Updated: November 16, 2015 9:28:50 am
Android Marshmallow is the latest version of Google’s mobile OS. And while the update is still in the process of being rolled out to many users, we’ve had a chance to try it out, thanks to the new Google Nexus 6P.
So what’s new with Android M and is the upgrade really worth the fuss? Here’s our take.
Google Now on Tap: No doubt this is the most important feature in Android M, the one that gives Google’s mobile OS a gigantic lead over Apple’s iOS or Microsoft’s Windows 10 mobile. Now on Tap relies on “machine learning algorithms” to figure out what you are searching for and it will match the same using Google’s Knowledge Graph.
Google Now on Tap works with movies, places (which includes restaurants), people, music bands, etc. Say if a friend mails you about a restaurant, you can simply press the home button in Android to activate Google Now on Tap.
Now on Tap will show all the relevant details about that particular place or restaurant. The feature has its uses, ensuring that you don’t keep switching between apps when looking for a particular information. It also prompts users to create an event from an email which has the subject as dinner or meeting, etc. Now on Tap will also give you the option to directly call a number that appears on your screen.
But it is not all that accurate. While Now on Tap worked fine with some places like Monkey Bar in Delhi or identifying Nitish Kumar or Narendra Modi based on alerts from news apps. However, with other places like Blue Ginger in Taj, Now on Tap showed a Singapore restaurant with the same in the top results and then the Taj hotel.
I also used the feature to get directions to a clinic address that came on my Gmail, but the map opened an entirely different one, located far away from the original.
Contextual information is interesting and the next direction of mobile search, but it’s still a work in progress.
Permissions: While Android has always been about giving users a host of options when it comes to customising the UI, one particular area where it offered very little freedom was app permissions. Till Android Lollipop, you could not customise or restrict privacy settings for an app in Android, unless the OEM added a UI with an option for the same. CyanogenMod has the app permissions feature and so does Xiaomi’s MIUI. With Android M, Google changes all of that.
To access permissions, you need to go to the Apps tab in settings, tap the gear symbol on top and you will see the option. One wonders why Google has made it almost impossible to find. But find it you must and if you are picky about privacy, then you can go ahead and curtail access to certain permissions for some apps.
In my case, I’ll quickly revoked access to my contacts for some shopping apps, games on my phone. Remember though if you revoke a permission that app might not be able to perform certain functions.
For example, if you use Zomato to make calls to restaurants, you need to give it permission to use the phone dialler. However, if you don’t think an app should have access to your contacts or photos, you can simply revoke that access.
Also in ‘Configure Apps’ tab, a user can see which apps can modify system settings and can revoke this as well.
Doze aka Battery optimisation: In Android M, Google has gone to the root of battery life issue that plagues Android and tried to fix this with a new feature called Doze.
Doze essentially shuts down all app background activity when you don’t move your device for a long time. According to Google’s own developer blog for Android, Doze denies access to network, does not let the system perform an WiFi scans, etc.
If you go to the battery tab in Google settings and tap on the gear symbol on top, one of the options you will notice is battery optimisation. When you tap on this, Google will reflect all the apps that have been optimised for battery performance. In case of the Nexus 6P, all third party apps had battery optimisation on. App developers will have to manage alarms, notifications with the new feature in Android M. For users, it results in much better battery performance.
Nexus Imprint aka the Fingerprint scanner: While Android phones have been supporting fingerprint scanners from other OEMs for some time now, Google is now natively adding support for the same in Marshmallow.
Google claims the Nexus Imprint is much faster than rival Apple’s Touch ID. In my case, setting up the Nexus Imprint took much less time. However, I would says the response time between the two is evenly matched.
You can use the Nexus Imprint to unlock your phone or make app purchases. Google also says that the fingerprint data never leaves the device. Also no-third party app is granted access to the fingerprint data.
Most used apps: Android M’s app drawer shows the four apps that you use the most, right on top. The additions don’t always make sense, as you might have opened an app only once or twice recently.
In Android M, the app drawer also has a search bar on top to help you locate a particular app by typing the name. The apps are arranged vertically in an alphabetical order.
Verdict: Android M doesn’t bring a radical design shift from Android L. Google has continued with material design that we saw with L.
Perhaps the biggest and most obvious change is the new Google Logo with the multi-coloured G. In features, Now on Tap, battery improvements and permissions are what make M stand out. Hopefully Google will ensure that M sees a faster adoption rate than previous builds.
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