Google Android P beta was released on May 8 after the I/O 2018 keynote, and the latest Android operating system brings with a number of new features. The original Google Pixel, Pixel XL and the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL qualify for the Android P beta, but the list also includes the newly launched OnePlus 6, Nokia 7 Plus, Sony Xperia XZ2, Xiaomi Mi Mix 2S, Oppo R15 Pro, Vivo X21 and the Essential PH‑1 phone. A big question for users will be what changes with Android P, and does it offer a drastically different user experience. I have been using Android P on the Google Pixel 2 XL for over a week, and here’s everything that’s new with the system.
How to download Android P on your Google Pixel 2 XL smartphone
First, for those wondering how they can download the Android P beta on their phones, you need to head to google.com/android/beta and see if your device is on the list. If you are signed into your Google account on the desktop and phone where you wish to install Android P, you should see its name reflected in the list. Again this is limited to the devices mentioned above.
Once you see your device, which in my case was Pixel 2 XL, you can opt-in. Google recommends you back up all your data before opting-in and installing the new OS, which is still in beta mode and can therefore be buggy and prone to crashes.
Once you opt-in, you should see the new software reflect on your smartphone. Hit download and install, reboot and Android P should be up and running on your supported device. Remember if you wish to opt-out, you can do that, but make sure all data is backed up. As soon as you opt-out, all data on the device will be deleted and the phone will go back to the old OS.
Android P and navigation gestures: How do they work
Android P brings has new gestures for navigation suited for the taller 18:9 displays. In Android P, there is a single Home button at the bottom, and those three buttons, which have traditionally been associated with Android are gone. However, as I noticed, installing Android P did not automatically bring the single home button.
Instead one has to go to Settings> System>Gestures on the Pixel 2 XL. In Gestures one has to turn on the ‘Swipe up on Home button’ option which will activate the new navigation gestures. Once this is turned on, the Overview button on the bottom right of the screen will disappear.
The gestures might take some time for users to figure out, but once you do this is definitely an easier way of navigating the phone. One has to swipe up for Overview, where all recently used apps appear in full-screen preview. The ‘Smart Text’ selection feature works in Overview as well and I found I could cut, copy text from apps in this part of the UI.
To access the app tray, a user has to swipe all the way up and the entire menu appears, though in the first few attempts this can be confusing and I often ended up opening the Overview section. The interesting thing in Overview is that the Google Search bar is now present at the bottom, along with a tray of the last used apps.
Android P and the notifications shade: What has changed
The notifications shade has been redesigned completely on Android P and is lot more visual with bolder icons. Coming to notifications themselves, they are improved and have more details in them. And yes, the machine learning/AI element is also at play. For instance, Android P has figured out which notifications I tend to dismiss quite often and asked me if it should just stop showing them in the first place, given I do not bother opening them at all. It gives me the option of not showing the notifications or to continue showing them. This is one feature which a lot of users might find useful.
Notifications on P are definitely richer and cleaner. For instance with Gmail, when I swipe down and see what emails have come, the name of the sender and their icon photo appears in the notifications and there’s no bulky text at the bottom. Overall, this is a less cluttered look than the previous version.
Android P and the Adaptive Battery life, Adaptive Brightness feature
This is one unique feature of Android P given it is relying on machine learning. Again neither of these are automatically activated and one has to go to the Settings to turn them on. For Adaptive Battery life, it is Settings>Battery> Adaptive Battery. Google has partnered with DeepMind, an AI and ML company owned by its parent Alphabet, for the adaptive battery feature.
In this, the system will be able to figure which apps a user tends to use more and limits battery life for those which are infrequently used. One thing this feature does is tell you approximately how long your phone’s battery will last in the notifications. So for instance, when my battery was under 15 per cent at 10 in the night, it told me it should still last till the next morning based on my usage. Again the OS is calculating battery life based on your usage.
Google is also using machine learning for ‘Adaptive Brightness’. To turn on this feature, one has to go to Settings> Display>Adaptive Brightness and toggle it on. The screen’s brightness will automatically adjust to one’s environment and activities.
Android P will let users edit screenshots
Another feature on Android P is the ability to edit screenshots natively after one takes it. The system now shows an option for editing screenshot once you have taken it. There’s also the option of taking screenshots via the Google Assistant itself on Android P. The edit screenshot features removes dependence on third-party apps for doing this.
Android P and DND mode
With Android P, Google is trying to help users cutback on too much phone usage. The DND mode has been improved and will now block all visual notifications when the screen is on and locked. This means that even on the Always-On display, when DND mode is turned on, the display will now just show you the time, date. All visual notifications from Gmail, Facebook, etc will no longer appear on locked screen when one has DND activated.
Android P App slices and actions
App Slices work with apps that are already installed on the smartphone and will show the user a mini snippet of features in the app. These will appear in the Google Search bar when one is searching for something like Uber, etc in the bar. There’s also App Actions, which appear in the app tray and show a user what action they can take with a particular app. For instance, the option of clearing storage from Google Photos shows as a mini action.
The Android P Dashboard
Android P will have a solution in the form of a Dashboard to let users see exactly how much time they are glued to their phone, to a particular app. It will let users restrict app access time, etc. However, the feature is not yet available on this release of Android P and should roll out later. There’s also a Shush mode where DND is activated automatically when you flip the phone on a table. However, it has not be rolled out in this release yet.