Android, first released in 2008, is still a relatively young operating system. However, since we’ve seen multiple updates for a few years, there have been many versions of Android to look at. Some were better than others, so let’s rank the top 10.
In the end, any list of the “best” will be reduced to the wishes of the author, and this list will be no different.
As a long-time user of Android – all the way to Android 1.5 – I have experience with almost every version of Android. Android complicates things though. My experience with Android on a Pixel could be very different from someone’s experience with the same version on a Samsung phone.
I will not simply rank the versions based on which it has the best features, as this would greatly distort it according to the latest versions. Instead, I will consider the impact that each release has had on the platform as a whole.
Will you probably completely agree with my list? No! Let’s get started.
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# 10: Android 5.0 Lollipop
Let’s start at the bottom of the list with the controversial version of Android. Released in 2014, Android 5.0 Lollipop gave us the first taste of “Material Design”. This marked another major redesign of the design for Android, but the one that probably got the best out of date.
In addition to aesthetic changes, some important things were happening below the surface. Android switched from Dalvik to ART (Android Runtime), which improved application performance. That’s why most Android apps today support Android 5.0 and later.
While Lollipop looked great on the surface, he was tormented by mistakes. Memory management was a mess on many devices, which is why applications were too often closed in the background. There were also many interferences with the new notification system.
Lollipop was important for the future of Android, but it had a lot of problems.
# 9: Android 6.0 Marshmallow
Speaking of bugs, let’s talk about the version that fixed many problems with Lollipop. Released in 2015, Android 6.0 Marshmallow didn’t have the pomp of any other release, but it was very important.
Marshmallow has made a big change in the way Android manages app permissions. Instead of asking for all the permissions at the time the app is installed, you can give them as needed. This means that you give an application access to, for example, your files only if you are doing something that requires that permission.
# 8: Android 7.0-7.1 Nougat
Android 7.0 Nougat came out in 2016 and it was another improved update. By that time, Material Design was becoming more sleek and refined. Android had a nice, consistent look.
Nougat has finally brought a split-screen mode to Android’s “stock”. Before that, phone manufacturers implemented their own methods for split screen mode, but Nougat made it a standard feature. This release also made “Doze,” a feature designed to save battery life, work a little better.
Perhaps the biggest thing Nougat has brought is Google Assistant. This was the version of Android that was launched on Google’s first Pixel phone and was tightly integrated with the operating system. Google Assistant is now available by default on all Android devices.
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# 7: Android 9 Pie
When Android 9 Pie came out in 2018, the reception was mixed. For the first time, Android didn’t have a Recent / Preview button. The navigation consisted of a start button in the shape of a movement pill and a small contextual button for return.
While half-prepared gestures were soon replaced by Android 10, some other features had a more lasting impact. Digital well-being, a set of tools that help people acquire better usage habits, is included for the first time. Battery saving and screen illumination using machine learning have also been introduced.
A big part of Android Pie was privacy. Android has better control over when apps can access your camera and microphone. There were a lot of little things that greatly improved the overall privacy and security of the operating system.
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# 6: Android 2.0-2.1 Eclair
By far the oldest entry on this list, Android 2.0 Eclair, was released only in 2009 six weeks after Android 1.6. This was a monumental upgrade for the operating system at the time.
Eclair has introduced many things that we take for granted today: voice-guided detailed navigation in Google Maps, live wallpapers, converting speech to text, and even zooming with your fingers. (Yes, Android didn’t have fingerprints at first.)
If you were an Android user at the time, Eclair was the update. I still remember when my HTC Eris got the update and I was able to use the navigation in Google Maps. It legitimately changed lives. And can you imagine using your phone without zooming in with your fingers?
# 5: Android 4.1-4.3 Jelly Bean
Android Jelly Bean contained three updates from 2012 to 2013. Coming after a major design overhaul in Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, Jelly Bean was all about sophistication.
One of the most significant features in Jelly Bean was the introduction of a quick adjustment panel. This is a feature that has become standard on almost all smartphones. He brought a few switches that were buried in the settings to a more convenient location.
Jelly Bean was also our first taste of “Google Now”, which has since been abandoned. The concept of predictive information that could help you during the day was pretty amazing at the time. It lingered for a while, but was eventually replaced by Google Assistant.
Another cool feature of Jelly Bean that Google has meanwhile abandoned are Widgets for the lock screen. It was convenient to have quick access to convenient widgets without unlocking the phone, but it may not be that easy for the average user.
# 4: Android 4.4 KitKat
In 2013, Google released the first branded version of Android, 4.4 KitKat. Previous versions of Android have become dark with neon glows. KitKat took things in the opposite direction with bright backgrounds and dimmed lights.
This was the first version of Android to have a transparent status bar at the top of the home screen. It also marked the transition to monochrome icons in the status bar, which in this case was white. These small aesthetic changes made the notification area look much cleaner.
KitKat was the first version of Android to support “OK Google” wake-up commands. At the moment, it only worked with the screen on, but it was an important initial step for what would eventually become Google Assistant.
Android fans may remember KitKat as the version launched on the Nexus 5. To date, the Nexus 5 is probably the most favorite smartphone Google has released. It was a great marriage between software and hardware.
# 3: Android 10
Android 10, released in 2019, was the first version to release nicknames for desserts. This signaled that Google hoped Android would take it in a “more mature” direction.
The most noticeable change in Android 10 was full-screen navigation. Android Pie started the transition from the navigation bar and buttons, but Android 10 fully understood that. For the first time, Android didn’t have “Home” and “Back” buttons.
Another great addition to Android 10 was the dark theme for the whole system. By turning the switch, you can control the theme of any application that supports system settings. No more picking themes from app to app (unless you really want to). The base color of Android has slowly become quite white and bright, so this was a very welcome feature.
Android 10 had many features, but another important one is better control over permissions. Users have finally gained more control over which apps can access their locations. This is something Google has been working on a lot in recent years, and Android 10 has been a big step forward.
# 2: Android 8.0-8.1 Oreo
Released in 2017, Android Oreo did not bring a huge design change, but it was quietly one of the most stable and sophisticated versions of the operating system. This was the second time Google had advertised a brand for the dessert nickname.
Android Oreo, however, had no flaws. Picture-in-picture has become an original feature, notification channels have brought a host of notification customizations, and even text selection has been given new options.
Perhaps one of the most convenient features that has ever come to Android is introduced with Oreo: Password Autofill. Just like in Chrome, Android can remember your app login, making it drastically easier to use apps and set up new devices.
Android Oreo also unveiled Project Treble, which promised to improve the update situation that has plagued Android for years. Four years later, did that make a difference? Probably not as much as Google had hoped.
Oh, and RIP on emoji thumbnails.
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# 1: Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich
Ice Cream Sandwich was released in 2011, and keen Android fans will remember it as a pretty big deal. This was the first time that Android actually looked like a modern operating system thanks to newly hired head of design Matthias Duarte.
Android 3.0 Honeycomb, which was only for tablets, introduced the neon “Holo UI”. Ice Cream Sandwich (commonly called “ICS”) has improved the Holo user interface and brought it to phones, uniting the two device categories. Not everyone is a fan of the way Google has put together tablets and phones, but that was undoubtedly a big change for the platform.
Ice Cream Sandwich brought richer notifications that could have been deleted for the first time in Android history. Honeycomb’s renovated and more visual Recents menu has been brought. Face unlock has been added as a new security method.
It really can’t be stressed enough how great the Holo UI was for Android. Before that, Android didn’t really have a design language. It was very basic and looked like something designed for developers. Ice Cream Sandwich has finally made it more comfortable to use.
Ice Cream Sandwich has been launched on the Samsung Galaxy Nexus. Android nerds drool on hype video for release. At the time, it seemed that Android had finally grown up and that Google took it seriously as a mainstream operating system.
This was difficult to compile the list and could be compiled in a completely different order with valid arguments. Each release of Android added something important, but some had a greater impact as a whole. Let’s hope the next big feature is right around the corner.
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