Android Marshmallow Features

Android Marshmallow isn’t an overhaul of everything you thought you knew about Android. Rather, it’s a refinement and extension of the core features and functionality of Android Lollipop. In this Android Marshmallow review, we take a look at the major features of Google’s latest OS version to let you know where it hits, where it misses, and where it has room to improve.

I know that not everyone even has Android Lollipop yet, so I won’t just concentrate on the differences between the two most recent versions of Android. Instead I’ll look at the major areas of the new OS, whether they are new, improved or missing in action. I’ll break the review down into: the visual appearance of Android Marshmallow; integration of new Google products; core features of the system; security; and improvements to usability.

Android 6.0 Marshmallow release date

Android Marshmallow was initially announced at Google I/O on May 28, when it was released as the Android M developer preview. Several updates to the preview came out before Marshmallow was officially named on August 17. Google finally unveiled Android 6.0 Marshmallow, alongside the 2015 Nexus devices, on September 29, 2015.

As usual, Google’s Nexus family was first to get the goods, and the brand new Nexus 5X and Nexus 6P were the launch devices for Android 6.0. Factory images for most of the existing Nexus range – the Nexus 5, Nexus 6, Nexus 9 and Nexus Player – at October 5.

Android Marshmallow

Samsung did a pretty good job of getting Android Lollipop on to its phones rapidly, but it seems to have slowed things down for the Marshmallow launch. According to a leaked roadmap the two latest phones from the company will be getting Marshmallow first, with the Samsung Galaxy Note 5 and Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+ set to get the update in December 2015. It seems pretty certain the Samsung Galaxy Note 5 will see the update next month as another leak has also suggested it’ll be with us by the end of the year. There was no news there about the Galaxy S6 Edge+ though.

HTC tweeted out a list of its phones that will be getting the update a few weeks ago. The company said HTC One M9 and HTC One M8 would get Marshmallow before the end of the year. It’ll also be updating the HTC One M9+, HTC One E9, HTC One ME, HTC One E8, HTC One M8 EYE, HTC Butterfly 3, HTC Desire 826, HTC Desire 820 and HTC Desire 816.

Android 6.0 Marshmallow Features

Android Marshmallow is visually similar to its predecessor, Lollipop, in many ways. Google’s Material Design language is now more pervasive than ever before and the main areas of the UI – settings, notifications shade and navigation – remain the same. But Marshmallow does have some differences in appearance and new features.

Lock screen

The Marshmallow lock screen is almost identical to Lollipop’s, complete with expandable notifications and app shortcuts. But where Lollipop had shortcuts in the bottom corners that too you to the camera and dialer, Marshmallow replaces the dialer shortcut with one to Google’s voice search. This small update is the first clue as to just how integral voice commands are to Marshmallow.

Android Marshmallow Lock screen

Voice search has a completely new look too. Four colored dots float, become a waveform and then rotate as your voice request is picked up and then processed. The response rate varies, depending on the complexity of the search terms and your internet speed, but the results are generally accurate. You can also launch apps from the lock screen using your voice.

Android Marshmallow fingerprint support

We’ve seen some smartphone manufacturers already include fingerprint scanners in their devices, but with Android Marshmallow Google is standardizing support across the platform. You can use a fingerprint scanner to unlock your device and pay for media from the Google Play Store, and the fingerprint scanning tech is also open to developers. That means devs can build it into their own applications, enabling you to sign into them without a password and pay for goods using Android Pay.

Home screen

The same voice command functionality appears on the home screen via Google’s dedicated search bar, complete with the colorful, post-Alphabet Google logo. The home screen itself is essentially the same as it was in Lollipop (the changes to Google’s search bar and app icons have rolled out to all devices via updates).

Android 6.0 Home screen

Google Now, assuming you have signed up for it, returns to its dedicated position to the immediate left of the default home screen. This area has also been updated but again, it is not a Marshmallow exclusive feature. Google Now on Tap (more on this later) is now launched by a long press on the home button in the navigation bar.

You have a few options for launching apps: from voice commands, app icons, the ’recent apps’ multitasking cards or the new-look app drawer. You can also jump straight into the app drawer search bar by long-pressing the app drawer icon. This shortcut will also launch your keyboard, just as it did in Lollipop.

Android Marshmallow voice controls

Android 6.0 opens the way for improved voice control features thanks to the new Voice Interaction API, which will enable app developers to build voice control directly into their apps. This means owners of Android Marshmallow devices will soon be able to speak to their apps – and the apps will even talk back.

One of the examples Google has detailed is the TuneIn app. A user can say "OK Google, listen to music on TuneIn", and the TuneIn app will not only load, but will then ask "What genre of music would you like to listen to?". The user can then reply with their favourite genre. This natural way of speaking to our smartphone and the apps installed on it could revolutionise the way we interact with our devices.

Android Marshmallow battery life

Google has done a lot of work in the areas of battery life and power in Android Marshmallow, which will be music to many users’ ears.

First up Google has developed the Doze feature. Your device will use motion sensors to detect when it hasn’t been moved for an extended period of time, and will switch to a deeper sleep mode that consumes much less power.

Marshmallow battery life

Your device won’t be completely useless in this mode, however, as Doze still allows for alarms to go off and key notifications to come through. Google says it took two Nexus 9 tablets, one running Lollipop and the other Android Marshmallow, loaded the same apps and settings on both, and then tested the standby power drain on the two.

Apparently, the Nexus 9 running Android Marshmallow lasted up to two times longer than its Lollipop counterpart. It sounds impressive, and we’re hoping it translates to noticeably better battery life for our devices.

Android Marshmallow Now on Tap

With Android Marshmallow comes an intelligent new assistant feature called Now on Tap. An enhancement to Google Now, Now on Tap enables users to access information anywhere on their Android Marshmallow device, no matter what they’re doing.

Users can simply tap and hold the home button to pull up a query without leaving the app or website they’re in. If a friend emails you about seeing a movie, for example, Now on Tap could pull up info such as ratings or the trailer, or even enable you to buy tickets.

You can also look at other apps on your phone, like Yelp or OpenTable, to book a dinner reservation or read reviews about a restaurant a friend has suggested. And Now on Tap isn’t just for basic info – you can also use voice searches for more specific queries, such as finding out who sings a particular song.

Android Pay & Mobile Payments

Speaking of which, Google went into more detail about its own specific platform; Android Pay. "Simplicity, security and choice," are the buzzwords here. The firm explained that you’ll be able to sync the service with your existing credit and debit cards and, as expected, it’s partnered with a wide range of retailers and brands (although emphasis is, currently, on US retail).

Android Pay is now rolling out and is a natural evolution of Google Wallet — the Big G’s first attempt at mobile payments. Android Pay has been redesigned and rejigged with 2015/16’s market in mind. In order to use it you will need Android handset running Android KitKat and above and NFC — bad news for OnePlus 2 owners, then! Unlike Apple Pay, Android Pay does not require a fingerprint scanner, despite many new Android handsets shipping with one. If you don’t have a fingerprint scanner on your phone you can authenticate a payment using a PIN, pattern or password.

Android Marshmallow permissions

App permissions are more intuitive in Marshmallow, giving users the option to allow or deny specific permissions within an app, rather than having to accept all permissions at once.

Currently you have to accept permissions when you download an app, but with Android Marshmallow you won’t be asked to grant access to features until you come to use them for the first time in the app.

That means, for example, that you can give WhatsApp access to your camera, but not to your microphone if you wish. You can even revoke access for a particular permission by diving into the settings if you’ve accidentally allowed it.

App drawer

The app drawer in Android Marshmallow went through a couple of changes during the developer preview process and appears in the final version as a vertical scrolling list as opposed to the paginated horizontal list from Lollipop. You can scroll through the list or use a new scrubber bar on the right to jump to a particular letter of the alphabet.

An endless vertical list means it’s easy to swipe right to the end of your app list – certainly moreso than swiping through multiple cards in Lollipop. Predictive apps, based on the time of day, frequency and so on, appear in a special area at the top of the app drawer and you also have the added bonus of the dedicated app search bar that’s accessible via the keyboard or voice, as well as the scrubber bar.

Marshmallow App drawer

As always, you can drag app icons from the app drawer to the home screen, but when dragging apps, you’ll now see the option to uninstall them at the top of the screen, alongside App Info or the Remove action. This only works if the app you’re dragging isn’t a system app but it’s a much more convenient way to uninstall apps.

The best thing is that these changes are part of the Google search app, so an update to that will deliver these features to all older Androids as well. The update adds the new search bar, voice interface, search bar and alphabet scrubber in the app drawer, and vertical app drawer orientation, as well as the uninstall shortcut.

More new features on Android 6.0 Marshmallow

Google has simplified volume controls once again with the Android Marshmallow update, with more granular control over the various audio settings on your device, from ringtones and alarms to music playback and voice calls.

Word selection has been made easier too, with Android Marshmallow highlighting text more intuitively, and a floating menu offers controls such as cut, copy and paste at your fingertips, rather than in the toolbar at the top of the display.

Fire up the Chrome web browser on Android Marshmallow and you’ll benefit from Chrome Custom Tabs, which enables websites to customize the toolbar and menu of the Chrome tab to provide dedicated buttons and options. An example shown on stage at Google IO was Pinterest, which was able to add a "Pin" button to the toolbar on certain pages.

App linking has been vastly improved in Android Marshmallow, with Google’s software now more adept at working out whether a link should be opened in a browser or a compatible app. That means fewer "Open with" pop up boxes flashing up on screen and generally getting in the way.

Now it’s just a case of sitting back and waiting for your device to get the Android Marshmallow update.