The latest version of Android OS aka Pie has been around for some time, and although its availability is limited to a handful of devices, most of which do not sell in the Kenyan market, HMD Global’s Nokia 7 Plus has been rocking the update for more than one month. You might also remember that the device was one of the select few handhelds that received early Android 9 Pie releases prior to official rollout. This development is good news for groups that love the offerings of stock Android that is light, features zero bloatware and receives updates in a timely manner. For the most part, HMD has kept this promise, and while its other devices are yet to see a transition to Pie, the manufacturer promised that most of them would be updated – and that includes their budget smartphones such as the Nokia 2.
Having toyed around with the update, here are some of Android 9 Pie features that are worth checking out. PS: The version has tens, probably more of under-the-hood features that we cannot cover in this post. However, this short analysis highlights features that I think some people will use on a day to day basis. Read on…
Android navigation buttons have come a long way: back in 2010, the OS could be managed with four navigation buttons: back home, menu and search. The bar has since evolved: the search button was dropped years ago, whereas the menu key was replaced with a task-switcher option. Further changes were popularized by Apple’s gesture-based navigation on new iPhones as the market necessitated the need for all all-screen and bezel-less displays as characterized by the iPhone X. Android Pie’s implementation has a single home button now. The back button pops up once you open an application. On the whole, the Home button functions as follows:
- Swiping up slightly on the button launches the app switcher page that has been redesigned. The Rolodex menu has been replaced with app snippets that can be swiped horizontally.
- Swiping up further opens the app drawer.
The gestures work just fine from any screen.
Whether you like these changes is a matter of personal taste. However, gestures in the Nokia 7 Plus are not enabled by default; you need to activate Developer Options first to unlock them. Also, Nokia has added a couple of more and welcome gestures such as calling the notification shade with the fingerprint scanner and waking the screen when you pick the device.
Android has always lauded itself a smart OS that takes advantage of AI and machine learning to predict which action or app a user wants to use. While this feature has been available on Google’s launcher, it has since been improved with App Actions that foretell actions and conveniently generates shortcuts for them. In most cases, App Actions are accurate, but not particularly my cup of tea at the moment. Nevertheless, I’m glad the feature exists and can be genuinely useful for folks who perform specific actions consistently.
This is one of the critical security features that was implemented in Pie. It can be activated by going to Settings > Security and Location > Lock screen preferences > Show lockdown option. Once set up, it can be accessed via the power menu, and when toggled on, Lockdown mode disables smart lock and fingerprint authentication. Also, the feature hides lock screen notification. The only way to bypass it is via a PIN, pattern or password.
Improved screen rotation
For an extended period, our phones have always switched screen orientation based on how we have set them. Frustratingly, locking orientation can be a tasking experience when a user needs to switch several times in any given day. This issue has been resolved in Pie; even if your phone’s Auto-Rotation is turned off, you can switch to landscape mode and vice versa using a new icon that appears on the navigation bar.
I covered this update in an earlier post but to recap, you can now stay productive by restricting the time spent on certain apps. When activated, the feature launches a timer and locks you out once your session in certain apps, say social media platforms, expires. The feature also gives a visual chart of the amount of time spent on applications, the number of notifications received, as well as the number of unlocks. Finally, an option called Wind Down activates DND mode and grayscale for a good night’s sleep.
Volume button and sound enhancements
The volume menu has received a cosmetic overhaul. It now appears on the right side instead of the top section. Finally, pressing the volume buttons can now control media volume instead of ringer volume (it was genuinely frustrating before). The upside is that you are less likely to open a media file at full volume in places you are not supposed to.
Right above the volume slider is a button for managing call volume from mute, vibrate or sound. Further controls can be accessed from the settings icon below the slider.
There are a lot of improvements that are included in Pie, including Adaptive Battery that aims to augment Doze (Doze was launched with Marshmallow) in making battery life better, improved screenshot shortcuts, a half-baked dark mode based on wallpaper selection and easier text selection. The action of these features aims to improve user experience, and for the most part, Android 9 Pie on the Nokia 7 Plus is excellent.
Finally, I never used the device before the update, hence, my comments regarding battery performance are only limited to Pie, and it is not impressive. I expected more from the cell owing to its size, but it just doesn’t last for as long as I expected. However, it can serve moderate users just fine. It also fills up fast with the included charger. And yes, the update makes it an excellent contender in a fiercely competitive midrange market.