Android M is now available in developer preview, but only for those that own a modern Nexus device. Specifically, owners of the Nexus 5, 6, 9, and Player can grab the latest developer build of Android M, and the dozens of new visual and functional features that the operating system brings.
But while Google spent a while at I/O going over the big-picture changes it hopes to bring with M (granular app permissions, fingerprint support, better battery life, and more), there are a lot of smaller changes coming to the OS as well that reimagine how some of the most basic user-facing functions of the OS work. In many cases, these changes are more than welcome.
Google said at I/O last week that they’re putting a “big focus on quality end-to-end” with Android M, so let’s find out what that means in terms of the general user experience…
Lock screen, widgets, and app drawer
As you can see above, the most noticeable changes when you first start up the preview of Android M are the redesigned lock screen and app drawer. The lock screen now goes with all-caps for the date label, and the time has a new, bolder font. The app drawer has been redesigned to sport a scrollable list of apps rather than the previous never-ending pages.
You can scroll through the list of apps with the grabber on the right side of the screen, and they’re organized alphabetically with letters running down the left side to make it easy to find them. This makes a lot of sense compared to the redundancy of having both customizable home screen pages and many pages of hard-to-find alphabetically organized pages of apps in the drawer.
Also, the widgets screen, which you access by holding your finger on a home screen, has also been redesigned. While the widgets were previously listed using pages much like apps, they now sport a design that’s very similar to the multitasking screen. You can now scroll through all of your available widgets also organized alphabetically by app name.
There are a couple of other very obvious changes in the app drawer. As you can see, the drawer also places your most recently used apps at the top for quick access (and these are also placed in the Google Now launcher search area), and they’re searchable by keyword. Rather than scrolling through your apps, you can simply type “cal” and you’ll have Calculator and Calendar to pick from, for example.
Volume settings and “Do Not Disturb” tweaks
In Android M, Google has moved around the volume settings and “Do Not Disturb” settings—and I think they make a lot more sense now. There’s now a drop down menu from the regular volume change dialog, which lets you change your notification volume, media/music volume, and alarm volume all in one place. The “Do Not Disturb” menu, which used to be located in the volume drop down, is now a standalone option in the Quick Settings drop-down shade.
Google Settings is no longer its own app
Heading into the Settings app, there’s tons of little tweaks here and there—but some are more significant than others. For anyone that has ever accidentally tapped the “Google Settings” app (maybe I’m the only one that does this every single day?) when they meant to go to the “Settings” app, it looks like your woes are going to soon be over. In Android M, Google has moved the Google Settings app into the Settings app itself.
In the new Google Settings section, there is just one new option here. “Set up nearby device” seems to be how Google will be handling Project Brillo or Weave-enabled devices.
Interestingly, it looks like Google is also working on the beginnings of a new “Theme” feature. Right now it only affects the look of the Settings app (and the “App info” pages, which are part of the Settings app), but it’s notable nonetheless. You can choose between “Light” (which is the default), “Dark,” or “Automatic.” Automatic changes the settings based on your system clock—which might be as smart as we would hope, but it’s nice to have anyway.
System UI Tuner?
Digging deeper into the Developer settings menu, we found that there’s a new option called “SystemUI Tuner”. Enabling this adds yet another panel to the standard Settings menu labeled “System UI Tuner,” and tapping on this will show a list of piece of the UI that can be tuned. Right now, only the Quick Settings menu is listed. It’s not clear how this is going to work or what it will do, but the System UI Tuner currently lets you add inactive and useless items to your Quick Settings menu (which don’t actually get added to the menu system-wide).
Easter egg (or lack thereof)
As is the case with all new versions of Android, Google has included an easter egg (or, rather, hasn’t included an easter egg) in the most recent build. Just like in Lollipop, you can give the M a few taps and then tap and hold to show the new easter egg, which in this case is just a pop up of the “Meh” meme. As Ron Amadeo pointed out on his Google+ profile, the string for the easter egg is <string name=”regrettable_lack_of_easter_egg”>¯\\(ツ)/¯</string>…
As a side note, Android Police pointed out that the new share menu has an updated Bluetooth icon to match Material Design. Pretty nifty.
Android Pay, USB config, and more Settings tweaks
As for a few other changes that can be found in the Settings app, you’ll notice that there’s now a new Tap & pay menu. It currently just says “Use Tap & pay to make in-store purchases” and isn’t functional, but we can assume it’s going to be for Android Pay. There’s also a new USB configuration menu (which will be useful when we have some USB-C Android devices), and a new RAM management screen as well.
Phone and Contacts apps
Moving beyond system tweaks, Google has also made some changes to some of its stock applications. The Phone app, for example, now has a much tighter look. There isn’t much here in terms of new features, but the visual appearance has definitely received some tweaks. Some labels went from being icons to text, and phone call cards are now below the navigation tabs. Also, there’s a new Settings menu.
Now, tapping and holding on a contact in the Contacts app will give a few helpful new options. While holding on a contact did nothing in Lollipop, Android M lets users mass-select contacts and manipulate them in a few ways. You can merge them, delete them en-masse, or share them.
There’s most definitely more to see here, but these are some of the things that are most obvious and front-facing for every day users and developers. It looks like Google is really trying to refine the Material Design interface that they introduced with Lollipop, and some of these changes are really going to change how we use our phones.
After just a few days of using M on my Nexus 6, I can say with certainty that the new app drawer and widgets screens—even though they may continue to be refined as we near official release—are so much better than they were before. It’s going to be exciting to see how the OS evolves over the coming months.
For more reading, be sure to check out our initial roundup of Android M features (the ones that Google told us about on stage).