Android N Developer Preview is available now for the latest Nexus devices and Pixel C tablet (Nexus 5X, Nexus 6P, Nexus 6, Pixel C tablet, Nexus 9, Nexus Player). No love for Nexus 5. You can install it manually or simply sign up for Android Beta program and receive the update as an over-the-air update. Do note, however, that OTA won’t install on rooted devices, on devices with Xposed Framework, and any devices with any other modifications to the Android software, or manual install of the update.
Even if you sport a spare new Nexus, think twice before updating to N because it’s still a Beta. It’s a work in progress and one of the reasons Google is releasing it early this year is it wants to get as much feedback as possible before prime time. Another reason is, perhaps, there is nothing overly revolutionary about the new build. Yet, it brings some neat features we will overview in this article, but taking into account how many of them have been available in Samsung devices and in rooted devices with their extended capabilities, let us reserve the excitement just for now, shall we? Let’s roll.
With my inner eye, I can see the Samsung users silently grinning – multi-window support has been on Samsung devices for several years now. Android N brings that capability to the stock Android devices, well, the latest Nexus at least. For now.
Having finally addressed the multi-tasking requests, Android N lets you open two apps in one screen simultaneously, side-by-side or one-above-the-other in splitscreen mode. You can conveniently re-size the apps, just drag the divider around to see how it fits best. It works just fine with many apps already.
Another nifty feature is available for Android TV devices, which can now enjoy picture-in-picture mode dubbed PIP. It allows apps to keep showing content while the user is browsing other apps.
The next big thing about Android N is how much love was given to the Notifications. Now they include interactive buttons that let you act upon each notifications directly from the Notifications bar without having to go to the app. This way you can “process” more notifications in a go. For example, you have the reply button for the messages and answer for the incoming calls, interactive reply buttons for Twitter and WhatsApp, you get the idea.
Another great idea was to let apps bundle notifications, so the system now groups notifications per each app. For example, the system can bundle notifications for messages based on the topic, and users can Dismiss or Archive them directly from the Notifications bar.
Apps are now allowed to customize their Notification headers and actions, so your Notifications bar will have a lively look where you will immediately recognize notifications from specific apps by their visual presentation.
Another grin from the Samsung corner, enter Quick Settings. Nonetheless, it is a step in the right direction for the stock OS. There is now more room for additional tiles, so you can swipe left and right to access them. There is an Edit button that lets users customize which toggles appear in the quick settings tiles and in what sequence.
Notably, Android N lets third-party apps have their quick toggles added to the Quick Settings tiles, upon the user discretion, of course. This will, hopefully, resolve the issue for many third-party apps residing in the Notifications bar and annoying users by simply displaying that icon. Quick Settings tiles can not be used as launch app triggers for the third-party apps, which makes perfect sense.
Data Saver is a system service in Android N that helps users put a cap on cellular data usage. Users can control how apps use cellular data. When enabled, Data Saver will block background data usage, and urge the apps in the foreground to use less data when possible. For example, it will urge YouTube to limit bit rate for streaming, or reduce the image quality, and such. Users will be able to whitelist individual apps.
More love for bilinguals
Bilingual users of Android N can now select multiple locales in Settings, which will let the third-party apps tailor the user experience better. Android N also supports more languages – 25 variants each for English, Spanish, French and Arabic, and partial support for 100+ new languages.
Recording Android TV
Android N can record and playback content from Android TV, as well as control what data is recorded, where it is saved and offers a slew of options for user interaction.
Accessibility, Display Density
Android N does make quite a few third-party apps obsolete by implementing their features. There is now a Vision tab under Settings. It lets users configure the look of their device in more detail by adjusting the font size, display size, magnification gesture and TalkBack feature. This makes it all the more accessible for the visually impaired.
Additionally, Android N adds more accessibility features for users with motor impairments – eye-tracking, face-tracking, point scanning.
Android N improves the Settings menu with a new “Suggestions” tab that displays on top of other options, and suggests what settings you should adjust. For example, if you have not set a screen lock, it will place it right there, in your face. When you are in any of the Setting’s sub-menus, you will see a side navigation bar just like the one you have in your Google Play app. Tap it to quickly go to any other sub-menu. This makes the navigation more fluid.
Farewell third-party call blockers – Android N blocks the calls and texts
Number-blocking is a new feature that comes baked in the Android N’s default phone app and SMS app. Notably, numbers users block on calls also get blocked on SMS. Users can backup and restore the blocked numbers across their devices. Carriers will be able to read that blocked numbers list and apply service-side blocking. Neat.
Android N’s default phone app can screen calls and perform such actions as reject an incoming call, not allow the call to the call log (I see them cheaters grinning, but honestly, this is a great privacy-focused feature), not show the user a notification for the call.
Make pirates sweat
Google adds APK signature scheme v2 to combat unauthorized modifications to apk files. It improves apk’s verification speed and detects unauthorized changes.
Android Marshamllow introduced Doze, a battery saving mode that defers apps’ CPU and network consumption when the device is idle. Android N expands on that functionality. Now, when the device is unplugged and the screen is off for a while, Doze applies the same rules to the apps. This is designed with the phones in the pockets scenario in mind. As the screen is turned off, and the device is not plugged into the charger, Doze restricts network access and stops syncing processes. The apps then have short gaps to sync at regular intervals. When the device is plugged in the charger, Doze is disabled.
Image source: Android Developer
Android N focuses on the ways apps run in the background to reduce RAM and battery consumption, and prevent the unnecessary background processes from affecting adversely the performance of the foreground apps. These are system-wide enhancement with no user input, and we have yet to see how it works in practice.
Night Mode, Dark Mode
XDA devs report Android N Developer images come with a Night Mode and the Dark Mode so craved for by the millions of users who remember KitKat’s dark theme. You can see that the Dark Mode is kind of gray-ish, which makes us wonder why it’s not entirely AMOLED type of black. It was seen in the Android M Developer Preview, but did not make it to the public build. Let us hope it will survive the transition this time. After all, gray is better than nothing. Google also suggests the developers should build dark-themed versions of their apps to be consistent with the system-wide dark mode.
The Night Mode reduces the blue in the screen as the night comes and in the low light environments. We have yet to see how good it is, and if it does away with the third-party apps.
Images source: XDA
If you’re wondering where that setting is, go to Quick Settings in the notification tray and long-tap the Settings shortcut. This will enable the UI Tuner under the Settings. Once enabled, it will be available under Settings → UI Tuner → Color and appearance → Night Mode. The early birds report the toggle’s being unresponsive, and suggest to tap it multiple times to enable the Night Mode. It’s Beta, right?
There is more to Android N that first meets the eye, so we will keep you updated on the new treats Google has in store. Visually, there does not seem to be a major revolution here, but the transitions are smooth and fluid. Again, the developer preview is for the tech-savvy users, so if you plan on installing a beta build on your brand-new primary device, you might wait for those early birds to burn some feathers before you jump on the bandwagon.