Hands-On with the Android P Beta

Posted on May 8, 2018 by Paul Thurrott in Android with 36 Comments

Hands-On with the Android P Beta

Google announced the first public beta of Android P today, so I’ve installed it on my Pixel 2 XL and took a quick peek.

The Android P beta was only part of a broader series of announcements that came via the Google I/O 2018 keynote address this morning. Be sure to check out Mehedi’s write-up for a look at the other announcements.

As for Android P, this is my second go-round with this coming version of the system. Two months ago, I installed the Android P Developer Preview, and I kept using that version until I returned my original Pixel 2 XL because of USB-C audio issues.

Though my new (well, refurbished) Pixel 2 XL still suffers from some USB-C audio issues, it’s much better than the original. But it’s also been running the stock Android 8.1. So my first job today was to get that upgraded to the Android P beta.

This was surprisingly easy: I just visited the Android Beta website using my phone, signed in, and enrolled the phone. Then, I checked for updates and the beta started downloading.

That the Android P beta can install on a Google handset is not surprising: That’s how it’s worked for years. But Google also announced today that it will open up this beta to non-Google phones for the first time. This support is not available as I write this, but owners of the Essential PH‑1, Mix 2S, Nokia 7 Plus, OnePlus 6, Oppo R15 Pro, Vivo X21, Sony Xperia XZ2, and Xiaomi Mi will be able to enroll their devices into the beta soon too.

So, what’s new?

Using Google’s keynote address today as my guide, I set out to check-out the following new features. (These are in addition to new features that were previously introduced in the Developer Preview.) As you can see, I had some successes. And some failures.

New navigation

The biggest new feature I was looking for, of course, is the new Android P navigation model that was inspired by the iPhone X no matter what Google says. Instead of the traditional three-button navigation bar (Back, Home, and Overview), Android P will now use a simplified navigation model in which you use gestures to achieve the same actions as we now do with the navigation buttons.

And it’s not there. And, from what I can see, is not something I can enable in Settings.

But it’s still a good idea. And it speaks to the issues with using phones, which are getting taller and taller, with just a single hand.

In this new system, there is a visible Home button as before, but it’s more pill-shaped rather than circular. You press it to go Home, of course, and long-press it as before to launch Google Assistant. A half-swipe up navigates to the Overview screen, and a full-swipe displays the app drawer, as before. There is a visible Back button, too, but only inside of apps.

I can’t wait to try it.

New Overview screen

The Android app switching screen—called Overview—has been given a thorough makeover and now displays large, full-screen previews of your most recently-used apps instead of an obscured, fanned view.

And in a nice touch, given how people often use this screen, you can now select text in an app preview window so you can return to the previous app you were using and paste it.

New wellbeing features

Responding to complaints that it wasn’t doing enough to quell smartphone addiction, Google is adding (or improving) features that will help us achieve a better balance when it comes to using personal technology.

And … I never found any of the touted new features, which include a new dashboard for monitoring how much time you spend in apps, an App Timer that lets you set time limits for app usage, an improved Do Not Disturb mode that also silences visual interruptions, and a Wind Down mode that builds on Night Light by adding a grayscale display effect that makes the phone less desirable to use.

All of that sounds wonderful. Maybe in the next beta.

Actions in the app drawer

Building off of the list of recently-accessed apps that appears at the top of the app drawer, this interface now provides dynamic actions based on things you’ve done recently. Here, for example, you can see links for the Assistant and for calling my wife.

Improved Quick Settings

After getting a major UI change in the Developer Preview, the Quick Settings interface has been tweaked again, this time to bring back a multi-page view. (In the DP, all of the settings icons were on a single page.) There’s also a new “Manage notifications” link.

New screenshot interface

Now, when you take a screenshot, a new notification will appear, letting you share, edit, or delete the shot. No more weird thumbnail notifications.

But wait, there’s more

I know there is a lot more stuff hiding inside of the Android P beta. So I’ll probably check in again once I’ve spent more time with it.

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