Marshmallow Is What Lollipop Should Have Been, but XDA Made Lollipop Better
It’s been around two weeks since I began testing the Nexus 5X for an upcoming review, and while writing the section on software, I couldn’t help but feel that it wouldn’t be able to cover some of the more subjective thoughts I have on Marshmallow.
Therefore, I want to let those thoughts out in an editorial, rather than taint the review with clear subjectivity that not everyone might agree with. The Nexus 5X’s Marshmallow is, so far, the only version of Android 6.0 that I have been able to try out. Considering it’s a Nexus, though, I think it’s a pure-enough version to extrapolate my thoughts on more general terms. It has been a while since Google I/O, but those following us back then might recall some slight disappointment from my part. The reason back then was the fact that Google had emphasized too many Google features during their keynote, but not enough Android ones for my taste. Now it’s important to clarify the distinction: Android features are those built into Android and which are independent of Google features, which rely on Google Services.
We had discussed before how Google was seemingly putting less attention onto the core Android OS, and a bigger focus in their own proprietary services. This is not inherently bad, but I also feel that Marshmallow’s emphasis, and its execution, leave a lot to be desired, and I’d argue that the actual Android (not Google) UX improvements not strong enough to make a substantial difference for power-user use-cases. (assuming said power user would have gone out of his way to optimize and customize).
My first few days with Marshmallow had me try out all the smaller additions thrown in there. I quickly got used to the Nexus 5X and its software, which I find easy and comfortable to use in most instances. Some (very) small bugs and somewhat (inconsistent) performance issues aside, Marshmallow on the 5X is compelling and the user experience it provides is one of the cleanest I’ve found.
Yet my gripe with the update does not come when considering the polish and refinement the OS overtook — that’s clearly a step forward. It comes when I realize that, albeit sleeker and cleaner, the core experience has not changed much from my time with Lollipop on my older Nexus 5. And for a while I was searching for an answer as to why, only to find it in my other phones.
Marshmallow is everything Lollipop should have been, but XDA is future-ready
I want to state that I was always a skeptic of Google Now on Tap, and that while I recognized its potential, I also didn’t think Google would truly pull it off. And in almost every instance I’ve used it, Google Now on Tap has not been very helpful, and certainly not as revolutionary as Google intended and/or promoted it to be. So far, Google Now on Tap has returned results that just aren’t very relevant or useful to me, and I feel that I can get precisely what I want in just a few taps for a few extra seconds. It simply isn’t there for me yet, nor for some of the people I know and discussed this with.
Leaving that “killer feature” aside, and ignoring the other Google bits, Marshmallow is everything Lollipop should have been — and that’s great. But I do believe that is not enough, because Marshmallow has not truly improved my user experience during actual usage, and because it feels like an overdue polishing at a time where the competition is radically improving in software and hardware. The Nexus 5X doesn’t feel much faster than my Nexus 5 did, and certainly not faster than many other phones around my house (although these are matters of hardware as well). I am almost certain that this is because of forced encryption, and the NAND speeds on the Nexus 5X leave a lot to be desired. The battery life while on idle on the Nexus 5X is amazing – when Doze works, it really works – but I still end up draining the phone earlier than I’d like to, and earlier than any other phone in my house, and Doze (unconfigured) does not always lead to great idle drain, particularly when I am constantly going from A to B and checking my phone during the day. Solutions like Power Nap and Amplify have proved just as good on some of my other phones running Lollipop.
Since I’ve been using the phone exclusively, and trying to figure out each of its nooks and crannies, I’ve noticed that the 5X is not as brilliant a package as the Nexus 5 was, and that I find myself waiting for tasks that should require no waiting. As I alluded to before, performance is not what I expected. The 808 and the storage chosen are likely not fit for encryption, and it makes no sense that a processor more powerful than the Snapdragon 800 of the Nexus 5 delivers (perceivably) slower or inconsistent performance in common operations, just like it made no sense for the Snapdragon 805 of the encrypted Nexus 6 to be outperformed by the same Nexus 5 in day-to-day, real-world use. Moving forward, and as chipsets get better (as does encryption), this might not be an issue, but forced encryption could be an easy way to cripple performance gains or net performance. As it stands, by merely enabling visual representations of touch input in developer settings, one can see that there is a delay between tapping and actions — not consistently, but when it’s there, it’s unmissable.
Marshmallow’s permission system is brilliant, but some people are treating it as a revolutionary feature. I’d say that it’s not something entirely new, just a released version of an unpolished feature Google took from us. First of all, as is the case with so many Marshmallow features, XDA users have had better permission control for a while, with the consequence being a voided warranty. That aside, a hidden App Ops feature came all the way back in Android 4.3 and it had permission toggles that allowed for similar functionality — sadly, it was removed in later versions. So to those of us who have experienced App Ops and any other permission-control alternative, Marshmallow’s re-introduction of the feature feels more like Google taking a candy from us and then giving it back after we bought another one ourselves.
“I am a power user, so I turned Lollipop into what it should have been with the help of the amazing developers at XDA”
And this brings me back to the fact that there is little I personally get from Marshmallow that I couldn’t have gotten otherwise, and features like multi-window have been delayed to make room for features that sounded useful in theory but are ultimately flawed in practice.
I like Marshmallow, I really do — as I said before, it’s what Lollipop should have been. But I am a power user, so I turned Lollipop into what it should have been, on multiple phones, with the help of the amazing developers at XDA, or smart use of applications from the Play Store (which anyone can easily get). Marshmallow does not feel too exciting to me, but having a cleaner and more polished base to optimize and customize on is always nice. The ways in which Marshmallow has been cracking down on root could prove troublesome, but there are already steps being made around the constrictions. I already have a custom recovery and root on my Nexus 5X, and that was easy enough. Xposed for Marshmallow is getting closer too, and that may bring even more greatness to this version. Marshmallow is not bad, just overdue, and that’s disappointing to me. But late is better than never, and I know not everyone will share these views.
Regardless of whether you do or don’t, I want to know what you think, so let me know below!