Android 6.0 Marshmallow made significant improvements to the fifth iteration of Android 5.0 Lollipop. With the release of Android 7.0 Nougat, the improvements aren’t quite as bold and game-changing, but they go a very long way to polish up the previous release of Android.

Here’s a look at what the latest iteration of Android has to offer. We’ll update this guide as new information about Nougat becomes available.

SEE: Check out all of TechRepublic’s smart person’s guides

Executive summary

  • What is Android Nougat? Nougat is version 7.0 of the Android platform. This release adds significant updates to some of the underlying systems, such as security and battery life, though offers only slight improvements to the Android user interface.
  • Why Android Nougat matters: Prior to Nougat, Android had a long-standing mediaserver security issue that has finally been resolved. Also, Nougat goes to great lengths to save battery and data.
  • Who Android Nougat affects: Any Android device user who already enjoys Marshmallow and would like to finally get rid of the mediaserver security issue, improve battery life, gain control over data usage, have easier access to various Settings, and enjoy a much more secure platform.
  • When Android Nougat is happening: On August 22, 2016, Nougat was released for the Nexus line. It will slowly make its way through carriers to all devices running Marshmallow. In October 2016, Android 7.1 launched on Nexus devices. On December 5, 2016, Android 7.1.1 came to Google phones and tablets. In April 2017, Android 7.1.2 was unleashed, and it offers a number of bug fixes to bring even more reliability and performance to the Nougat platform.
  • How to get Android Nougat: You can either wait for an Over The Air (OTA) update, or you can take the steps to load the firmware manually. Note: The Android Nougat Beta Program has expired, so that is no longer an option for checking out Android 7.

Additional resources:

What is Android Nougat?

Nougat is the seventh release of the Android platform. It runs on devices manufactured by:

  • ASUS
  • Google/Nexus
  • HTC
  • Huawei
  • LG
  • Motorola
  • OnePlus
  • Sony
  • Xiaomi

The notable features that make Nougat a must-have for Android users include the following.

Direct Boot: When a Nougat-powered Android device boots up, Direct Boot will split everything into two groups: Device Encrypted Storage (DES) and Credential Encrypted Storage (CES).

  • DES: A storage location available during and after Direct Boot. Apps and data within DES are able to do things before a user unlocks the device (such apps include SMS messages and alarms).
  • CES: A storage location available only after a user unlocks the device. Every app that isn’t included in DES will be completely encrypted until the user logs in (keeping apps and data safe).

Chrome-like updates: If you’re familiar with Chrome OS, you know the upward-pointing arrow in the notification tray that indicates an update is available; Nougat takes a similar approach to updates but goes one step further.

After a system update has automatically downloaded, it will be applied in the background and then suspended. During and after the update, the user will continue using the device in the pre-updated version. Once the user reboots the device, the updated version will be taken out of suspension and replace the previously running instance. This is an important evolution, as users tend to ignore system updates (which often include bug and security fixes).

No more Stagefright: If Nougat offered only one update, it could have been this one. For a very long time the developers of Android were constantly chasing the Stagefright vulnerability (it affected the mediaserver subsystem and could allow an attacker to inject malicious code via SMS messages). Thankfully, Nougat brings a completely reworked media framework that does away with the vulnerability once and for all.

Split Screen Mode: Nougat brings a solid take on the split screen mode. With an app open, long press the multitasking button and select the app you want to add to the screen. The app will be added below the currently running app so you can work with two apps simultaneously (Figure A). Nougat’s Split Screen Mode allows you to resize the windows to give one app more real estate over another; all you have to do is tap and drag the app divider up or down to resize the windows.

Figure A

Split Screen Mode in action.

An improved JIT compiler: Another “under the hood” feature that will have a major impact on Android is the inclusion of a much-improved Just In Time (JIT) compiler. This will compile apps 75% faster, and the results will be apps that take up to 50% less space. This translates to faster installation and a smaller footprint for apps.

Settings sidebar: When you configure your Android device (for whatever purpose), you might tap around into the various Settings pages to locate what you need. Nougat has a Settings sidebar. When in Settings, all you have to do is swipe right (from the left edge of the screen) to reveal a sidebar that contains all the Settings categories for easier navigation (Figure B).

Figure B

The Settings sidebar in action.

Improved Doze saves battery life: The Doze feature arrived with Android Marshmallow and drastically improved battery life. The idea behind Doze was that, when your device was at rest (like when you’re sleeping), it would switch to a low energy mode.

With Nougat, Doze gets a much-needed tweak. Now, Doze is smart enough to know when your device is at rest, even if it’s in your pocket or bag when you travel. This means your device doesn’t have to be perfectly still before Doze will kick in to save your battery.

Google Assistant: As of early March 2017, the Google Assistant software has been made available to non-Pixel phones. This is an important update, because it brings one of the more impressive extensions to Google Now to almost every device running Android Nougat. Google Assistant is an intelligent personal assistant that works in a conversation-like AI chat form so you can dive deeper into searching. But Google Assistant doesn’t stop at just delivering information–this next-level digital assistant is deeply connected to the Android ecosystem, and it will integrate and interact with your Google Calendar to create new entries. Google Assistant will also enable users to launch applications completely hands free.

App shortcuts: This feature, which is only available on Android 7.1.1, goes a long way to make your Android life far more efficient. When you have a supporting app launcher on your home screen (such as Hangouts or YouTube), you can long-press the app icon to reveal a popup menu that allows you to launch an action from that app. For instance, you can jump directly into an existing conversation with Google Hangouts, or go directly to your YouTube subscriptions.

Image keyboard support: With the 7.1 update to Android, the developers have expanded the types of data you can enter with your keyboard. This means you can now easily enter stickers, GIFs, and other content without having to install third-party apps.

Storage Manager Intent: This new update to Nougat gives you quick access to a screen that will allow you to clear unused files and free up storage space on devices. When your device is running dangerously low on space, this new feature will be there to lend a hand.

Usage Alerts: Android 7.1.2 includes the Usage Alerts option under the Battery menu. With this new feature users will be alerted to apps and services that are draining the device battery.

Additional resources:

Why does Android Nougat matter?

Android 7 brings to business users not only a much-improved battery life, but also the long-overdue replacement for the vulnerable subsystem that could have fallen victim to Stagefright. Those two improvements alone make Nougat a must-have upgrade from Marshmallow.

Additional resources:

Who does Android Nougat affect?

The 7.1.2 update rolled out to Pixel, XL, C, Nexus 6P, 5X, and Player devices in early April 2017. At this point, the release should be available as an OTA update for devices running 7.1.1. If your device doesn’t show any signs of receiving 7.1.2, chances are the manufacturer is skipping this maintenance release and holding off for Android O.

The release of Nougat affects any Android user with a compatible device. Users whose devices are running Marshmallow should check daily for the upgrade. As soon as you see the upgrade available, run it.

The devices that are certain to receive Nougat in the first wave of releases include the following.

  • Nexus 6P, Nexus 5X, Nexus 6, and Nexus 9
  • Google Pixel C
  • HTC 10, last year’s HTC One A9, and the HTC One M9
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 5, Galaxy S7, Galaxy S7 Edge
  • Motorola Moto G4 and G4 Plus
  • LG G5
  • Sony Xperia Z3, Z4, and Z5
  • Huawei P9

The Nougat 7.1 update should already have rolled out to the following devices:

  • Nexus 5X
  • Nexus 6P
  • Google Pixel
  • Google Pixel XL
  • Nexus Player
  • Pixel C
  • HTC 10
  • HTC One A9
  • HTC One M9
  • Huawei Mate 8, P9, and P9

There is no official date from Motorola, but the following devices should receive the 7.1 update in the near future:

  • Moto G (4th Gen)
  • Moto G Plus (4th Gen)
  • Moto G Play (4th Gen)
  • Moto X Pure Edition (3rd Gen)
  • Moto X Style
  • Moto X Play
  • Moto X Force
  • Droid Turbo 2
  • Droid Maxx 2
  • Moto Z
  • Moto Z Droid
  • Moto Z Force Droid
  • Moto Z Play
  • Moto Z Play Droid
  • Nexus 6

The first half of 2017 should bring the following Samsung devices up to date:

  • Galaxy S6
  • Galaxy S6 edge
  • Galaxy S6 edge Plus
  • Galaxy Note 5
  • Galaxy Tab A with S Pen
  • Galaxy Tab S2 (LTE Unlock)
  • Galaxy A3
  • Galaxy A8

Additional resources:

How do you get Android Nougat?

Android Nougat began deploying on August 22, 2016. The OTA upgrades will be very slow to release primarily because of carrier soak testing.

If you’re impatient for the upgrade, you can always load it manually; it isn’t a difficult task, though it’s one that must be run carefully. If you have a Nexus device and have yet to get the OTA upgrade, you can download the correct factory image and, using the adb tool, manually install the upgrade.

Additional resources:

How do you use Android Nougat?

Check out these TechRepublic tips and tutorials.