Android N is getting closer, with lots of details expected to be unveiled during Google I/O. But how does it compare to the current Android version, Marshmallow? And will your device benefit from what it can do? Let’s find out in our Android N vs Marshmallow comparison.
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Android N vs Marshmallow: availability
Android N is only currently available as a Developer Preview, and that means it’s only officially installable on some Nexus devices: the Nexus 6P, Nexus 5X, Nexus 6, Pixel C, Nexus 9 and Nexus Player. The Developer Preview is a test version of Android designed for app developers, and it’s a long way from being a finished product. The first developer preview was released on March 17 and the second on April 13.
You won’t get Android N immediately after Google I/O, unless Google has changed its mind: it says that it’ll be sending out the final version of Android N to manufacturers this summer.
As ever, Nexuses will get the Android N update first because Google doesn’t need manufacturers to make special versions of their skins and Android tweaks. Given that some people are still waiting for Android Marshmallow to reach their devices, that inevitably means that some OEMs will take longer than others.
Android N vs Marshmallow: key features
As with Marshmallow a lot of the key improvements are under the hood, with performance and battery optimization and improved security. But there are some visible changes too, including a Dark Mode for the UI and the appearance of a “hamburger” menu icon in Settings, the ability to reply to messages from the Notifications panel and a Multi-Window Mode that’s similar to the windowing in some high end Samsung and LG devices. That was actually present in the developer preview of Android Marshmallow, but it didn’t make the final cut.
The Notifications panel has been given a major redesign to make icons clearer, and you can “stack” notifications to optimize the Notifications space. There are six levels of notification importance, and you can set them on a per-app basis to ensure that you’re only interrupted by things that actually matter to you. There’s also speculation that the app drawer will vanish in Android N, although in the developer preview at least it’s still there.
Despite rumors that Android N would include a Google version of Apple’s 3D Touch pressure sensing, reports say that it now won’t be ready for the final release. It looks like initially at least, Android N will only get support for hard-press functionality via manufacturer-specific hardware and software.
Android N vs Marshmallow: what else is new?
Android’s Doze mode has been given new powers: in Android N, Doze will kick in any time the screen is off. At the moment in Marshmallow it only works when the phone hasn’t been used for a long time, so that change alone should make a significant difference to your battery life. Power saving has been tweaked too in order to maximize battery life, and Android has been heavily optimized so it won’t run like a donkey on older or more modest handsets.
If you like getting new things first you’ll also welcome the new Android Beta Program, which enables you to sign up for preview builds and updates that install over the air instead of requiring you to flash factory images.
Android N vs Marshmallow: VR
Android N gets another key feature that isn’t in Marshmallow: system-wide support for VR rather than manufacturer-specific tinkering. Google has written an API for developers of VR apps to use, and the new Sustained Performance Mode should avoid Android doing what happens quite a lot to Gear VR users: overheating and booting them out of VR apps. It’s unclear yet whether VR is the future of computing or just this year’s 3DTV, but if it’s the former then Android N is well placed to clean up.
Android N vs Marshmallow: name
Last but not least, what confectionery-related name is Android N going to get? The smart money appears to be on Nutella - we’ve already had KitKat, so using real product names is clearly an option - but many of us reckon it’ll be Nougat. We might not find out at Google IO, however. Previous names haven’t been announced officially until the newest Nexus devices were ready to roll.
Android N vs Marshmallow: early verdict
You don’t need a crystal ball to think that Android N is going to be the sleekest, smartest, most amazingnest Android yet - and you don’t need one to predict the howls of unhappy non-Nexus users forced to wait for the update until their manufacturer gets around to making it. However, we think it’ll be worth the wait: while the new features we’ve seen so far haven’t been heart-stopping, anything that promises more efficient running and better battery life sounds pretty tasty to us.
What do you think? Are Android updates getting less interesting, or more useful? Let us know in the comments.