Google has started rolling out a staged YouTube for Android update, and it's probably the biggest redesign the app has seen yet. We've gotten a hold of the APK with exact version 5.0.21 (the previous version is 4.5.17), and after playing with it for about 30 minutes so far, I can definitively say that it's hugely improved.

The biggest new features I've spotted so far are:

  • A brand new card-based UI - the app looks better than ever before. It's like Matias Duarte has reached down from the sky and graced it with his magic touch.
  • Previously rumored in-app multitasking that's nothing like we've ever seen before. It really has to be experienced in person, but basically you can make any video you're watching turn into a small window on the bottom right by swiping it down, pressing the down arrow in the top left corner, or simply pressing the Back button.
    • You can then navigate the app while the video is playing.
    • You bring it back up by dragging or tapping the small window and dismiss it by swiping it sideways.
    • The really slick part here is that as you start sliding sideways, the sound volume starts to fade. This is some top-notch UX here.
    • Interestingly, the swipe-down gesture works only in portrait mode on phones. On tablets, it's available in both orientations.
  • The slide-out navigation has been reworked with the latest hamburger-style guidelines in mind.
  • Quick access to history, favorites, playlists, uploads, and watch later right in the slide-out menu.
  • You can now search for playlists.
  • You no longer need to tap the down arrow on the video page to give thumbs up, thumbs down, or flag.
  • The HD and CC toggles have moved from the bottom left edge of the video to the menu.
  • The G+ +1 Recommend button seems to be gone from videos.
  • Update #1: A brand new app icon.
  • Update #2: The landscape UI on 7" tablets is now no longer just full-screen like it is on phones. Say hello to a fully-functional landscape tablet UI.
  • Update #3: At last, YouTube now honors the global auto-rotate setting and doesn't flip to landscape if auto-rotate is off. However, there's now a button in the bottom right corner of the video to force the landscape full-screen mode if you want it. I think it's the ideal solution to this previously controversial situation.
  • Update #4: The TV Queue UI got updated as well.

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Left: old icon; Right: new icon

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Tablets get a fully-functional landscape UI that can go full-screen rather than just full-screen or nothing

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Left: old TV Queue UI; Middle, Right: new TV Queue UI

Unfortunately, the rumored background audio is still MIA, so you can't leave the app or turn the screen off and have the audio keep playing. Still, v5 is a big step in the right direction.

There are probably other improvements - we'll be updating the post as we run into them.

Once again, the update is being rolled out slowly, so you may need to wait until Google decides it's your place in line. Alternatively, we'll be providing mirrors of the APK shortly, so don't walk away too far.

Update: Download away.