In software development there are many different stages of release. Working backwards, most customers use a “final release”. As bugs are found in this version of the app, they’re patched. When a significant amount of patches are issued, they’re usually rolled up into a “Service Pack”.
Before that version is released to the public, it’s run through various different test releases. At each stage, features are completed, bugs are fixed, and performance and stability are improved upon. A “milestone” version is released each time a set of bugs are fixed or features are completed. These are often called “beta” releases, but not necessarily so. Milestones and betas are generally pretty stable. They’re usable, but bugs exist and features may not be entirely complete. These builds are usually those that are used as “dog food” (a stage in development when programmers are required to use their own apps to make sure they’re bug-free — in other words, they “eat their own dog food”).
Alpha versions come before betas. They’re even more buggy, and even fewer features are complete. Alphas typically aren’t offered to the general public to test.
Then you have “preview” releases. Generally, a preview comes before an alpha, but occasionally can be between an alpha and a beta. They’re not ready for prime time by any stretch of the imagination. Such is the case with Android L.
Android L is currently what Google calls a “Developer Preview”. It’s not targeted at the average user. It’s not even targeted at Power Users. This build is entirely for the benefit of developers. Why? So they can play with the latest cool stuff before everyone else? Perhaps a little, but more importantly, so those developers can make sure their apps work well and look great on the new version of the operating system. That way, when the new version drops over the air to your phone or tablet, the apps you use will work without any issues.
That background having been painted, it’s obvious that you probably shouldn’t use Android L on your daily driver, but I’m sure you’ll be tempted! That’s what I did. I’ve been running Android L on my Nexus 5 since the day it was released to developers. Here’s what I’ve found.
Battery Life is Great — Sometimes
We were told that Android L would incorporate Project Volta, which should make your battery last longer. We’re going to go into much more detail about Project Volta in the coming days, but suffice it to say, sometimes battery life on Android L is fantastic! Other days, it’s abysmal.
I’m not quite sure why there’s such a radical swing between the two extremes, but if you want to take the plunge and try Android L on your smartphone or tablet, you need to be aware that some days your battery will last forever, but on others it will drain twice as fast as it did when you were running KitKat.
Crashes, Crashes, Everywhere
There are lots of apps that aren’t ready for Android L. Twitter, for example, wouldn’t even open. I uninstalled, reinstalled, and tried again and again, but could never get it to work on my Nexus 5. Pocketnow reader Zack S., on the other hand, tried Android L on his Nexus 7, and Twitter works just fine. Well, mostly fine.
Another issue I have is with Email — yes, Google’s very own email app. I use Email to connect with a corporate Exchange Server. Whenever I try and look up a contact, Active Directory is polled through that connection — and it crashes every time. If I want to add a person to a calendar event, I have to hurry and tap on their name as soon as it comes up. If not, I have to dismiss not one, but two crash windows. Then I can type in another letter of the person’s name, and hopefully tap on their contact before another pair of crash windows are thrown — usually I can’t, and this process is repeated a dozen or so times.
Casting is Hit or Miss
When I finally settle in for the night, I like to watch some TV. Right now the family and I are watching The Glades on Netflix through the Chromecast connected to our big-screen TV. For whatever reason, I can’t seem to cast Netflix — or anything else for that matter.
However, not everyone is experiencing this issue. Why? No one seems to know.
Lock, Lock. Who’s There?
Last, but certainly not least, is a particularly frustrating bug. I have to use a PIN or password lockscreen with my corporate Exchange account. Sometimes when I unlock with my PIN, the phone unlocks, then immediately locks again. I’ll input the PIN again, and again it will unlock, and immediately re-lock. Over and over and over.
To escape this quagmire of PIN screens I have to shut down my phone and reboot. After that it’s not a problem, unlocking works the way it’s supposed it.
Does this mean that Android L is a terrible pile of code? No. As I mentioned earlier, a Developer Preview is just that: a preview. It’s not meant to be your daily driver. You will experience problems. Some of those problems may be bugs that Google already knows about. Others may be problems Google is only now becoming aware of.
For the time being, Android L is doing exactly what it’s supposed to: getting the latest version of the operating system into the hands of software developers. Power Users like you and I are welcome to try it out, too. Just don’t be too frustrated when it doesn’t work like you hoped it would — not until it’s a “final release” anyway.