Android 6.0 Marshmallow review
With the launch of the new Nexus smartphones, Google introduced Android 6.0 Marshmallow. The latest version of its sweetly named mobile operating system has updates and new features including Now on Tap, Doze Mode and more customisation. Here's our full and in-depth Android 6.0 Marshmallow review.
See also: Best phones of 2016.
Android 6.0 Marshmallow review: Price and updates
As usual, the latest version of Android is a free update for users. Whether you will get the update and how quickly are two questions which are not simple to answer.
Buying a Nexus phone means that you'll get the latest Android software so the Nexus 5X and Nexus 6P come pre-installed with Marshmallow. The Nexus range, to a point, will get updates to new versions (even small updates) faster than any other.
When it comes to Google's partners such as Samsung, Sony and HTC, it's not so straight forward. As a general rule of thumb, only the more recent devices (normally current and previous generations) will be updated and it can take a while, sometimes many months, for the update to roll out. To see if and when you'll get the Android Marshmallow update, check here for the latest information.
Since Google's partners also choose to modify Android, running customised overlays or skins, the experience varies depending on the brand and model.
We point all of these things out partly for your knowledge but also because this review is based on the stock version of Android Marshmallow. In other words, the plain and vanilla software as Google has made it. We've been using the operating system on the Nexus 5X and 6P.
Android 6.0 Marshmallow review: New features and performance
Before Marshmallow launched, it was unsure whether it would be a new version number and name or simply another version of Lollipop. This is because it wasn't looking like there would be enough new features to justify jumping to 6.0 Marshmallow.
Google did, of course, and in this review we're going to look at the new features rather than mention anything which was in previous versions and therefore an established part of Android. Once again, bear in mind that the phone or tablet you use Marshmallow in may not include everything since manufacturers can freely pick and choose – you will also likely get features which aren't part of stock Android.
Note that you can install the Google Now launcher on pretty much any Android device to get a Nexus-like experience. Find out how to do it on your device.
Android 6.0 Marshmallow review: User interface tweaks
Android Lollipop introduced a large visual change with Google's Material Design. Lollipop hasn't been around for all that long so it's no surprise to find that nothing has majorly changed when it comes to the layout and style of the Marshmallow interface.
The lockscreen is essentially the same bar a bolder font for the clock and the phone shortcut being replaced with a microphone so you can quickly get voice commanding rather than making a call.
Moving onto the homescreen and everything is where it always has been – you can arrange app icons and widgets how you like as usual. However, open the app menu and things have changed a fair bit. Not only are your apps displayed in a vertically scrolling list instead of horizontal pages there are other tweaks, too.
You can use the scroll bar at the right side to skip through the list alphabetically and a bar at the top displays four suggested apps. It isn't always helpful but does come in handy, plus there's a search bar for quickly finding the app you're looking for.
Recent apps still uses the card carousel style and the two-stage drop down notification bar also remains essentially the same giving you your notifications in priority order for starters and then access to settings with a second swipe (you can still get straight to quick settings with a two-finger swipe).
However, a secret feature called the 'system UI tuner' means you can finally customise the quick settings menu. It's hidden because it's still an 'experimental feature' but long press the cog wheel until you get a message saying it's been added to the setting menu.
With it you can rearrange, delete or add quick settings tiles and you can also customise the status bar (the strip at the top containing the clock and other icons). You can choose to display battery percentage and also select which icons you do not wish to see – handy when, for example, you have a lot of things on permanently and the bar looks messy.
Android 6.0 Marshmallow review: Now on Tap
As usual, Google Now sits a single swipe away from the main homescreen. Long gone are the days of have panels either side. However, Google has expanded its informative service so it's accessible throughout the entire Android system.
The idea is that no matter what you're doing, browsing a website, having a conversation with a friend in Hangouts, Google knows what you're doing in order to help out. At any point you can long press the home button in order to bring up a tiny version of Google Now at the bottom of the screen. It will then make suggestions based on the information it has collected.
After using Marshmallow a few months we've found Now on Tap to be very hit and miss. When browsing the website for a restaurant, for example, it offers all kinds of useful things such as directions, a shortcut to call the place and more. Other times, it simply says 'nothing on tap' even though there is something obvious to pick up on like a location mentioned in a conversation.
Overall, we've not found it to be the kind of feature we use every day like the regular Google Now, but it is likely to get better over time.
Android 6.0 Marshmallow review: App permissions
App permissions have been a sticking point for Android for a long time. To install and use an app you previously had to accept to all of its permissions, no matter how stupid they were. Google has overhauled the system in Android Marshmallow, though, and we're thrilled.
You now have much more control over the permissions for all your apps, much like iOS devices. In Google's own words "Android Marshmallow lets you define what you want to share and when."
When you install apps, you still have to agree to the permissions but you then get specific prompts when using an app. For example, you'll be asked if you're happy to let Facebook use the camera. That's a good start but there's more.
A section in the app settings menu shows you an overview of what apps are doing. For example, 37 out of 60 apps are allowed location information and so on. For each one, which includes calendar, microphone, telephone, contacts etc, you can go in and switch permissions on or off for each app which is requesting it.
This level of detailed control is exactly what users were begging for and allows you to run your device much better, resulting in improved safety and possibly better battery life, too.
A smaller security tweak is verified boot where your device will let you know if the firmware has been modified from the factory version.
Android 6.0 Marshmallow review: Better battery life with Doze Mode
Doze Mode is one of the backstage heroes of Android Marshmallow and is something which is baked into the operating system rather than a feature which you switch on and off as you please (although you can switch off optimisation for certain apps if you wish in the battery settings).
As the name implies, the feature notices when your device has been left alone for a while (stationary) and puts it into a sleep state – similar to leaving your PC or laptop untouched. You'll still get notifications and alarms so there's no need to worry.
Part of Doze mode is App Standby which does exactly what it says on the tin, stopping apps from draining your juice. It does this by restricting apps' access to network and CPU-intensive services apart from a short 'maintenance window'. In some cases it can double standby time so it's a big thumbs up.
Android 6.0 Marshmallow review: Fingerprint scanners and USB Type-C
Google has also brought support for new technologies in Android Marshmallow, namely for fingerprint scanners and USB Type-C. Each of the Nexus 5X and Nexus 6P feature both.
Fingerprint scanners have been appearing on most high-end phones and some mid-range ones too. They are handy for not only unlocking the device but also authorising Google Play purchases. In the future, hopefully sooner rather than later, we'll be able to use it with Android Pay in the UK, too.
USB Type-C is the new version which is reversible like Apple's Lightning port and also enables faster charging. Having a new cable is annoying at first due to having so many Micro-USB cables around but it seems to be the future standard.
Android 6.0 Marshmallow review: Performance and other features
There are many smaller improvements and tweaks to Android in version 6.0 Marshmallow but too many to go into so we're going to focus on performance and a couple of other standout features which are noteworthy.
We'd have to say that there is no dramatic performance change in Android Marshmallow but this is hard to make a broad statement on. We've gone from using Lollipop on the Nexus 5 to the Nexus 5X with Marshmallow, but the experience will differ on other devices. Performance jumps have come mainly in previous versions.
An update on expandable storage is far more exciting, yes we are getting excited about storage. If you have a device with a Micro-SD card slot and Android Marshmallow you can simply use the additional storage along with the internal storage as one. The feature is called Flex Storage and makes using SD cards as encrypted expanded storage for apps, game and media.
We don't want to finish on a negative but it does seem that Google has slightly forgotten about tablets with the latest Android update – despite launching the Pixel C which is productivity focussed. Marshmallow doesn't really add any features aimed at larger screens. This is a shame as things like running two apps side-by-side would be a real boon.
Android 6.0 Marshmallow: Specs
- Android 6.0 Marshmallow
- Android 6.0 Marshmallow
Although it's got a new name and a new number, Android 6.0 Marshmallow isn't a huge departure from Lollipop. That said, many of the new features and tweaks are very welcome with highlights including Doze Mode and vastly improved app permissions. Now on Tap is a let-down at times but it should improve over time. Get the update as soon as you can and try the Google Now launcher if you're not getting on well with the interface provided by the manufacturer of your device.