Lollipop Update: What's New in Android 5.1

What's New in Android 5.1

Google inconspicuously announced an Android update yesterday, and while it's not quite the overhaul that the initial Lollipop release was, version 5.1 brings plenty of bug fixes and new features.

This new version is currently on a staged rollout for Nexus devices, so the update will gradually become available to all users over the course of the next few weeks. The changes have already been published to AOSP, so custom ROM users should see an update fairly soon. Expect manufacturer-skinned versions of Android to follow suit within a few months, so folks with Samsung TouchWiz, HTC Sense, or LG Optimus UI devices will have to wait.

While it's still too early to know for certain, it seems like the memory leak that plagued Nexus devices has been fixed. This particular bug may have prompted the quick version bump, but there are many additional noteworthy changes, which I'll outline below.

Sound & Volume Tweaks

Android 5.0 introduced a new volume interface that allowed you to cease interruptions with two different options—"Priority Mode" and "None." In theory, this was a great addition, but in practice, the new feature felt like a downgrade to many users.

While Priority Mode added the ability to silence notifications with the exception of starred contacts and certain preset apps, not all apps would honor this setting. If you opted to go with None for your notification setting instead, the LED notification light would stop blinking and your alarm would be silenced as well. All of this left users yearning for the old days of a simple "Silent" mode where the notification sounds wouldn't ring, but everything else stayed the same.

Android 5.1 has addressed these issues, and while it may not be perfect. most folks should welcome the changes. The LED notification light will now blink regardless of your sound settings, and an option for enabling None or Priority modes "Until next alarm" has been added.

With this option selected, no unwanted notification sounds will interrupt you while in either of the new sound modes, but your alarm will go off and your notification light will blink. It should be noted that the "Until next alarm" option won't be available unless you have an alarm set to go off within the next 12 hours.

These aren't the only changes to the volume interface in Android 5.1. Users will be happy to see that notification volume can now be adjusted while media is playing. Simply tap the "Bell" icon in your volume panel to switch from media playback adjustment to notification volume adjustment.

"Heads Up" Notifications Can Now Be Minimized

5.0's new "Heads Up" notification system was a welcomed addition for the most part, but one major annoyance kept the new feature from being perfect. When such notifications came in, they popped over whatever you were doing, which was the main point of the new system. The only trouble here was the fact that we could not make these notifications go away without dismissing them outright.

Since the Heads Up notifications would stay on the screen for a solid 10 seconds, you would have to either stop what you were doing to interact with them immediately, dismiss the notification altogether by swiping to the left or right, or just wait 10 seconds for the notification to get out of your way.

In Android 5.1, Heads Up notifications can now be minimized with an upward swipe. If a new notification comes in and you're not quite ready to deal with it, just swipe up, and it will be minimized to your notification bar without being dismissed.

Wi-Fi & Bluetooth Quick Settings Now Expandable

With Android 5.1, you can now tap the word "Wi-Fi" or "Bluetooth" (or your current connection's name) in your Quick Settings panel to view and manage connections directly. Previously, this would take you to the associated Android settings menu.

You can still tap the Wi-Fi or Bluetooth icons to toggle these services on or off, so this minor tweak is nothing but added functionality.

Android Device Manager Improved

If your device is ever lost or stolen, Android Device Manager should be the first site you visit. This tool has allowed users to locate, wipe, or lock their devices remotely, and with Android 5.1, it has become even more powerful.

When you lock your 5.1-powered device via Android Device Manger, the phone cannot be unlocked until you've entered your password—even if the device has been completely wiped. This means that thieves can no longer perform a factory reset on a stolen Android phone to reuse it.

Google was able to accomplish this by attaching your device's hardware ID to your account. Even when the device is wiped, it still uses the same hardware ID, so the original account is still attached to the device and only the account holder can unlock it.

Note that this feature has only been added to current generation Nexus devices (Nexus 6 and Nexus 9). Future devices that ship with Android 5.1 will include the feature by default, but older generation devices will not be able to take advantage of this.

Cellular Network Improvements

Android 5.1 now supports dual SIM card devices natively. This is a popular request in countries with limited cell service providers, where one carrier may have a great deal on voice minutes, while another has the best value for data.

Such devices will now sport a notification icon that indicates the network they are currently connected to. This SIM card-shaped icon will be colored differently for the two carriers that are used.

Additionally, HD Voice calling has been integrated into Android 5.1, which promises to make voice calls crystal clear. The feature will require a supported device (Nexus 6 only, for now), and your cellular carrier will have to enable the feature on their end of the connection.

Other Changes

Several changes were made that don't fall neatly into a category. For one, when viewing the Quick Settings panel on your lock screen, you can simply swipe up once to close the panel and unlock your device directly.

The clock app now sports some nifty new animations. When swiping between the individual tabs, the icons at the top of the screen animate to indicate their tab's functionality. It's a subtle effect, but it's certainly cool.

Android 5.1 now uses NuPlayer to handle media playback. In previous versions AwesomePlayer was the default, and NuPlayer was an experimental setting in Developer Options.

Of course, more under-the-hood tweaks were made, as this was mainly a bug fix release. Expect things to run a bit more smooth in general, and perhaps you'll even see a boost in battery life with Android 5.1.

What features were you hoping to see in Android 5.1? Did Google address all of the issues you had with version 5.0? Let us know in the comment section below, or drop us a line on Facebook, Google+, or Twitter.

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