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Android N Preview arrives with split-screen view and more

Google will even let you install it over the air.

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What, did you think that you'd have to wait until Google I/O to see what the next version of Android would entail? In a pleasant surprise, Google is releasing Android N Preview to developers (and curious fans) today. The early release is meant to collect feedback sooner than usual, and even includes a new way to download the update. Instead of installing a drive image (you still can if you like), you can participate in an Android Beta Program that installs pre-release versions over the air. As long as you have a relatively recent Nexus device (from the Nexus 6 and 9 onward) or the Pixel C, you too can try the next big thing months before it's finished. So what's new, exactly?

The biggest attraction, by far, is a new multi-window mode -- yes, Google is finally taking advantage of all that extra real estate on your tablet or large-screened smartphone. You've no doubt seen customized takes on Android with split-screen support, but this will make side-by-side apps part and parcel of the experience. That's a big deal for the Pixel C and other slates that ship with stock Android. There's a picture-in-picture video mode, too, so you can keep watching YouTube while you message your friends.

Other improvements in the preview aren't as dramatic, but they're still helpful. There are direct reply notifications that let you reply to messages right from an alert, iOS-style. Also, Android N optionally bundles notifications from the same app so that they don't clutter your view. Marshmallow's Doze feature has been improved to save battery life whenever the screen turns off, and coders can take advantage of Java 8 features.

As always, the preview isn't for the faint of heart. Expect bugs, shorter battery life and other signs that Android N is rough around the edges. Nonetheless, this is a rare chance to see where Android is going months before it's widely available. If you can live with the glitches, it's likely worth a peek.

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