Phones

Nougat presents a sweet treat to Android purists

Google's Nexus phones and select devices such as the LG V20 will be the first to receive the Android Nougat update. The new mobile operating system is full of subtle, yet functional, upgrades.
Google's Nexus phones and select devices such as the LG V20 will be the first to receive the Android Nougat update. The new mobile operating system is full of subtle, yet functional, upgrades.PHOTO: GOOGLE

The latest mobile operating system has features such as a split screen function

The latest version of the Android mobile operating system - Android 7.0 or Android Nougat - is here, and it is full of subtle, yet functional, upgrades. Here's a look at the areas that matter the most.

INTERFACE DESIGN

At first glance, the new interface does not seem to be much different from its Android Marshmallow predecessor.

This is great because Nougat adopts the same eye-pleasing and intuitive clean look that is uniform across Google's other products, such as its Chrome Web browser.

There are some visible changes, notably with the font and icon sizes which are now adjustable for easy reading.

The user experience is also improved, via a revamped notification. Swipe down from the top and you will get a row of quick settings. This panel can be customised, allowing you to, for example, place the mobile hot spot rather than the Wi-Fi toggle as one of the quick settings. An inspiration, one might say, taken from a similar implementation by Samsung and LG with their phones.

  • RATING

    FEATURES: 4/5

    DESIGN: 4/5

    PERFORMANCE: 4/5

    OVERALL: 4/5

Another useful update is the option to reply to messages directly from the notification without opening the app, which works for the Facebook Messenger app when I tested it. This is particularly useful as it cuts the loading time required to launch the messaging app.

Notifications from the same app are bundled together for easy reference. Tap once or drag the bunched notification downwards and you will see the details of each notification. This gives the interface a clean design. Pressing and holding onto a notification gives you the option to tweak the setting, allowing it to silently notify or block the notification if it gets too distracting.

BETTER MULTITASKING

The most prominent change to Nougat's multitasking function is the split-screen support. You access two apps concurrently on the same screen by pressing and holding the overview button on the bottom right of the screen.

The familiar feature, which has already been used by its Android partners such as Samsung and even from the opposing Apple camp, is more suited for tablets, given their larger screen size.

Arguably, the recent Nexus phones, which typically have screens that measure 5 inches or more. benefit from this feature too.

Not all apps are supported at the moment, as I discovered when the Facebook app did not load properly in the split-screen mode. It is safe to say that most Google apps are supported. I could watch a YouTube video while my fingers were tapping links on the Chrome Web browser app.

Double tapping the overview button reveals another, and by far the most useful, multitasking feature. This lets you switch to the last-used app instead of scrolling through a long list of background apps. I find it particularly useful when it brings me back to Pokemon Go to quickly snag rare Pokemon. Lastly, the multitasking view now adds a clear-all option, a feature that was woefully missing on Google's vanilla operating system but available on its Android partners' smartphones.

HIDDEN IMPROVEMENTS

Below the surface, there are a few tweaks to improve your smartphone's performance. Nougat introduces some tweaks to Doze, a battery-saving feature previously introduced on Marshmallow. Essentially, apps that are not in use are shut down rather than left running in the background. While it was previously activated only when the phone or tablet was resting on the table, the feature now also kicks into action when the screen is off.

Also new is the Data Saver feature, which tells background apps to access only Wi-Fi data and not use your cellular connection. Theoretically, these new features would improve the phone's battery life. But this is still highly dependent on the phone you are using and whether you subject it to heavy use throughout the day.

The more technical tweaks, such as the JIT compiler, reduce the amount of storage space required, while the Vulkan API improves performance for games.

Although these deeper features might not be felt immediately, they add up to create a smoother user experience in the long run.

Along the way, you will find some useful features such as switching between the front and rear cameras by twisting your wrist and thus flicking the phone thrice. For something fun (though admittedly useless), tap on the Android version in the settings to trigger an Easter egg in the form of a cat-collecting game similar to Neko Atsume.

BOTTOM LINE

There is no good reason not to install the upgrade, which is already available for Nexus smartphones and tablets. Non-Nexus users, however, will have to be patient and keep a lookout for that eventual software update notification.

•Verdict: Google Android 7.0 Nougat is not a radical redesign from the previous version but it makes the Android software much easier to use.

•Seow Tein Hee is a freelance tech reviewer who previously worked in several major tech publications.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 31, 2016, with the headline 'Nougat presents a sweet treat to Android purists'. Print Edition | Subscribe