Android Marshmallow hands on: smarter, shinier, more secure

It’s that time of year again: upgrade season. You know, the time when iOS users around the world get the latest and greatest that Apple has to offer, while only a small percentage of Android users get to experience brand new Google products.

I’m lucky enough to have a Nexus device, and for the past few days I’ve been using Android’s newest and most mature release yet: Android Marshmallow.

I’m sure the various OEMs (pipping Motorola to be first again) will start rolling out their versions soon, but for now, it’s only available on Nexus devices. So what have I learned about Android Marshmallow in the very short time I’ve spent with it?

It’s faster, smoother and better on battery

This is the first thing notice myself, after every single upgrade regardless of how minor. However, this time it’s definitely not a placebo effect.

Android Marshmallow has been optimised fantastically and I’m particularly keen on the new animations. Seeing an icon “zoom” fullscreen from its homescreen position is ridiculously satisfying. The little bits of lag navigating the menus and recent apps list have been nullified as far as I can tell.

Read more: Android Marshmallow update roundup: Marshmallow rolling out to Nexus devices today

In the interest of science, I’m using a Nexus 7 (2013) WiFi tablet, but only until my Nexus 5X arrives.

Doze is another new feature in Android Marshmallow and it is basically an enhanced “deep sleep” for your CPU. When you device is just lying on the table and not moving, you will quickly notice how horizontal the battery drain line in the battery stats menu is. It’s not been as amazing as Google claimed, but it’s the first version and if I’m honest, 2% battery drain overnight on my tablet is already a significant improvement over the 10% I’m used to seeing when I leave sync, and network connectivity on.

This will be extremely useful and a massive bonus to all Android devices.

Android’s getting smarter

Automation of tasks, regardless of how menial, has always been possible on Android. Apps like Tasker, Agent, Motorola’s Assist and Moto Suite all help add various degrees of task automation to the OS, but with Marshmallow, Android now handles a lot of this natively. You can set your device to be silent during certain calendar events; so think meetings, appointments, etcetera. At the moment you can only select a single Google calendar, I’m sure it’ll increase at some stage.

Google Now on Tap is an additional part of the OS that has added a significant dimension to Android, as it provides contextual information of whatever’s on your screen with a long-press of the home button. So while you’re reading up on a restaurant, in theory, you can fire up Now on Tap, and the restaurants contact details, location and social links will all be available to you.

I’ve not really seen the advantage of this on my tablet, but that’s to be expected as I don’t take it out of the house very often. On a smartphone, while out and about, it could potentially be amazing, however I fear that it might be another one of those features more useful in the first, than third, world.

Permissions, permissions, permissions

In Android Marshmallow, users have a lot more control over which permissions to grant apps. I am looking forward to more developers adding Marshmallow compatibility into their app permissions, but for now, I like the move. It reminds me of what I’ve been using on my Moto G running CyanogenMod.

This is a great step forward for Android and its importance can’t be overstated, particularly when you consider how much of your data is accessible to apps installed on your device.

There will also be monthly security updates for Nexus devices, and for the first time, Google’s updates are rolling out quickly, and without much hassle. The protection of user data has obviously been prioritised and for the first time since I’ve been using Android privacy and security has really been beefed up. Good job, Google.

Finally, a new backup system

It’s been a long time coming, but it’s finally here.

App data will be encrypted and backed up to Google Drive (without using any of your allocation) and once you restore the data in theory is should log you straight in, bypass any splash screens and have the app back to the exact state it was when the data was backed up. This is a huge win for Android.

I’ve not managed to test it just yet as I didn’t factory reset my tablet for Android Marshmallow, but for the Nexus 5X, I’m looking forward to restoring my current Moto G’s setup and you can be sure I’ll let you know how that goes.

Intelligent storage management

Budget devices are becoming more popular and the one thing most of them have is a microSD card slot. Although none of Google’s devices use them, Android 6.0 allows SD cards to be used as on board storage.

This will help expand and effectively transform a affordable 8GB device to anything up to a 136GB device with the addition of a 128GB SD card.

Closing thoughts

These are my initial findings while using Marshmallow, and it’s not the longest list, just because I don’t actually use my tablet for more than web browsing and the occasional game.

Once I get a daily driver that runs Android Marshmallow I’ll be able to give you a much more in depth review and summary of the new OS, however, initial impressions are good and I can’t wait for everyone to see what Android’s latest and greatest is capable of.

Feature image: Takahiro Yamagiwa via Flickr



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