Saturday, 24 January 2015

Android Lollipop

The picture above will tell you at once - if you have an Android phone - that I have now installed Android 5.0 (aka Lollipop) on Demelza, my Samsung Galaxy S5 smartphone. The basic update has been out for many, many weeks. But Samsung needed time to fit their own skin on top. I was only able to install it a couple of days ago.

That is not a screen view that you will ordinarily see. It's the 'Easter Egg' screen, and the cartoon lollipop on it comes in various other colours, such as yellow, mauve, lime green, brown and orange, all of which you might want to 'collect' with a series of screenshots - if, that is, you have the kind of leisure time that I enjoy, and you can take a break from supervising your slaves.

If you do a 'long press' on any of these coloured lollipops, a rather nice-looking game appears, in which a green Android Robot bobs around in obedience to your screen taps, which keep it in the air. I think you have to keep it aloft (instead of bombing downwards into the cityscape below) without touching either of the lollipops, nor their sticks. If the Android Robot does touch them, it will adhere to them, and that's not good. Should you avoid the lollipops, and their sticks, then you build up points, though to what end completely eludes me. The scene moves from left to right, and changes gradually from day to night and back again, all very attractively. The types of lollipop change too.

If you want to see all this for yourself, go into Settings, then select About device, then tap rapidly on Android version (five or six times, say), and you will see your normal home screen appear (the black-and-white beach photo is my own home screen). It will have a large coloured dot on it. A long press on this dot brings forth a cartoon lollpop in the  same colour. Tapping on this scrolls through the various other colours. A long press on any colour of lollipop starts the game.

Is that all there is to the latest Android update?

No, of course not. Although I will remark that Lollipop is not exactly a quantum leap forward from Android 4.4 (aka KitKat). It's a tweaking job. But a rather comprehensive one. It has left the OS looking more unified and visually consistent, so that (for instance) every Google app now has controls styled and accessed in a standard way. Call it a comprehensive redecoration, with several significant changes in the way one does things. But there aren't many completely new things one can do.

It certainly went in without fuss or problems of any kind. I've been playing with it for two days now, and I've got used to it already. I like it, mostly. And of course I will adapt to the things that don't presently suit me much.

So what's different?

Jolly Good things

# The phone now operates distinctly faster. As if Lollipop has sorted out some processing bottlenecks. Apps come and go in a flash. (Bear in mind, though, that my Galaxy S5 is a top-end phone, with a very snappy processor already)

# There's now a nice (and welcome) consistency to the presentation of Google-inspired apps. At last, all these apps have been given some attention. Chrome and Gmail had already undergone an attractive redesign. Apps like Google Calendar have now followed suit. I'm not yet prepared to abandon my favourite third-party calendar app (Business Calendar Pro, mark I), but I do now use Google Calendar alongside, because its 'Schedule' view is clear and useful to me.

# There is a new combined 'last apps used/last web pages visited' feature, operated by the lower-left screen button, which lets one switch between apps and web pages freely, scrolling through a rotating 3D presentation. In effect, it's almost as if one were scrolling through a series of (in Microsoft terms) open windows. It's excellent. In the old KitKat, this functionality was split between the button (for apps) and the tabs in Chrome (for web pages - if you had Chrome installed, that is).

# Not one of my third-party apps has stuttered. They all work beautifully with Lollipop. Some even have a great new look.

Not-so-good things

# The battery seems to be working harder - is this because the processor is now better-oiled? Anyway, it seems to lose charge a little bit more rapidly than it used to. This is partly because the new Lollipop screen decor, for menus and options, is predominantly white (i.e. most pixels are lit up fully - a big power drain), rather than black (the pixels mostly unlit). In this connection, bear in mind that Demelza has an OLED screen - it won't be so noticeable with other sorts. Still, unless you compound the battery drain by turning on Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or GPS, the loss of juice isn't eyebrow-raising.

# The way notifications work has been overhauled. This is for me the hardest part of the new Lollipop regime to get used to. But I've now worked out what I need to do. The main 'loss' is the former Blocking Mode, which let you enter the times between which you did not want to be interrupted with a ringtone, or the sound that told you that an email or text message had come in. Blocking Mode was highly useful. I could set it to block all disturbing noises from midnight to 7.00am, ensuring a peaceful night's sleep. Only my wake-up alarm would still sound. And once set, it operated automatically every night. No need to touch the phone.

Blocking with Lollipop is no longer automatic - and you have to achieve it differently. You can't set any blocking times (at least not on a Samsung phone). You can however do three other things:

1. Set 'no interruptions whatever' (but then the phone will be stubbornly silent, and a wake-up alarm won't sound).

2. Set 'always interrupt' (meaning you can be bombarded with all kinds of sound 24/7).

3. Or you can set 'priority interruptions only'. The last is the best one for me to use at night. I can define what is a 'priority interruption' - in my case, not a phone call or a message. Just an event or reminder - which will include, willy-nilly, my wake-up alarm. And that's all that should sound when I am asleep - provided I have remembered to set 'Priority Interruptions Only' when going to bed. It always has to be set manually at night, and unset manually next morning. It's not automatic. Hmm. A step backwards, surely.

So an app that might send out a notification a night - Vodafone, perhaps - will now be able to sound off and wake me up. But thankfully there's an option to silence apps individually if they become a nuisance.

That's just about all the things I think are worth mentioning! Taken as an entire package, I like Lollipop.

Now beware. There are people (who comment on techy websites) who seem to live desperate lives in which their fragile happiness depends on having the perfect phone and a perfect OS. I have lately read stuff written by these saddos, who are often poor spellers, or otherwise inarticulate - and I can't help feeling, from their desperate tone and over-the-top denunciation of Lollipop, that they are lacking intelligence and a normal sense of perspective - that indeed they have serious personality problems, and are primarily just airing their frustration against life in general. It's grumble, grumble, friggin' this and friggin' that, or worse. Mostly men.

Don't heed them. This is - all considered - a very decent and enjoyable upgrade, and if you hit any snags that your own bright and nimble brain can't see the cure for, then there is an answer (or at least a workaround) out there on the Internet.

Oh, once installed, it's goodbye to KitKat forever! So no more of this (another of my screenshots):

I wish I hadn't done that...I have a sudden KitKat craving, and the fridge is bereft of them.

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Lucy Melford