Android 7.0 Nougat is the latest version of Google's mobile operating system. It makes its debut in the LG V20 (which we won't get to see in the UK) with the rumoured 2016 Google Nexus phones the first time we'll catch the OS on these shores.

The update is relatively subtle from a user point of view, tweaking where Android 6.0 Marshmallow took things. The new OS acts as the stepping stone to enabling Google's Daydream VR, while introducing native split-screen functionality, better notification management and more battery optimisation behind the scenes.

So, does version 7.0 turn Android into a sticky mess, or is it sweet refinement all the way?

Unlike Android 6.0 Marshmallow, 7.0 Nougat hasn't introduced a huge visual change to the operating system, but there's definitely enough to please those who like new things.

The most obvious change in design is seen when notifications pop-up on screen. Where Marshmallow had cards on screen that sort-of floated on top of everything and had drop shadows, Nougat's cards spread across the entire screen.

There's still a clear element of what Google calls "Material Design", but the cards feel more part of the existing screen, rather than being an attention-hogging card that just pops up awkwardly into an empty space.

More importantly, all the animations in Nougat - like swiping away cards, or down from the top of the screen - feel more fluid and smooth. It's particularly noticeable when dropping down the Quick Settings options from the top, when the quick toggles all work their way in to position.

On the subject of the Quick Settings drop-down menu, Nougat adds the ability to edit, rearrange and add to the visible tiles. While Marshmallow sort-of allowed this through some fiddly process and a downloadable app, Nougat has it built-in as standard.

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We found it very helpful to only have the tiles we wanted to see in the drop-down screen, and in the order we wanted to see them. No more hunting around for an option that isn't there, or getting frustrated because it's full of settings and options that you never use.

The Settings screen has had a bit of a makeover too. With its smart suggestions at the top of the main menu, it's easy to see when you have features like Do Not Disturb or Data Saver switched on. The space is also utilised to give you suggestions on any settings you may want to take a look at, but haven't yet.

For the first time it also has a sidebar menu for when you've gone to a secondary settings screen but want to quickly jump to another main category.

Dig into the settings and you'll find another new addition: the ability to adjust the size of content on the screen. The display size option in the display settings menu has a slider which adjusts the size of everything you see on screen.

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That means app icons, conversation bubbles in Messenger and even the settings menu itself change to allow more or less space. It's similar to adjusting a computer display's resolution and making things appear magnified. That, combined with the ability to change font size, ensures you have the setup that you like. You're no longer left with a one-size fits-all scenario.

While manufacturers including Samsung and LG have added split-screen multi-tasking into their re-skins of Android for a little while now, Google has never built the feature into Android itself. Nougat changes that.

Android 7.0 Nougat allows you run two windows side-by-side on the same screen. It's activated, and deactivated, simply by pressing-and-holding the recent apps button. We find it very useful, particularly on larger screens - although full-screen apps, such as games, are exempt, with only compatible apps part of this Nougat party.

However, using split-screen is something of a learning curve if you're not used to it. With years of switching between apps by simply heading to recent apps, picking one, and switching back and forth, it takes time to remember this new feature. Like anything, building that way of working in to a habitual pattern takes repetition, over days. Plus, Android N has also improved on the "old" method of switching between apps: you can switch instantly between your most recent apps just by double-tapping the recent apps key, which is great.

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Once split-screen use becomes a habit, though, it's a very useful one. Whether you're reading something and want to share a phrase with a friend, or you want to quickly look up an address in Google Maps while keeping the written address on the screen in Notepad, it can be convenient. That said, it still feels a little cramped on smartphones, regardless of size. And unlike Samsung's Note devices, which offer sharing directly between some apps, Android N is restricted to viewing the apps individually without any direct interaction.

It's clear split-screen is aimed predominantly at tablets, where multi-tasking is much more essential, especially if you're looking at buying a tablet to replace a laptop. Although many manufacturers that make Android-based laptop-like devices already add their own adjustments, such as taskbars and multi-screen options - the new Lenovo Yoga Book being one example.

We've touched on notifications already, but only from a design perspective. As well as changing visually, their functionality has been further improved too.

Notifications from the same app now all group together in a cluster that can be opened up like a conversation thread. With so many apps demanding attention with constant ringing and pinging, it's about time we got more fine-tuned control over when they should alert, and which apps are the most important. 

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Android N lets you set a priority level for any app's notifications. This requires a little digging in to settings, but it can be achieved. It's similar to the app permissions you'll find in Huawei's EMUI, again with a bit of digging.

On a more basic level, when you press-and-hold a notification, you can silence all future alerts from that app. This can be particularly useful when you're sick of an game demanding that you come back and play, or any other app that continues to send endless streams of notifications through which you don't want.

Android Marshmallow introduced Doze in 2015, which helps devices conserve battery life when not in use and lying still on a surface of some kind for a given period of time. It's like letting the phone go to sleep, without needing to intervene - and it means exemplary standby battery performance. 

In Android 7.0 Nougat, that's been improved upon further with "Doze on the Go", which kicks the battery optimisations into gear even when the phone is moving around in a pocket. In short: if you're not using your phone, it's not going to use much of your battery - and certainly less than it did before.

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For devices like our Nexus 6 (which we've used to test out Nougat), that means it soon turns into a device which can last a full day on a single charge without breaking a sweat. And that's an improvement over where it used to be.

One of the things that you may have noticed (and been excruciatingly frustrated with) in older versions of Android is that whenever your software receives an update, regardless of how small, you spend ages waiting for all the apps to be "optimised". With Android Nougat, that is no more.

Software doesn't just download and update seamlessly in the background, it also boots up almost instantly when your phone restarts. There's no more "your apps are optimising" screen, just power up and go. Yay.

Verdict

Android 7.0 Nougat may not be the biggest operating system update we've ever seen, but a lot of the changes and improvements are greatly appreciated and improve upon key areas: battery life, notifications control and seamless updates.

If we had to pick out any negatives, we would like to see more customisation options visually, reducing the need for third-party launchers. Even if just to allow you to choose the number of app rows and columns are in the app drawer or on the home screen, that would be a start. The return of a system-wide dark mode (which we saw in an early developer preview) would be great too.

All in all, Nougat is a great update. But, arguably, the two biggest features are those we cannot yet see: firstly, Google opened it up super early to manufacturers to help them get updates out sooner; secondly, there's Daydream VR which is built-in but - since no phones support it yet - we haven't been able to test it, nor see how good the results of the Vulkan API graphics rendering tool are.

But just because you can't see all the goodness, doesn't mean there aren't plenty of sweet extras here. Nougat cleans up some of Marshmallow's underbaked gaps to make for the best and longest-lasting Android experience yet. The most painful point about it might be waiting for your handset to offer the update.