Mobile Technology

Five hidden features that make Android Lollipop worth the upgrade

Five hidden features that make...
Lollipop is currently rolling out to devices
Lollipop is currently rolling out to devices
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New, Android RunTime-compatible apps may take up more space in Lollipop
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New, Android RunTime-compatible apps may take up more space in Lollipop
The new default homescreen on a Nexus 9 running Android 5.0
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The new default homescreen on a Nexus 9 running Android 5.0
Overview replaces the recent apps screen
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Overview replaces the recent apps screen
Android RunTime makes apps run smoother
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Android RunTime makes apps run smoother
Android RunTime enables the many animations found in Lollipop
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Android RunTime enables the many animations found in Lollipop
Android RunTime enables the many animations found in Lollipop
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Android RunTime enables the many animations found in Lollipop
Android RunTime enables the many animations found in Lollipop
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Android RunTime enables the many animations found in Lollipop
Apps can be "pinned" from overview
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Apps can be "pinned" from overview
Pinning an app locks out the rest of a device
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Pinning an app locks out the rest of a device
Battery usage is more easily monitored
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Battery usage is more easily monitored
Lollipop is currently rolling out to devices
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Lollipop is currently rolling out to devices
Screen pinning can be enabled in security settings
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Screen pinning can be enabled in security settings

The latest version of Android is a big upgrade. Android 5.0 Lollipop is here and beginning to make its way to more and more devices as manufacturers and carriers slowly send out updates. You can read more about the latest big-time mobile operating system in our full Android Lollipop review, but you'll also want to read on as we dig a little deeper into a handful of the most compelling new features and upgrades that make the fifth major revision of Android the sweetest yet.

ART makes everything better

That's not Warhol, that's Android RunTime (ART), which is the new run-time environment that completely replaces the old Dalvik VM in Lollipop. Google claims that ART "improves app performance and responsiveness" and is 64-bit compatible.

So far, in our testing on a Nexus 9, ART seems to deliver the goods. Even with Lollipop's focus on animations all the time in Material design, apps run smoothly and with almost no lag, even when moving quickly among multiple running apps in the new overview screen (formerly recent apps, overview is Lollipop's new multitasking center).

There is a minor downside to this official switch to ART though, which is that compatible apps are typically going to take up more storage space. So now you know the real reason that the Nexus 6 starts at 32 GB rather than 16 GB like the Nexus 5.

Android RunTime enables the many animations found in Lollipop
Android RunTime enables the many animations found in Lollipop

Pinning is power for parents

I find that the ability to "pin" a single screen or app – essentially locking a user out of all the phone's other functions temporarily – is the real star in a suite of new security and sharing features.

To pin a screen, you'll first have to turn the feature on in your security settings. Then open the app or screen you want to pin and hit the overview button (better known as "recent apps" in previous Android versions). Drag the app, document or tab (on certain devices, Lollipop will allow you to access individual documents or Chrome tabs from overview) to the middle of the screen and a pin icon will appear in the lower right.

Apps can be "pinned" from overview
Apps can be "pinned" from overview

Tap that pin and you'll be asked to confirm that you want to pin it. Once it's pinned, you can hand your phone to your child, frenemy or whoever without having to worry that they'll go rooting around your personal data, access something inappropriate or mess with your settings. You'll want to be sure to set up a pin or other password to get the most out of pinning, as that's the security layer that actually prevents users from "unpinning" whatever screen they're on.

Beyond acting as a parental control, pinning is also useful for setting up a Nexus 9 or other device as a display or demonstration model, say at a conference or trade show of some sort.

The right to remove bloatware

Lollipop comes with a bit of good news on the down low for those of you who could easily do without NFL Mobile and the many other examples of carrier bloatware that find their way onto Android phones.

If you have a phone that is locked to Verizon's network in the United States, you have probably noticed NFL Mobile: it comes installed on all Verizon phones and there is no easy way to uninstall it. While I personally depend on this app, I understand that many of you could care less about how the Denver Broncos did this week, no matter how blasphemous that may seem to me.

Android RunTime makes apps run smoother
Android RunTime makes apps run smoother

Of course, this is just one example of irritating bloatware that sits unused, taking up valuable storage space on many devices. Carriers have a tendency to include their own messaging, navigation and other apps in the system partition of devices, making them much more difficult to uninstall.

Lollipop attempts to quietly address this by being setup to automatically download carrier software from the Google Play Store whenever it detects that SIM card has been inserted. While this seems like Google doing a favor to carriers, which is surely how it was explained to them, it also means that carrier software should be just as easy to uninstall as any other app downloaded from the Play store.

Better battery use

Back at Google I/O in June, Google introduced something called Project Volta, which is basically a collection of tweaks and best practices for developers designed to make Android and apps run more efficiently, draining less juice out of a device's battery along the way.

Evidence of this effort is visualized for Lollipop users in the form of a new, detailed power usage chart and a battery saver mode that Google says will squeeze an extra ninety minutes or so out of each charge, but there's more going on in the back end with Project Volta, too.

Battery usage is more easily monitored
Battery usage is more easily monitored

Changes in how a device's various pieces of hardware and software work together reportedly gives Lollipop as much as a 36 percent boost in battery life on last generation Nexus devices compared to KitKat.

Apps get full SD card access

You might have noticed starting with Android KitKat that there were some changes to how apps could access different areas of a device's storage, particularly an inserted microSD card. Developers complained about these restrictions, and Google responded in Lollipop by more or less completely opening access to inserted memory cards. This makes it much easier for media-heavy apps to seamlessly store and access photos, video or audio files on a memory card with less hassle.

But perhaps most notably, the change also makes it possible for apps to install themselves entirely on the SD card, which should be a nice way of offsetting the fact that ART-friendly apps now take up more space.

For a deeper dive on the latest version of Android, don't forget to check out our full Lollipop review.

9 comments
somfw
This article seems and reads like a bullet point sales list direct from Google. At first you made it sound like these aspects of lollipop were your discovery and thoroughly tested by you. After reading it, I can see you haven't tested it. Project Volta, is mythical at best. My battery life has decreased by about 35%+ since installing lollipop on my nexus 7 2013. Before installing this dud of an OS I was averaging 9 to 10 hours of screen on time. Now, I am averaging 6 to 7 max. Do the math. Same apps, same usage patterns, same everything. Even a complete factory reset hasn't helped. Similar numbers have been documented by countless others. While almost Nobody has seen an increase. The New battery life page is a joke. Gone, is the simple to see, Total time on. Now you have to look at a graph for the start time, then the device clock and do the math. Or, add the screen on time to the android standby time. Genius! But hey, they include an estimated time left time and a fancy graph for the children who like petty pictures, animations and bright colors. Part of Volta's problem is goggles use of bright white backgrounds nearly every where in the OS. I know reviewers and children are enamored with this part of Material design and talk about it endlessly as if it's the best thing since sliced bread. But seriously, who thought of it and who approved it ! The use of bright white backgrounds with light gray, hard to read text has been a fixation with Google for the last two years and has culminated with lollipop and it's horrible over use of it. The whole SD card, thing is great, but since so few Android phones use them( including goggles own , up until two weeks ago Motorola). It's a moot point. And then there is your skewed take on the ability to remove carrier and OEM bloat. From what I've seen with the ATT nexus 6 , As soon as you install a SIM, which is required for the phone to actually work, they install themselves. Remove the bloat with the SIM removed and they come back when the SIM is replaced again. Maybe this will change but up until now the Bloated ATT nexus 6 and the certain to be Verizon variety are and will remain bloated. I haven't tested the 13 or 14 moto x yet but I'd be willing to bet, the same goes for them.
veecee
You missed the one that sends the Nexus 5 into a never ending restart loop...
Jake Wolford
In reply to 'somfw': I just got the ATT version of the N6, and I was able to uninstall all the ATT apps that loaded themselves onto the device. It was quick and painless. Of course, if you switched SIM cards often I can imagine this being a bigger issue. But, if you're like me and don't need dual-SIM capability, it's not an issue. The only thing ATT really did was add their logo to the back of the phone.
Chad King
Ditto to most of the comments on here. I'm calling Lollipop, Sucker because of what it makes me feel like for installing it on my Nexus4. Now I have to waste time rolling back to KitKat. Oh wait! That's right Sucker won't let me connect to google drive OR recognize a connection to a local PC so I CAN'T back my phone up. What a joke and it would be funny too if I weren't the butt of it. Hence the reason you pay more for Apple products. They work and if they don't, Apple gets in front of it real fast. No more android for me this nightmare killed it for me.
Chizzy
got my lollipop upgrade today on my nexus 7 2013 updating to version 5.0.1
phissith
Reply to Somfw My thought exactly as what the author claimed. The sim will installed apps but the idea is that you can remove them!!
Neha Sharma
They removed my gallery app, and I do not like the photos app :(
DeanEnglish
I sure would like to be able to remove the bloatware which you can't to on a At&t unlocked S4 with a straight talk sim. Nor can you hide the bloatware updates on the play store. I shouldn't have to root my phone then try and find a comprehensable tutorial to be able to do it. Have to say i'm highly disappointed in how android 5.0 was implemented, quicker battery drain or the extensive heat that wasn't there before.