When Google announced Android 6.0 Marshmallow for the first time at its I/O 2015 conference, I was left disappointed and excited at the same time. Disappointed mainly because there weren’t enough feature upgrades to pique some heavy interest, but excited because Google had a clear direction where it should take its Android ecosystem from there on in. But if you look deep into what Google’s new mobile OS brings to the table for smartphones and tablets, it becomes clear that Android 6.0 Marshmallow is without a doubt the upgrade which many have been waiting for, and in this review I’m going to share with our readers the good, the bad, and the ugly about Google’s new mobile OS.
If you’re coming from Lollipop (any version) then Marshmallow doesn’t feel different at all. From the app drawer to the notifications shade and how the toggle switches work, everything is the same. Google knows at this point that Material Design is the way to go, and Marshmallow is all about sitting on the basics and taking things further with features that sit well under the hood, and Android 6.0 delivers on that very well. I will go as far as saying that Google made the right choice by sticking to Material Design, even if it hasn’t brought forward any design changes at all.
While we do approve that Google has played safe when it comes to design, if you were expecting a leap in any direction regarding changes in the aesthetics of the UI, then you’ll be disappointed. A lot, in fact.
Performance is where Android 6.0 Marshmallow really shines. The moment I flashed the first developer preview of Android M onto my device (Nexus 6) I could easily tell that things feel much more snappier than before, and since it was a beta, it did have its issues back then. Rolling forward, Google pushed out more updates to Android M and I tried all of them as they came out. Fast forward to the final developer preview which got an official name tag – Marshmallow – including the final build as well, Android 6.0 feels fast. Really, really fast.
From launching apps to just interacting with the notifications, Android 6.0 Marshmallow knows how to kill it with speed. And the performance bit really makes up for the almost-zero change to the UI, which Google has opted for in this release.
There was a slight stutter with Lollipop that walked into action at the oddest of places, and as soon as you boot into Marshmallow you’ll realize that things are way smoother than before. It’s safe to say that Marshmallow will, without a doubt, breathe a whole new lease of life into your smartphone or tablet. And given that I’ve installed 40 or so apps on my smartphone already with 3 email accounts in continuous sync as well as Google Photos backup enabled, I can’t complain regarding performance at all at this point. I’ll go straight up saying that Google has done with Marshmallow in the performance department, which it should’ve pulled off at least two years ago. But still, it’s better late than never.
Prior to Marshmallow, Android was a mess when it came to app permissions. There was no good way to track which app is asking for what sort of permission, which of course is a bad sign. In fact, there are apps still live on the Play Store which ask for permissions to things which are absolutely redundant. For example, why does a wallpaper app need any sort of access to your email at all? And that too without your knowledge?
With Android 6.0 Marshmallow, you can rest easy knowing the fact that before an app or game asks for permission to access a certain part of the OS, you’ll be prompted for it, subsequently giving access or denying it altogether. It’s a peace of mind on a scale which literally can’t be put into words, especially if you have a lot of personal data on your smartphone or tablet, and are afraid of the day that it might be compromised one way or the other.
Simply launch the Settings app in Marshmallow, then tap on Apps. Now tap on the little cogwheel icon on the top right hand corner, then tap on ‘App permissions.’ Over here, all the apps and services that have access to different parts of the OS will be listed. You even have the choice to turn off permissions on the fly, if you so wish.
Apart from performance, Marshmallow is the slickest release to date in the Android world when it comes to battery life. During my testing, I’ve seen my Nexus 6 go through erratic behavior, mainly because I was running a developer preview on it. But with the final build now at hand, I can safely say that Google’s battery life claims weren’t just blank shots fired in the air. A day – and beyond – worth of battery life is now very, very real. This is something which was not possible on a version of Android prior to Marshmallow without pulling off some third-party software based tricks.
Android 6.0 Marshmallow has a new ‘Battery saver’ mode, which when turned on, tones down certain features of your smartphone or tablet to make it last longer. You even have the option of setting the feature to kick in automatically when the device reaches a certain percentage level, such as 15 or 5%.
Furthermore, Marshmallow brings another new features to the fold, which Google is calling ‘Doze.’ What that does is absolutely genius; the OS knows when your device is in the state of ‘rest’ by using the onboard motion sensors such as accelerometer or gyroscope, and based on that, will put it in sleep mode, saving you a ton of battery. Even if you forgot to charge your smartphone or tablet the night before, you can be rest assured that you won’t be at zero percent juice when you wake up the next day.
Google has introduced another great feature in Marshmallow which it’s calling ‘Battery optimization.’ When enabled for different apps, Android 6.0 will cut down background app refresh for those applications, saving you a handful of battery life. It’s a great feature to have if you’re out and about. But given how good Marshmallow already is when it comes to battery life, I didn’t find myself using it one bit. But still, it’s a great addition to have under your belt, and I’m certain that most users will love it. Especially those who don’t want to go through the trouble of carrying a portable battery in their other pocket.
Overall, on the battery front, things look solid. And given that it is the first ever release of Android 6.0, we’re certain that subsequent point releases to the OS will further enhance things in the battery life department.
Cut, Copy, Paste Even Better
As soon as you select a string of text on Android, it shows you Cut, Copy, Paste and Share options right on top of the display in a separate action bar. With Marshmallow, all of those options have been moved to a floating bar on top of the text selector itself.
While this may look like a small change, but quite frankly, it’s something which makes a huge difference when it comes to day to day usage.
Adoptable Storage For A Better Android Experience
If you’re using a microSD card with your smartphone or tablet, then I’m quite certain that you’re well aware of the fact that Android does not treat the external storage medium the way it should. Although it might allow you to install APKs on it, but the truth is, all the key app data still remains in the internal memory of your device. Not ideal at all, and it takes a toll on the overall performance.
Marshmallow adds a very cool feature to the overall package of Android 6.0 which is known as Adoptable Storage. This basically treats the external storage medium just like an internal one, allowing users to install their entire apps, with app data, on a microSD card. And since the microSD card is being treated an an internal storage medium, this also means that you’ll see significant gains in performance.
Chrome Custom Tabs
I’ve used Android for a long, long time, and the thing that really ticks me off is that whenever I tap to open a link inside an app, it makes me open up an entire Web browser, subsequently leaving the app I was in. And I have to hit the multitasking button if I want to go back to the application which I was using. It’s a painful situation and Marshmallow fixes this little issue with a feature called Chrome Custom Tabs.
The way this feature works is actually quite swift. Developers can mask Chrome in such a way that it looks like a part of the app you’re using. It’s a terrific illusion to say the least, and something which can be pulled off well if used wisely. For instance, Chrome can be themed with different colors, animations and whatnot, giving the illusion of not opening a browser at all. Think of it as an in-app browser, but not exactly an in-app browser. Get it? We hope you do.
Also keep in mind that there are almost no apps at all that utilize this feature, but we have our fingers crossed that the big names in the application space will dive right in very soon.
Better Memory Management
If you’re absolutely picky when it comes to managing memory, then Marshmallow is going to be a treat for you. Launch the Settings app and then navigate to Memory and you’ll see that the new option breaks down in detail how much RAM has been used on your device, and will even break it down to you which app has been using the most memory in the past few hours. I found myself using this feature a lot to track down which app has been stabbing my battery life, and it’s spot on!
Tighter Security & Fingerprint APIs
Apart from all the above mentioned changes, Marshmallow is packed with many security patches and also brings to the table a native fingerprint API which manufacturers can use with biometric sensors. In fact, the new Nexus 6P and Nexus 5X both from Google utilize this very same API to authenticate purchases using Android Pay, and even unlock your device.
Google Now On Tap
I’ve been saving this feature for last, and trust me, it’s the best thing in Android 6.0 Marshmallow worth upgrading for. And it’s something which absolutely defines Google’s new mobile OS.
Google Now has been great thus far. It throws suggestions based on the places you’ve been, and even uses your browser or mail history to take things further, such as displaying news or even bringing up your boarding pass when your flight is about to take off or you’re close to the airport. But, wouldn’t it be better if Google Now was right at your fingertips? Right in the app which you were using? Google Now On Tap is exactly that and the implementation is dramatically well pulled off.
Invoking Google Now On Tap is a simple case of just pressing and holding on the Home button, regardless of where you are in the entire OS. Just like magic, Google Now will throw suggestions right at you on the fly. For example, someone sends you a text message inquiring you about Drake or, let’s say, Lady Gaga; hold down the Home button, Google Now On Tap will quickly give you a small bit of information about what is being talked about, and even give you links to relevant social network pages and other places. It feels like voodoo, but better. Far better.
Google Now On Tap works so well that I found myself using it over and over again just to get a surprise and spot-on result. It absolutely makes you forget opening up Google’s website to do a quick search, after all, everything is now there on a ‘tap.’ And seeing that Android 6.0 Marshmallow is the first piece of software that brings Now On Tap to the masses, we can’t help but wonder how the service will improve as we move forward. Even in its current state, it’s way too well implemented.
Android Marshmallow also adds support for USB Type-C connectors, and Google hasn’t been shy when it comes to its adoption – the Nexus 5X and Nexus 6P are good examples of this.
Apart from USB Type-C, Google has also thrown in native 4K displays on a system level, allowing for even sharper image rendering. Sadly enough, there’s no Marshmallow running phone just yet with a 4K display. But we have our eyes pinned on the Sony Xperia Z5 Premium just in case.
Marshmallow is an evident bug fix and performance enhancing release and we can’t emphasize that any more.
Although I did talk about how Google made the right choice when it came to design in Android 6.0 Marshmallow, but it would’ve been better if the Big G made some sort of cosmetic changes to make the entire OS feel brand new. There’s absolutely no way to tell Lollipop and Marshmallow apart, except that the latter comes with a bunch of new wallpapers.
The UI of the Google Now Launcher is an eyesore. Those extra and unnecessary whites don’t quite fit in. And if you have a device with an AMOLED display, then you can kiss your battery life goodbye thanks to that insanely bright white background.
The Camera app remains absolutely unchanged, and it would’ve been a great idea if Google took a lesson or two from Apple’s stock iOS Camera app when it comes to usability. I’m not saying that the Camera app on Marshmallow is bad, but it would’ve been great if it received a slight makeover in this release.
The Hangouts app needs to go. Right now.
Wrap Up And Conclusion
Google has come a long way when it comes to its mobile platform, and Marshmallow is a good example of how the company has pulled the throttle and is now focusing on under the hood changes to make up for a big upgrade. All the changes in Android 6.0 Marshmallow might not seem big enough for users who are craving for eye-candy, but if you’re a power-user, then things are taking a turn for the better in a lot of ways.
If you have a supported Nexus device sitting at home right now, we highly recommend that you go through the trouble of flashing to Android 6.0 Marshmallow right away. On top of Lollipop, Marshmallow is no doubt a change in the right direction and we’re quite certain things will improve even further in the Android world if Google keeps on pushing out updates like these.
All set? Follow our guide posted here on how to get the ball rolling: How to Install Official Android 6.0 Marshmallow on Nexus (Windows, OS X, Linux)