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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.

All considered, the new multitasking system is one of those things that's great in theory but not quite there yet in reality. It's also surprising that Android still doesn't include any native system for viewing multiple apps on-screen at the same time, as we've seen some third-party manufacturers offer. While that's not something most folks would likely use too often, there are certainly times when it'd be handy — like when you want to continue playing a video while answering a text or actively reference a document while composing an email.

Voice control

One of Lollipop's most noteworthy additions is support for always-listening voice control, much like what we've seen on Motorola's recent devices.

If your device has the hardware to support it — and if your manufacturer opts to enable the feature — you can now wake a phone or tablet and give it commands by saying "Okay, Google," even when the screen is off.

As you can imagine, there are plenty of occasions when that can be useful — like when you want to send a text while driving or get a quick answer to a question while your phone's out of reach. The system is a few seconds faster than Motorola's, since it interfaces directly with the Google Search app without any third-party intermediary, but it's also less robust in a couple of ways.

First, while Lollipop's voice control can be trained to recognize and respond only to your voice — a feature that actually works with the aid of Motorola's technology — it doesn't allow you to set your own custom launch phrase, as Motorola's newest version does. That becomes an issue when you have multiple devices nearby: If I say "Okay, Google" in my office right now, the Nexus 6 and Nexus 9 will both light up and start listening, as will my Android Wear watch (if it's awake). Given the nature of the system, there's no real way around that.

Second, the system lacks some of the more advanced voice commands that Motorola has built into its devices — like those to snap a photo from afar or to launch a hands-free mode in which all incoming calls and texts are read aloud.

While it may not be quite at the level of Motorola's implementation, though, it's still an excellent addition and one that'll add a meaningful amount of value to a lot of devices. I do wish Google had made it easier to find — the option is off by default and buried five layers deep within the "Language and Input" area of the system settings, where most users are never going to notice it — but if you know it's there, it's well worth enabling.


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