We’ve just finished flashing the Android N developer preview on a Nexus P just to kick the tires and peek under the hood. And though of course we can’t speak to everything that’s here, our early hands-on has left us impressed. Yes, this is a completely clean and totally fresh device, but everything is zipping around the screen much faster than we’re used to. Part of that is that the animation speeds have been radically sped up, but truthfully there seems to be a very high level of care dedicated to the movement of basic OS elements.
But you’re here to find out how split-screen multitasking works — and the answer is “pretty well!” You operate it by holding down your finger on the top of a window in the main multitasking view and dragging it up to a highlighted area. Once you do, the other half gives you a second multitasking view to pick another app. Once there, you can adjust the splitter up or down in portrait mode or left and right in landscape. What’s intriguing that that it actually worked with third party apps like Twitter that probably weren’t built for it. Full-screen apps like games, however, wouldn’t participate.
We saw some crashes here and there when we were messing around, but overall it’s much more solid than you’d expect for such an early preview.
There’s a new way to handle Quick Settings, too. Google gives you a short row of icons at the top of the notification shade, and hitting one of those buttons will directly toggle Wi-Fi or Bluetooth or whatever. If you pull it down farther, you can customize what appears in Quick Settings and where — and a few of them like Battery or Data Saver take you to some inline information instead of dumping you over to the main Settings screen.
The main Settings screen has also been refreshed. Each line shows much more information now (and there’s a slightly-redundant navigation drawer on the left). Up at the top, there’s a “Suggested” area for settings that Android things you’ll want to pay attention to. We’ve seen Data Saver, Security, and Wallpaper up there so far.
Another big change is in the notifications themselves: they’re much more information-dense now, almost to the point of distraction. It does mean you can get a lot more done in there — and Android was already better than anybody else in that regard. Any developer can build Quick Reply into their app, now, too.
We saw some other nice bits and bobs. For example, during the initial setup process there’s a new “Vision Settings” button so users can change font size or even turn on Talkback — both important features for accessibility. There are a few other changes in the corners (though not, it must be said, to the easter egg Flappy Bird clone), so if you have a spare Nexus it’s worth a look. If you don’t have a spare, you really should not install it. As good as it is, it is still a preview, and it should not be something you use every day.
We’re expecting to hear much more about Android N at Google IO this May — including what we presume are new features that Google hasn’t unveiled yet. Stay tuned for that to learn more, and in the meantime here are some screenshots of what we like so far: