Android 12 is drifting ever closer to its final release on Pixel phones, with beta 4 available now.
Android 11 made significant improvements to Google’s mobile OS, adding tools like chat bubbles, conversation notifications, and a built-in screen recorder. But most of its improvements were in the backend, making it rather unexciting compared to iOS 14’s flashy changes. This year, it’s Android 12 that’s making a flashy entrance.
Labeled by Google as “the biggest design change in Android’s history,” Android 12 has a colorful redesign called Material You. The new OS customizes and enlivens your phone screen without needing an Android launcher or icon pack. Beyond that, Android 12 will add quality-of-life improvements like a Privacy Dashboard, scrollable screenshots, faster animations, smarter notifications, and tons of other long-requested features.
Android 12 should arrive in about a month, at least on some of the best Android phones, including all Google Pixel phones. It’s currently in beta 4, which added the Android 12 Easter egg, new themed app icons, an improved internet tab in Quick Settings, and the new Game Dashboard. Mostly, the beta didn’t make many major changes, as Google is likely saving the biggest fixes for the final release.
Android 12 is so close to its final form, and we’ve tested it thoroughly over the past few months. Here’s everything you need to know about its new features and design changes, along with the expected Android 12 launch windows for Google, Samsung, OnePlus, and other manufacturers.
Android 12: Public beta 4 is now live
The fourth public beta arrived on August 11, achieving the long-awaited “Platform Stability” for developers — meaning devs can use the beta to test how their apps will run in the final version. This beta ran more smoothly than the buggy beta 3 last month, proving that the OS is nearly ready for an official release to the public.
Google began the Android 12 beta in February with the first Android 12 developer preview, followed by the second Android 12 Developer Preview in March. As their names suggest, these builds were intended specifically for developers to start tweaking apps for the new OS. Most of the updates were very subtle.
The real changes emerged at Google I/O 2021. On May 18, Google revealed the new OS and kicked off the public Android 12 beta program. Our first Android 12 beta hands-on outlined the brand new features that went live with Material You’s public debut. After that, Android 12 beta 2 launched on June 9, while the latest Android 12 beta 3 arrived on July 14.
The beta is available on all Pixels starting with the Pixel 3 series, as well as over a dozen third-party handsets from 11 manufacturers. You can install the Android 12 beta on these devices right now:
Pixel 3/3 XL
Pixel 3a/3a XL
Pixel 4/4 XL
Pixel 4a/4a 5G
Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra
Xiaomi Mi 11
Xiaomi Mi 11i (Mi 11X/Redmi K40 Pro)
Xiaomi Mi 11 Pro (China-only)
OnePlus 9 Pro
OPPO Find X3 Pro
Vivo iQOO 7 Legend
ASUS ZenFone 8
Tecno Camon 17
TCL 20 Pro 5G
ZTE Axon 30 5G Ultra
Android 12: Release date and availability
While the timing of Android version releases has changed over the years, the past few have been pretty consistent. Here are the dates for the last four releases:
Android 8.0: August 21, 2017
Android 9: August 6, 2018
Android 10: September 3, 2019
Android 11: September 8, 2020
It looks like Google is committed to hitting a similar release window for Android 12. With the beta 4 arriving in mid-August, we can hope for a final release in mid-September 2021 — barring any drastic, last-minute bugs.
So far, Samsung has hinted that the One UI 4.0 beta — based off of Android 12 — will begin “around September and October,” starting with the Galaxy S21 series. Other recent phones like the Galaxy S20 and Note 20 (plus upcoming phones like the Z Fold 3 and Z Flip 3) will get the One UI 4.0 beta a bit later. Previous Samsung betas lasted about two months, so we can expect the first One UI 4 stable build to arrive around the end of 2021.
Most other OEMs like OnePlus and Xiaomi will follow a similar pattern, with their most powerful phones receiving Android 12 in late 2021 and other older or less-powerful phones left until 2022.
Android 12: Interface
Google calls the new visual paradigm Material You, an evolution of Material Design. The key highlight here is customization. Google is making it easier than ever to personalize your phone to your tastes. The “transformative” feature gives you a custom color palette, and you can easily change the interface colors.
Its color extraction tool picks the colors straight from your phone’s wallpaper, then applies them throughout the UI. So your notification shade, lock screen, widgets, volume controls, and other elements take on a custom theme that’ll change every time your wallpaper does. Our Android 12 beta 2 hands-on gave us our first look at the theming engine we’ve been waiting for.
Beta 3 then unlocked the option to pick a theme color manually, independent of your current wallpaper. The main downside is that Google only offers four colors for light and dark mode, as we discussed in our beta 3 hands-on.
Another new feature is themed icons. These convert the icons to a stylized design that incorporates your color theme. Beta 4 added more converted app icons for Google apps, but third-party apps remain their usual selves. We’ll have to see if Google lets third parties submit alternate icons with the final release.
With each update, Google gives users more power to update their phone’s UI in the Settings — without needing the best Android launchers or the best icon packs. However, one drawback to the new OS is that it killed font and icon shape options in favor of Material You, seemingly for good. That means we’re exchanging one form of customization for another instead of Google allowing us to pick and choose.
Google finally gave us the theming engine we’ve been asking for all these years.
Another major Android 12 update is animations. Google scattered fun animations throughout the interface as a way to make daily interactions much more playful. Google says that it has overhauled interactions to make them more fluid and energy-efficient — noting that core system services use up to 22% fewer resources.
One significant animation update is faster auto-rotation between portrait and landscape. This is because Google uses the selfie cam to detect the angle of your face in relation to the phone, outperforming the gyroscope by 25%. Unfortunately it’s a bit buggy so far in the beta, so we made a guide on how to disable Android 12 auto-rotation.
Yet another aesthetic change is around dark mode. Google seems intent on making it lighter with every preview. What was a true dark mode now has a distinctly grey tone, and it doesn’t look all that great on AMOLED panels. While other manufacturers offering the ability to customize the intensity of dark mode — ColorOS 11 does this really well — Google is unlikely to do the same.
Google has listened to feedback during the betas, adjusting or dialing back visual changes to align with community expectations. Beta 2 debuted a taller, thinner volume slider when compared to beta 1, while beta 3 removed the “sparkle” animation that appears when clicking some UI elements. And beta 4 fixed a controversial change to the internet tab in Quick Settings, making it easier to change your wi-fi settings quickly.
Pixel phones will also get a proper one-handed mode with Android 12. Added in preview 2, this mode lets you swipe down from the center of the screen to condense the app into the bottom half of the screen, then swipe up or exit the app to turn it back to normal.
Widgets are also getting a considerable makeover in Android 12. Widgets were a big focus for Apple last year with iOS 14, and for Android 12, Google could be taking a few notes from Apple’s approach to giving Android widgets a much-needed refresh. Google debuted some new widgets with Android 12 Beta 1, like the conversations widget, but they’re not fully baked just yet.
The new design features are debuting on Pixels later this year, but at this moment, we don’t know when they will be available on other devices — or whether some features will be dropped on other phones.
Android 12: Privacy
Google always uses Android updates to introduce new privacy-focused features, and for Android 12, that’s no different. Android 12 ushers in a significant overhaul to privacy at the OS level. The new Privacy Dashboard helps you to see which apps accessed your camera, mic, or location in the past 24 hours, so nothing slips by you. And app permissions controls continue to be improved and streamlined.
But the big change is that you can now disable the camera or microphone directly from the notification pane, and this setting works system-wide. So even if you’ve given an app access to the camera, this particular toggle overrides access. This is a huge deal for privacy on Android and, when combined with the new notifications that let you know when an app is accessing said resources, make it easier to control your privacy on the fly.
Google says users will now have “more transparency and control over how cookies can be used across sites.” Google is also improving the safety of how apps export certain activities, ensuring things that should remain in a specific app aren’t being shared elsewhere.
Android 12: Notifications
Notifications got a lot of attention with Android 11, and in Android 12, that focus continues. There are a few notable updates for notifications, the first of which has to do with UI updates. The notification pane has been redesigned to include large text labels. There’s now a Google Pay toggle that lets you access saved cards with ease and a new Device Controls toggle that replaces the smart home controls section found in Android 11’s power menu.
Furthermore, Google goes on to say that it’s “decorating notifications with custom content with icon and expand affordances to match all other notifications.” Finally, Google introduced a new security measure for lock screen notifications, and developers can now configure notifications on the lock screen to always require user authentication.
Android 12 is also improving the performance of notifications. For apps targeting Android 12, Google’s making behind-the-scenes changes that’ll allow you to access an app even faster when tapping on its respective notification.
Android 12: Gaming
For starters, games on Android 12 will adapt to different Game Mode APIs; if you select a “battery-saving” or “performance” mode, your game will adjust its settings accordingly. Google has also created a Play Integrity API to help stymy cheating tools, plus better compression tools to reduce download sizes.
The more flashy update is “play as you download”: when downloading Android games with large file sizes, Android 12 will let you start to play it while only part of the app is download, just as you can on game consoles. We tested this in beta 3, starting a bike ride in Touchgrind BMX at just 15% downloaded. It’s pretty impressive and great for people with slow wi-fi networks.
Last but not least, beta 4 added a Game Dashboard. This makes it easier to access tools like Do Not Disturb, screen recording, screenshots, live streaming to YouTube Live, and your current FPS rate using a quick on-screen toggle. It’s buggy at the moment but will undoubtedly work much better for the final release.
Android 12 Miscellaneous
Android 12 has a lot of smaller updates that are just as important to keep on your radar. An exciting new addition is a car key feature that will work with select Google Pixels and new cars from the likes of BMW and Volvo. That hasn’t shown up in a beta, so expect it to arrive in September.
Another significant change arriving in September: new Android 12 emoji designs! 992 emojis will get a new look, many of which were redesigned to be more inclusive of other countries. They’ll even change slightly based on whether or not your phone is in light or dark mode.
Many Android phones have the option to take scrolling screenshots, but stock Android never had that option … until now. With the newest beta, it’s now easy to take scrollable screenshots in Android 12.
The new OS will also improve files and media transcoding. HEVC is becoming increasingly popular in the mobile space, and in light of this, Android 12 introduces new media transcoding tools to help apps deal with HEVC content if they don’t natively support it. Now, if an app can’t handle HEVC files, those will automatically be transcoded to AVC.
While on the subject of files, Android 12 also introduces support for AVIF. Compared to a competing format like JPEG, AVIF offers much higher-quality images at small file sizes (as shown in the image below).
Something I’m personally excited about is the new “haptic-coupled audio effect” feature. That may sound like tech jargon, but it essentially means that apps can use the vibration motor in your phone to play custom vibrations — for example, a racing game could offer different vibrations for when you’re driving on dirt, asphalt, etc.
We should also mention that Android 12 continues Google’s commitment to Project Mainline. With Android 12, Google is now adding the Android Runtime (also known as ART) module to the Project Mainline process. Per Google, this change:
Lets us push updates to the core runtime and libraries on devices running Android 12. As a result, we can improve runtime performance and correctness, manage memory more efficiently, and make Kotlin operations faster – all without requiring a full system update.
Android 12 Get it right now
Eager to try out all the new features in Android 12? You can install the Android 12 beta for your device right now. The beta initiative is also making its way to third-party phones, so if you don’t have a Pixel, be sure to look at the Android 12 beta on Xiaomi, OnePlus, OPPO, Vivo, and other devices.
Read more: androidcentral.com