Android 5.0 Lollipop: 120 Day Checkup

Google recently released a major upgrade to its Android OS platform, moving from 4.4.4 KitKat to 5.0 Lollipop. This process has been uneven, to say the least.

Early reviews from all over the internet were exceedingly positive, even from sites with a general bend toward Apple and iOS, like The Verve. The new “Material Design” theme rolled out at Google I/O in 2014 was likewise popular with almost everyone from the first previews. Lollipop appeared ready to usher in a new era for Android devices… and yet, months after the Nexus 9 launched as the first Lollipop device, adoption is moving at a snail’s pace:

  • After 90 days, Android 5.0 Lollipop (and its subsequent upgrades) can claim less than 2% of Android’s total users.
  • After 150 days, iOS 8 (and its subsequent upgrades) claim over 70% adoption on iOS devices.

What is driving this?  Below, I give my thoughts about Lollipop thus far including my personal experiences with it on three tablets and one phone.

Moto X 2014 with Lollipop and Google Now Launcher:

Google Now Launcher

Lollipop is a Massive Overhaul to Android

Android 5.0 is arguably the largest upgrade to Android since the launch of the platform.

From a UI perspective, everything has changed, with the visuals hewing consistently to the concept of Material Design. This means bold and vibrant colors, and a “physical” card-based motif that animates and transitions beautifully between actions. At launch, all the various Google apps were integrated with this design, to the point where YouTube channel colors coordinate screen elements when using that application.

Recent Places in Lollipop:

Lollipop Cards

Google made changes to the notification system, volume controls, security options, and recent apps, along with adding multi-user support and a lot more. Some of these changes were pretty massive alterations to things Android users had been used to for years: Google introduced a tiered system of notification control, ripped everything except “Power Off” away from the power button, changed how auto brightness works, moved notifications and interaction with those notifications to the lock screen, merged together the two quick panels, and allow specific Bluetooth devices to unlock the screen.

Lollipop Sounds and Notifications/Settings Panel (Expanded):

Volume Unified

Under the hood, they replaced Dalvik with Android RunTime, the first such change since Android’s inception. This move to ART should improve performance on lower memory devices over time, and will also result in better battery performance, among other benefits.

For anyone interested in a really in-depth and superb analysis of everything introduced by 5.0 Lollipop, I strongly recommend reading this article on ars technica. It goes into all of the changes, both in the interface and in the operating system itself.

Failure to Launch

Sounds great so far – what went wrong?

First, Google’s approach of rolling out its OS update to Nexus devices proved a bit problematic in this instance. Google didn’t just bring Lollipop to the Nexus 5 and 6 smartphones, and 7 and 9 tablets – their most recent stable. They reached back to the Nexus 4 phone (2012), and original Nexus 7 tablet and the Nexus 10 tablet (both 2012), older and lower-power devices running outdated processors. Other devices running close to stock Android, like the 2014 Moto X and the NVIDIA Shield Tablet also got Lollipop very quickly.

That’s a lot of years worth of tech to upgrade with such a major OS overhaul, though it does show Google’s continuing commitment to provide support and early updates to users on their Nexus devices. Unfortunately, this is one of those situations where the fractured hardware base that makes up the Android user experience poses a major problem. A lot of people were frustrated that their devices, even those much newer than some of the older 2012 and 2013 Nexus devices, had no pending upgrade dates from OEMs; at one point, Google+ was full of frothing at the mouth Nexus owners frustrated that some non-Nexus devices were getting updates prior to their device.

Furthermore, not unlike early iOS 8 updates – except less crippling – Android 5.0 launched with some problems. The snappy experience the OS provided at launch quickly deteriorated for many users, with phones that ran smoothly on Android 4.4.4 suddenly experiencing lag, stutter, and screen redraws under 5.0; this forced Google to issue updates 5.0.1 and 5.0.2 to Nexus devices before the majority of their most popular handsets had any version of Lollipop at all.

Couple this with the bizarre situation of new flagship tablets and phones – like Dell’s Venue 8 7000 or Motorola’s Droid Turbo for Verizon – not launching with Lollipop.

One imagines as well that the more layers and modifications to stock Android made by a given OEM, the more difficult the conversion to Lollipop would be. And, there’s little incentive to rush into an update that an OEM knows will have mixed customer reception due to bugs in the OS.

My Collection of Lollipops

In all honestly, prior to the past 12 months, I hadn’t really paid much attention to Android OS updates, despite owning Android phones since the launch of the original Droid on Verizon. Android 5.0 Lollipop changed that. The upgrade itself received so much press, and so much positive press at that, it was hard not to get caught up in the excitement.

I ended up having three tablets in my household that very quickly received upgrades to Lollipop:

  • NVIDIA Shield (2014 – NVIDIA)
  • Nexus 7 (2013 – Asus)
  • Nexus 10 (2012 – Samsung)

Whole lot of Lollipop under these tablet covers:

Lollipop Tablets

Two of these, the Nexus 7 and 10, upgraded to Nexus 5.0 first, and from there to 5.0.1 and 5.0.2. The Shield Tablet went straight to 5.0.1, where it remains today, supplemented by independent NVIDIA updates for WiFi performance and color/display enhancements.

My phone at the time of the Lollipop launch was a 2013 Moto X, a phone I absolutely loved. Relatively soon thereafter I upgraded to the 2014 Moto X, and I couldn’t wait to have my phone OS match that of my tablets. As I’ll get into shortly, my overall experience with Lollipop was very positive to that point…

…unfortunately my Moto X experience with Lollipop hasn’t been what I’d hoped it would be, as I detail below. In short, I’ve experienced lag, slowdown, and screen redraws that point to serious memory leakage, so much so that at times the significantly superior hardware of the Moto X 2014 feels more sluggish than my year-old (and mid-tier spec) Moto X 2013 did.

Below, I’ll go over some of the highs and lows by device, and following that, will discuss in more general terms the good and bad of Lollipop as I’ve experienced it thus far.

Nexus 10

Oddly enough, quite possibly the device that seems to have “taken” the best to Lollipop is my Nexus 10, a Samsung-made tablet from 2012. While on 4.4.4, I’d experienced some intermittent issues with Wi-Fi including disconnects and very slow download speeds, which Lollipop seems to have resolved. Now sitting on 5.0.2, my Nexus 10 is as fast as it has ever been, smoothly launching apps, without any hint of home screen re-draw, intermittent resets, crashes, evidence of memory leak, or any other problems.

In fact, using Lollipop on the Nexus 10 has been an absolute joy. I’ve tested multiple launchers without any issue, and all the aspects of Lollipop that I’ve tested – Priority notifications, trusted devices, multiple user accounts, and so on – have been perfect. Kudos to Google for continuing to support this tablet, and I have to say I continue to be impressed with the Nexus 10 hardware. Admittedly, if you’re looking to do brand-new 3D gaming and so on, this tablet’s aging processor is going to disappoint you, but as a media consumption device for streaming content, web browsing, casual gaming, and reading, picking up a used Nexus 10 is still something I can strongly recommend.

Nexus 10 Lollipop

NVIDIA Shield Tablet

Like the Nexus 10, using Lollipop on the Shield Tablet has been, in a word, awesome.  While not on the same version – 5.0.1 here compared to 5.0.2 on the Nexus 10 –  the move from Android 4.4.4 to 5.0 seems to have improved the responsiveness of the Shield throughout the UI.

Prior to this update, despite some terrific gaming prowess, the Shield tablet suffered from random and intermittent delays and hangs on application launch and screen rotation. Given the powerful processor the device has on tap, this was generally assumed to be optimization problems related to the Tegra K1 processor. Whatever the issue was, on 5.0.1 everything is quick, responsive, and smooth.

While the move to Lollipop did at first cause some compatibility issues with applications I had installed, in particular some games and emulators which no longer functioned, those were all quickly resolved and at this point all the applications I own are working.

To be frank, I was at one time thinking of selling my Shield tablet due to dissatisfaction with its handling of basic Android tasks, including very irrigating hangs in the home screen, and animation stutters or frame skips; since the upgrade to Lollipop I’m much happier with the device’s performance.

In fact, having used a demo version of the Nexus 9, I’m hard-pressed to find an Android tablet I’d suggest over the Shield at this point, even if you’re not planning on using the device for gaming; built-in micro-SD card support, mini-HDMI out, a nice (and included!) stylus, and generally high build quality make the Shield Tablet probably the device I’d most recommend for those looking to use Android Lollipop on a tablet.

Of course, if you are into gaming, the Shield’s excellent controller and terrific streaming capabilities make it a no-brainer.

Shield Lollipop

Nexus 7

I consider the Nexus 7 2013 one of the best deals in tech. While it wasn’t the most cutting edge tablet when released, and certainly isn’t today, performance on this tablet has always been excellent, with only taxing 3D games giving the device any issue. Throughout the entirety of the UI, I’ve been consistently impressed with the Nexus 7’s ability to provide a top-tier experience at a mid- to low-tier cost. Certified refurbs are available online for as cheap as $120, and if you ever find yourself needing a 7 inch tablet, look here for sure.

At least, that was my experience on KitKit.  Lollipop has been much less kind.

The initial switch to 5.0 resulted in a slower tablet, with lag when closing apps and navigating the recent places button, among other issues. After upgrading to 5.0.1, some of this abated, only to be replaced with a bug wherein sometimes the majority of the touchscreen would not work when the device booted up. Often putting the device to sleep and waking it addressed this issue, while sometimes a hard reset was required – and of course this could repeat the problem.

Not cool, Google.

Now upgraded to 5.0.2, things are back to being awesome on the Nexus 7 again; the screen failure issue has cleared up and the performance has gone back to where it was with 4.4.4. Still, this was a shaky upgrade.

NExus 7 Lollipop

Moto X 2014

Sadly, the device I use the most – my Moto X 2014 – is also the one that has done the worst with the change to Lollipop; while it initially handled the 5.0 upgrade quite well, the phone quickly began to experience a wide range of issues.

Chief among these are constant redraws on the home screen, and hanging during launching and closing applications, in particular Gmail. Gmail was a disaster for me after upgrading; opening it via Notifications would cause it to hang and crash about 50% of the time, with the seemingly only safe way to open it being via the recent applications button. Hitting the home button was an awful game of Russian Roulette: often the phone would hang, then very slowly move the current app away to reveal a blank home screen, hanging again until that screen’s folders, apps, and/or widgets would pop in.

I finally got so fed up with the Gmail issue that I did a factory reset of the device, and that resolved it. However, home screen redraw continues to be a problem. It doesn’t happen every time, but certainly it is an omnipresent reality with using my phone. Random apps have occasionally run out of control with system resources, causing the device to run hot and require a task manager shutdown or phone reset.

Frankly, Lollipop – despite its admittedly gorgeous surface – runs quite poorly at 5.0 on the Moto X 2014, at least on Verizon, for me. I keep waiting for the full update to 5.1 that supposedly will resolve the memory leak issue, but as of right now there’s no date set.

Keep in mind that this is just my experience. Somewhat frustratingly, I’ve read online forums where some people have the same issues I have, and others say their phone exhibits no problems at all.

Moto X Lollipop

Lollipop: What I Like

  • Material Design: The overall change to a unified approach to all aspects of the GUI, and the choice itself, are fantastic, giving 5.0 Lollipop a unique look that feels somehow retro and modern at the same time.
  • Transition Animations: An extension of the above, the way that the Android OS moves and flows in response to the user now is something wonderful to behold.
  • Unified Panel: I never really understood the two separate panels in 4.4.2-4.4.4, so unifying those into one is very appealing.
  • Notification Upgrades: I’m enjoying the improved ability to interact with notifications, including on the lock screen, as well as control over those notifications using the Priority system.
  • Trusted Devices: Keeping the phone unlocked while paired to specific Bluetooth devices (like a headset, Android Wear watch, keyboard, or gamepad) is convenient

Trusted Devices on Lollipop – Moto X 2014:

Trusted Devices

Lollipop: What I Don’t Like

  • Volume Controls: Thinking about it logically, moving the mute function to the volume rocker makes intuitive sense, but after so many years, it doesn’t “feel” natural to me. Similarly changing the volume, then selecting “None”, isn’t that intuitive. There must be, somewhere, a very quick “mute all sounds” function available to users. Currently you can only set this up via a 3rd party app. Similarly having the volume rocker only adjust the volume of what the phone sees as the “current” source of sound is not always convenient or intuitive.
  • Memory Leak: This irritating bug still exists on my Moto X 2014, and while some other minor hiccups are easy for me to ignore, this one is not. A day after upgrading you want to show everyone how awesome Lollipop is, but after a few weeks, you don’t want to show anyone as your phone stutters, lags, and redraws the screen.
  • Bugs in General: I noted the issue I had with Gmail that forced me to do a factory reset of my device, and a look around the internet will reveal a significant number of different issues folks have had with various handsets and tablets.

What Comes Next

As more flagship phones launch with Lollipop from day 1, and as Google releases Lollipop 5.1 in the (hopefully) near future, we can expect Lollipop to be a huge success story in 2015. Addressing the memory leak issue should be Google’s main focus, as this bug significantly hinders the performance of devices, something that just isn’t acceptable.

Should you upgrade your device to Lollipop, or get a phone – like a Nexus 6 – that is running it by default? My opinion is yes, go ahead. There’s fixes coming in the near future for devices running 5.0, and others have already had improvements via launches of 5.0.1 and 5.0.2. Lollipop itself carries a bit of a learning curve, so getting to know it now is a fun and engaging experience.

That said, I also wouldn’t necessary worry about buying a device not on Lollipop, such as the Dell Venue 8 7000. Android 4.4.4 Kitkat is an excellent platform that, in most cases, will perform faster and with more stability than 5.0 Lollipop. There’s no harm in waiting to move to Lollipop – but I would caution against buying devices where the OEM has no intention of ever upgrading the device to that platform, as once the scale tips and a year’s worth of new phones are on Lollipop, you’ll want to be there too.

Buy the Nexus 9 Tablet

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