Android 7.0 – Nougatie Goodness?
I’ve been aware of the Android development builds – allowing developers to get beta access to new releases of Android before official release, for quite some time. However, as I understood it, it was a case of flashing builds, crossing your fingers, and hoping for the best. I’m sure it was more reliable than that – but I never really felt the urge to give it a try.
However, with the release of Nougat, I became aware of the Android Beta Program. Simply “opt in” any compatible devices that Google have attached to your account, and finito. The next time you attempt an OTA update, it should attempt to download the beta releases.
All of this may seem an odd start to a review of Android 7.0 – but the release was finalised yesterday. By signing up to the beta, you can gain access to the final release of Nougat for the relevant included devices – such as Nexus 6P, Nexus 5X, Nexus 6, Nexus 9, Nexus Player, Pixel C, or General Mobile 4G.
This review is based on the Nexus 9 release of Nougat. I’ve also signed up my Nexus 6P, and my Nexus Player to the program. I imagine the Nexus 6P will be functionally identical to the Nexus 9 – whereas the Nexus Player will no doubt have differences, due to the different form factor.
So what does Nougat bring to the table?
Well – truthfully, not a great deal. Android is a mature OS at this point – with Nougat being the seventh main release since Android 1.5: Cupcake in 2009. It takes Marshmallow, and gives it a thoroughly good polishing though.
And it does (Finally! Officially!) add a fairly significant chunk of functionality – multiple windows. (Terms & conditions apply). As can be seen in the screenshot alongside this, I had Google Music running side by side with Google Books. Don’t hate me for Shania Twain.
It works beautifully well – allowing for adjustment of window-size through the use of a drag-able bar that appears between the two windows.
The down side of this new functionality is that an app must explicitly support this new feature. So if you’re dreaming of a Pokemon Go / Chrome future, you may have to wait a little longer. If an app specifically states it requires full screen, it also likely won’t support this functionality. The easiest way of finding out, is to fire up an app, and perform a long press on the Recent Apps button. If it does, it will move the app to the left, and provide an area on the right to open the second app into. If either app is incompatible, you will see a message informing you.
The one new feature that will delight me (when I finally get to make use of it) is the background updates. Google have been stuck between a rock and a hard place with updates; on the one hand, people complaining that they don’t see Android updates because their device manufacturer won’t release a patch. On the other hand, Nexus devices have been receiving monthly security updates for a while – and it feels like every few days, there’s an update waiting to be installed. That in itself is no bad thing – the problem comes from the 15-30 minutes of down-time while the update installs. You think you’ve picked a quiet time – and then you need to make a phone call. Tough. Sit and wait for it to install.
Google have solved this particular problem by making use of two separate OS partitions – one “in use”, and the other as an update-able backup. As updates are picked up by OTA, the update will install, in the background, to the backup partition. When it’s complete, the updated partition will switch, and the device will boot with the patched OS. It’s a simple and elegant solution to a small but frustrating issue. Hopefully I won’t ever see an “Update is ready to install” message again; time will tell.
Under the hood, there has been some changes to the way that sleep operates. In theory, the deep sleep that was introduced with Marshmallow should apply to even more scenarios, helping our devices to save precious battery charge. In practice, it does feel like it’s holding charge better, but that’s entirely guesstimate, and YMMV.
The one feature missing from Nougat final, that was in the earlier beta builds, is a UI “dark mode”.
Google – please – for the love of all things holy, GIVE US A DARK UI SKIN?
Another small feature, but useful all the same – inline replies. No more do you have to quit out of the app you’re currently using, to reply to that message that just came in. As you can see from the screenshot, it’s a simple process – providing you with a textbox within the notification, and a “Send” button. Simple, but very, very useful.
So… where does that find us? It seems we have a solid evolutionary release. Lollipop was the last real revolution of an update, with Marshmallow sanding off some rough edges. Now, Nougat is here to add a little varnish and deliver a smooth silky finish. There’s nothing here that will really revolutionise the world – except, perhaps, for the multi-window feature. Tablets and phablets shall certainly benefit from this, although Samsung has been offering it on the Galaxy Note for a number of releases, now. At least it’s now baked into Android at the OS level, so everyone can benefit from it.