LAB501

Android L – Rerouting Google…

It’s important to start our analysis with a disclaimer. This isn’t a full review of Android L, nor is it definitive in terms of performance and battery life, since this is a Developer Preview version. What does that mean? It simply means the code is far from finished, and while new functionality is already present, it may present bugs and its performance can be improved. Not all first-party applications have seen updates either, but we can expect many more to change until the final release this fall. Having said that, we will still take a look at performance and battery life and do some comparisons with Android 4.4, but this is only meant to be a short preview of the latest and greatest in Android.

After you take out performance, battery life, stability and those fine details which enhance the user experience, all you’re left with is well… the appearance. This is where we’ll try to extract as many conclusions from as possible, because the interface changes in Android L make a perfect statement for Google’s vision about the direction the industry has taken. It will most definitely shape Google’s portfolio more than ever before, so we’ll try to reach these conclusions as well: what does it mean for Google? How does it reflect on the end user? Android L’s new design and new way of doing things will reveal us significant details about these topics.

 

Can I install it? How?

 

This is the first time Google has released a preview version of Android. Altough it was specifically released for developers to adapt their applications (hence the “Developer Preview” nomenclature), it is freely available for download. There are two supported devices at this moment: the Nexus 5 (codename hammerhead) and the 2013, Wi-Fi version of the Nexus 7 (codename razor). You can go over to developer.android.com/preview/index.html and follow the steps to get the system image for your Nexus device.

You’ll notice the file comes in a .tgz archive. Extract it and then run the ‘flash-all’ script with the phone started in bootloader mode. That’s it, the script will take care of everything, the phone will reboot itself (be patient, the first boot takes a long while) and you will have a fresh Android L install on your device.

A couple of notes, however: First of all, in order to be able to flash this way (the easy way, am I right?) you have to set up ADB and Fastboot on your computer beforehand. Second of all, doing these exact steps will erase all information on your device, including files on the internal storage (some people call it internal SD card). If you wish to keep your data you have to decompress the .zip archive and flash the individual partition images with the following commands:

fastboot flash boot boot.img
fastboot flash cache cache.img
fastboot flash recovery recovery.img
fastboot flash system system.img
fastboot reboot

After the phone reboots, you’ll have to do a couple more steps. First, open the Settings application, go to the ‘About’ screen (last option), and repeatedly tap on the build number (last option) until it says you’re a developer. Now go one screen back and open the developer options. From there activate the USB Debugging. The last step is to start the activation screen by entering the following command on your computer:

adb shell am start -a android.intent.action.MAIN -n com.google.android.setupwizard/.WizardManager

This is a hackish way to install the Android L Developer Preview, and I certainly do not recommend it, but it allows you to keep your data. Now that the install bit is done, let’s have a look at what’s new.

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