Android L as a daily driver: How stable is it? Should you dive in or not?

June 30, 2014

material design android l release

Last Thursday Google released the Android L Developer Preview to the world, and while many of us jumped on it the first change we got, others have been a little more reluctant.

For those that are on the fence about whether or not to install the developer preview or simply curious about how polished Google’s ‘test drive’ of the next Android version is, the following article is for you. For those that already have Android L installed, it could also be beneficial to see how your experience has compared to mine.

I had considered writing this last week, but honestly I felt it was better to wait until I’d had more experience with Android L on my Nexus 5, aside from a few hours here and thre. Without further ado, let’s jump and talk a bit about life with Android L.

Android L Developer Preview: A beautiful but imperfect look at the future
android-l-netflix-crashing

No one should be surprised to hear that Android L is far from a fully stable build and that means you shouldn’t even consider downloading the preview unless you’re willing to accept the fact that certain parts of the experience will be broken. There are apps that won’t work at all, and others that work only when they want to.

For example, Dropbox is totally dead in the water right now and Twitter was just recently updated to work with the L release. Meanwhile, I’ve had plenty of crashes with Netflix but every once in a while all is well in the world of video streaming (though curiously it won’t find my Chromecast!). As for the system UI? Honestly I’ve never experienced any freezing, stuttering or any issues at all, but your experience could certainly differ from mine.

I have enjoyed using Android L as a daily driver, despite the fact that Google recommends that folks use it only on a secondary device

Overall, have I enjoyed using Android L as a daily driver, despite the fact that Google recommends that folks use it only on a secondary device? Absolutely. There have been little irritations along the way but I’m actually a pretty boring user when it comes to my phone. My main uses include the phone dialer, Google Drive, Chrome, Gmail, Spotify, Hangouts, G+, Facebook (on rare occasions..), Hulu Plus and Netflix. With the exception of the latter of these, all the others have worked perfectly.

When it comes to gaming and other more “advanced” uses, I tend to turn to a game console, PC or my Android tablets. I do sometimes game on my phone, but its pretty basic stuff like Crazy Taxi and Sonic 2 (both of which work as they should). In other words, if you also use your phone for ‘basic’ everyday stuff the majority of the time, Android L should be ‘stable enough’.

At least in my own experience the core functions of the phone (calling, texting, browsing) work as good as KitKat, so I don’t have to worry about being stranded somewhere but unable to call out due to bugs.

A word of caution: battery life suffers
battery-levels

While the situation might be different for the Nexus 7 2013, I and many other Android L Nexus 5 testers have noticed battery life takes a hit with Android L. How bad of a hit seems to vary. Standby mode appears to sip your battery life away at about the same rate as KitKat, but intense stuff like gaming and watching video seems to drain things much more quickly.

All in all, I’d say KitKat gives me at least another hour or two before it gets to 15% battery life. Then again, at 15% Android L’s battery saver should kick on and so it might end up lasting close to the same — though I haven’t fully tested this, as I tend to plug in my phone around this point. If any other Nexus 5 or Nexus 7 (2013) users with Android L have any experience with using the phone all the way to the 0% range, please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments. I’ll also try to run some more detailed battery tests in the future.

Note: Don’t expect this level of battery performance in the final version of Android L, as Google is making several changes that optimize for better battery life. Android L’s Developer Preview just isn’t there yet.

Are the trade-offs actually worth it?
notifications

Here’s the big question: are the trade-offs worth installing Android L? If you’re the curious type and can live with some possible glitches and broken apps, sure it’s worth installing and playing around with. But keeping it running on your device long-term? Short answer, it depends.

Long answer, the changes in the developer preview are enjoyable but I’m not sure if its worth keeping Android L Developer Preview around for what mainly boils down to aesthetic changes and a few added features like the new Do Not Disturb mode. Don’t get me wrong, I really like the direction Android is heading in, but Android L is currently an unfinished hodgepodge of old and new. When the final version arrives, we’ll see some of the current features further refined and we’ll also see several other features added. Additionally things like screen casting will be ready to go by then. And it will all be glorious!

Android L is currently an unfinished hodgepodge of old and new

In the meantime, my advice for those on the fence would be to install the factory image, play around for a few days and, unless you’re happy with the trade-offs, I’d then return to KitKat. Just keep in mind that things can go wrong when installing, so proceed with caution.

So who should keep the update long term? Developers, obviously. In addition to this, those that like exploring the unknown and users who don’t mind searching for bugs and reporting them to developers to ensure that your favorite apps work flawlessly when Android L’s stable release is unveiled later this year. Bottom-line, if you want to install Android L because you think you’ll get an “upgraded” user experience from KitKat, don’t bother, as it’s not there yet (though close).

For those wondering if I plan to keep Android L on my own phone? We’ll see. Considering I write about Android for a living, it’s in my favor to keep Android L on my device for as long as possible. I also am one of those types that like exploring the unknown and I’d miss a few things like DND mode and search in settings. Most likely I won’t ever be making the return to KitKat unless I run into an app/service issue that proves to be a true deal breaker for me. So far, so good.

Bugs in Android L: How can you help?
android-l-kevin

If you’re now sufficiently inspired to roll up your sleeves and do what it takes to install the Android L Developer Preview (it’s actually really easy..), you might be wondering how you can help Google and developers improve the experience once you are all in. For helping developers, your best bet is to look up apps you run into issues with on Google Play, we’re you’ll find the developer’s email address. Shoot them a line! Most developers are very grateful for this kind of feedback and will do their best to address the situation.

If you run into issues with the actual OS preview, you’ll want to hit up the following resources and leave any feedback there:

What's it like on the other side of the fence?

If for whatever reason you aren’t able to give Android L a try (not able/willing to put up with stability compromises, no Nexus ownership, etc), you might still have questions that have yet to be answered anywhere else. With that in mind, I have created a new thread over at our forums where you can ask your questions about Android L and I’ll do my best to answer them — along with (hopefully) some help from other Android L Developer Preview users. Obviously some questions I/we might not be able to give you an answer to, but it never hurts to ask.

For those rocking Android L, I invite you to continue the discussion in the comments and, even better, over at our forums. If you have Android L installed (or had it installed), I also ask that you participate in our poll to give folks a better idea of how you feel about the Android L Developer Preview.

(Please don’t vote in the poll unless you’ve actually tried out Android L)

How stable has your experience with Android L Developer Preview been?

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Comments

  • JSo

    For me, its good enough to use. As long as you don’t treat it like a KitKat build and expect everything to just work like it did before. Like root. You can root Android L but I think it makes it unstable. Devs need to come up with a better root method. And as far as apps, it all depends on what you use. I don’t use Netflix or any of the other apps that people are having trouble with so I’m good. To me, its a breath of fresh air on my phone and I’ll keep it around

    • MasterMuffin

      Chainfire is working on the root and some devs will neet to update their root apps

      • JSo

        Yeah, I read last weekend that he couldn’t get to it until Monday (Today). Hopefully he can get something good together because the methods I have tried so far have caused reboots and overall instability. I can live without root for a little while though.

        • MasterMuffin

          Same here, I’ve lived without root from the day the L release was released.

        • Mike Reid

          SuperSU 2.0,0 was fine after a simple file copy for me. Many flashed a mod’d aboot.

          The current breakage is mostly in root apps, not SuperSU.

          My own root apps are broke, but mostly in line with the SELinux breakage “Chainfire” warned us was coming.

          I only use my N7 for app testing and light houshold web usage 30 minutes a day, but L is fine for me.

          For me, L is there to stay on my N7. I’d only flash back temporarily if it was rather important for app testing.

          Already “stock” ports (without AOSP source yet) to others, like the N5 similar LG G2, are underway and hotly anticipated.

          KitKat and KitKat+ (api level 20) are “dead” among enthusiasts.

          LLL: Long Live L…

  • Jakub Galuszka

    Oh c’mon…Worse battery life?I really hope google fix that…i was thinking we will get a little better battery life :(

    • Andrew Grush

      Keep in mind that this is an early developer’s preview. Google announced plans to better optimize for better battery life, it’s just that the Developer Preview hasn’t been fully optimized for these changes. Don’t worry, it is very likely battery life will be noticeably better than KitKat once Android L’s final release software arrives this fall.

      • Rafael Costa

        Weird. My battery usage is smaller than on KitKat. It’s also better than iOS 8 b2 (which has a GREAT battery life on my i5). Using L as my daily driver and so far so good. Just little hiccups here and there with some apps that haven’t been updated.

        • Andrew Grush

          Hmm.. yah, I’ve heard mixed reports on battery life. Mine has been worse, but not to the point that it’s life-running. And I haven’t let it drop to the point that battery saver turns on — so my battery life is probably the same or better if I were in a situation where it kept running until it died.

  • Jayfeather787

    Honestly for me, nothing is wrong. Then again, I don’t have any apps installed. For me, it is stable and battery life is very solid, and performance has increased significantly, especially on my Nexus 7.

  • Tom Elwood

    I agree with most of the comments below, may i just point out with the battery saver, i used it from a full charge, it affected smoothness a bit but thats expected, anyway, i used to get a screen on time of 5 hours max with kitkat now even with the developer version im currently at 8% with a screen on time of 6hours 33mins and 18secs, amazing may i add, effectively already solving the problem of the Nexus 5s relatively small battery.

    • sluflyer06

      I applaud your tolerance for extreme lag and stuttering. I’ve been running L since it was available and when battery saver kicks in the phone is mind blowingly laggy.

  • MasterMuffin

    It’s pretty stable and I’m loving it, but would I recommend it to others? Absolutely not! I see way too many people knowing nothing about almost anything flashing the preview and then getting all kinds of problems and complaining and not being able to solve their problems. Just wait for the official update if you’re not absolutely okay with stuttering and frequent crashes. Everyone’s experience is different, but prepare for the worst. My advice is to at least wait for the preview to get its first update(s)

  • Nick

    Standby mode is much worse, has anyone had an issue with screen unlocks crashing the os

    • Jayfeather787

      no

    • Rob Walker

      yep happened all the time to me sadly

  • Colts5609

    Installed L and ran it for a few days, but I had to go back to 4.4.4. The OS ran smoothly for the most part, but not quite as smooth as KK. The app compatibility was the deciding factor. I may wait a month or two to try and let developers catch up and try running L again. But overall I was impressed and genuinely enjoyed using L. Can’t wait for the final build.

  • descendency

    I tried using it but I couldn’t update my mobile settings because the settings app kept crashing, rendering it useless as a daily driver.

    I imagine it would be OK on a tablet.

  • Favian Orozco

    I still can’t get build.prop edits to work, I want custom DPI.
    Since the version of Madhi ROM I had installed suffered from a memory leak, it wasn’t hard deciding to try this new Android version.
    I like it, some colors seem off, and the white lock screen notifications are a bit boring. I’m hoping they get it all straightened out.

  • MarrianneClancyano

    Josiah . although Jacqueline `s stori is surprising,
    last week I bought themselves a Chrysler from having made $5060 thiss month
    and-in excess of, 10/k last-month . it’s realy the easiest-work I have ever
    done . I started this 4 months ago and pretty much straight away was bringin in
    at least $78 per-hour . why not look here C­a­s­h­d­u­t­i­e­s­.­C­O­M­

    • Oliver Bastholm

      But I don’t want a Chrysler! I want a Ferrari!

  • Giorgi Gogashvili

    After using Android L for three days, besides many pros, I noticed that, in some aspects, Google is trading practicality for visual attractiveness.

    1. You need two swipes (or a swipe+click) to get to quick settings vs two-finger swipe in kitkat
    2. The first swipe gives you a false sense of it opening
    3. No date and month visible on the first swipe
    4. No battery percentage in notification drawer
    5. Because the n. d. is dark, – when you adjust the brightness and swipe up, the homescreen goes unexpectedly bright.
    6. Less text visible on the notification cards
    7. Aqua color in dialer? really?
    8. When majority of phones are 4.5″+, taller settings categories were not necessary + bad contrast font + does google hate OLED screens? :D
    9. Recent app cards are so big only 2-3 are visible vs 4 in kitkat.

  • JonE

    Cons
    Battery life not great. VPN doesn’t seem to work at the mo. My own app doing some weird stuff.

    Pros
    Everything else. I’ve been using Cyanogenmod for a while and this ‘preview’ is much better than their ‘stable’ KK release. All things that CM seemed to do better than stock before seem to be included in stock so I’m now happy.

    Long term I think that L is looking very good. I hope that Google do these preview releases more often :)

  • Renato Paredes Araújo

    Constant Black screen of death for me. Unfortunately.
    Nexus 5

  • sluflyer06

    I want to keep running L but as of now my phones been off charger for 3 hours with about 5 minutes of use and I’m already down to 83%. This has been the common theme since I got on L, I’ve tried disabling NFC, turned off Google Now, restarted the phone. Battery life is just too buggy right now. I really look forward to the release version….back to Paranoid Android.

  • Yaritza Miranda

    I’ll use Led Lampen for now

  • Pudgy Ducky

    Bad battery life , camera not taking pics , videos on any browser not working etc etc …

  • Rob Walker

    for me it was far too ubstable even in safe mode, it kept rebooting itself every half an hour on adverage, sometimes when using an app & sometimes when my phone was in standby. apps that i found to course reboots when in use included eWeather HD, CM Browser, Dolphon Zero, Chrome, PlayerPro, Facebook, Go SMS Pro, Go Keyboard, Go Laucher EX, Go Switch+ & 8 Ball Pool. i also found that battery drain was much quicker & a few people on the other end of the phone said that i sounded really quiet.

    i do like the new UI & features tho its just that for everyday use atm its far too unstable, once its stable i will be updating.

  • https://plus.google.com/app/basic/107674384581464517441/about?cbp=bx8095sx0f7s&sview=28 Rares Tabacu

    As much as I enjoyed L for not even a day unfortunately, it seemed pretty ok, with some app crashes and bugs, but, the thing that made me switch back to kit kat is that, in tradition with the Nexus 5, I’ve had network issues.
    Everything was great and LTE was running perfectly until I got a phone call. It was all downhill from there on.
    The device kept rebooting each time the SIM card was installed, and (obviously, since I do not have a second N5) I could not afford not being able to receive calls and texts :( Bummer