Why Android Oreo stacks up well as a major update

Do you know exactly how to eat an Oreo? Sorting the update's major improvements into three layers can help determine if it's love at first bite.

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Despite the cape, Android Oreo may not be superpowered; it cannot leap smartphone generations in a single bound. However, many of its refinements fall into the crunchy structure of performance and functionality and the sweet inner filling of aesthetics.

The top cookie: Running better

Like many things in Oreo, background execution limits are not new, but a further refinement of work that has been ongoing in previous versions. In response to memory thrashing that can result when too many background processes contend for too little RAM, Oreo is now smarter about about how background apps can affect system resources and thus battery life, keeping background apps idle until they are really needed.

Background execution limits are complemented by background location limits, which check the frequency with which background apps can query the device's location to a few times per hour. And taking on what seems to be a perennial challenge for Android -- getting faster access to updates, Google's Project Treble introduces a modular architecture that should ease updates.

The creamy filling: Looking better

Smartphones have been taking more cues from television, supporting higher resolutions and high dynamic range displays. Now, Oreo goes far beyond black and white with deep color, which enables apps to take advantage of more vibrant colors and smoother gradients as well as full color management. Google is also introducing adaptive icons that can morph to take on a round, square or rounded square appearance so that their appearance is consistent with a device's theme. And in another evolution, Oreo will highlight notifications with a larger font and the app name in ambient (screen off) displays.

The bottom cookie: Behaving better

Particularly when compared to its primary competitor iOS, Android has always been about creating a more PC-like experience. And two changes bring Oreo closer to that. The ability to install unknown apps on a case by case basis provides more granularity when using third-party app stores such as Amazon's. In addition, while Google has long supported indirect printing from Android apps via Cloud Print, support for Mopria printing standard should make printing from Android Oreo devices about as straightforward as printing from your PC.

Other Oreo improvements drive more to the smartphone experience, which has been overrun by notifications. The next version of Android will provide for notification categories that allow you to specify the kinds of updates you want from apps as well as the ability to snooze notifications.

Oreo may not create changes that are as dramatic as the ones superheroes make as they transform from their alter egos. But a combination of smaller features designed to improve the performance, aesthetics and behavior of the operating system should make Oreo worth biting into.

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