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Android 5.0 thoughts

Having upgraded my tablet and phone to Android 5.0 — they’re both Nexus devices, so it was a fairly simple process to get the upgrade without waiting — here are my thoughts.

Many of the improvements in the new version of Android are related to security. I don’t know whether this is driven by Apple’s (often erroneously) perceived leadership in this area, by the ongoing revelations about surveillance and law enforcement misbehavior, or by some combination of the two, but it’s welcome all the same.

Screen pinning is a new security feature which lets you lock the phone to a single app screen, so you can hand it to someone to look at without their being able to go look at your contacts, calendar, and other info. To unpin the screen, you can require your security code. This is good — my insurance company offers phone-based insurance info in an app, but before screen pinning there was no way I was going to hand my phone to a police officer at a traffic stop.

Smart unlock is another useful security feature. It lets you set up the phone to stay unlocked when within range of a particular NFC or Bluetooth device. In my case, I can set it up with my Fitbit — suddenly I don’t have to deal with PIN codes to use my phone, yet if I misplace the phone it’ll be securely locked.

There’s also a new guest mode, for when someone wants to borrow your phone. It sets up a clean restricted environment where they can check their e-mail or send a message, then either you or they can wipe it clean.

The lock screen now shows notifications. If you’re concerned about the security implications, you can choose to have it redact anything considered personal, like content of text messages.

Other than that, it’s mostly a cosmetic upgrade. A lot of the improvements will be rolled out to phones that don’t get Android 5.0, because they’re improvements to Google’s apps.

I love the new calendar. In portrait mode, you get an agenda timeline by default; flip the phone on its side and it switches to week grid mode. You can also switch views with the action bar, of course, but the designers have clearly thought carefully about which views make the most sense for which screens.

The new contacts app makes better use of screen space. It also brings back the “join” option. I know a lot of people who use multiple e-mail addresses, and since Google and Twitter tend to helpfully add contacts to your address book, in some cases I had three entries for the same person.

I’m less convinced by the new Gmail. I’m a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to mail, and I don’t believe in using my inbox as a to-do list, so it seems like Google’s general direction with e-mail isn’t what I’m looking for.

As for overall graphical style, I definitely like the new look. As others have said, Google is getting good at design much faster than Apple seems to be able to learn how to provide useful cloud services.