One of the most prevalent hardware trends at this year’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona was the arrival of Android Go. With brands like Nokia and Alcatel actively preparing to deploy their own Android Go handsets, it begs the question.
Just what is Android Go and how it different from both Android One and the regular Android experience?
What is Android Go?
Android Go (or, to give it its full name, ‘Android Oreo - Go Edition’) is an initiative by Google to offer a slimmed down, alternative version of their Android mobile operating system that’s been designed from the ground up to run better on smartphone with lower-specs. Specifically, it’s been designed to run on devices with 1GB of RAM or less.
The idea here is to try and erode the perception that cheap Android devices are synonymous with a shoddy performance and a poor software experience. The rising tide lifts all boats and all that.
If you’re the kind of person who upgrades to the latest flagship device every year like clockwork, Android Go might not seem like such a big deal to you. However, when you consider the role that emerging mass markets like India and Africa (where low-specced/low-price devices are more prolific) are going to play when it comes to generating future growth in the smartphone market, Google’s efforts here make a lot of sense.
What’s the difference between this and Android One?
This is where things get a little confusing because while, in some ways, Android Go is a successor to the goals set out by Google’s earlier Android One initiative, it’s by nature also a wholly separate project.
Launched in 2014, Android One was an initiative by Google to take a bit more care and control over the experience offered by vendors producing bottom-end Android handsets. As part of the programme, hardware vendors would agree to guarantee regular security, regular Android OS updates, base the out-of-box experience around just the core Android interface and Google’s own apps and only use hardware approved by Google.
However, where Android One is a set of guidelines that allow Google to excise a degree of quality control on the experience offered by vendors that use their Android platform, Android Go is almost (though not quite) an entirely separate operating system.
Like Android One, Android Go gives Google a bit more control when it comes to curating the software experience offered by low-end Android handsets. It also loosens up the hardware restrictions that were previously placed on hardware vendors, making it theoretically easier to adopt.
What can it do?
Android Oreo: Go Edition can do pretty much everything that regular Android can do. It just starts in a different place. It features a redesigned set of G Suite apps that require up to 50% less storage space and are designed to perform better on low-end hardware than their regular Android counterparts.
Android Go users also get access to a special version of the Play Store which, in addition to featuring all of the usual Android apps, has been tailored by Google to highlight software that will run better on Android Go hardware.
[Update 23rd August 2018] As of this month, Google have introduced Android Go: Pie Edition. Android 9 Pie (Go edition) comes with up to an additional 500MB out of the box compared to Oreo (Go edition) - more than twice what you’d find on a non-Go edition phone.It also boasts faster boot times, top-of-the-line security features like verified boot and an accessible dashboard for tracking and monitoring data consumption.
To go with the update, Google have also made several changes to their Android Go app library:
- Google Go now offers the ability to read webpages aloud and highlights each word so users can follow along.
- YouTube Go allows users to watch videos while using less data with features like gallery mode for downloaded content.
- Maps Go now features navigation, making it possible for people with Go edition devices or unstable connections to use turn-by-turn directions.
- Files Go is now capable of transferring data without using mobile data at speeds of up to 490Mbps.
- Assistant Go now supports additional languages including Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese and Indonesian, and has expanded support for device actions like controlling Bluetooth, camera and flashlight
- Android Messages for Android (Go edition) is now 50% smaller in size and the Phone App includes caller ID and spam detection.
What can’t it do?
At this early stage, the potential drawbacks that’ll come with the Android Go experience aren’t 100% clear.
While squeezing better performance out of worse hardware sounds great, it’ll probably inevitably come with some caveats in other areas like functionality. These areas just haven’t become clear yet since no Android Go handsets have actually made their way to market.
For instance, Google have noted significant several changes that come with Android Go’s version of Chrome. The browsers Data Saver feature won’t work if you’re on secure pages, nor will it work in incognito mode. In addition, they say that some images in Chrome might look fuzzy and that sites that are restricted to certain groups, like your company’s internal sites or your mobile carriers’ website, might not load at all - which are some pretty not-insignificant details worth considering before you jump on board the Android Go hype train.
What devices run on Android Go? Which ones are coming to Australia?
At this year’s Mobile World Congress, several devices running on Android Go: Oreo Edition were announced. Of those devices, two have been confirmed for the Australian market.
There’s the Nokia 1, which runs on a MediaTek MT6737M chipset and features a 5-megapixel camera and a series of swappable Xpress-On covers. In Australia, the Nokia 1 will be available for an RRP of $149 with the device’s Xpress-on covers to be sold separately.
You can read our full review of the Nokia 1 here.
There’s also the Alcatel 1X. It’ll feature a a quad-core MT6739 processor, 16GB of on-board storage, a 2,460mAh battery, an 8-megapixel rear-mounted camera and your choice of either 1 or 2GB of RAM.
You can read our full review of the Alcatel 1X here.
Further Android Go devices are expected to launch later this year.