David Imel / Android Authority
Android has been around for over 15 years at this point, so we’ve seen a lot of versions over the years. From the early days of Cupcake and Donut to the latest Android 13 and Android 14, each version has brought a lot to the table.
However, it’s fair to say that some upgrades are head and shoulders above others. So what were the most exciting stock Android releases? We’ll find out as we list and rank them!
1. Android Ice Cream Sandwich (2011)
Was there ever any doubt that Android 4.0 would make the list? The late 2011 release of Android brought a major visual overhaul to the fore with the Holo design language. These included the distinctive Roboto font and a cleaner user interface, giving Android a distinctive aesthetic over rival iOS. But that’s only part of the reason it’s number one.
Android Ice Cream Sandwich delivered a double whammy of a visual makeover and a ton of features.
Ice Cream Sandwich also served to unify smartphone and tablet platforms, since Android 3.x Honeycomb was originally a standalone version of Android for large screens. And this merged approach is still a key tenet for Android today with the launches of Android 12L and Android 13.
Other notable features include (very insecure) 2D face unlock, home screen folders, virtual system buttons instead of physical buttons for home/back/recents, data usage controls, and improved multitasking that lets you switch apps easily. ICS even included the ability to dismiss individual apps or notifications from the Recent Messages menu and notification shade respectively. Imagine if you didn’t have that ability today.
2. Android 10 (2019)
In the tenth edition of Android, Google dropped the dessert codenames (at least in public). But the landmark release brought much more to cheer about.
Perhaps the most notable feature was the introduction of gesture-based navigation. This copied Apple’s iPhone X gestures, which in turn copied Palm’s WebOS, Nokia’s MeeGo and BlackBerry 10. Android 10 also brought a host of other user-friendly features, including a system-wide dark mode, Smart Reply for all chat apps, a focus mode, a overdue share menu overhaul, live captions, and hearing aid streaming support.
We’ve also gotten a big change under the hood with this Android release called Project Mainline. At Mainline, various parts of the Android system were spun off into modular components that could be updated through the Play Store, reducing the need for a full Android system update.
It’s also worth noting that while Android 9 Pie shipped on the original Galaxy Fold, Android 10 was actually the first Android release to offer full foldable phone support. So this software laid the foundation for today’s fast-growing foldable ecosystem.
3. Android 1.5 Pie (2009)
Android Cupcake was not the first Android release, nor was it the first Android release with a dessert-based codename. The latter honor would go to Android 1.1, rumored to have been named Petit Four. However, it has introduced a number of key features that we cannot imagine living without.
The most notable feature of this release was undoubtedly the addition of a virtual keyboard, allowing brands to make phones with only touchscreens instead of touchscreen and keyboard. But Cupcake was more than a virtual keyboard.
Android Cupcake transformed Android from an interesting oddity into a viable mobile platform.
Other highlights included widget support (no, Android didn’t have widgets from day one), video recording, stereo support for Bluetooth devices, auto-rotate functionality, and the ability to upload videos to YouTube. It even debuted with rudimentary copy/paste support (albeit within the browser), which was quite a table stakes feature on mobile operating systems 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)
Lollipop has again made major changes to Android’s user interface as Google transitioned to its Material Design language. This revised design made use of the real world, like paper and shadows, and an emphasis on motion. To Lollipop’s credit, Google continues to use this approach with its Material You theme today.
Lollipop also brought with it a number of key features that Android still relies on today, such as: B. a WebOS-like map-based multitasking menu, 64-bit CPU support and the Android RunTime (ART) for faster app performance.
Other notable additions include notifications grouped by app, Project Volta for improved 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 showed up. Less than six months later, Google launched Android 5.1 Lollipop, which offers multi-SIM and HD Voice support.
5. Android 12 (2021)
Robert Triggs/Android Authority
Android 12, another Android version that received a visual makeover, introduced the Material You (or Material Design 3) design language, which is still used today. Material They’ve brought more scope for customization, such as being able to extract colors from your wallpaper and apply them to the rest of your system. This Android version also emphasized larger, more useful widgets, as well as large quick toggles.
Android 12 delivered another visual redesign, as well as numerous privacy and quality of life improvements.
Android 12’s features don’t end there, it also gained long-overdue screenshot scrolling support, a handy face-based auto-rotate feature, a native one-handed mode (finally), and the ability to share Wi-Fi credentials via Nearby Share.
The Google 2021 update also brought a variety of privacy-focused improvements, such as: B. a privacy dashboard, microphone and camera indicators, approximate location permission, and several other minor tweaks. And these are all important additions in today’s digital environment.
6. Android 4.1 Jelly Bean (2012)
It’s been a tough job tracking Android Ice Cream Sandwich’s massive upgrade, but Jelly Bean still did a great job.
Google used Android 4.1 to deliver Project Butter – a series of improvements and optimizations to enable a smoother user interface at 60 frames per second. That was a big deal back then because Android wasn’t nearly as smooth as iOS back then.
Another major innovation was Google Now, which provided a variety of info cards within the Google app. This information was proactively obtained based on your location, email and other details. You can use these cards to get package reminders, weather, flight information, traffic updates and more.
Jelly Bean also introduced several notification-related features such as: B. expandable notifications (small notifications that can be expanded to show more information like an image), actionable notifications (notifications with buttons that let you quickly take an action), and the ability to disable notifications per app. Other features include gapless audio playback, USB audio support, and always-on VPN capabilities.
7. Android 8 Oreo (2016)
Android Oreo hasn’t brought a huge UI change, but it’s still one of the most exciting Android versions ever released from a features perspective.
Oreo has tackled lackluster system updates in a big way with Project Treble. This was a modular framework to allow for faster, more seamless updates from a manufacturer perspective. This initiative also opened the door for enthusiasts to run so-called Generic System Images (GSIs) on their phones. This was a build of Android based on the Android Open Source Project and was often used as the basis for custom ROMs.
Android Oreo laid the groundwork for faster and easier system updates.
The changes weren’t limited to faster, easier updates and platform tinkering. Oreo also brought support for password manager autofill, picture-in-picture capabilities, notification channels, a variety of high-quality Bluetooth codecs (e.g. LDAC, aptX, AAC), a neural network API for machine learning, and Google Play Protect for malware protection.
What do you think of our ranking of the most exciting Android versions? do you agree Let us know via the comments below!
What was the best Android version?
Ice Cream Sandwich
Other (see comments)