Android 5, otherwise known as Lollipop, has a confusing notification system that at first sight does not seem to make sense. If you are confused about the functions and features, this guide will show you how it all works. Take control of notifications.

I must admit that when I first looked at the notifications in Android, I was confused. The problem is that there are notifications and there are interruptions. What is the difference? Is an interruption the same as a notification? How are the two related?

Google has somehow managed to take a very simple idea, notifications, and make it very complicated. Eventually it does seem to make sense, but it takes a while. I will be using a Google Nexus 7 tablet for this, but everything applies to other phones and tablets running Android 5.0.2.

An update to Android lollipop has recently tweaked the notifications and interruptions, but most people are still waiting for 5.0.2 never mind 5.1. The changes are only minor and this guide is still relevant.

Android notifications

Apps can produce notifications, and examples include a weather app displaying the latest weather forecast, a new app displaying the latest headlines, a step counter telling you that you have reached today’s target, or a calendar warning of an upcoming appointment.

Some notifications are useful, but some are not and so each app installed on the phone or tablet has its own on and off switch.

Go to Settings and find Sound & Notification. Tap App notifications and all the apps on the device are listed in alphabetical order. Tap an app and there is a Block switch.

When the switch is on then notifications are off, and when the switch is off then notifications are on. Why on earth did Google do this? Surely it would make more sense to have Notifications setting with an on/off switch.

If you want notifications then make sure the Block switch is off.

Android notifications

Below the Block switch is Priority, which has an on/off switch. This is because some notifications are more important than others. An appointment or other event in a calendar is important and you would not want to miss it, so you would turn on the Priority switch for a calendar. Similarly, an email or text message would have Priority turned on because they are important. Reaching your steps target today in your pedometer app is less important and you would not turn on Priority.

To summarise, the notifications settings are:

  • Blocked on (notifications off) or Blocked off (notifications on)
  • Priority off (normal notifications) or Priority on (important notifications)

Android interruptions

When a notification occurs, it interrupts whatever you are doing by displaying a notice on the screen and making a sound, such as a chime, bell or something similar. So an interruption is the display of a notification.

The question is, do you want to be interrupted by every single notification or by just the Priority (important) ones? There also may be times when you don’t want to be interrupted at all, such as when you are asleep at night, in an important meeting, or playing a game.

There are three levels of interruptions:

  • Always interrupt (show all notifications from all apps)
  • Allow only priority interruptions (show notifications only from apps with the Priority switch on)
  • Don’t interrupt (don’t show any notifications)

Go to Sound & notification and tap Interruptions. Tap When notifications arrive at the top and you can choose one of the three settings.

Android notifications

If you select the Allow only priority interruptions setting, you can select a duration, which is useful if you are in a meeting for the next hour or two and don’t want to be disturbed.

Android notifications

There is another way to select these settings and when the volume buttons on the phone or tablet are pressed, it has the three interruptions settings. 

Android notifications

NONE and ALL are obvious. If you select PRIORITY then controls appear below that allow you to select Indefinitely or a time. Notice the plus and minus buttons for setting the length of time. One hour is just the default and it can be changed.

Back to Interruptions in Sound & notification. There is a Priority interruptions section.

Android notifications

There are two switches to set Events and reminders, and Messages as priority interruptions. This is another point of confusion from Google. If you go into the Calendar app there is a priority switch and yet here is another priority switch. Which priority switch has priority? If Calendar has priority off, but Events and reminders has priority on, is it on or is it off?

Best switch them on for both the app and here, and then you will be sure to see the notifications. 

Tap Calls/messages from and you can choose whether anyone, starred contacts only, or contacts only, are priority interruptions. This allows you to block unwanted calls, but anyone important, such as starred contacts, can still call you.

Alarms are another cause of confusion because alarms always notify you, even when interruptions are set to none. Surely none should mean none? However, the notification appears on the screen only and doesn't make a sound when interruptions are set to None, but it does when interruptions are set to Priority or All.

Android downtime

Android notifications

Down at the bottom of the Interruptions screen is Downtime. This enables you to set times of the day when only priority interruptions occur. Tap the days, start and end time and the phone or tablet will automatically switch to priority mode during the set times, such as at night when you are asleep.

Android notifications

I hope this clears up any confusion about interruptions and notifications. To summarise, you set notifications to none, normal or priority. Then set interruptions (which notifications to show) to none, priority, or all.



0 # Douglas Pais 2016-05-15 14:44
What if I want my phone to be completely silent from 10 PM until 8 AM every day of the week? How would I set this up?
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0 # Roland Waddilove 2016-05-15 15:02
On my Samsung Galaxy S6 I go to Settings, Do Not Disturb. Turn on Enable as scheduled. Options then appear to choose the days and times when you don't want to be disturbed - it mutes calls and alerts, but not alarms so you can have a good night's sleep, but still be woken up in the morning by the alarm.
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0 # Douglas Pais 2016-05-15 16:00
I have a Motorola Droid Turbo and the language is different than the Samsung. I've tried several combinations to achieve the desired outcome but no luck. Thank you for your quick response.
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0 # Roland Waddilove 2016-05-15 16:08
Douglas I think what you need is Motorola Assist in the Google Play Store:
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0 # Douglas Pais 2016-05-15 18:24
Moto Assist is a stock app on the phone and it's called Moto. I had it disabled but enabled it and set it up to silence the phone during sleeping hours. I still need to use interruptions to keep other things quiet during non sleeping hours. What a mess it is as it appears that there are enough setting in interruptions to be a one stop shop for doing this, but obviously not. Thank you for your assistance and I'll write once again to let you know if it is resolved.
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0 # Douglas Pais 2016-05-17 19:00
Just wanted to give you an update. When the Motorola assist turns off at 8 in the morning it also changes the interruptions to allow all. Back to square one.
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