Re­view: An­droid Pie

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As was widely 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 brought no­tice­able vis­ual change along with some quite dra­matic ges­ture con­trols. In Au­gust, An­droid P was un­veiled as An­droid 9 Pie and rolled out im­me­di­ately for all Pixel phones.

We’ve been us­ing the op­er­at­ing sys­tem for a few weeks, so here’s a run­down of what we think about the new look in­clud­ing new ges­tures, menus, set­tings, and adap­tive fea­tures.

We down­loaded An­droid Pie onto a Pixel 2 XL and it’s a big­ger over­haul from Oreo than Oreo was from Nougat. There’s a lot to un­pack.


Google in­tro­duced what it calls Ma­te­rial De­sign into An­droid in 2014, and Pie 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 are more rounded cor­ners and white space in text boxes and the notification shade.

App 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 right 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.


One thing you can turn on that isn’t on by de­fault is Swipe up on Home But­ton – hid­den in Set­tings >

Sys­tem > Ges­tures. It, for the first time, re­places the three An­droid nav but­tons with one pill-shaped one. You lose the Over­view but­ton al­to­gether, and the back but­ton only ap­pears when you have an app open.

There 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 an 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 (such as 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 past 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 Pie 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.


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.

On An­droid P, the notification boxes are plump and rounded, and fewer fit on the screen. This is a lit­tle 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 are also sub­tle lit­tle hap­tic ad­di­tions, such as 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 cus­tomise 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 lot 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 op­er­at­ing sys­tem 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 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.

Dig­i­tal well­be­ing

Three new fea­tures that weren’t on our ini­tial An­droid Pie down­load are some of the most in­ter­est­ing, in dash­board, app timer and wind down. These are Google steps, along with those do not dis­turb fea­tures, to help you chill the hell out.

In fact, these fea­tures aren’t even on the first of­fi­cial re­lease of Pie from Au­gust 2018, and will likely launch along­side the Pixel 3 phones in Oc­to­ber.

Dash­board tracks how much time you’re spend­ing on your phone to straight up scare you into us­ing it less. The app timer is the next step to ac­tion that by re­strict­ing daily use or a par­tic­u­lar app – when your time is up, it goes grey and you can’t ac­cess it. You can undo it, but that is de­feat­ing the point.

Wind down turns on Night Light au­to­mat­i­cally when it’s dark where you are, and then turns on do not dis­turb and full grayscale at your cho­sen bed­time. This is a great idea – mute ev­ery­thing and make the phone a black and white slab will make you put it down.

This is so re­fresh­ing to see from Google, a com­pany with a lot of power and whose soft­ware pow­ers the majority of phones in the world in­tro­duc­ing fea­tures to make you use it less.

But the big prob­lem is, next to none of those peo­ple will ac­tu­ally get to use An­droid P any time soon. Only the rich can af­ford a Pixel or Galaxy, and while they will even­tu­ally get An­droid Pie, you can be sure that the bil­lions of phones around the world still on Lol­lipop, Marsh­mal­low and even Nougat won’t. These up­dates are great, but it’s all in vain when you con­sider An­droid’s se­verely frag­mented distribution.


Up­take wor­ries aside though, An­droid Pie like Oreo 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 Burell

An­droid Pie is very clean, very Google and is more play­ful than Oreo’s oddly aus­tere look

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

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

Google has in­tro­duced adap­tive bright­ness and bat­tery to An­droid Pie

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