Android Marshmallow Review: The Best Mobile Platform
Google delivers another EPIC update in the form of Android Marshmallow, a truly huge and awesome platform for phones and tablets
Last year, with the arrival of the Nexus 5X and the Nexus 6P the Android world was all about Android Marshmallow 6.0. The new build, previously known as Android M, built on Google's earlier advances with Android Lollipop, continuing the wonderful new Material Design ethos, but importantly it introduced a number of new and powerful features, as well as further enhancing performance optimisations with the 64-bit architecture and, a BIG deal for many users, some excellent built-in power saving features. After all, we all want our phones to run for longer, don't we?
We've got Android 7.0 to look forward to this summer, and you can already bet it'll be called Android N. In the meantime though, let us take a look at what's hot (and maybe what's not) about the current version...
Android Marshmallow: App Permisions
A seemingly small and unexciting change at first glance, app permissions inside Android Marshmallow have been extensively tweaked. Why's this a good thing?
Well ok, if you're a long-time Android user you'll be familiar with this scenario: you download and install an app from Google Play and it gives you a wall of text saying these are the app permissions you need to grant - it's weird, and confusing, and a bit of a hassle.
Android Marshmallow takes a different route, with app permissions being individually bundled up and distributed to you as and when you use a certain feature that requires it. Itnow lets users reject or approve permissions from individual apps and individual functions within the app itself. You won't be hit with a big wall of permissions when you install an app anymore, instead when you use a feature, say the voice message recording inside WhatsApp, it'll ask you for permission then, rather than up-front.
You can still go into permissions for any given app and tweak them at any time, however. This pretty much streamlines app installation and use, and for features you never use, you'll never get asked to grant permission!
Android Marshmallow: Web Browsing & Chrome
It wouldn't be new Android without at least some attention given to the web experience via the Chrome browser. Most notably Google has added "custom tabs" which allow Chrome to open up links to web content inside an app as an overlay, rather than jumping you out of the app entirely and into the full-blown browser, as has been the case until now.
This feature will allow app developers to customise the tabs to fit the look and feel of their own app design language, but will be directly linked to Chrome on that device and a logged-in user account, preserving things like remembered passwords and login details - allowing for a seamless experience.
Again, this is more streamlining from Google and it's very welcome too, as it was a bit laborious being booted out of an app and into Chrome for every bit of shared content or hyperlink.
Android Marshmallow: Fingerprint Scanner
Between the inclusion of fingerprint scanners on a range of Android phones (including the new Nexus devices) and the rollout of Google's own Android Pay it was inevitable that some attention be given to fingerprint scanning and biometric security. Google's gone for standardised, built-in support for fingerprint authentication, allowing developers to make use of the feature for unlocking devices, logging into apps and content, and purchases via web stores or points-of-sale in bricks n' mortar retail outlets.
Android Marshmallow: Android Pay & Mobile Payments
Android Pay is now rolling out and is a natural evolution of Google Wallet — the Big G’s first attempt at mobile payments. Android Pay has been redesigned and rejigged with 2015/16’s market in mind. In order to use it you will need Android handset running Android KitKat and above and NFC — bad news for OnePlus 2 owners, then! Unlike Apple Pay, Android Pay does not require a fingerprint scanner, despite many new Android handsets shipping with one. If you don’t have a fingerprint scanner on your phone you can authenticate a payment using a PIN, pattern or password.
Android Marshmallow: Battery Optimisations
Doze is designed to make your Android Marshmallow handset suitably more power efficient. How it works is simple: sensors detect when you’re not using your phone, say while watching a movie or reading a book, and put it into a kind of sleep mode so it uses less power. This is an excellent addition to Android and one that adds in a bunch more hours to a handset’s idle performance. You’ll even notice the difference on older hardware like the Nexus 5.
Material Design: New App Drawer & New Animations
It's not a big visual overhaul but Material Design has been tweaked a little, most notably the new animations designed to make everything even more visually integrated, intuitive, and seamless. On top of this a new app drawer design is much cleaner, features vertical scrolling, discretely colours itself the same way as your wallpaper, and prioritises your most-used apps at the top. Lastly, Google has added a more seamless homescreen rotation functionality, and options for toggling this on or off.
Android Marshmallow: Android RAM Manager
No this isn't a kind of shepherd. The Android RAM Manager keeps a close eye on your phone's Random Access Memory and shows you a much more detailed background of which apps are most hungry for your phone's grey matter.
Android Marshmallow: Adoptive Storage
Adoptive Storage allows the Android system to "adopt" an external memory device such as a microSD card and treat it as onboard storage. Excellent stuff! Now we just need OEMs to start including microSD-support again and everything will be good again!
Android Marshmallow: Dark Theme
Pretty much does what it says on the tin; there's a dark theme now if you want it!
Android Marshmallow: Google Now
Plenty of attention has been focused on Google Now, generally with the intention of making it smarter, faster, more responsive and accurate, and overall easier to use and get exactly what you need out of it.
Google says the Google Now suite understands context better than ever before, so for example, if you have a route set up in your Maps already you can ask "how far is it?" and Google Now will know you are referring to the current route's end destination - you don't have to be so specific any longer.
Android Marshmallow: Voicemail
Google has expanded voicemail functionality to include a lot more useful details at a glance and allowing you to control your message playback via a slider, pause, delete and much more, rather than having to go through the annoying process of pressing number keys to perform these functions when prompted.
This functionality will need to be enabled on a carrier-by-carrier basis, but support is expected to become widespread.
Android Marshmallow: Status Bar Customisation
The settings menu has been expanded to allow you to directly customise which icons appear in the status bar - don't want to see a Bluetooth indicator? Toggle it off or on as you wish.