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

June 30, 2014
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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
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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?
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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?
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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)

[poll id="628"]

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