Five days ago, Google announced the Nexus 6 and Android fans all over the world had the chance to take a look at the official device, after months of rumours and speculation. From a hardware perspective, we had a very good idea about the Nexus 6: Google confirmed most of the rumours including the 5.9-inch QHD display, 2.7 GHz quad core Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 processor and Motorola as the manufacturer. We had also seen the battery capacity rumoured to be around 3,200 mAh and that turned out to be true as well. But one thing caught my eye on the Google specification page: the difference in battery life with the device with something called “Ambient Display” enabled and disabled. This made a difference to Google’s reported standby time: 250 hours with ambient display turned on and 330 hours with it disabled.
And so it turns out that Ambient Display is indeed Google’s take on Motorola’s Moto Display. The Nexus 6 has an option within display settings that says, “wake screen when device picked up or notifications arrive.” When this option is enabled, notifications will appear on the screen when they arrive or the handset is picked up. And let me say right here: this is interesting. You see, Motorola’s use of the AMOLED screen for what was originally called “Active Notifications” gave AMOLED another reason to use on a smartphone. AMOLED’s greatest strength is that the screen only illuminates the pixels that are required: a black pixel is not even turned on and so requires no power. This feature has been under-utilized by Samsung without using an expensive case; their devices have a notification LED but to check what that is for, one must turn the entire screen on. Motorola threw this idea on the head by having a small part of the screen show the notification. This means that for most users, most of the time it’ll save battery as we won’t be lighting up our whole screen to check what’s just arrived. And now it’s being introduced into stock Android, although devices will need an AMOLED screen to properly benefit.
Google aren’t afraid of using manufacturer-created technologies in stock Android: we’ve seen parts of Samsung Knox built into Android and now Motorola’s display technology incorporated, too. Google just put the Nexus 6 back onto my radar, and makes me wonder if LG can be persuaded to replace the LCD on the Nexus 5 with an AMOLED screen. As for the Nexus 6, the difference in battery life looks quite significant but I believe in real life, the difference will be much smaller. Device standby battery figures are for a handset left completely alone for the duration whereas we users won’t be doing this, instead we’ll be actively using our handset. I would expect the real world difference to favour using Ambient Display if there’s a colorful wallpaper on the device because the whole screen won’t be powered up when an email arrives. This written, it’s great that Google give us the option to disable Ambient Display because those of use with an Android Wear smartwatch probably won’t be needing it.