Hands-On with the Android P Developer Preview

Posted on March 8, 2018 by Paul Thurrott in Dev, Android with 14 Comments

Hands-On with the Android P Developer Preview

With the first Android P developer preview now available, I decided it was time to dive right in. What does the future look like?

Finding out requires the right phone—the preview is only available on a small subset of Google handsets at the moment—and some technical know-how. And it’s not for the faint of heart: You need to flash your Pixel first, which wipes out the phone. So you should back up all your data, and the device, before doing so.

In my case, I only have one compatible device, my Pixel 2 XL. Which is, of course, my daily-use handset. Normally, flashing this phone would give me pause. But I’ve been experiencing that performance degradation issue that is so common on Android in recent weeks, and I was just thinking that this thing could use a good wipe anyway. Why not dive in and given Android P a shot too?

I’m nervous about documenting this process because I don’t want anyone following me down this rabbit hole. And to be perfectly clear, I cannot help you if you do so and run into problems. I’m not sure I could fix any problems that happen with my own handset, for that matter. (This will be easier in the future: A coming Developer Preview will be available over-the-air, like any other Android update.)

But here’s what I did, briefly. Using the instructions at Google’s Android Developer website, I downloaded the Android P Developer Preview version for my handset and extracted the ZIP file to my desktop. Then, I downloaded the SDK Platform Tools, which include the command line tools needs to flash the handset. And then I flashed the Pixel 2 XL using, again, the instructions on the Android Developer website.

Despite the fact that I have done this multiple times, and across several different devices, I still get a little queasy every time. And there’s always some little issue, in this case, that my Pixel 2 XL wouldn’t let me enable the OEM Unlock option in settings. As it turns out, that’s a known problem and was fixed. I just needed to factory reset it first.

Anyway, it worked. And my Pixel 2 XL booted into Android P after running through a Setup routine that, to my eyes, hadn’t changed since the previous release (at least not yet).

The Android Developers Blog has a short rundown of some new features that are coming in Android P, and that are available now in this first preview. But the most controversial, support for the notch, or what Google calls a “display cutout,” is immediately obvious: The icons and text in the status area at the top is split between the left and right sides, leaving a very obvious hole in the middle. The clock, which had always been to far right, is now at the far left.

Goofily, there is a developer option that lets you simulate three different styles of notches on-screen. It doesn’t capture in screenshots, but here’s a photo of what it looks like.

The dock has a translucent background now, so it’s more visually separated from the homes screens than before. And it jiggles to indicate you can swipe up on it the first time it appears, which is a good idea since that’s how you access the all apps list.

The notification shade and quick settings area has gotten a nice visual update, with lots of white and rounded corners.

It’s supposed to be especially good for Messaging, which now supports conversations, photos attachments, stickers, and smart replies. But it doesn’t look all that different to me, and I’m not seeing photos or smart replies, for sure.

There are some neat changes to common system overlays and, like the notification shade, the new versions are rounded rectangles. For example, when you press and hold the Power button on your handset, the Power Off and Restart options appear as before, but now with an additional option for taking a screenshot.

Likewise, the volume and call overlays now appear on the right side of the screen, where they are more easily reached with one hand, instead of at the top.

Also, I see that Google Pay is available by default now. I’m not sure if it had actually replaced Android Pay for me before in Android 8.1—probably—but this change is, of course, not surprising for the next release.

Finally, Settings is more colorful than before, though it looks like the update applies only to the top-level menu. Once you dive into any other area of Settings, it reverts to the Android 8.1 style.

I’ll see if I can’t dig up any other changes, but if you’re really interested in Android P, you should head over to Android Police and check out their exhaustive and ongoing Android P feature spotlight series of posts. They’re pretty much killing it when it comes to uncovering new stuff.

More soon.


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Comments (14)

14 responses to “Hands-On with the Android P Developer Preview”

  1. MarkH

    I love how "here's a photo of what [the notch simulation] looks like" could just as easily be read "here's a photo of why notches are completely unnecessary on thin-bezel phones"

  2. StevenLayton

    When it's released, should I expect to get the P update on my Nexus 6p, or have I reached the end of its upgrade path?

  3. jimchamplin

    Looks nice! And I love your Al Cantara in-joke!

  4. dcdevito

    Google's been adding features inside its core apps, with other core-OS centric features baked into Google Play Services, so I don't expect these OS previews to show much until Google I/O.

  5. rameshthanikodi

    This doesn't look like an improvement (except the volume overlay). It looks like change for change's sake.

  6. RonH

    Can the volume and call overlays be moved to the left side of the screen?

  7. skane2600

    I guess the rounded rectangles will help prevent users from cutting their fingers on those sharp corners.

  8. Lateef Alabi-Oki

    You're brave to run a development preview on your only daily driver.

  9. curtisspendlove

    “Al Cantara”


  10. wright_is

    It is funny how we keep swinging between right angles and rounded corners, back and forth, back and forth, I can remember rounded corners back in the 80s on Mac and Windows, then Windows went for squared off corners, then 3D look, then a little bit rounded, then squared off, rounded, flat, squared off...

    I always thought the rounded corners (and 3D look) were there, "because we can", to show off the higher resolution displays or color and graphic acceleration, to prove that it didn't have to be all right angles.

    To be honest, I find the right angles "cleaner" and more timeless to look at.

  11. JerryH

    Argh! Having the volume sliders on the right guarantees those among us that are southpaws absolutely need two hands. Is it too much to hope that you can pick right or left side for these things? There must be some Google engineers who are left handed.