Surprise! Android N arrived last night. Not in an official, let's all download it now kind of way, but as a sneak peek of what's to come for Google fans.
The preview wasn't expected to land until Google I/O in May, but it's turned up ahead of schedule so Google can get as much feedback as possible. It's also given us a good look at what to expect from Android N once it's official - and there's plenty to get your head around.
Google's also made it easier for anyone with a Nexus phone or tablet to get involved, without getting their hands dirty with the command line on a PC.
Perhaps most importantly though, what the hell does the N stand for?
Google always names Android versions after sweet treats, and we doubt N will be an exception. For months, the main contender has been Nougat, but a tease from SVP Hiroshi Lockheimer might have given the game away.
"We're nut tellin' you yet," Lockheimer said in a post on Medium.
That means we're either in line for Android 7 Nutella, after the hazelnut spread, or it's a clever bit of misdirection. We hope not - it took ages to mock up this tasty-looking Android logo.
Ready, set, install
Normally, installing a new version of Android before it officially arrives is a major pain.
Hooking up your phone to a PC, installing a load of programs and tapping in terminal commands definitely isn’t for the faint of heart - but luckily there’s a simpler way.
Google now lets you download preview builds over the air, and once the full version arrives, it’ll download automatically. Result.
First off, head to g.co/androidbeta on your desktop or mobile browser. Sign into your Google account and look for Eligible Devices. Right now, the Nexus 6, Nexus 5X, Nexus 6P, Nexus 9, Nexus Player and Pixel C are all supported. If you’ve got one, it’ll show up here.
Click Enroll Device and agree to the T&Cs. Then all you have to do is search for a system update on your phone. It took less than a minute for it to turn up on our Nexus 6P, but the download is over 1GB so could take a while.
Once it’s done, just follow the on-screen prompts and you’ll be running Android N in no time.
Should you do it though? If you don't mind bugs, crashes, unexpected resets and error messages, then sure - for everyone else, you're better off sticking with the official version of Android.
We've encountered plenty of apps that refuse to work at all right now, including Facebook and Spotify. Other apps throw up error messages every time you open them, but do at least work normally afterwards.
If you've got a spare Nexus lying around, though, we reckon it's worth giving a try.
The biggest addition is split screen, meaning you can run two apps side-by-side for the first time on vanilla Android.
Sure, Samsung got there first with Touchwiz, and Apple’s got it on iOS, but it’s great that Google has finally caught up - and even overtaken Apple in some ways.
It works on smartphones as well as tablets, and in portrait and landscape modes, just by dragging apps to the far side of the screen from the Recents menu.
Right now it’s pretty buggy, only works with certain apps, and you can’t adjust the amount of screen space each app takes up (at least on our Nexus 6P), but it should take shape in time for Android N’s full release.
The Recents button is also now called Overview, as you can now tap it to toggle between all your open apps. A bar at the top of the screen ticks down over two seconds, then maximises whichever app you've currently got selected.
The Overview icon turns into a split screen icon when you've got two apps open at once. A long press on the icon opens the current app in Split screen view, and a second long press brings it back to full screen again.
Notification of intent
Google’s given the notification centre an overhaul, with more room to squeeze extra settings onto the screen.
The five most-used icons appear at the top of the notification drawer, leaving most of the screen free for app notifications, but another swipe downwards brings up the whole list.
You can drag and drop icons around to rearrange them, or hide them from view completely.
Notifications have also been given a bit of a makeover; they fill the whole width of the screen now, and each app bundles its notifications together under one card.
You can reply to them from anywhere, too - these actionable notifications work system-wide.
Dozed and confused
Doze turned up in Android 6, saving battery by deactivating apps and features when you weren’t using your phone. It’s been improved for N, so it works when you’re on the move as well.
Now, Doze kicks in whenever the screen is switched off - not just when it’s off and the phone is sat still, like it would be at night.
Google’s added a few more restrictions that developers can add to their apps, too, so Doze should be even more effective than it was in Marshmallow.
Android N doesn’t just save your battery, either; it’ll save your data allowance too. A new data saver toggle reduces the amount of data your apps use, and can signal them to use less data “wherever possible”.
You can select specific apps to run in the background even with this mode enabled, potentially so you don’t miss out on Instagram likes or Snapchat stories when you’re out and about.
Best of the rest
Like any Android update, Google’s made lots of behind-the-scenes changes with N. It’s had a graphics upgrade with better OpenGL support, which should mean even better looking games, and Direct Boot should mean your phone is even faster to switch on in the morning.
There’s a night mode now, which tweaks the colour and tint of the screen to make it easier on the eyes when you’re tucked up in bed.
Right now it’s a little buried; you have to long press on the settings icon in the notification drawer, scroll all the way down to System UI Tuner, and tap Colour and Appearance.
Google’s added even more language support, and the System Settings menu has been given a fresh lick of paint. A menu now appears on every screen, letting you quickly jump between settings pages without going back to the main screen every time.
Finally, Android N should let you kiss nuisance calls goodbye. It’s got a built-in number blocker that applies to the default messages app, phone app and any third-party apps that add support for the blocked number list.
Blocked numbers can be transferred between phones and resets with the Backup & Reset feature too, so you don’t have to worry about anything slipping through the net when it’s time to upgrade.
That's everything for now, but Google is going to tweak, add and remove plenty of things between now and the official release. We'll have a better idea what's on the way at Google I/O in May.