Being a developer build, installing it requires you to agree to a fair amount of tracking from Google, which monitors the build to spot and fix bugs ahead of the full version’s release. You also run the risk of bricking your phone or tablet, as the code is still in development and may include more than a couple of bugs.
I’ve downloaded the OS onto my spare Nexus 6 and taken it for spin. So you can get all the details of Android N’s coolest features, without risking your smartphone or tablet.
Powering up the Nexus 6, the OS initially looked pretty similar to Android Marshmallow. The app tray’s exactly where it’s meant to be and Google Now is still a simple left swipe away.
However, delve a little deeper and you’ll spot a number of subtle differences. The notification bar has been given a refresh. Swipe down once and a new shortcuts bar to key features like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and flashlight will appear above your incoming app notifications. Previously you had to swipe down twice (or swipe down with two fingers) to get access to the quick settings.
Google has also spruced up the way Android handles notifications in general. On N, app developers can opt to have notifications from their software come in stacked bundles in the notifications bar or lock screen. The feature is currently live on most of Google’s own apps, including Hangouts and Gmail, and from what I’ve seen works a treat.
Multiple messages on Hangouts appear in stacks, with a line telling me who's recently messaged me. From there I can expand the bundle by pulling it open with a two-finger gesture and pick which specific alert I want to address – removing the need for me to launch the app each time I get a new IM.
Google has also added a new setting shortcut to the notifications. If you partially pull any alert left or right from the lock screen or notifications bar, a setting icon will appear. When this is clicked the OS brings up options to temporarily stop, outright block, or silence alerts from the app/person messaging you.
Direct reply notifications are the final feature in Android N’s trio of alert updates. The feature expands on the quick reply feature Google added to Hangouts on Android Marshmallow. On Marshmallow the feaure made it so you could quickly reply to incoming Hangout messages without launching the application, via a custom shade view – like you can on many iOS 9 applications.
On N, developers will be able to add this functionality to their applications. If key companies such as Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp get behind Android N’s quick reply feature I can see it being one of OS’s best new additions.
Multi-window support has been a staple feature for Samsung’s Galaxy range of smartphones for quite some time now, and is a key selling point for its latest Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 Edge handsets.
That's why it’s no surprise Google’s decided to add multi-window support to Android’s core code on N. The feature can be activated within any open application by pressing down on the phone or tablet’s overview button – the square one on the bottom right of the UI. From there you can select the second app you want to have on screen and customise how much display real estate it gets using an onscreen slider.
The multi-window support worked great on the Nexus 6 I tested Android N on and was a massive productivity aid. The feature allowed me do things like keep the reference web page I was reading about on Chrome open while I was chatting to colleagues on Hangouts, removing the need for me to switch between apps while multi-tasking.
The multi-window support is also set to get even better as, eventually, it’ll also be possible to drag an item from one app into the other. This will let you do things like drag a photo from your camera reel straight to your Facebook app to upload it – I couldn’t get the feature to work during my hands-on, though, as Facebook doesn't run correctly in splitscreen at the moment.
Picture-in-picture is another feature I didn’t get to test during my hands-on, which is a little sad as it sounds quite cool. The feature is designed for Nexus player and other Android TV devices. As the name suggests it will add picture-in-picture support so you can minimise videos being played to the corner of the screen – like you can in Android’s current YouTube app.
This will mean you can browse the web, or check your social media feeds when important alerts come in, without having to pause what you’re currently watching – which, let’s face it, will be cool. If it works
Google’s developer build also brings a number of under-the-hood updates that should improve Android N’s power efficiency and lower its overall system requirements.
For starters, Google has expanded and improved the Doze feature it added in Android Marshmallow. Doze lets Android devices figure out when they’re not being used and go into a custom power saving mode that reduces battery drain. The improved version on Android N works whenever the screen is turned off, not just after prolonged periods of inactivity.
Google has backed this up with a few improvements to Android’s core structure that should let app makers reduce how much juice their wares consume while running in the background. If developers take advantage of the new feature, this adds up to mean the final version of Android N should be far more efficient than Marshmallow.
As a final perk, Google’s also continued its work on Project Svelte. Project Svelte is an initiative Google unveiled alongside Android 4.4 KitKat. It’s a project that aims to reduce Android’s overall system requirements – which is important, as it means the OS will in theory run faster and work with lower-end components.
Making any final judgement on Android N is a fool’s errand, as the OS is a work in progress. All I can do is judge it as an early indicator of what to expect from the final new Android version that Google is set to unveil later this year.
But so far I'm impressed by Android N. Google appears to have listened to user feedback and is working to give developers the tools they need to fix the OS usability and power consumption issues.
If developers get behind the changes and start adding the functionality to their wares, the final version of Android N could be an incremental update to the OS, on a par with Marshmallow.