Android 7.0 Nougat: The sweetest of them all?

Google calls it the “sweetest release yet”. Android 7.0 Nougat is finally here, rolling to compatible Nexus devices near you. The list includes Nexus 6, Nexus 9, Nexus 5x and 6P, the Pixel C tablet, Nexus Player and General Mobile 4G (Android One). But if the update has not yet hit your supported phone, you can jump the queue by enrolling into Google’s Android Beta program — this will trigger a notification about Nougat being available for download. Or, if you love tinkering, you could grab the factory images directly off Google servers.

Interestingly, this year Nougat has been released ahead of new hardware — traditionally, Android upgrades have been announced along with flashy new Nexus devices. Perhaps, the new Nexus phones are not yet ready for prime time and Google hopes the buzz around Nougat will divert some of the attention away from the impending launch of a swanky new phone by a certain fruity company.

So has Nougat been worth the wait? Or is it more of a bittersweet update? Well, Nougat is certainly one of Google’s most comprehensive upgrades, bringing a host of new features and under-the-hood refinements.

Two in one

Nougat multi-window modeThe headline-grabbing features include something Samsung phone users have been familiar with for some time — multi-window view, where you can split the screen and run two applications one below the other, or side by side in the landscape mode. For example, you could be watching a video in one window, while browsing in the other. Or copying text from one app to the other. You can also open two Chrome tabs in the multi-window mode.

Games phones play

vulkanGamers have been patiently waiting for Vulkan, ever since it was demoed at GDC 2015. Touted as a new generation graphics API that provides high-efficiency, cross-platform access to modern GPUs, Vulkan promises to be a game changer that will make, as Google notes on its Nougat page, “apps leap to life with sharper graphics and eye-candy effects”. But the caveat is that you will need a modern phone running Nougat to make the most of Vulkan.

Emoji galore

Nougat-emoji2Emoji fans, rejoice! Google wants to “bring your words to life” with updated and entirely new emojis — there are 72 new ones on the list of more than 1,500. And instead of being mere blobs, they are lot more detailed. As notes, “The first major change to look at is the changing of previously gender-neutral characters into gendered human characters.” Besides, Nougat brings in skin tone modifiers, Unicode 9 support and increased cross-platform consistency.

Bunching them up

Nougat tidies up notification clutter by bundling them up — for example, if you get 20 notifications about friends commenting on your Facebook post, they will all show up as a single group. You can expand this group to check individual notifications. Moreover, you can use the Direct Reply option to respond to the notifications from the pulldown shade itself — no need to fire up the app. Developers can also decide how notifications for their apps look, by leveraging custom views and message styles.

Assorted changes

The fancy Daydreams screensaver now has a less fancy and more obvious name — Screen Saver. Seems this name change was required to avoid confusion with Google’s VR initiative, which has been renamed Daydream VR. Speaking of which, Nougat will offer a virtual reality mode, which changes how apps are displayed while using a VR headgear.

Meanwhile, double-tapping the Recent Menu button opens up the app you were previously on. Nougat also keeps a record of where every app was installed from — this will come in handy if you sideload lots of apps. And with a data saver mode baked in, you can restrict specific apps from downloading data in the background. Similarly, Doze on the Go comes to the rescue of the phone battery, by switching to a low power mode when the phone is not being actively used.

Nougat Settings Menu. Image source -
Nougat Settings Menu. Image source –

The Settings menu has been overhauled and a slide-out added — switching from one category to another no longer requires hitting the Back button. You can now fiddle not just with text size, but also the icons and display’s DPI setting — currently, this requires root access and mucking around with the build.prop file.

Finally, security has been enhanced with file-based encryption, Direct Boot that ensures apps run securely, and patches and fixes that auto-download in the background. Though a big caveat —the last feature may not be incorporated by every phone manufacturer.