A Quick Look at the Android N Developer Preview

Posted on March 17, 2016 by Paul Thurrott in Android with 0 Comments

A Quick Look at the Android N Developer Preview

Last week, Google surprised us with an early-than-usual peek at its next mobile OS, currently codenamed Android N. But with many checking out this first Android N build and discovering more new functionality than Google originally promoted, I thought I should dive in as well.

If only things were that simple.

As noted in Google Offers A First Early Peek at Android N, the Android N Developer Preview is aimed at software developers. But anyone can install this build if they want … assuming they have a compatible device.

So the first step in the Android N Developer Preview install process is toenroll your device in the program. Again, only certain devices—mostly recent Google Nexus devices—are allowed into the program. Fortunately, I had three compatible devices: The Nexus 6P, the Nexus 5X (which Mary Jo is currently evaluating) and the Nexus 9 tablet, which I never use anyway. So naturally I enrolled the Nexus 9.

(You can also un-enroll the device using the same web site, but the notification you get will result in the factory reset of your phone back to Android 6.x/Marshmallow.)

Next, the waiting game.

According to Google, once you’ve enrolled a device, you’ll receive an Android N upgrade notification (on-device) within 24 hours. That was fine, actually, since the Nexus 9, having sat unused and unplugged for quite some time, needed to charge anyway. But after a day had gone by … nothing. So I unenrolled the Nexus 9 and tried again. And … nothing.

As it turns out, Google had temporarily suspended the Android N Developer Preview install on the Nexus 9 because some users were reporting bricked devices. So this cost me more than a few days. When I enrolled the Nexus 6P—bam!—the upgrade appeared immediately. So after the 1.1 GB download was complete, I was finally on my way to checking out Android N.

restart

When the home screen appeared my first reaction was … this is exactly the same as before. Obviously, it retained my previous customizations—wallpaper, icons choices and placements, and so on—but there weren’t even subtle differences. Ditto for the app shelf. If I hadn’t just babysat the install, I’m not sure I’d ever have noticed a difference.

home

But dig a bit deeper and the differences are there. So here are a few of my favorite changes in Android N so far.

Quicker app switching. Now, you can double-tap the Multitasking button (the square) in the the Android nav bar to switch back to the most-recently-used app. This is a neat way to quickly toggle between two apps, and is so obvious once you experience it that you wonder why no one thought of it before. It’s like ALT + TAB for Android.

Revamped Quick Settings. In Android 6.x, you swipe down from the top of the screen to see some status icons and info and whatever notifications are available, and then you swipe down more to display Quick Settings. In Android N, that first swipe reveals five actionable Quick Settings—Wi-Fi, Cellular Data, Battery, Do Not Disturb, and Flashlight, plus a caret for accessing the other Quick Settings. Furthermore, Quick Settings is now fully customizable courtesy of a new Edit item. (And on my Nexus 6P, Quick Settings takes up multiple panels, too. You can swipe between them.)

notes

Improved notifications. Speaking of notifications, they’ve improved too. The notification cards stack as you swipe up and down through the list, and visually hide behind each other as you go. And instead of separate “Settings” and “Information” icons when you swipe horizontally, a single Settings gear provides access to the settings you really want anyway: You can now silence or block notifications right from the list. Nice!

notes-all

Side-by-side apps. This was one reason I wanted to try Android N on the Nexus 9 tablet (and still will, when it’s fixed): You can now run two apps side-by-side onscreen. (A coming feature will also support floating app windows, and of course that will likely only work on tablets.) As with the app switching feature mentioned above, this works through the Multitasking button in the nav bar: Simply open an app and then hold down the Multitasking button and choose the other app. On a phone, the screen splits vertically, of course, and this feature probably doesn’t make a ton of sense in most cases. But here’s Google Play Music and Pocket together if you’re curious what this looks like.

multitasking

Display scaling. Like Windows 10 Mobile, Android N provides a simple display scaling UI, in this case in Settings, Display, Display Size. Long overdue.

display-size

Night mode. Like iOS 9.3, Android N is picking up a Night mode that filters out blue light from the screen at night to make it easier on your eyes. But Android N will also optionally switch to a dark theme when Night mode is enabled too. The goofy bit? This and other new features are hidden in a new (temporary?) setting called System UI Tuner. To display it, open Quick Settings and press and hold on the Settings gear.

night-mode

That’s what I’ve found so far, and I have to admit this is a pretty impressive list given what I’m used to seeing in the Windows 10 and iOS betas. I’ll keep looking, and of course am curious about using this on the Nexus 9 whenever that comes online again

 

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