The best Android versions ever, ranked

Google Pixel 5 in hand with the display on

David Amell/Android Authority

Android has been around for over 15 years at this point, so we’ve seen a lot of releases over the years. From the early days of Cupcake and Donut to the latest Android 13 and Android 14, each release has brought a lot to the table.

However, it’s fair to say that some upgrades are superior to others. So which are the most exciting Android versions? Here’s what we found out, listing and ranking them!

1. Android Ice Cream Sandwich (2011)

Android Ice Cream Sandwich easter egg 2

Was there any doubt that Android 4.0 would be on the list? A late 2011 release on Android brought a major visual redesign to the fore with the Holo Design language. This included the distinctive Roboto font and a cleaner interface that gave Android a distinct aesthetic to rival iOS. But that’s only part of the reason why it’s number one.

Android Ice Cream Sandwich delivered one or two batches of visual overhaul and plenty of features.

Ice Cream Sandwich also unified smartphone and tablet platforms, with Android 3. x Honeycomb initially being a standalone version of Android for large screens. And this embedded approach remains a core principle of Android today with the launch of Android 12L and Android 13.

Other notable features include (not very secure) 2D face unlock, home screen folders, virtual system keys instead of home/back/recent buttons, data usage controls, and improved multitasking allowing you to switch between apps with ease. ICS even included the ability to dismiss individual apps or notifications from the Recents menu and the notification shade, respectively. Imagine not having this ability today.

2. Android 10 (2019)

RealmeX3 Superzoom Android 10 easter egg in hand

Android 10 has seen Google drop candy token names (at least in public). But the historical release also brought a lot of things to get excited about.

Perhaps the most notable feature is the introduction of gesture-based navigation. The iPhone X gestures were copied from Apple, which in turn copied Palm’s WebOS, Nokia’s MeeGo, and BlackBerry 10. Android 10 also brought a number of other user-facing features, including a system-wide dark mode, and Smart Reply for all chat apps. , focus mode, an overhaul of the delayed share menu, live commentary, and broadcast support for hearing aids.

We also got a big change under the hood dubbed Project Mainline with this Android version. Mainline has seen various parts of the Android system break away into modular components that can be updated via the Play Store, reducing the need to update the entire Android system.

It’s also worth noting that while Android 9 Pie shipped on the original Galaxy Fold, Android 10 was actually the first Android version to offer comprehensive support for foldable phones. So this program laid the foundation for today’s rapidly growing foldable ecosystem.

3. Android 1.5 Cupcake (2009)

Android Cupcake was not the first Android version, nor the first Android version with a candy-based codename. The final honor will go to Android 1.1, which was reportedly named Petit Four. However, it did introduce a number of key features that we can’t imagine living without.

Without a doubt, the most important feature of this version was the addition of a virtual keyboard, which allowed brands to make phones with only touch screens, rather than a touch screen and keyboard. But there was more to Cupcake than a virtual keyboard.

Android Cupcake has taken Android from an interesting curiosity to a viable mobile platform.

Other features included widget support (no, Android didn’t have widgets from day one), video recording, stereo support for Bluetooth devices, an auto-rotate function, and the ability to upload videos to YouTube. It even debuted rudimentary copy/paste support (albeit in-browser), which was quite a table-stakes feature on mobile OSes back in 2009. This all sounds like basic stuff, but Android wouldn’t be the operating system it is today. Without cupcake.

4. Android 5 Lollipop (2014)

Android Lollipop easter egg

Lollipop changed the Android user interface in a big way again, as Google moved to the material design language. This revamped design harnessed the real world, such as paper and shadows, as well as focusing on movement. To Lollipop’s credit, Google still uses this approach today with the materials it designs.

Lollipop also brought a bunch of key features that Android still relies on today, such as WebOS card-based multitasking menu, 64-bit CPU support, and Android RunTime (ART) for faster app performance.

Other notable additions include notifications grouped by app, Project Volta to improve battery life, Smart Lock functionality, and a native flashlight app. That’s right, most users had to run the gauntlet of risky flashlight apps before Lollipop came along. Google went on to release Android 5.1 Lollipop less than six months later, bringing multi-chip and HD audio support.

5. Android 12 (2021)

The home screens of the Google Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro Android 12 device

Robert Triggs/Android Authority

Another Android release that saw a visual overhaul, Android 12 debuted the Material You (or Material Design 3) design language that’s still in use today. The textures you’ve added extend to a greater scope for customizations, such as letting you extract colors from your wallpaper and apply them to the rest of your system. This Android version has also focused on larger and more useful widgets as well as large quick toggles.

Android 12 introduced another visual design, along with plenty of privacy and quality of life improvements.

Android 12’s features don’t end there, it also received the long-awaited scrolling screenshot support, face-based auto-rotation functionality, one-handed native mode (finally), and the ability to share Wi-Fi credentials across nearby devices.

Google’s 2021 update brought a variety of privacy-focused improvements as well, such as a privacy dashboard, microphone and camera indicators, coarse location permission, and many other smaller tweaks. These are all important additions in today’s digital environment.

6. Android 4.1 Jelly Bean (2012)

Android Jelly Bean easter egg 2

It was a tough job to follow up on the massive update that was Android Ice Cream Sandwich, but Jelly Bean did a great job nonetheless.

Google used Android 4.1 to introduce Project Butter – a set of improvements and tweaks to enable a smoother user interface running at 60 frames per second. This was a big problem at the time because Android was nowhere near as smooth as iOS at that time.

Another big addition was Google Now, which introduced a set of info cards in the Google app. This information is proactively obtained based on your location, emails, and other details. So you can get package reminders, weather, flight information, traffic alerts, and more via these cards.

Jelly Bean has also introduced several notification-related features, such as expandable notifications (small alerts that can be expanded to show more information such as an image), actionable notifications (alerts with buttons so you can quickly take action) and the ability to disable notifications on a per-basis application. Other features include gapless audio playback, USB audio support, and always-on VPN capabilities.

7. Android 8 Oreo (2016)

Android Oreo has not brought much change in the user interface but it is still one of the most exciting Android versions ever released from a feature perspective.

Oreo tackled lackluster system updates in a big way with Project Treble. This was a modular framework to enable faster and smoother updates from a manufacturer’s perspective. This initiative also opened the door for enthusiasts to run so-called Generic System Images (GSIs) on their phones. This was an Android build based on the Android Open Source Project and is often used as a base for custom ROMs.

Android Oreo laid the foundation for faster and easier system updates.

The changes were not limited to faster and easier updates and modification of the platform. Oreo also introduced autofill support for password managers, picture-in-picture capabilities, notification channels, a variety of high-quality Bluetooth codecs (such as LDAC, aptX, and AAC), a machine-learning neural network API, and Google Play Protect for malware protection.

What do you think of our ranking of the most exciting Android releases? do you agree? Let us know through the comments below!

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