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First Impressions with Android L Developer Preview

Android L on the Google Nexus 5It’s now been several hours since the release of the Android L Developer Preview Images. Undoubtedly, many of you reading this have already loaded the preview firmware onto your Nexus 5 or Nexus 7 (2013). However, not everyone is lucky enough to own one of these devices–and even if you have an N5 or N7 by your side, you may not be willing to wipe your data in order to flash test images.

In the time since release, we’ve been poking and prodding at the Android L Developer Preview firmware on a Nexus 5 to see how far Google has come with L and where there’s still room for improvement. Head past the break to see our initial impressions.

Material Design

The very first thing you’ll notice when you fire up Android L is its new UI paradigm, Material Design. As we mentioned in our coverage yesterday, this new UI is radically different from anything we’ve seen in Android thus far, and it manifests itself practically everywhere in Android.

From text entry fields to buttons to scrollable lists and the default keyboard, a good deal of the UI has received a much needed facelift with L. There are also animations aplenty. And yes, they all run incredibly smoothly–at least on the Nexus 5. Perhaps the most significant of the UI changes involve the notification shade, settings menu, lock screen, navigation bar, and Recents.

Your lock screen now displays multiple, actionable notifications, which can be expanded with a two-finger drag. In addition, the notification bar and quick settings menu have been merged into a single dropdown. To access the toggles, you now simply pull down a second time. And on the topic of toggles, they now work as one would expect (i.e. tapping a toggle changes your setting rather than dumping you into a particular page in the Settings app).

Unfortunately, several L features that were explicitly mentioned in the Keynote are not present in the developer preview. This includes the highly anticipated tab differentiation feature within the new Recents menu, which would have enabled users to manage tabs directly from their multitasking menu. In addition, there are quite a few UI inconsistencies within the Settings menu, which can be seen below:

On the plus side, the settings menu does look a lot cleaner overall. And to make things easier for new users, there’s even a search button, which can be seen in the screenshots above.

Despite Material Design’s far reaching effects, not every visual change that’s slated for Android L has made its way into the developer preview. For example, the updated Android Design guidelines showed a new documents UI, a new Gallery interface, refreshed inbox and so on. Unfortunately, none of these changes found their way into the developer preview. In fact, Gallery isn’t even present in the Developer Preview, but we’ll go into that later.

In short, all of the UI changes look great. And despite their incomplete status at this time, the overall look has been much improved. That said, we’re certainly looking forward to the rest of what’s in store for Android L’s visual makeover.

Do Not Disturb

Stock Android finally offers DND functionality, and it works quite well. This can be enabled right from your notification bar quick toggles. This is accomplished through the notifications tile, which when tapped takes you to a do not disturb menu that can be enabled indefinitely or for a predefined amount of time.

You can also set exceptions that limit DND’s effect to either calls or messages, as well as make it so that certain groups of contacts are exempt. Finally, you can even configure DND mode to automatically turn on and off at a predefined time–useful for those who work in quiet environments or long for undisturbed sleep.

Screenshot_2014-06-26-17-44-09

Project Volta

Project Volta is here, albeit in somewhat limited form. Google’s looking to improve battery life on Android devices, and Volta is the first real step towards making this happen. Volta is comprised of several new features, namely Battery Saver mode as well as the new Battery Historian UI.

Battery Saver mode works exactly as you would expect. It allows you to reduce device performance and screen brightness when enabled. This has the immediately noticeable effect of reducing the UI’s frame rate, severely limiting animations, and lowering screen brightness.

Battery Saver mode can be configured to automatically turn itself on when you reach a certain battery level–either 5%, 10%, 15%, 20%, or always on. And as you would expect, plugging in your device temporarily disables Battery Saver mode. Unfortunately, however, the Battery Historian UI is not yet available at this time.

Applications

Android L Preview introduces a few changes to the bundled apps–at least on the Nexus 5. Of note, the stock Gallery app has finally been removed in favor of Google+ Photos. You also have an all new dialer, and a reworked calculator.

But on the topic of applications, we also have to mention third party applications. The majority of third party apps should work fine, without a hitch, but there are of course many that don’t. For example, the popular puzzle game Dots doesn’t work on L developer preview, even though it ran perfectly on KitKat (even with ART enabled). Hopefully as we approach L’s formal release, app compatibility will increase.

Easter Egg and Developer Settings

Android wouldn’t exactly be “Android” without an Easter Egg, right? Luckily, even in the Developer Preview, we have an L-themed surprise. And just as before, it can be accessed by spastically pressing your Android version. And for those of you wondering: Yes, you can still get into Developer Settings by tapping the build number seven times in a row.

 

This is the new face of Android, and it sure is beautiful. What are your thoughts on all of Android L’s main changes? Are you a fan of Material Design and all of L’s new features, or are you reserving judgement for when the OS has matured a little more? Have you already tried L on your own device(s)? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

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