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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.

Similarly, if you open Gmail and then start to compose a new message, you'll see a card in the Recent Apps list for both Gmail itself and for the individual message.

The weirdest one for me is Chrome, where instead of switching between tabs within the browser itself, every tab now shows up as an individual card within the Recent Apps list and you use it to move between them. (That one's actually optional — for now at least: There's a setting within Chrome that allows you to disable it and stick with a more traditional browser-based tab management setup, if you prefer.)

The goal is to make multitasking more robust: In addition to being able to switch between Gmail and Drive, you can now switch between your inbox and the message you're composing or your file list and the document you're editing. In those sorts of scenarios, the newly expanded approach makes a lot of sense.

But like the notification control system, it can be somewhat confusing in practice. The Recent Apps list quickly turns into an enormous mess of overlapping items that's more overwhelming than useful. On my Nexus 6 review unit right now, there are 60 cards in my Recent Apps list. Sixty cards! Twenty-two of them are various instances of a Google search process — either a search I'd completed or a blank search screen from the Google app. What good is that going to do me? And how am I supposed to navigate the Recent Apps list effectively with all that silliness cluttering it up?

Part of the problem is that too many processes are being split apart and saved as their own cards — like all those blank Google search prompts I'm seeing. And part of the problem is that the list never seems to clear itself, even when you turn the device off, so it just keeps growing longer and longer to the point where it becomes unmanageable and counterproductive.

(You can swipe away items one by one to dismiss them — but that isn't really a scalable solution, and you as the user shouldn't have to worry about playing custodian throughout the day.)

In addition, the breaking apart of in-app processes occasionally leads to commands not working as they should. I'll use the Google Drive situation as an example: Normally, if you open a document from Drive, you can then tap the left-facing arrow at the top-left of the screen to go back into your main file list. If you use the Recent Apps list to jump into an already opened Drive document, however, and then tap that same arrow, you're dumped out onto your home screen — since the process was separated from the app, the "back" function no longer works as you'd expect.


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