Android O Beta Hands On: What’s new, what’s good and what’s missing

Android O is now available as a beta and we already took it for a test drive on our Google Pixel XL

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We wait eagerly for Google’s annual developer conference, Google I/O to hear about how the next version of Android operating system will make our phones even better. We had already got a taste of Android O thanks to the Android O Developer Preview that was released a little over a month ago, but at Google I/O, we get a preview of some new features. We didn’t get a demo of the whole list of new features, but we did get introduced to the direction Google is taking with Android O, along with some features that were not a part of the first Developer Preview. Google has announced the Android O Beta, which wil allow you to install the beta version of Android O on eligible devices

Google explains that the approach they’re adopting to make Android O amazing, can be categorized into two distinct areas; Fluid Experience and Vitals. While Fluid Experiences incorporates features that directly impact user experience, Vitals focuses more on the health of the device, the battery life etc. Here’s everything new that is coming to Android O.

Notification Dots
Android O Developer Preview 1 came with a whole new way of controlling your notifications called Notification Channels. Today, Google has shown off something Notification Dots, which will make interacting with notifications a whole lot nicer. Until now, app-specific notifications lived in the notification bar on top, often causing clutter. Google is implementing a neater way to let users know that their apps have a notification by putting a neat little dot on the top right corner of the app icon. You can long press on the icon to view the notification, or just swipe left on it in the notification bar to dismiss it. We tried it briefly on our Google Pixel XL and noted that the notifications for Instagram and Play Store worked exactly as shown in the demo at Google I/O. Sadly, we don’t have lot of people texting or messaging us on Facebook at 1:30 in the morning, but we will update our post if we find anything of intrigue.

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Android O introduces notification dots

Autofill from Chrome
If you’ve ever setup a new Android smartphone, you know exactly how annoying it can be to sign back into all the apps. To address this issue to some extent, Google is rolling out Autofill from Chrome. If you’ve got all your logins saved on Google Chrome, then you’ll be able to use that information to log into specific apps. We used this feature to log into the Facebook app on our Google Pixel XL and it would have worked if the password stored on Chrome was correct.

Android O. Chrome, autofull
the convenience of auto filling your login information from Chrome

Smart Text Selection
Google’s been talking of machine intelligence for a while, but it’s finally time that the text selection tool became smarter. In the demo Dave Burke, Vice President Engineering, Android showed off how the new text selection tool will be able to identify phone numbers and addresses in email (or web pages by extension). Unfortunately, we couldn’t get this feature to work as advertised. We sent an email with a phone number and a few addresses in it, but the text selection tool was not able to identify neither did it throw up any contextual options, like Google Maps. There are a number of possibilities why this didn’t work, the most likely being that this is a beta ROM and therefore, not everything will be 100 percent functional.

Also Read: One Month with Android O: Should you Install it and everything else you need to know

Picture-in-Picture
Android has had multi-window view for some time now, but what you couldn’t do was run video in this mode. Google is addressing that in Android O by introducing the Picture-in-Picture mode, which will allow you to run a video in one half of the screen and run another app in the other half. This is great for anyone following tutorials on YouTube and wants to take notes on the side. For the ultra, super-duper multi-tasker, no, you cannot run two videos at the same time We tried running YouTube and VLC at the same time, and while the apps could be pinned in the two windows, only one video played at a time. Once again, the feature works as advertised, allowing things to run smoothly side by side.

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Android O supports Picture-in-Picture for video content
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Android O does not supports Picture-in-Picture for video content in both windows

Android O Vitals
The “Vitals” component of Android O consists of Google Play Protect, an app that scans installed apps on your smartphone for malware. There’s also a ton of OS optimizations, the most notable result being that the Google Pixel should boot up in half the time in comparison to when it is running Android Nougat. We can’t be sure if our unit is now booting twice as fast, but it is noticeably faster. There was also a very slight, passing mention of downloadable fonts, hinting to a more robust customization engine built right into the OS, meaning that custom launchers will have one less feature for users to rely on.

Other Minor Tweaks
Besides the major features demoed at Google I/O, Android O brings a few other minor tweaks that will be immediately noticeable. First off, the system menu has been completely redesigned and now looks like what Samsung has implemented in its Android Nougat ROM for Samsung Galaxy S8+. Secondly, the Quick Settings menu has also received a minor tweak in colour and the way some icons are arranged. For example, the settings cog is now at the bottom right corner instead of the top right corner.

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A redesigned system menu and a tweaked Quick Settings bar

What we missed
The Android O Developer’s Guide highlights something called Adaptive Icons, suggesting that Google was ready to finally take the static iconography that has become the hallmark of Android home screens to the next level. The Android O Developer Preview 1 ROM didn’t have any such icons, simply because no developer had yet updated their apps to incorporate this feature. We had hoped that Google would showcase this feature at Google I/O, but turns out that didn’t happen. As of writing this report, the feature continues to exist in the Android O Developer manual still contains the Adaptive Icons entry, so we’re hoping we’ll see this feature in action at a later date.

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Google today announced that users can get onto the Android O Beta program, which is separate from the Developer Preview program. The Dev. Preview ROM is still in Alpha, while Beta Program is pushing out a version of the ROM that is newer. Android Developer Preview’s beta ROM comes out later this month, but we strongly recommend sticking to the public beta ROM if you absolutely MUST have the Android O ROM before the commercial release. Our brief hands-on with the ROM makes us believe that Google is implementing plenty of new things in the upcoming OS, but also working on refining what it already offers. We already spent a month with the Developer Previewa ROM and walked away pretty impressed. This Android O beta ROM is off to a pretty good start and we will update you on how our one month with it goes.