Android 5.1 Review, Impressions, What’s new [Changelog]

When Android L aka Lollipop first came out, it had mixed reactions from the community. While it worked pretty well on devices like Nexus 6, it had slew of shortcomings on low-midrange devices like Moto G. Even devices like Nexus 5 had Wifi-related issues most of which only got slightly better by 5.0.2.

5.1-android

Even the experience on Nexus 6 (specs warehouse) was far from perfect. The device comes encrypted out of the box and used to lag here and there. Battery life was average and there were loads of memory leaks.

Google has been working on fixing all the reported and unreported pain points and Android 5.1 lmy47d seems to fix them all. If you look at the changelog, here’s what is apparent:

Under the Hood Improvements:

  1. 50+ commits (changes) to fix memory leaks, system wide from camera, to media, to network. The result being efficient usage of available RAM. A big boon for devices with low memory like Android One.
  2. Over 76 commits (changes) that fix performance in ART (new runtime virtualmachine) which would boost speed and snappiness of the system. This makes Lollipop ideal for low-end devices.
  3. Kernel CPU thread management Improvements: Android 5.1 makes better use of available CPU-cores by distributing tasks in a better manner across all cores of CPUs, the result being smoother operation at all times. Nexus 6 (and all quad-cores) benefit a lot from it.
  4. Better performance for Qualcomm 8xx CPUs: Qualcomm implements what is called a migration boost routine. In a nutshell, this routine takes effect when one task (technically, a thread) moves from one CPU core to another. The boost makes sure that the destination core is running on the same speed as the originating core. The purpose of this migration boost is to make sure that the user doesn’t perceive any lag while processes are juggled behind the scenes, but it also incurs not only added battery consumption but also, ironically, actual sluggishness. This will be a boon to Nexus 6 and all other Snapdragon based chips.
  5. Better performance for encrypted devices: Encrypted devices would now run nearly as fast as unencrypted devices thanks to usage of NEON instructions.
  6. No Wifi drain: Solved across all devices.
  7. Wakelocks fixed: Certain services that used Wakelocks unnecessarily have been tackled. Best example sensor_ind.
  8. 1000+ other minor fixes.

New Features:

  1. HD Voice calling: VoLTE (Voice over LTE) has been enabled on Nexus 6 and some other unnamed devices. Probably this will also make it to modern devices like Galaxy S6, Note 4, etc.
  2. New Bluetooth, Wifi shortcuts: 5.1 provides specific connection access from the drop-down quick settings menu. This manifests itself as a little down arrow below each of the usual Wi-Fi and Bluetooth toggles. Not a big change, but makes things simple
  3. Stolen Device Protection: This is a security improvement that ensures that your phone will remain locked even if a thief submits it to a factory reset. The only way anyone is getting access you your phone is if they know your Google account details.
  4. Dual-SIM support: Even though lot of manufacturers had been doing this since a while, Android never supported it officially until now. 5.1 supports multi-sim, which is a popular concept in developing countries like India.
  5. Ringer modes (Priority) improved.
  6. (Hidden) Google VPN: Google has included a VPN service that would help users censor the connection. Android 5.1 includes the Google Connectivity Services app, which can be seen under “All Apps” in the app manager. Right now its a hidden feature, no one has any idea how to enable it.

Day-to-day Usage Verdict

I’ve been playing with 5.1 on Nexus 6 for 4 days now. My Nexus 6 feels at least 30% faster on stock encrypted and nearly 20% faster unencrypted. The real benefits are apparent on nearly everything you do. Multitasking is now what it should’ve been. There are nearly no delays anywhere while switching among apps and animations, transitions are butter smooth. I haven’t seen framerates dropping below 50fps in most of the cases and never really below 30fps. This translates to the smoothest experience ever seen on Android.

Nexus 6 has a bag full of specs and I can’t really see palpable improvement in terms of memory. Even on Android 5.0, I used to have nearly 50% RAM free (1.5 GB) at all times. Now its like 1.1 GB used and 1.9GB free (with standard apps running). Obviously, memory improvements don’t impact Nexus 6 much. I’m only waiting to see how this translates on low memory devices where the impact is only amplified.

Android 5.1 on Nexus 6

Improvement are even apparent in synthetic benchmarks. The score on AnTutu benchmark had risen from 47k to 51k on Nexus 6. Nexus 10 also saw  improvements by 9% in scores.

Battery life seems to have improved by 15% on day-to-day usage on Nexus 6 and 10% on Nexus 10. This however, can vary, and it might be too early to conclude. I`ll post back on this soon.

Google had hurried up with 5.0 release and had shipped “Windows Vista” level OS with all the quirks. 5.1 is what Windows 7 did to Vista; Fix what was broken under the hood. With that in mind, did Google do a good job with 5.1? Well, yes, they did. But we never expected them to ship 5.0 in a broken state.

More on this, soon.

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