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Android 5.0 deep-dive review: Exploring Lollipop's many layers

JR Raphael | Nov. 17, 2014
Google's Android 5.0 Lollipop release is all about the platform's move into maturity.

Its name may be filled with child-like whimsy, but don't be fooled: Google's Android 5.0 Lollipop release is all about the platform's move into maturity.

Android launched in 2008 as a plain but powerful operating system with plenty of promise. Numerous releases since then have built upon that foundation and pushed the OS forward both visually and functionally — but they've all felt like pieces from a still-incomplete puzzle.

Lollipop is the culmination of those steps — the polished and cohesive product the past six years of updates have been building up to. It's the most sweeping and dramatic reimagining of Android we've ever seen, and it's about to usher the platform into an exciting new era.

But before I begin this thorough look into the new OS, I want to make clear that this review is looking at Google's actual Android 5.0 software, which appears on Nexus devices, Moto devices and a handful of other products. As a result of the operating system's open nature, manufacturers can modify the software to give it their own custom "skins" and features — so depending on what type of device you have and which vendor you bought it from, the software you see may differ in some ways from what's described here.

A whole new Android

As I noted in my first impressions of Google's new Nexus 6 phone, Lollipop feels fresh, modern and comfortable — like a familiar home that's been thoroughly but tastefully renovated.

Much of that is due to the new design motif implemented all throughout the OS. Known as Material Design, the approach revolves around bold and bright colors, large fonts and flat, paper-like graphics. Animations and transitions are also key — things move in a way that helps to create a sense of continuity as you navigate the system.

The new app drawer is a perfect example. When you touch the icon to view all of your apps, its white color appears to splash up on the screen and form a square that holds the grid of items. If you then tap the Home button, an animation shrinks the box back down into the small circular icon from which it sprang.

Other touches are subtler. When you tap an item within Lollipop's system settings, for instance, the entire row turns dark — starting on the exact spot where you pressed your finger and spreading out horizontally in either direction. It usually happens quickly, but if you touch and hold your finger without immediately lifting, you can see it play out in detail.

These sorts of elements may seem insignificant by themselves, but they add up to form a meaningful layer of polish that makes a big difference in what the software's like to use. And unlike past visual makeovers with Android, Lollipop's changes are sweeping and complete; it's the first update that really feels like a whole new OS.


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