Five hidden features that make Android Lollipop worth the upgrade
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.