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Hands on: What's new and noteworthy with Android N

JR Raphael | May 27, 2016
A detailed look at the most meaningful changes coming to Android via this year's yet-to-be-named N release.

06 android n settings
Android's full system settings also get a fresh coat of paint.

You'll find a few newly added options within the settings, too, for things like setting separate wallpaper for your home and lock screens, and the ability to adjust your device's display size and make everything bigger.

Google has also attempted to make getting around the system settings simpler by adding a side-loading menu that lets you move directly from one section to another. Hey, anything that can save a second or two -- right?

A customizable Share menu

A seemingly teensy change that's become one of my favorite Android N features is the ability to customize the system-wide Share menu. Google's used a lot of different methods for sorting that menu over the years, but for some reason, my favorite sharing destinations always seem to end up buried in the middle of the list and frustratingly hard to find.

07 android n share pinning
You can long-press any icon in the Share list and pin it to the top of the Share menu.

With Android N, you can long-press any icon in the Share list and pin it to the top. You can pin any number of apps you want, and they'll appear in the order you pinned them.

Sometimes, it's the smallest things that make the biggest difference.

Data-saving support

Unlimited data isn't a reality for many smartphone owners these days, and Android N has a little something for the gigabyte-pinchers among us: a new Data Saver mode that senses when you're on a metered network and puts the brakes on your mobile data usage.

Data Saver works in two ways: First, it blocks background data usage so your apps won't move any more bytes than is absolutely necessary. (You can manually whitelist certain apps as exceptions if you want.) And second, it tells apps to limit the amount of data use in the foreground whenever possible.

Take that, pesky carrier caps!

Under-the-hood advancements and big-picture changes

In addition to all the front-facing features, Android N includes the usual host of under-the-hood improvements we hear about with practically every OS upgrade. This latest version of Android promises to provide faster and more effective performance, better battery life and other similar stuff. It hasn't been anything I've noticed in regular day-to-day use, but your mileage may vary (and some of these areas may be more apparent once a final release arrives).

Android N also introduces support for a new VR Mode that'll provide a system-level platform for phone-connected virtual reality headsets. Devices will have to meet specific hardware requirements in order to be certified as "VR ready," though, and Google's Nexus 6P is the only phone that's been certified thus far -- so odds are, you won't be seeing the effects of this on your current device anytime soon.

 

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