Android 7 Nougat release date, name and features: Google’s next OS is out now
It looks like last week’s rumours were true, because Android 7 Nougat is finally here. Although Nougat has been with us for a while now, last week rumours surfaced of a public release date – and they’ve been proven right. The new rumours stemmed from the Android Central, website who noticed something odd in the Canadian network operator Telus’ software update schedule.
According to the schedule, a certain “Android N Update” was pencilled in for a “target launch” of 22 August – which was yesterday. The rumour’s legitimacy was also backed up by another leak: LG is running a preview program of the new OS for Korean G5s, and somewhat coincidentally, it was due to start on Monday too. Google began rolling out Nougat via an OTA or over the air update early yesterday, but that doesn’t mean it’ll be coming to your Android handset anytime soon. Just like every other Android release, Google is rolling out the update to its NExus handsets first. That means you’ll have to wait until Sony, Samsung or HTC or whichever company makes your phone has ironed out compatiblity issues with the new OS. If you’ve got something like a HTC 10 or Samsung Galaxy S7, there is a silver lining though. Google tends to prioritise the update to flagship smartphones before rolling it out to the larger Android audience.
Daydream is what a new VR platform that’s going to be included in Android N. The framework in preparation has already started appearing in DP3 but it will require “Daydream Ready” hardware. These are smartphones that meet the criteria required for an acceptable user experience, with the correct sensors, a fast display and a powerful-enough chipset. Smartphone manufacturers such as Samsung, HTC and LG are expected to produce models like this later in the year. You can read more about what Google Daydream will bring, including new hardware, right here.
Seamless updates and smoother app installs
Copying how Google’s Chromebooks handles its updates, Developer Preview 3 introduces seamless updates. This means new devices built on Android N will be able to install system updates in the background without disturbing your user experience. After the user powers up their device, new devices will be able to automatically switch to the newly updated system image. Combined with Android N’s new “Just In Time” (JIT) compiler this should lead to small app sizes, too.
While Google is describing this as the most beta-quality Developer Preview yet, it’s still a beta. As such there’s still plenty of bugs to be quashed. Thankfully, DP3 has quashed quite a few so you can expect a much more stable experience. A list of all of the fixes can be found here.
The first thing you’ll notice when you update to the latest Developer Preview is that the folder design has had a complete revamp. Personally, I really like the change. It gives you a better indication of what apps are found within the folder compared to the staggered pile of the old folder design.
The human emoji designs have been improved now as well. I was never a fan of Android’s standard emoji designs, much preferring those in iOS and found within WhatsApp (where I use emoji most often). The new changes are a big improvement.
New Camera app
Technically, the new Google Camera app update is available to everyone, since it’s being rolled out through the Google Play store, but it’s also been bundled in with Developer Preview 2. There have been a few visual design changes to the shutter button, and the slow-motion video option is now moved to the slide-in menu.
A particularly useful introduction is the ability to capture still images while recording video. You just need to tap the second shutter button that appears when recording video (you can see it on top of the Stop button in the screenshot above). This saves a separate still image in your video recording resolution to your Gallery.
One of the biggest performance increases from Android N will come from support for the Vulkan API, which is now supported by Developer Preview 2. Support for the Vulkan API on Android has already started appearing on other Android devices, such as Nvidia’s Shield Tablet and Shield Tablet K1, and Samsung’s Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge. Essentially, Vulkan API can be thought of as a way for developers to get more efficient access to a device’s graphics hardware, in the same way that Apple’s Metal allows for low-overhead access in iOS and OS X, or how DX12 works in Windows.
In the past, OpenGL API was prevalent, but it was never well positioned to take advantage of the multicore processors and multithreading of today’s devices. The new Vulkan API should lead to much better gaming performance on devices running Android N down the line, but developers will need to program their games with the Vulkan API in mind.
Shortcut options can now be provided from apps on the launcher, giving you access to useful features such as quickly composing a message when selecting the Messenger app or pulling up navigation to your home from Google Maps.
Phandroid notes that the underlying framework could also be in place for Android N to support pressure-sensitive screens, much the same way 3D Touch works on iPhones. The developers of Nova Launcher have already been playing with the new API and created a demonstration video of how it works:
Features introduced in Developer Preview 1
So far, this seems to be Android N’s flagship new feature. In truth, it’s not completely new. The likes of Samsung and Acer have long been including their own takes on multitasking with their adaptations of Android, but it’s good to finally see it available as part of stock Android.
The good news is that Google’s implementation is very elegant and works as you would expect.
Now, when you want to open up two apps side-by-side, you can hold the Overview (square button) to activate Multi-window mode with the primary app you want to have open. The screen will split in half, either vertically or horizontally depending on your device’s orientation, and the other half will display the rotating carousel of recent apps you’re already familiar with. You can then select the secondary app you want to use, which will fill the remaining half of the screen.
Alternatively, from the home screen, you can tap the Overview button to bring up the recent apps carousel as usual, then, tap and drag one of the cards over to the edge of the screen to put it into Multi-window mode. You can then populate the other half of the screen with another app as above. The Overview square icon will then morph into a split square so you know Multi-window is active.
By default, the screen is split right down the middle, but with certain apps, you’re able to drag the dividing line across so a side can have two-thirds of the screen instead. Apps, such as Spotify, dynamically change to accommodate the different amount of screen space. Some apps force you to stick with the 1:1 ratio, however. So far in testing, the only app that doesn’t want to play nice with Multi-window mode at all, aside from games, is Instagram, which steadfastly refuses to open in Multi-window.
As this is a Beta version, you get a slightly annoying toast notification appear saying that the app you’re trying to open might not work in split-screen, even when it does, but otherwise, Multi-window performs exactly as you would expect and isn’t dissimilar from Apple’s side-by-side apps in iOS.
If you hit the Home button with Multi-window mode activated, the primary app will slide up but colour the Notification pane so you know it’s still available. If your device is in landscape , you can see the primary app slightly peeking into the screen from the side. Now, when you open up another app, say from the app drawer, it’ll open in the secondary half of the screen. To properly exit out of Multi-window mode you’ll need to hold the Overview button again.
As you would expect, Multi-window works better on larger devices. I’ve been testing on a Nexus 6 and it’s certainly useful but probably not something you’d rely on regularly. Now, the Pixel C, on the other hand, will suddenly become the productivity tool Google likely envisaged.
Notifications and Quick Toggles
Google’s constant tweaking of the notification pane continues unabated. Now the quick toggles slide down with a delightful new animation and a few are pinned to the top of the screen, so you don’t need a double slide down motion to get to them. You can also edit the quick toggles that appear in the secondary menu, which is something I’ve wanted for a while.
In terms of notifications, Google has made it so developers can bundle notifications together, such as for messaging apps. This should help tidy things up considerably. You can now expand bundled notifications with a two-finger swipe or tapping the expand icon. Notifications are also richer in content, providing more detail than before, as well as just having a visual overhaul.
The most useful introduction, however, is direct replies from notifications. Before you could use direct replies for certain notifications from specific apps, such as Hangouts, but now this is seemingly available system-wide.
So far I’ve gotten much enjoyment out of directly replying to WhatsApp messages straight from notifications. A reply option appears below the notification and tapping it turns it into a text field. It’s seamless and well implemented and saves you a whole host of time for quick replies.
Marshmallow introduced battery efficiencies through the new Doze feature, reducing battery usage when the device was stationary. This meant if you forgot to plug your phone in overnight, you wouldn’t wake up to a depleted battery. In fact, often you would only lose a percentage or two. Now, Doze has been improved further meaning you get reduced battery usage whenever the screen is turned off as well as just stationary. Project Svelte is another way Google is looking to reduce memory usage of apps, which should also help.
So far, with very little time with the new version of Android, it’s hard to tell how much of a difference the new super-charged Doze makes but it, in theory, sounds like a great new introduction. Anything that can help with battery drain is welcome.
Most Recently Used app shortcut
This one’s easily missed, but if you double tap the Overview button, you’ll be taken back to the last app you used. Another double-tap will take you back to the app you just left. It’s like another alternative to Multi-window and perfect for if you need to copy and paste, or reference, between two apps.
Another mode that’s easy to miss is the freshly returned Night Mode. This was last seen in the Marshmallow preview but strangely got removed when the stable version was released. We’ve all read about how the multitude of displays we’re putting in front of our faces affect our sleep patterns (or circadian rhythm if you want to get fancy) and this is especially the case when you use a smartphone at night. There’s a slightly secret Night Mode built into the Android N Developer Preview. To access it, you’ll need to swipe down the notification shade and then long press the Settings shortcut. You’ll get a prompt to say you’ve unlocked the System UI Tuner. This was a hidden menu, much like Developer options in Marshmallow, but previously the settings here were a little sparse.
Now, you can turn on Night Mode that changes the interface to a dark version so you don’t have the bright, white Android menus blinding you. You can even set it to turn on automatically based on your location and time, so it turns on at sunset. You can also have Night Mode adjust the screen tint and brightness to more comfortable levels. The tint is particularly useful if you’re susceptible to blue light keeping you awake as it adds a much warmer tint to the screen.
General speed improvements and visual tweaks
Whether or not it’s just swifter animation scales or simply a placebo, but Android N feels fast. Running on a Nexus 6, therefore, the oldest device currently eligible for the Beta, performance feels noticeably faster. The recent apps list, which now has full-screen cards representing each background app, scrolls incredibly fast. You can scroll from the bottom of a very heavily populated deck of cards to the top without any stuttering or slowdown.
Even the app drawer, which remains a vertical list, scrolls superbly. Sliding to dismiss notifications from your lock screen also has a delightful new animation as it collapses in on itself and fades out. The Settings menu now has a lot more ‘at a glance’ information about each setting, meaning you don’t have to dive into them to find out how much data has been used or if you have the adaptive brightness turned on or not.
This wouldn’t be a Beta if there weren’t bugs. So don’t expect a completely smooth experience. In fairness, it’s been far smoother than I was expecting. A few apps give you run-time errors when they open, but then operate fine. Instagram, again is one of these here. A few games have managed to crash completely, forcing me to power off my Nexus 6 completely. Multi-window has gotten stuck in strange ways, with an app overlayed over the Home screen when it shouldn’t. But these hitches are to be expected.