Android 5.1 Changes: Google, Wear are My Notifications?

You read that correctly, wear, as in Android Wear. I am starting this article with my biggest grievance with 5.1. With the latest update to Lollipop, Android 5.1, Google fixed several bugs, made a few UI improvements, but left the annoying notification system from 5.0 mostly in tact. One of the most annoying things in Android 5.0 for me was that you could not mute your phone if you wanted to still get a notification LED telling you have notifications waiting. As a professor I often need to leave my phone off ring, off vibrate, on silent when lecturing, but I still want to see a notification LED letting me know I have an email waiting.

Getting back to my title, the notifications problem in Lollipop was made worse by the fact that turning your phone on silent mode also silences your Android Wear watch! This seems very counterintuitive on several levels. The Nexus 6 (the phone I use with my Moto 360) is incredibly loud when it vibrates, so leaving my phone on priority mode in order to get notifications on my Moto 360 is not an option while giving a lecture. This is the feature I hoped Google would bring to Android 5.1, an easy way to see notifications on your watch while silencing your connected phone. I’m fully aware of work-arounds such as “Mute Connected Phone” in the Android Wear app, but this also seems to remove the notification LED on the phone for now. I hope that Google will either simplify some of the options in the Lollipop notifications system or overhaul them in future point updates to the OS. Now, on to the good news!

Google did make some improvements to notifications in 5.1. You now have the option to turn on “Priority” or “None” modes until your next alarm, which is convenient for muting a phone overnight while still using your phone as an alarm clock. Furthermore, if you choose to switch modes for a specific amount of time, you will now be able to view the exact time that mode will expire (see below).

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The quick settings menu also received a few small tweaks.  These tweaks mostly come down to additional animations when you tap on anything (see auto-rotate below), and the new drop-down menus for Bluetooth and Wi-fi which make connecting quicker and easier.

 

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These new animations add to the beautiful fluid feel of Lollipop, which is what we all love about the OS. The new drop-down connections menus continue to make Android more user friendly.

Android 5.1 also bring HD voice and dual-sim support. The HD voice portion is a benefit for those of you using a T-mobile Nexus 6 or a Verizon Nexus 6 when those start shipping soon. Dual-sim support is now baked into 5.1, even though you can get this feature in some older versions of Android it opens the possibility to dual-sim devices running Google’s latest software. Along with these updates, 5.1 also brings APIs to allow developers to update their apps to work well with the built-in dual-sim compatibility. Although new APIs aren’t the sexiest part of an Android update for most users, it does allow developers to keep making our phones better, that is always a good thing!

For those of you with kids, (or those who often loan their phones to strangers, which I don’t recommend) Google has made the screen-pinning feature, introduced in Lollipop, much easier to use. Screen-pinning locks your kids or a guest user to a single application that you choose, making it more secure to let other people use your device. Android 5.1 now makes it clear that to use pinning the user should scroll up to the pin icon. The security option to ask for pin or security pattern now resides inside the App-Pinning menu from Security>Settings. One problem that I found with screen-pinning originally, was the difficulty of figuring out how to leave the mode. Google also fixed that with 5.1, you now get clear instructions on how to exit the pinned screen once your guest is done using the phone (see below).

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Lastly, and perhaps most importantly (if you don’t want your phone stolen with no recourse) is the Device Protection addition to 5.1.  With Device Protection your phone will stay locked if it is stolen, until you enter your google account and credentials.  This extra protection is welcome, and applies even if the would-be thief factory resets your device.  I plan to “steal” my own Nexus 6 soon, in order to test out this feature, but it seems to be a great extra layer of security to Android.

 

Well, there it is, my summary of the (big) changes to Android 5.1.  I really hope Google gets around to improving the notification integration with Android Wear, until then I will keep using my Gear S with my Note Edge!   If you really like some these changes I’ve mentioned and want 5.1 now, you probably don’t want to wait for an OTA. And if you’re super high on Android, why would you?  Check out Max’s Youtube video here: How to Update and Root Android 5.1 Manually on Nexus 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, and 10! Also, check out Shane’s video review of 5.1 for a more visual walk-through of these new features. So, am I the only one still upset over Lollipop’s revamped notification system?  Sound off in the comments!

 

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Jeff Springer

"I am currently a researcher and Adjunct Professor at Arizona State University and Grand Canyon University. I fell in love with Android with the Nexus One release and realized that it was superior to iOS in all the ways I care about. I still use a Mac (and an iPhone for the camera), but my Apple tech products pale in comparison to my number of Android devices (watches, tablets, and phones). When I’m not rooting/modding one of my many Android phones or doing math/programming, you can find me taking in Phoenix Suns/Arizona Diamondbacks games in downtown Phoenix, and drinking good beer!"