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What's new in Android 5.1? Some big and small changes in the updated Lollipop release

Android 5.1 Lollipop is upon us, and the update is just starting to become available for Nexus device owners, beginning with factory images for the Nexus 5, Nexus 10 and Nexus 7 (2012). Android 5.1 is the first big maintenance release for Lollipop, fixing bugs and improving performance and stability over the original 5.0 release. As such, many of the most important changes will have taken place behind the scenes, as Google tightens up the nuts and bolts of Lollipop.

On the surface, Android 5.1 is almost identical to 5.0, however look a little closer and there are plenty more subtle changes to get to grips with. Read on to learn what's new in the latest Lollipop release.

Read More: What's new in Android 5.1 Lollipop

Quick Settings tweaks

Auto-rotate

The quick settings panel has been polished up a bit in Android 5.1. Each of the icons (including the Auto-rotate option, shown over on the right) now comes to life with a new animation when you tap it.

What's more, it's now easier to hop between Wifi access points and Bluetooth devices with the new dropdown arrows next to these settings.

Quick settings

HD voice and dual SIM support, and new APIs

Lollipop dialer

Though we've heard reports of HD voice already working for some folks on T-Mo — and occasionally experienced it for ourselves on some European networks using the Nexus 6 — Android 5.1 makes it nice and official, and built into the OS. Nexus 6 users on T-Mobile and Verizon (when that version of the phone launches) will be able to enjoy higher-quality voice calls when the 5.1 update arrives.

Dual SIM dialer

Android 5.1 also introduces dual SIM support as a built-in Android feature. True, there's no shortage of dual-SIM phones running older versions of Google's OS. But now that this capability is baked into Android in 5.1, it should make things easier for smaller manufacturers shipping Android 5.1 phones in developing markets.

New APIs for developers in Android 5.1 will make it easier for developers to have their apps intelligently interact with dual-SIM phones too. And on a similar note, new APIs for a carrier apps will help operators control network provisioning and other important software stuff through apps on Google Play, without requiring a firmware update with every new version.

Read More: Android 5.1 SDK released to developers

T-Mobile customers will need to wait a little longer for the promised Wifi calling update for the Nexus 6. T-Mo's Des Smith confirms in a tweet that Wifi calling will be a separate update, not included in the 5.1 OTA.

See more

Revamped Screen Pinning

Android 5.1 brings some much-needed clarity to Lollipop's somewhat confusing screen pinning feature, which was designed to make it easier to lock kids or guest users into a particular app. The initial page of instructions is a bit clearer, telling users to scroll up to see the "pin" icon. And the checkbox to ask for a PIN or security pattern when leaving the pinned app now lives in the App Pinning menu in Settings > Security regardless of whether you have lock screen security enabled, making this option more discoverable.

And when you first pin an app, Android also does a better job of showing you exactly which buttons to press to leave pinned mode.

App Pinning

Device Protection — Stopping thieves from factory resetting your phone

Android security settings

Much like Samsung and Apple's reactivation lock features, Device Protection in Android 5.1 will help to secure your device even if it's lost or stolen. With this feature enabled, a thief won't be able to use your device — even after factory resetting it — without having your Google account login details. Originally promised for the initial Lollipop release, Device Protection will feature on "most Android phones and tablets shipped with Android 5.1," according to Google. (That's a grand total of zero phones and tablets at the time of writing, but devices running 5.1 out of the box are sure to come later in the year.)

In addition, the feature will come to the Nexus 6 and Nexus 9, which suggests it'll likely integrate with Lollipop's full disk encryption feature.

"With Device Protection, your lost or stolen device will remain locked until you sign in with your Google account - even if someone resets your device to factory settings. This feature will be available on most Android phones and tablets shipped with Android 5.1 in addition to Nexus 6 and Nexus 9."—Dave Burke, VP, Android Platform

We won't be able to try out Device Protection until Android 5.1 lands on the Nexus 6 or Nexus 9 — it's not available on any of the devices with early 5.1 factory images. But we already have a pretty good idea of how it'll work, and it's a welcome addition to the OS which should make all of Android more secure.

Read More: What is Full Disk Encryption in Android Lollipop?

Changes to the Volume and Interruptions sliders

Alas, there's still no traditional "mute" mode in Android 5.1 Lollipop (though manufacturers like Samsung and HTC have been able to bring it back on their devices). Google has, however, made some tweaks to the volume slider and interruptions system in the new Lollipop release.

"None," "Priority," and "All" are now accompanied by their corresponding icons, which should make it easier for new users to relate these to their status bar icons. And when enabling "None" or "Priority" mode for a specific time period, you'll see the exact time it'll be enabled until.

Interruptions

If you use Android's "Downtime" feature to control notifications after a certain time, you'll now be able to choose the kinds of interruptions allowed — "Priority" or "None." Previously this feature defaulted to "Priority" mode, with no way to change this.

Android 5.1

In a welcome change to the way the interruptions system works, Android 5.1 now allows you to set "Priority" or "None" mode until your next alarm (if you're within 12 hours of it), or until your downtime ends (if you're currently in downtime). This makes it easier to mute (or almost mute) your phone overnight, while presenting a simple way to switch between downtime modes on the fly.

Read More: Muting your Lollipop phone overnight just got a bit easier

And finally, it's now possible to access the interruptions menu when you've got music or videos playing. Tap the new bell icon on the right, and the volume slider will expand out into the familiar Non/Priority/All menu.

Other small changes in Android 5.1

Those are the broad strokes. Here's a summary of the other little bits and pieces we've spotted elsewhere in Android 5.1.

New animations in Clock app

The stock Android clock app now animates the four main icons as you swipe between panels. Wheee!

Clock animations

There's a more functional change too — using the volume rocker in the clock app will now default to changing your alarm volume.

Contacts lose colored overlay and Google+ linkage

Contact card

Tap on a contact in Android 5.1 and you'll see their profile picture without the colored overlay of old. (Buttons and icons still use the accent colors pulled from profile pictures, however.) Beyond that, Google+ profiles for contacts are no longer linked here — make of that what you will.

You'll also see some minor cosmetic changes elsewhere in the Contacts app, including the Settings menu and contact editing screens.

Sticky soft keys fix

The bug causing soft key glow effect to "stick" when swiping up appears to have been fixed in Android 5.1. (Or at least we've yet to notice it on the new release.) You might have noticed it when swiping up to get to Google Now in the earlier version of Lollipop.

Sticky soft keys

Hide 'Heads-up' notifications without dismissing

In Android 5.0.x you could swipe up to dismiss a heads-up notification, but doing so would remove it from the notification tray as well. In Android 5.1, swiping up on a heads-up notification will hide it, but keep it in the notification tray. Swiping to the side will still dismiss the notification completely. (Thanks, still1!)

A new status bar icon when there's no SIM inserted

Isn't it pretty?

No SIM icon

NuPlayer now the default streaming player

NuPlayer is Google's new, faster and more efficient streaming content player/container. In Android 5.1 it replaces AwesomePlayer, which is what has been used by default in the past.

Memory leak fixed?

As per the AOSP issue tracker, the memory leak bug affecting some users on Android 5.0 is likely fixed in 5.1. The glitch was marked as "FutureRelease" in the AOSP bug tracker back in December, and as such should be fixed in this new release of Android.

Those are the biggest changes we're seeing in Android 5.1 thus far — subtle tweaks here and there for a more refined Lollipop experience. And it's worth bearing in mind that you may or may not see some of these in manufacturer-customized Android 5.1 devices when future updates start rolling out.

Seeing any new features or changes we've missed? Hit the comments below and let us know!

Share your thoughts on Android 5.1 — shout out in the comments!

Alex Dobie
Executive Editor

Alex was with Android Central for over a decade, producing written and video content for the site, and served as global Executive Editor from 2016 to 2022.

253 Comments
  • Still haven't received it on my n7 2013 Posted via the Android Central App
  • Factory reset, and be done with it Posted via the Android Central App via the Nexus 6, possibly the N5!
  • it's been what, 16 hours since it was officially announced? Calm down.
  • I know, right? Posted via the Android Central App
  • Hahaha yeah seriously Posted via Android Central App
  • I LOLed
  • I hope they make it so that when you tap Location it doesn't just simply turn it off or on. Sometimes I want to choose between High Accuracy, Battery Saving, and Device Only. It also sucks that when you turn it off and back on, it defaults to High Accuracy instead of turning on with your previous settings. I find Battery Saving mode works well for almost everything. Via Nexus 6: "Takin updates for granted."
  • Have you tried long press instead of tap on Location? +1 on remembering prior accuracy setting.
  • Yap. It just gave me a cool overlaying animation and turned off when I lifted my finger. Via Nexus 6: "Takin updates for granted."
  • Slap a "Power Control" widget on one of your home screens. I have one at the top of my main screen so I can quickly toggle WiFi/BT/Location and that location button lets you single press for High Accuracy/Battery Saving/Off. Works like a champ.
  • That's Nexus entitlement right there.
  • It's funny, when crApple says an update is available, EVERYONE gets it, that day, by simply going to iTunes and getting it. I have an AT&T SIM, I never got a single update, I had to flash them all after a month. My wife's N7 never hot 5.0. She went from 4.4 to 5.02, several months later. Yeah, Google is Fail McFailington with updates, the whole point we gave up cases and feqtures to go Nexus.
  • The N7 was probably intentional, 5.0 and 5.0.1 were buggy as hell. Dunno about 5.0.2, by then I'd given up and flashed a custom ROM. An excellent decision, if I do say so myself. Wubba lubba dub dub!
  • Yep, just downloaded iOS 8.2 today after it came out yesterday. All I need is the OTA zip for my Nexus 6 and I will sideload it.
  • Which way do you prefer:
    Updates released for everyone the same time, everyone install it, then it appears the update has some major issues. Everyone is either stuck with the issues till the follow-up update is released or downgrade, if it is even possible that easily.
    Higher risk, faster roll-out. Or a staged roll-out, a few get it first, and continue to roll out if there are no major issues reported, you will get it eventually when there are no major issues. If there are, roll-out stops, fix gets into the work, only a few are stuck with the issues/downgrade. Fix is in the works, meanwhile no update, but majority still has a issue less system. Fix done, rolls out, same procedure, if there are no issues, majority skip the faulty update and update directly to the issue less one.
    Lower risk, slower roll-out. In a perfect world, I would choose former, but in today's software state of any brand, I'd stick with the later.
    People so keen on updates should be advanced enough to get their updates manually either way.
  • Considering I've never had any issues with my iOS updates and I'm always on the most current version without worrying if I will get it...I'll choose Apple on that one.
  • Lucky you, last major iOS 8 update made my family wary of installing updates.
  • No issues? I guess you didn't download 8.0.1.
  • I'm on 8.2 currently.
  • Remind us again how many different iPhones get targeted...and how many manufacturers get to fiddle with the latest OS before it gets to you.
    This Nexus privilege is a concern, but I'm happy with Kitkat on my Samsung.
  • iOS did have a borked roll out and fixed it the next day in less than 24 hours. Google stages the rollouts and still have bugs and in some cases causes more bugs so much for the staged roll outs taking several weeks...
  • You gave me a headache
  • The problem is when it takes close to a year to get the update. I trust Google is doing what it needs to and that all other parties (in my case, Motorola and Verizon) are doing the same, but sometimes it feels like they are delaying unnecessarily.
  • Just because apple does it wrong doesn't mean Google has to do it wrong too. 5.0.1/2 is EXACTLY why updates should not be vomited out as table thumpers like you want. Bad updates get identify in the soak test and the OTA can be halted. There's absolutely nothing in the update that you need. Just be patient and wait your turn. Posted via Android Central App
  • Apple has a limited number of devices being it is just for iPhones. Android has a ton of different phones they need to get it to work with. Makes sense it would take longer to roll out updates. Plus each provider wants to tweak it for their service on every brand/model phone they will offer it on. If they would leave it as is it would get out faster.
  • "...each provider wants to tweak it for their service..." Oh please, their "service" is only text, call and a voicemailbox. What's there to "tweak"?
    If you're talking about their optional apps, that should be optional in the first place, then you actually mean: "Providers need time to port their junk to the new OS-revision."
  • And you won't, for two reasons. 1. "razor" (N7 2013 WiFi) factory image has not been built or released on AOSP yet. When it's out, you can find it here: https://developers.google.com/android/nexus/images 2. A "factory image" is not an over-the-air update. The factory image comes out first, so people who REALLY want it fast can use ADB and sideload the new image to their devices. Then the OTA is built and put on the Google OTA servers for a rolling release (and made available for download in case you want to use ADB to load that to get in the front of the line).
  • What do you mean still? Lol my god Posted via Android Central App
  • I got it yesterday ! I hope you must have too! :)
  • Just got my 5.1 OTA on Verizon for Nexus 6 today...2 months after the fact.
  • I believe there are more changes to the sound modes than listed here. I read in another site they tweaked priority so apps cannot override it which means it should more reliable keep your phone quiet, notification light works in "none" mode and alarms will fire in "none" mode if you want which then pulls the phone out of "none" and into "all". So they almost gave us Silent Mode back. I'm guessing whoever is in charge of the sound mode is fairly egotistical and doesn't want to admit it was a mistake to remove it which is why they keep adding complexity to an issue that never had a problem in the first place. I haven't used 5.1 myself so I am only commenting on what I read elsewhere. Yes, a normal, easy to use silent mode would be more elegant but hopefully with the tweaks we can more easily emulate it now using the very complex system Google thinks we need. i just hope the duplicate text and missed call bugs with Sprint have been addressed in the Nexus 6. If not my phone may go into a lake.
  • I get the LED when my Nexus 5 is on None and Priority now. That didn't happen before in None and you had to configure each app for Priority.
  • That is pretty nice. Can't wait to test it myself. (don't have the energy to flash so I'll wait for the OTA)
  • Why would one want alarms to go off in None mode? That's an asinine idea, the sound modes were perfect in 5.0. Now we get blinking light when I want "No Interruptions, not even Alarms". If I wanted silence except for alarms and then the phone to be in All mode, that is what Priority was for. They had it right and now it's broken.
  • I want alarms to go off in None mode, or at least have the option. For instance, if I lay down on a Sunday to take a nap, I don't want any of my starred contacts to reach me (which is how I have priority set up for at night in case there is an emergency with a few close people) but I want to set an alarm to make sure I don't sleep too long. And I don't want to have to change the definition of Priority every time. What I don't understand is why you would create an alarm on your phone that you don't want to hear.
  • <i>Why would one want alarms to go off in None mode? </i>
    To wake you up.
    <blockquote>That's an asinine idea, the sound modes were perfect in 5.0. </blockquote>
    Only if you are an egotistical a-hole that wants others to use their phone as you do, and not how they were used to.
    <blockquote>They had it right and now it's broken.</blockquote>
    No, they had it right for you, and wrong for others. Now it's still right for you, and not broken for the others. If you don't wanna see the light, just put your phone face down or away. Many others found silent notifications very useful.
  • "Why would one want alarms to go off in None mode?"
    To wake you up. "That's an asinine idea, the sound modes were perfect in 5.0."
    Only if you are an egotistical a-hole that wants others to use their phone as you do, and not how they were used to. "They had it right and now it's broken."
    No, they had it right for you, and wrong for others. Now it's still right for you, and not broken for the others. If you don't wanna see the light, just put your phone face down or away. Many others found silent notifications very useful.
  • Too bad modes can't be removed. Totally useless Posted via the Android Central App
  • So, what exactly was wrong with having a "mute" function. Why did they fix something that wasn't actually broken?
  • Solutions for problems you don't have. That's the Chicago Way.
  • +1000
  • Seems to be Googles MO, to tinker and tweak everything until it's as close to perfect as possible. Then tweak it some more and ruin it. Wubba lubba dub dub!
  • My 2nd LOL! Thanks
  • "mute", "no sounds".. I really can't see the difference
  • Except there is a difference. Before when you muted it things like alarms would still come through, this is not the case anymore.
  • Are you broken? You can set it so the alarms come through, even in the "none" mode which is basically like muted.
  • New scrollbars. See here: http://i.imgur.com/2N90MMT.png
  • Absolutely stunning too. Apple, M$FT, BB should just fold up shop now. :-D JK
  • Does it fix the Smart Lock (not working with Bluetooth on my devices)? Posted via the Android Central App
  • I believe that is a Google Player Services issue. Did you sideload any newer versions? I know Android Police provides APK downloads for it, but 6.7.76 is the latest stable version for Lollipop. If you sideloaded a newer version, go into all apps and find Google Play Services and tap "Disable". It will prompt you to rollback to the factory version which you should do. This will fix Smart Lock and then let it download 6.7.76 automatically.
  • Yeah, it's a Play Services issue. GPS 7.0 broke location smart lock for me, but bluetooth seems to be working on my N6. On the N5 5.1, and GPS 7.0, it's still broken.
  • And sometimes not working with my locations too.
  • There are different versions of Play Services, you have to look under Settings -> Apps -> Google Play services, and look at the last 3 numbers in the parentheses. You'll see something like -XYY. There are versions with -430, -434, -446, -470 etc. If you sideload a version from APK Mirror that doesn't correspond with that number on your phone, you won't see a Smart Lock option in your settings. It's all in the description on APKM.
  • It's really broken. I never install manually GPS, it updated automatically on my N5 and N6.
  • Smart Lock works fine for me on 5.1/Stock Nexus 6 for bluetooth devices. I haven't tested with NFC, but my bluetooth alarm clock is set as a smart lock device and works exactly as specified.
  • I hope it fixes my persistent voicemail notification.. Doesn't go away after the first listen. Posted via Android Central App on The Nexus 5
  • That happened A LOT with my Nexus 5 and my current Nexus 6. I thought it was just my carrier at first. But I usually just ended up going to the "Phone" app settings and cleared it manually.
  • That's a pain in the ass. Posted via Android Central App on The Nexus 5
  • Wait.. U dig all the way into the app settings? That takes too long. Posted via Android Central App on The Nexus 5
  • THIS ^^^^
    That bug is so extremely annoying, I have to restart my Nexus 5 every time I get a voicemail or it'll be notifying me every 5 minutes that I have a new voicemail.
  • Are you on T-Mobile? Download their Visual Voicemail and give that a try. It takes over as your VM client, removes the persistent notification and has a notification of its own that you can dismiss.
  • Not anymore. I switched to MetroPCS several months ago. Thanks for the tip tho for if I ever switch back. Posted via Android Central App on The Nexus 5