Google surprised the tech world last week when it dropped the developer preview of Android N. The latest software is already fast and fluid, despite being months from a final form, and it brings along some much needed advancements for the platform.
We’ve spent a few days exploring Android N (which is reportedly being referred to by Google as New York Cheesecake) and have found a lot to like. Dark mode is back, you can block phone numbers natively, a redesigned settings app and lots more. But there were a few features that stood above the rest. These are the five best features of Android N.
At first, the idea of double tapping the Multitasking button to hop between your last two apps seems trivial. But, after using the developer preview of Android N on a Pixel C the last few days, I can confidently say this small change makes a load of difference. The entire experience, particularly on a machine like the Pixel C—which was situated as work-friendly tablet—is faster thanks to this small feature. It’s not as useful as split-screen multitasking but, if you need to utilize the entire screen (especially if you’re on a smartphone) and still need to zip between apps (say, for a quick copy and paste), the double tap option is extremely helpful.
The full Quick Settings pulldown in Android N is visually the same as in Marshmallow, but Google has added a bar to the notification side with five settings options for easy access. It makes toggling things you use often, like Wi-Fi or Location much faster, though you can still use the two-finger pulldown to quickly access the full tray. Aesthetically, the new bar is not my favorite aspect of Android N but its utility is apparent. Perhaps even better, though, is the fact that users can now fully customize the Quick Settings panel and even, as Ars Technica discovered, create their own Quick Settings tiles. The new design is also paginated, so users don’t have to worry about limiting their Quick Settings to a certain number of tiles.
One of the best features of Marshmallow is Doze, which automatically puts your phone into a sleep state, to help conserve battery, after a period inactivity. It does truly assist with battery life, but there is room for improvement. One of the most knocked aspects of the feature is that your device needs to be resting on a flat surface in order for Doze to activate. Android N nixes this, allowing the phone to enter Doze even when in your pocket. Ideally, this will mean a vast escalation in effectiveness, but I was been unable to truly test it given the Pixel C I’m running Android N on does not fit in my pocket.
Along with Quick Settings and the Settings app, Google also redesigned notifications. The cards are less card-like, now only separated by a thin line, and display the app name in the upper left hand corner with all images to the right. They are also larger, taking up the full width of a phone screen (though, of course, not the full width on a tablet) and offer slightly more information than previous versions. The best addition, however, is that notifications have been made more actionable than ever. In Gmail, for instance, you can expand multiple notifications and Archive or Reply to individual. There is also a revamped “Quick Reply” feature that is more up to the standards of Google and it’s Material Design than earlier iterations. The new version allows you to reply to messages without leaving the notification panel, making it far more useful and speedy.
The flagship feature of Android N is long overdue. Split-screen multitasking has existed on Android before thanks to OEMs like Samsung being forward-thinking, and it’s been available on iOS since the release of iOS 9 last fall, but never has it been native to Google’s platform. Android N changes that and the early returns are promising. The feature is easy to get a handle of and performs smoothly. It all happens with the Multitasking button, which has been given more power than ever. When you’re in an app, you simply hold the Multitasking button and the device jumps into split-screen, the main app (the one you started in) hops to the left and your recent apps appear on the right. From there, you can choose one of your recent apps or press the Home button to choose any of your other apps.
Once in split-screen, a black bar appears in the center, allowing you to resize each window as you see fit. If you want to swap out an app, simply press the Multitasking button again (which now looks like two rectangles stacked on top of one another rather than the usual square) and choose another app. The one aspect that needs rethinking is how you get out of split-screen. Currently, or at least the only consistent way I’ve found, to end split-screen is to resize one app so that it takes up the entire screen. I have had occasions in which pressing the home and then back button removes split-screen, but not with regularity. Generally, hitting the home button simply slides your primary app to the edge of the screen, where it remains until you deactivate split-screen.
Still, even with some of its rough edges (which are to be expected in a developer preview), split-screen multitasking is a solid experience on Android N and one that was much needed. It certainly makes the Pixel C are more intriguing device, and one that could actually live up to its potential with the new version of Android.
UPDATE: To exit split-screen, you can also simply hold the multitasking button, a much simpler solution and one that rounds out the overall experience.