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At the Google I/O developer conference in June, the company announced Android L, a the next version of Android with a new design language and interface paradigm — and you can get the best of it right now.

The operating system is expected to drop in Autumn of this year, and there’s already an early developer preview available. Those of you who just can’t wait for a stable consumer release can try it out now Your USB Charger Wants To Kill You, Download Android 5.0 Now, and More... [Tech News Digest] Your USB Charger Wants To Kill You, Download Android 5.0 Now, and More... [Tech News Digest] Also, the MPAA popularizes a resource for sharing movies, YouTube spoils content creators, Google Cardboard clones are now available, Uber offers weddings on demand, and Monty Python does a silly walk all over your smartphone. Read More (if you have a Nexus 5 or 7). That said, some of you are curious what’s up with all this Android L business, and would like to get an early taste of the new aesthetic and features, without subjecting your precious device to the ravages of an unfinished operating system — or maybe you just don’t have the right Android device to test it on.

Luckily, there are a number of apps and modifications that will let you try out the Material Design look and feel Exploring Android L: What Exactly Is Material Design? Exploring Android L: What Exactly Is Material Design? You may have heard about Android L and Material Design, but what exactly is this new design philosophy and how will it affect Android and other Google products? Read More without being rooted. Do note that this will not be a full replacement for Android L, so you won’t get new features like battery life improvements. Still, these tips might help to tide you over until the real thing arrives on your device.

The Keyboard

androidLKeyboards

You can get a pretty good approximation of the look and feel of the minimalist new Android L keyboard by using a custom keyboard, which you can get from the Play Store.  You might, as I was, be inclined to pick up the suggestively named “Android L Keyboard,” which is one of the first results. Don’t be misled — the settings page is broken, and the keyboard does not support swype-style input. Instead, I recommend picking up the ai.type keyboard, and then downloading the Android L theme for it here.

This looks very similar to the Android L keyboard, and it provides a very functional keyboard experience. The aesthetic is nice, and looks way less busy than past Android Keyboards How To Choose The Best Android Keyboard For Your Own Needs How To Choose The Best Android Keyboard For Your Own Needs If there’s one reason to pick Android over any other type of smartphone, it would be customizability. Whether you’re looking for different kinds of apps, themes, or ROMs, you’re always just one click away from... Read More .

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The Theme

AndroidLHomescreen

Obviously, one of the big pulls of Android L is its new Material Design aesthetic, so be sure to get a theme that shows it off. I wound up using the Android L theme for the Themer launcher (which we’ve reviewed MyColorScreen Themer Is An Incredibly Easy and Sophisticated Way To Customize Your Phone MyColorScreen Themer Is An Incredibly Easy and Sophisticated Way To Customize Your Phone A smartphone is a very personal piece of kit -- so why should your phone look just like mine? Read More ) that provides a neat, Material Design-inspired home and app screen. Unfortunately, the operating system doesn’t support the slick, physically-based animations that characterize Material Design, so it loses some of the charm. Regardless, it’s attractive and a nice stab at reproducing some of the look and feel of Android L.

To extend the experience to your browsing, download Chrome Beta from the app store. The beta can be a little unstable (as per the name), but it does have a beautiful material design motif and a couple of new features, including the ability to use Google’s servers to speed up your mobile browsing.

The Lockscreen Notifications

AndroidLlockscreen

One of the neat features of Android L is its ability to push notifications to the lock screen, allowing you to read them without having to unlock your phone. This feature, at least, you can pick up with the Android L Lockscreen.

This app displays a customizable collection of recent status notifications on the homescreen, which you can freely view or discard. Which notifications make it to the home screen can be customized inside the app, which you’ll probably want to do, because the defaults are a little bit generous.

The Wallpapers

materialdesignfeatureimage

As a final touch to fill out the Android L experience, you can pick up all of the stock backgrounds with the Android L Wallpaper app, which provides a welcome personal touch. A number of these are quite attractive, and the color scheme of Material Design is bold enough to stand out, even for simple static backgrounds.

Going Further

If you’re willing to put the effort in, you can go a little a bit further.  None of this is recommended, but it is an option for the curious.   If you’re feeling ambitious and have a rooted device, you can swap out the normal KitKat soft buttons for the new, PlayStation-esque Android L soft buttons for free using the GravityBox Xposed Module GravityBox Vs XBlast: Which Is The Best All-Purpose Xposed Module? GravityBox Vs XBlast: Which Is The Best All-Purpose Xposed Module? Out of the two great all-purpose Xposed modules for customizing your rooted Android device, which is the best? Read More  — though, if you haven’t rooted and weren’t planning to root, it’s probably not worth the effort.

You can also download a number of apks from the developer preview of Android L from this xda developers thread. This realm is probably more for experienced tinkerers, though, because most of these apks require root access to install properly. Check in the thread for tips on getting these working, but tread forward at your own caution.

Finally, if you want to try to get some of the power and memory savings of Android L, some devices can already switch to ART (the new runtime that executes Java code in Android L), by entering Android’s developer mode’ (tap Build Number seven times, in Settings >About Phone >Software information).

From there, you can switch to ART from Developer Options >Select Runtime). However, this is still wildly experimental and will likely cause some apps to crash or not work at all. You can find out more about the process at Cult of Android. But really, ART isn’t likely to speed up your Android Does Switching To ART Speed Up Your Android KitKat Device? Does Switching To ART Speed Up Your Android KitKat Device? Is ART best left alone until Google decides to roll it out as a working replacement for Dalvik? Read More device by much anyway.

Anything Else?

Obviously, none of this stuff is going to get you what you really want, which is shiny, intuitive, faster new Android. What it might do, though, is show off some of the new features of that Android, and give you a glimpse of where the future of the platform is headed. Enjoy!

Know any cool Android L features or apps that we didn’t mention? Let us know in the comments!

  1. Nohl L
    September 29, 2014 at 8:03 pm

    Interesting, but I have a Samsung Note 3 with the window folio case and like the integration with the case. The L lockscreen seems like a pain.

  2. Joseph G
    September 14, 2014 at 10:40 pm

    So I can't have the dev preview of Android L on my Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 but these apps do look pretty good and should be enough to tide me over until either L makes its way to the latest slew of Samsung devices /or/ a decent ROM based on L comes along and it's time to root this bad boy and get it in.

    All in all, a decent compilation of apps to try out here. Thank you for this.

  3. Chris
    September 13, 2014 at 5:47 am

    I would prefer to have something be a little too bland than something complex that doesn't look good. Usually, in most complex icon sets there are a couple that just look bad and that annoys me to no end. I'd rather stick with the one they can't screw up.

    Not only that, the simple colors and square corners (as opposed to curved images) are algorithmically easier to draw increasing system performance a decent amount and usually increasing the battery life a bit.

  4. Alan T
    September 13, 2014 at 3:22 am

    what do I want? Battery life back to pre Kit Kat capability. No battery, no phone.

  5. Clive R
    September 13, 2014 at 12:31 am

    Call me old fashioned if you like but I hate all these "modern" single colour/plain background/co-ordinated icon. they look bland and uninteresting. In any version of android the first thing I do is to download a launcher that allows me to use colorful icons of my choosing in place of standard folders and icons. Still its a mixed up world and I guess "fashion conscious" people might want a designer appearance for their device. Just count me out of that!

  6. Ken
    September 12, 2014 at 9:56 pm

    Those screen shots are absolutely hideous. They look like the horrendeous win 8 style. Why would anyone want an interface that looks like it runs on an old CGA video card?

  7. Mo
    September 12, 2014 at 7:58 pm

    I side loaded the latest Hangouts app as I couldn't wait for the update. It looks really nice, similar to the latest G+ app.

  8. kurt
    September 12, 2014 at 5:38 pm

    yuk.
    L looks like win8 Modern, which i dislike intensely!
    i'll not be downloading it if i can help it.

  9. donkillians
    September 12, 2014 at 10:26 am

    You are wrong about the android L keyboard. It has 3 themes, all of them ugly. It does support Swype, completely, better than any other. I have tried them all. It's functionality and intuitiveness is supreme though. They removed the licenses on the download in the play store. Those of us who grabbed it early have been loving it.

  10. David Turner
    September 11, 2014 at 2:48 pm

    I think the L stands for "LEGO-TRON"

  11. Ben S
    September 11, 2014 at 2:31 pm

    I can't wait for Android L. The Material Design looks is really slick, and when it's implemented system-wide I bet it will look even prettier than KitKat.

    Textra SMS, the app I use for messaging, just updated a few days ago with a Material Design look, and Chrome also released a new version with the same feel.

    And I use the Moonshine icon pack, which makes app icons look Material-ish.

    Exciting stuff!

    • ed
      September 11, 2014 at 9:42 pm

      I just bought a nexus 5. Comes only with Hangouts as the texting app. I installed Textra but am waiting for my Sim card in the mail.

      How do you like Textra? Any issues?

      Thanks,
      Ed

    • Ben S
      September 11, 2014 at 10:33 pm

      I love my Nexus 5, Ed, and I like Textra a lot too.

      I found GO SMS way too bloated, and Handcent just meh. Chomp was good but outdated, so I found Textra to be a good balance of all 3.

      The only issue I have with it is that MMS seems to send/receive with a huge delay. It's likely an issue with Sprint, but I haven't been able to figure out the issue yet.

    • Davey126
      September 12, 2014 at 2:57 pm

      If you are looking for an alternative to Hangouts for SMS might want to check out 8sms. It's designed to mimic the stock messaging app with a few extensions baked in. Textra is great too - but I found it sometimes misbehaved on my device. 8sms has been rock solid.

    • Ben S
      September 12, 2014 at 4:02 pm

      I'm happy with Textra, Davey, but I'm always up for checking out a new app. I'll give it a spin and let you know what I think. Thanks for the recommendation!

    • ed
      September 13, 2014 at 7:02 pm

      @ben s
      Finally got my cricket wireless Sim card for my new Nexus 5.
      Textra is pretty good and I really like the material design. Can't wait for Android L.

      I take it none of these third party texting apps route sms messages through their own servers? It still all takes place through the carrier?

      Thanks,
      Ed

    • Ben S
      September 13, 2014 at 7:21 pm

      Awesome! Glad you like it.

      I assume they don't route messages through their own servers, as you can open up the stock messaging app on your device and view the messages. A service like WhatsApp would be different, however.

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