Whilst it’s not due for public release until the third quarter of 2017, the latest release of – Android O – can be with very little trouble (we say little trouble, but you’ll need to be semi-familiar with the Command line and download all the tools from the Android Developer site). It’s available for , , Nexus Player, , and Pixel XL. So if you have one of those devices go ahead and flash – but probably not wise to use it on your only device (we installed on an old, smashed Nexus 6P). Here’s our pick of the new features (but bear in mind as this is a developer preview some may be removed before the final release).
1. Picture-picture mode
This has been on Android TV for a while now, but with the new Picture-in-picture mode you’ll be able to watch videos from say, the YouTube, or Google Play app whilst continuing to be in the app you’re in. We can’t show you this yet as developers have to build it into their apps, but it sounds very cool – think of it like minimising a YouTube video but being able to watch it in any app. A bit like how you can on the iPad Pro.
2. Adaptive icons
This simply means that icons can change shape according to the device you’re on. On a Pixel for instance, the Twitter icon may be square, but on a Galaxy S8 it may display as a circle. Google says with Android O developers can create different shaped icons for different devices – and add visual effects to the icons as well. It’s really a cool feature for developers, but will no doubt inspire phone manufacturers to push the look of their icons further.
3. Notification channels
This is one you’ll love. With Android O you can set – as long as a developer has included it – your notifications to be grouped by category. Say you’re in a news app, you could group your notifications into technology, sport and so on – so you wouldn’t have to wade through a load of notifications to get the info you need. You won’t be able to choose the categories yourself – they are set by the developer – but you can choose how they behave. So…
4. Snooze notifications
…onto being able to snooze notifications. In the latest version of Android (N) when you swipe away the notification it’s gone. With Android O you swipe gently across and you’re presented with a settings option from which you can choose to snooze the notification for 15 minutes, 30 minutes or an hour. It’ll then appear again after that time (at the same level of priority). Neat. Developers can also set background colours for notifications.
5. Wi-Fi Aware
Also known as Neighbour Awareness Networking, Wi-Fi Aware basically means you can locate, connect to and share data with other devices via Wi-Fi rather than Bluetooth. That’s er, it, really. But you’ll be able to share over longer distances with faster rates of transfer. Great if you share your shizzle between devices regularly.
6. New Settings app
Ooh, this is nice. Android O has a completely new Settings app. It’s been overhauled and the first thing you’ll notice is the Suggestions dropdown, giving you quick access to what Google nthinks you want to do next with your phone. Everything has been condensed as well – giving you quick access to top-level stuff (about half the length of N). It’s an intelligent way of organising settings – for instance, now Bluetooth and casting settings reside in a Connected Devices option.
7. Autofill APIs
It’s annoying having to re-enter your details across different apps and services, isn’t it? Well Android O introduces a new system-wide autofill, meaning – as long as developers implement it – you’ll be able to save a chunk of time entering details across multiple apps. If you use a password manager app, you’ll be able to choose this to populate passwords across apps.
8. System UI tuner options
Never used the System UI Tuner? Well you should. To access it drag down the quick settings from the top of the screen and press and hold on the Settings cog. The System UI tuner will now be added to the Settings app. In Android O you can choose to adjust the location of the navigation – left-leaning or right-leaning. As well as this, you can add quick shortcuts to apps or settings on the Lock Screen.
9. Higher-quality Bluetooth
In Android O you can choose the Bluetooth audio codec – including LDAC (developed by Sony and capable of 990kbps with a frequency of 44.1Khz, the same as CD). This means you’ll be able to listen to your music on your compatible Bluetooth headphones in much higher quality.
10. Better battery life
We’ve saved the best to last. Android O limits and manages what apps do in the background – meaning they don’t sap vital battery life from your device. Background services, location and more will be limited. For instance, if you’ve got Google Maps running in the background after a few minutes the OS will shut down location services for that app. All this should add up to more battery life and a happier us.