the month view. BUT, practically, I prefer the month view in KitKat, because 1. it’s the default view and I don’t have to make an additional tap to see it, 2. it actually shows you your events in terms of when and how long they are (imagine the day is 1 long bar, and different parts of it are coloured to show different events), and 3. they are colour coded. The absence of these make it difficult for me to see how busy I am at a glance, and if I’ve events on everyday, my whole calendar is just full of circles -.-

Month view
Pretty, but… meh.

My verdict

Given a choice, would I have updated to Lollipop? It’s still a yes haha. Lollipop is a pretty big update for Android, so I don’t expect Google to get everything right straight away. I must admit I was slightly disappointed though, not the least because some apps *coughFacebookMessengercough* seem rather buggy. That said, material design is really quite awesome and pretty!

For those of you who haven’t updated to Lollipop yet, you might want to wait a bit as Google irons out all the problems. On the other hand, if you really want Lollipop, have a Nexus device but have yet to receive the OTA, you can download the factory images and install it manually at your own risk. Here’s a comprehensive step by step guide on how to do so.

So, what do you guys think? Is Lollipop sweet or not sweet, and will you upgrade or wait if you don’t already have it? Let me know in the comments or drop me an email if you’re feeling shy! (:

TL;DR

Sweet:

  • Lollipop Easter egg
  • Material design (THIS IS AWESOME)
  • Quick settings
  • Battery saver
  • Adaptive brightness
  • Non-intrusive incoming calls
  • Calendar events

Not so sweet:

  • PlayStation-esque navigation buttons
  • Lack of control for heads-up notifications
  • Recent apps
  • Clear all notifications button
  • Gallery is gone
  • Month view in calendar

Sweet enough for me (: Step by step guide on how to manually install Lollipop here.

♥ sarrie

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One thought on “Lollipop – sweet or not sweet, that is the question

  1. Pingback: Lollipop 5 overview / recent apps in landscape listed top to bottom? Put apps list down low to keyboard height like KitKat 4 cover flow recent apps | DL-UAT

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