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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.

The Moto X's feature employs a variety of sensors to light up anytime you touch the device or even move your hand over its screen; meanwhile, Ambient Display is designed to function with more standard and basic phone hardware. As a result, it's less sensitive and works far less consistently than Motorola's implementation (on the Nexus 6, at least — where I've been able to test it).

The data shown on Ambient Display is also much more info-dense than what's shown on Moto Display, which has its pros and cons. On the one hand, you see more information at a glance, without having to touch the screen — but on the other hand, that information is also less easy to digest at a glance.

Lollipop includes several less exciting but equally important improvements to security, which you can read about here.

The new face of notifications

We've talked about notifications as they appear on the lock screen, but Lollipop brings about significant changes to the way notifications work throughout the operating system.

First of all, some notifications now show up in a new "heads-up" format and appear as floating cards at the top of your screen when they arrive. I've seen it happen with calendar events, incoming calls and text messages, but it's possible more apps could tap into the possibility over time. The idea is that you can view a notification quickly without interrupting what you're doing; then you can either tap it to open it, swipe it away to dismiss it or simply ignore it and do nothing at all — in which case it'll disappear after a few seconds and move into your regular notification panel like any other alert.

The notification panel, meanwhile — what you see when you swipe down from the top of the screen anywhere in the OS — no longer takes up the entire display; instead, it's a series of card-like rectangles presented in order of priority. The system ranks notifications automatically, but you can also set specific apps to always be high priority.

The notifications themselves work just like they have in the past: You can swipe down on them to expand them, tap to open them or swipe horizontally to dismiss them. An improved Quick Settings area is now built right into the main panel as well: You can get to it either by swiping down a second time, after you've opened the main pull-down menu, or by using a two-finger swipe-down gesture to jump to it directly.

Taking control of alerts

The most transformative shift in notifications comes with Lollipop's newly added controls over how and when alerts appear. If you're listening to audio and the device's screen is off, pressing either volume key will only raise or lower the volume. If the screen is on, however — regardless of what you're doing — pressing either volume key will bring up a panel on which you see the volume (of the ringer or audio, depending on what you're doing) along with the new notification controls.


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