David Imel / Android Authority
Android has been around for over 15 years at this point, so we’ve seen a ton 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.
But it’s fair to say that some upgrades stand head and shoulders above others. So, what were the most exciting stock versions of Android? We find this out when we list and classify them!
1. Android Ice Cream Sandwich (2011)
Was there ever any doubt that Android 4.0 would make the list? In late 2011, Android received a major visual makeover 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 it’s number one.
Android Ice Cream Sandwich brought the one-two punch of a visual overhaul and plenty of features.
Ice Cream Sandwich also served to unify the smartphone and tablet platforms, as Android 3.x Honeycomb was initially a standalone version of Android for big screens. And this unified approach is still a key principle for Android today with the launch of Android 12L and Android 13.
Other notable features include (very unreliable) 2D face unlock, folders on the home screen, virtual system keys instead of physical home/back/recent buttons, data usage controls, and improved multitasking that lets you easily switch between apps. ICS even included the ability to dismiss individual apps or notifications from the recent or notification shade menu. Imagine not having that ability today.
2. Android 10 (2019)
In the tenth release of Android, Google dropped the dessert codenames (at least in public). But the landmark release also brought much more reason to be excited.
Perhaps the most notable feature was the introduction of gesture navigation. This copied the gestures of Apple’s iPhone X, which in turn copied Palm’s WebOS, Nokia’s MeeGo and BlackBerry 10. Android 10 also brought many other user-friendly features, including a system-wide dark mode, smart reply for all chat apps, focus mode, an overdue overhaul of the share menu, Live Caption and streaming support for hearing aids.
With this version of Android, we also got a big change under the hood called Project Mainline. Mainline split the various parts of Android into modular components that could be updated through 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 version of Android to offer full support for foldable phones. So this software laid the groundwork for today’s fast-growing folding ecosystem.
3. Android 1.5 Cupcake (2009)
Android Cupcake was not the first version of Android, nor was it the first version of Android with a cupcake-based codename. The latter honor would go to Android 1.1, which is said to be named Petit Four. However, it has introduced a number of key features that we can’t imagine life without.
Arguably the most important feature in this release was the addition of a virtual keyboard, which allows brands to build phones with touchscreens only, instead of a touchscreen and keyboard. But Cupcake was more than a virtual keyboard.
Android Cupcake took Android from an interesting curiosity to a successful mobile platform.
Other highlights included widget support (no, Android hasn’t had widgets since day one), video recording, stereo support for Bluetooth devices, an auto-rotate feature, and the ability to upload videos to YouTube. It even introduced basic support for copy and paste (albeit within the browser), which was quite a popular feature of mobile operating systems in 2009. This all sounds like basic stuff, but without Android, it wouldn’t be the cookie-cutter OS it is today.
4. Android 5 Lollipop (2014)
Lollipop once again changed the Android user interface in a big way, as Google switched to its own Material Design language. This redesigned design made use of real world like paper and shadows and an emphasis on movement. To Lollipop’s credit, Google still uses this approach today with its Material You design.
Lollipop also brought a bunch of major features that Android still relies on today, such as a WebOS-like multitasking menu, 64-bit processor support, and Android RunTime (ART) to make apps run faster.
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 gamut of risky flashlight apps before Lollipop came along. Less than six months later, Google released Android 5.1 Lollipop, which brings multi-SIM support and HD voice support.
5. Android 12 (2021)
Robert Triggs / Android Authority
The second Android release to undergo a visual overhaul, Android 12 introduced the Material You (or Material Design 3) design language, which is still in use today. Material You’ve brought more options for customization, such as the ability to extract colors from the background and use them in the rest of the system. This version of Android also put an emphasis on bigger, more useful widgets and big quick toggles.
Android 12 offered another visual overhaul, along with many privacy and quality of life improvements.
Android 12’s features don’t end there, it also received long-term support for sliding screenshots, a handy auto-rotate face feature, a native one-handed mode (finally) and the ability to share Wi-Fi credentials via Nearby Share.
Google’s 2021 update also brought a series of privacy-focused improvements, such as 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)
Keeping up with Android Ice Cream Sandwich’s massive upgrade was a tough task, but Jelly Bean did a great job nonetheless.
Google used Android 4.1 to deliver Project Butter – a suite of improvements and fixes that enable a smoother user interface that runs at 60 frames per second. This was very important at the time, as Android was nowhere near as smooth as iOS at the time.
Another big addition was Google Now, which offered a slew of information cards within the Google app. This information has been proactively obtained based on your location, email and other details. So you can receive package reminders, weather, flight information, traffic alerts and more through these cards.
Jelly Bean 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 that you can quickly perform an action) and the ability to disable notifications for each app. Other features include gapless audio playback, USB audio support, and always-on VPN capabilities.
7. Android 8 Oreo (2016)
Android Oreo didn’t bring a major UI change, but it’s still one of the most exciting Android versions ever released in terms of features.
Oreo has largely tackled lackluster system updates with Project Treble. It was a modular framework that allowed for faster and more seamless updates from a manufacturer’s perspective. This initiative also opened the door for enthusiasts to run so-called Generic System Images (GSI) on their phones. It 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 groundwork for faster and easier system updates.
The changes were not limited to faster, easier updates and changing the platform. Oreo also brought autofill support for password managers, picture-in-picture capabilities, notification channels, a range of high-quality Bluetooth codecs (ie LDAC, aptX, AAC), neural network APIs for machine learning, and Google Play Protect. to protect against malware.
What do you think of our list of the most exciting Android versions? Do you agree with him? Let us know in the comments below!
What was the best version of Android?