An­droid P Pub­lic Beta

Free on com­pat­i­ble de­vices

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As ex­pected Google re­leased the open pub­lic beta of its new oper­at­ing sys­tem, An­droid P, at its Google I/O event on 8 May 2018. It’s an up­date that brings no­tice­able vis­ual change along with some quite dra­matic ges­ture con­trols. For the first time you can down­load the beta on more than just the past few Pixel phones – see page 22.

We’ve been us­ing P (con­fec­tionary name TBC) for a few days by now, so here’s a run-down of what we think about the new look in­clud­ing new ges­tures, menus, set­tings and adap­tive fea­tures. We

down­loaded it onto a Pixel 2 XL and it’s a big­ger over­haul from Oreo than that OS was from Nougat and there’s a lot to un­pack.

De­sign

Google in­tro­duced what it calls Ma­te­rial De­sign into An­droid in 2014, and An­droid P is an evo­lu­tion of that aes­thetic. We vastly pre­fer this look over Nougat and even Oreo with more play­fully rounded edges on menus, icons and set­tings.

The set­tings menu gets a re­fresh­ing splash of colour in the icons and the whole UI fea­tures more of Google’s own fonts in head­ings, but keeps most text to the usual An­droid font, Roboto.

The small tweaks are enough to be com­pletely re­fresh­ing com­ing from Oreo, and there’s more rounded cor­ners and white space in text boxes and the no­ti­fi­ca­tion shade.

An­i­ma­tions mean apps now pop up from their icon and are then dis­missed with a sweep to the left when you press home, with the search bar (still not re­mov­able) and your five cho­sen apps spring­ing back into place.

It’s very clean, it’s very Google and it’s more play­ful than Oreo’s oddly aus­tere look. But it’s not a huge re­design, and if you’re a Pixel user you won’t have trou­ble adapt­ing.

The vol­ume con­trol is a cool new de­sign too, and ap­pears at the left of the screen when you press one of the vol­ume keys. You can tap the top icon to cy­cle through sound on, vi­brate or silent, while the vol­ume con­trol is for me­dia play­back rather than tones, which makes much more sense.

Ges­tures

One thing you can turn on that isn’t on by de­fault is Swipe up on Home But­ton – hid­den in Set­tings > Sys­tem > Ges­tures. It re­places the three An­droid nav­i­ga­tion but­tons with one pill shaped one. You lose the Over­view but­ton al­to­gether, and the back but­ton only ap­pears when you have an app open.

This is more to get used to. The pill is a home but­ton but is that shape to

in­di­cate you can al­ways swipe up on it. If you’re Home or in-app, a short swipe opens the brand new app switcher view, which is sim­i­lar to Ap­ple’s on iOS.

You can swipe up on an app to dis­miss it from the switcher (like iOS) or scroll through them to find the app you want. The pill at the bot­tom can also be dragged left or right to scroll through, but it’s a bit slow and we’d be sur­prised if Google doesn’t change how this works in the fi­nal build.

It’s no­table though that you can no longer clear all no­ti­fi­ca­tion – per­haps a sign that Google knows your phone ac­tu­ally runs bet­ter if you don’t com­pul­sively close ev­ery app all the time.

When in app switcher mode, five app icons are at the foot of your screen as the last five apps you opened, for even quicker ac­cess. As ever, tap home and ev­ery­thing is back to nor­mal.

A longer held swipe on the home screen still opens the app draw but it’s easy to ac­ci­den­tally open the app switcher, which is an­noy­ing. There are far more swipes in P than prod­ding and tap­ping, and while Google no doubt sees this as more flow­ing and el­e­gant, it’s a big jump to get used to, just as it was for some on iPhone X.

No­ti­fi­ca­tions

The no­ti­fi­ca­tions on P are im­proved from Oreo’s al­ready ex­cel­lent in­te­gra­tion, but we find it odd that they are big­ger with more white space. Oreo’s no­ti­fi­ca­tions are an­gled and com­pact to their ad­van­tage; deal­ing with them is easy and on the Pixel 2 XL, you can see ab­so­lutely loads of them at once to dis­miss or ac­tion.

Un­for­tu­nately, on An­droid P the no­ti­fi­ca­tion boxes are plump and rounded, and fewer fit on the screen. This is a step back­wards that we hope Google changes, but ac­tion­ing the no­ti­fi­ca­tions them­selves is im­proved.

You can re­ply in-line to mes­sages as be­fore, but rather than auto-dis­miss­ing, the no­ti­fi­ca­tion now dis­plays the mes­sage and your re­ply if you don’t open the app. There are also auto replies in some cases, but with only three replies so far.

There’s also sub­tle lit­tle hap­tic ad­di­tions, like a small buzz when you open the quick set­tings from the top of the screen. The clock has also moved over to the left, no doubt to ac­com­mo­date the on­slaught of notches on An­droid phones this year. You can still snooze no­ti­fi­ca­tions and gran­u­larly turn off par­tic­u­lar types of no­ti­fi­ca­tions in apps if they al­low it, which can be bet­ter than blan­ket turn­ing them off for an app.

If you want to go nu­clear though, do not dis­turb has been up­dated. You can block them from ap­pear­ing when the screen is off if you don’t want the phone buzzing away, or se­lect block when on too, so that only ba­sic phone ac­tiv­ity and sta­tus shows (time, bat­tery, alarm, and so on).

We quite like this. Phones are dis­tract­ing, and Google is try­ing to wean you off the stuff that doesn’t mat­ter. Delve fur­ther into the set­tings, and you can cus­tom­ize hid­ing no­ti­fi­ca­tions from the am­bi­ent dis­play, dis­abling the blink light and other op­tions. It’s a wel­come ad­di­tion that has al­ready made us stop mind­lessly pick­ing up and un­lock­ing our phone be­cause we know it won’t be dis­play­ing any­thing until do not dis­turb is turned off.

Adap­tive fea­tures

Two new no­table fea­tures on An­droid P are adap­tive, and they make a ton of sense work­ing silently (but op­tion­ally, of course) in the back­ground.

Adap­tive bright­ness auto ad­justs your bright­ness in uni­son with the light sen­sor as ever, but the slick ad­di­tion is that if you dis­agree with its choices, it’ll learn your pref­er­ences as you man­u­ally ad­just the bright­ness your­self.

Adap­tive bat­tery is an evo­lu­tion of Doze that lim­its the bat­tery con­sump­tion of apps that you don’t use much. A prompt says your phone will ‘learn how you use apps over time’ and echoes a sim­i­lar prom­ise Huawei makes about its phones with a Kirin 970 pro­ces­sor. That this fea­ture is now baked into An­droid P is far more pleas­ing.

These adap­tive fea­tures are there in part to help save bat­tery life, but they will also play a part in per­for­mance too. A phone with apps pushed to the back­ground tak­ing up less bat­tery will al­ways per­form bet­ter than one with no op­ti­miza­tion at all.

In the app drawer there’s also the small ad­di­tion of app ac­tions and AI pre­dic­tions, where the OS will try and guess what you might want to do next, whether that’s text or call a cer­tain con­tact, or open a cer­tain app. It hasn’t popped up much yet as it’s de­signed to im­prove over time – adap­tive, see.

A fi­nal ad­di­tion is Slices, which didn’t work for us on first go, but is de­signed to learn your be­hav­iour.

Google’s ex­am­ple is typ­ing Lyft in Google search, and see­ing a link to tap to take you to home or work.

Ver­dict

Up­take wor­ries aside though, An­droid P like O be­fore it is now the best ever ver­sion of An­droid. The adap­tive fea­tures are ex­cel­lent, the de­sign is more fun and the ges­tures, if tricky and iPhone X-like, are a wel­come (and op­tional) shake up of an age­ing user in­ter­face.

Add to that the su­perb ad­mis­sion that you should use your phone less with fea­tures to help you do that, the P in An­droid P may end up stand­ing for that lit­tle bit of peace you for­got you needed. Henry Bur­rell

Google has added a splash of colour to the set­tings menu

Swipe up on Home But­ton re­places three An­droid nav­i­ga­tion but­tons

App switcher mode

An­droid P’s no­ti­fi­ca­tion boxes are plump and rounded, and fewer fit on the screen

You can block no­ti­fi­ca­tions from ap­pear­ing

An­droid P’s adap­tive fea­tures will help save bat­tery life

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