There’s a big update being pushed out over the air to HTC’s One (M8) handsets all over the world at the moment, which takes the operating system from the frankly ancient Android 4 series to the cutting edge and latest version 5 (Lollipop). And just for once, South Africans were among the first in line to get the patch, which should have landed at the end of last week.

As it happens, we have a One (M8) in the office at the moment, which was opportune, wasn’t it? So we took Google’s latest for a bit of a spin to see what it’s like.

First a bit of background: our only experience of Lollipop so far has been on a first-gen Google Nexus tablet and it was terrible. While it’s lovely to look at with the “material” design ethos, it slowed the tablet to a halt. When Android 4 was released, its low system requirements got an immediate speed increase because it was so much more efficient than its predecessor, Ice Cream Sandwich. Lollipop has literally rendered the older tablet useless thanks to its fancy animations and extra processor overhead – we can see why so few manufacturers have updated their phones so far.

Android 5 was originally released in November, but has only been available on Nexus tablets and handsets so far.

Quick settings in Lollipop, functional, customisable.
Quick settings in Lollipop, functional, customisable.

The update to the HTC One (M8), with its much more powerful Snapdragon 801 processor (the Nexus 7 has a much older NVIDIA Tegra 3 inside) and Adreno 330 graphics cores revises our opinion somewhat. Unlike the Nexus, the One (M8) feels almost faster than it did before. So we can appreciate the new features, rather than curse them.

HTC’s gone for a very vanilla interpretation of Lollipop. The notifications and quick launch menu all look and feel like stock Android, and the settings pages aren’t that far off either. Running a third party launcher like Nova (pictured) gets the phone as close to the default Google feel as is possible without rooting it.

There are a lot of changes in Lollipop, but principally they’re all about supporting the new notification system, which sees Google catch right up with Apple. Notifications appear as cards, and float over screens and lock screens intelligently and without massively disturbing whatever you’re doing at the time, allowing you to read entire emails without opening the app. It’s slick and modern, and makes older versions of Android feel like Windows 3.x.

Grab the full notifications panel from the top of the phone screen and functionally there’s not that much difference between this and Android 4, except that slightly more information is available and the card look is completely new.

Personally, my favourite improvement is the multitasking view, which now has live tiles of running apps appear in a card format, so you can scroll through them like iTunes’ album view. It can make some tiles a bit tricky to read mind.

Multitasking on the One (M8) with Lollipop.
Multitasking on the One (M8) with Lollipop.

Overall, it’s impressive so far. Definitely go for the upgrade if it’s still waiting to download in your system tray. The only downside we’ve seen is that the excellent Dislock- which automatically unlocks your phone when in range of recognised WiFi networks or Bluetooth devices (like a Pebble smartwatch) no longer works, and Google’s own Smart Unlock – part of the Lollipop suite – isn’t on the HTC One (M8) yet. [Smart Lock is present and accounted for, and works wonderfully well for disabling the lock screen when in range of a trusted network or device – see the comments below]. Also,¬†HTC’s calendar app still sucks. [I stand by this, however.]

And if you don’t have a One (M8), there’s more good news. Apparently Sony’s flagship Xperia Z3 should be getting Lollipop this month too. One can only hope that it finally disables the horrific and old-fashioned requirement to connect an Xperia to a PC in order to update it.

Adam is the Editorial Director at htxt media. He has been writing about technology for almost two full decades now. In a previous life, he was the editor of PC Format and Digital Camera Shopper in the UK, before going on to work as a freelance journalist for seven years. His work has appeared in or on Stuff, The Guardian, Linux Format, TechRadar, Wired.co.uk, PC Gamer, Green Futures, The Journalist, The Ecologist and The Review. Adam moved to South Africa in 2012 and loves 3D printers, MakerFairs and tech hubs. He hates seafood. None of his friends remember this when cooking.