I’ve got about a month to go before my Pixel 2 XL arrives, but today I got a nice preview of that device on my first-generation Pixel XL: The happy hackers at XDA have released APKs for the Pixel 2 launcher and Camera app, and both work on the original Pixels.
If that reads like nonsense words, no worries. I’m not exactly a grizzled veteran when it comes to side-loading apps on Android either. But I have done it, both legitimately (Amazon Appstore for Android) and not. And it’s easier than ever in more recent Android versions, thanks to a “download apps from other sources” interface in Settings.
Maybe I’ll look at that aspect of Android later. For now, however, let’s look at the new Pixel 2 launcher and Camera app, both of which were made available this week by XDA:
In both cases, the downloaded app replaces the existing app. So you can’t have the Pixel 2 launcher and the original Pixel launcher installed side-by-side. (Nor can you for the Camera apps.) Meaning you should think about this decision. (And figure out how to get back to the old versions.)
The Pixel 2 launcher is subtly different from the version on the original Pixels. There is a nice new Calendar/Weather widget at the top. The Weather bit which still launches the Weather app when tapped, and if you tap over on the Calendar side, your calendar app (Google Calendar, in my case) launches as expected.
Less subtly, the Google search bar, which was a sort of left-mounted widget thing in the previous launcher, now sits at the bottom of the screen, below the app drawer icons and above the navigation buttons.
Some have complained about this placement, but it makes sense because you can now access it from any home screen, not just the first one.
As for the Camera app, the big change here over the stock original Pixel Camera app is the addition of Motion Photo capabilities. Yes, these are like Live Photos on Apple’s iPhone, which are themselves like Nokia’s Living Images. No idea is too good not to copy.
I ended up always disabling Live Photos on the iPhone, but I like that the Pixel 2 Camera offers a middle-ground compromise: Instead of just being always off or always on, the new Camera app offers an Auto option that will only create Motion Photos when it makes sense to do so. I’m experimenting with that now to see if it makes sense.
The Pixel 2 Camera app also offers a Portrait Mode that requires a Pixel 2 or Pixel 2 XL. And a Face Retouching feature is there on original Pixels, though I’m not sure I understand how it works. (Face Retouching appears as an additional option in the list of Camera options—Timer, HDR, Flash, and so on—when you use the front-facing camera.
I’ll keep experimenting with the two apps ahead of the Pixel 2 release and see if I can find anything else. But if you are using a first-generation Pixel or Pixel XL, this is an interesting way to get some of the functionality of the new devices early or, better yet, without spending any money.