It’s that time of the year when Google launches a newer version of Android. Earlier this year, we were all teased of what the then codenamed Android M is capable of. Now that Android Marshmallow (Or Android 6.0) is out for Nexus, AndroidOne and select Android phones, we take a look at how this version of Android improves on its predecessor.
We were all excited to experience Marshmallow, and the moment it was available on our Cherry Mobile G1, we immediately downloaded it. Fast forward and we finally have a pure version of Android M installed.
At first glance, there’s nothing really new about Marshmallow. Just a few changes to the Google Now launcher and the app drawer. The latter now is now designed to be scrolled vertically rather than horizontally. At the top, you’ll find recommendations of apps which you might actually use or already use often. If you have many apps, you can quickly scroll through the app drawer by sliding your finger on the right edge of the screen or by holding down the app drawer button to bring up search. Of course, new wallpapers replace the older ones from Lollipop.
One underrated visual change in Marshmallow can be seen on the lock screen. The clock has a new font and the day and the date are now in a sleeker, all caps font. You can also now add a custom message on the lock screen. You can access this by going to Settings > Security > Lock screen message. This feature is ideal for instances when you might lose your phone and you need someone to contact you to get it back.
Now On Tap
Probably the biggest new feature that Marshmallow brings is called Now On Tap. This feature superpowers apps on your smartphone, including non-Google ones, to have a search function built in. It basically reads the information on your screen and offers search results based on the context. You can access this by holding down on the home button.
For example, you were reading a tweet and a certain person was tagged. You have no idea who that person might be so you use Now on Tap to search for it. Voila! it gives you search results on that person. This is also applicable to Instagram, Facebook and other social media. Let’s say you see a photo on Instagram with a location tag and you have no idea where that place is. Using Now on Tap will display information about that place. Maybe you received a spam text message offering you a loan and you were curious about what bank it was. When you use Now on Tap, it will display information about that bank.
This, though, is more of a hit and miss. You don’t know what Now on Tap will read on your screen, so you wait for the actual search results. Sometimes, it’s frustrating because it can’t read anything on the screen at all. This reminds me of the time when Siri was new and she had more wrongs that right. I never used Siri after that.
Most of the changes in Marshmallow are under the hood. Doze is a useful feature that shutdowns apps when the phone isn’t in use. This won’t make your batter miraculously last longer, but it does optimize the battery life and saves a significant amount. On our Cherry Mobile G1, though, the battery life quickly drains even with Doze on. This might be a hardware issue, or a bug that came with the update. We actually can’t tell.
The Little Things
Aside from Doze and Now On Tap, Marshmallow brings more minor changes. Like in iOS, you can now customize app permissions per app. This means more control on which apps use which hardware or software component on your phone. The Share Sheet has also been redesigned, and displays your favorite contacts first, then apps. The volume sliders have also been redesigned to be more streamlined. And probably my favorite, Cut/Copy/Paste now functions more like in iOS than in previous versions of Android. All these little things aim to make the Android experience, or at least the pure one, easier and better.
A new System UI Tuner is also now available. To enable it, you just need to tap and hold on the gear icon in the notifications pull down tab. It enables you to customize icons that will appear on your status bar and reposition items in the quick setting pull down menu, which was only possible in skins and mods.
If you’re a fan of Android Easter Eggs, then you’ll know that the ‘Flappy Bird’ type game is back, but instead of Lollipops, barriers are made of Marshmallows. And it’s become easier to play and control, too!
Marshmallow is a great update, but it might just have been called Android 5.3 in our opinion. It smoothens all of Lollipop’s rough edges, and even adds some new neat tricks. But these tricks are, well, new and they need time to mature and fully be reliable and functional. We’re getting there, and if you’re a hardcore Android fan, this might be the best time to update.
All of these new features won’t matter if the Android smartphone you own either doesn’t support an upgrade or will take time before it receives one, and that’s the funny thing about new Android versions. It’s been years since the platform was born but Google still can’t find a solution to push updates to most Android phones immediately. Of course, there are arrangements to be made from carriers’ and manufacturers’ end, but all users, although not everyone want and need it, deserve to experience the best that Android has to offer. And that’s the beauty of Google’s Nexus and AndroidOne programs, offering cheaper solutions to getting every update immediately to as many phones as possible. However, since third party Android manufacturers prevail, updates just come slow.