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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.

Last but not least, the Lollipop lock screen shows full-screen still images from multimedia content being played from the device — so you might see a graphic from a TV show or cover art from an album, depending on what you're streaming. In my experience, however, the images don't seem to clear properly when the content is no longer being played. I frequently saw images from a show I had stopped streaming long ago — both when something different was being streamed and when the streaming app was no longer even active.

Smart Lock, Ambient Display and other security enhancements

Basics aside, Lollipop introduces some useful new ways to manage and get around the lock screen. Perhaps most notably, the software has a new Smart Lock feature that allows you to set trusted Bluetooth devices for your phone or tablet. The devices then work like magic keys, so to speak: Anytime they're present and paired, you won't have to enter your security pattern or PIN to get into your phone or tablet. If they aren't around, the phone or tablet will automatically lock itself and require a pattern or PIN for access.

You can set a trusted NFC tag as well — if, say, you want to be able to tap your employee badge or a programmable NFC keychain to the device to unlock it. Smart Lock also incorporates a new version of Android's Face Unlock feature, which works far faster and more reliably than it did in previous OS versions. For the first time, it's actually something you might want to use on a long-term basis.

Beyond that, Lollipop provides a system-level tap-to-wake option, which allows you to double-tap a device's display to activate it without having to press the power button. It's present on the Nexus 9 but not the Nexus 6; it'll be up to each manufacturer to determine if they want to implement it for any given device.

And then there's Lollipop's new Ambient Display feature, which is Google's take on the Moto Display system seen in Motorola's 2014 Moto X. If a manufacturer opts to offer the feature, it'll cause your screen to light up with a black-and-white view of the time and any pending notifications — in other words, the lock screen — whenever you pick up the device. If you touch the screen, it then moves into its regular full-color state and you can interact with it normally.

The feature works reasonably well, though it does have its quirks: Unlike Moto Display, the Lollipop version of the system doesn't "pulse" and continue to flash notifications on the screen every few seconds to ensure you'll see them. That makes it harder to know at a glance when something needs your attention, especially if you're using a device that doesn't have an LED notifier (something Ambient Display is intended to replace).


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