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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Comments (36)

36 responses to “Hands-On with the Android P Beta”

  1. smoothbond

    Sweet Jesus!!! The level of gesture copying from the IPhone X even by Google standards is shameful. They’re not even trying to hide it anymore, just lifting features wholesale.

  2. sekim

    I look forward to having to wait two years to buy an Android phone that comes with P and never gets updated.

    • PeteB

      In reply to sekim:

      Just get a pixel. Most end users don't even care about Android version, they only care that their apps work.

      Google does have enough marketshare now that they should reign in carriers and OEMs and come up with a way to universally update.

  3. dcdevito

    Android P has some pretty substantial changes in it, but I can't help but feel the removal of the recents button, albeit the new gesture is intuitive it seems, also removes the quick access button gesture. By double tapping the recents button you immediately go back to the last app you had open. That was really convenient and a great power user feature, but (it seems as if) it's gone. Bummer.

    Otherwise, Actions is a natural progression of the search menu, and Slices is a really neat concept of how mobile computing can outperform desktop computing. It's all about workflows, and I think if this is executed correctly, can be a great power user workflow.

  4. Pedro Vieira

    So Google just decided that rounded icons = good UI. Great. The one thing, along with color, that helps the user quickly identify an icon is shape, and they've just made it a lot harder. Thanks Google.

    • Daekar

      In reply to PeteMiles:

      If they take away the ability to turn off the stupid icon backgrounds I'm going to be royally pissed and switch UIs until I find one that doesn't suck. I don't know who's making these decisions, but they're braindead.

  5. talltech

    When I went to P beta, all Microsoft apps stopped working. Can anyone else confirm this happened to them? I am just curious if its related to my corporations restrictions or if an update to Outlook itself is required?

    • talltech

      In reply to talltech:

      I have confirmed it is my corporate restrictions. When I removed everything and just loaded my personal account, it worked without issue.

    • c016smith

      In reply to talltech:

      Yes, I'm having the same issue - all of my Microsoft apps are crashing now, which I've attempted to uninstall/reinstall, force stop, etc. I am able to get Microsoft Authenticator to work now, but the Outlook app, Microsoft Teams, Skype for Business, and OneDrive all crash as soon as you type on them. I think perhaps Microsoft needs to issue updates on this, but glad to see I'm not the only one having this issue on Android P now.

  6. JacobTheDev

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

    Go to Settings > System > Gestures > Swipe up on Home button and change it to "On"

  7. Michael Pate

    I couldn't figure out how to enable the new navigation feature but luckily for me I found a YouTube video that explained it. I had even looked in gestures but missed the one that was turned off because I was going too fast.

    So far I am finding P very different but that has been true every time they have updated the UI. I find I get used to it fairly quickly.

  8. naven87

    One change I wish they hadn't made was to the quick settings, where there was a triangle below relevant items (wifi, BT) which would let you choose network or target device, Now it seems like you can get their with a long press, but it's less intuitive then having the UI right there on the screen.

  9. Jorge Garcia

    Living in Los Angeles and transiting it very well daily, it seems as though it simply does not matter how many features Android packs into its OS, it still isn't iOS and it still doesn't have iMessage, so it's an instant fail for seemingly 97% of the residents here. It's pretty astonishing really...how the herd mentality works so well.

  10. GT Tecolotecreek

    Did it fix your audio issue?

  11. torsampo

    Coping iPhone X? I don't think so. The new gestures/interface have more direct lineage from WebOS. Not surprising given that Matias Duarte, who helped design WebOS, is VP of Design at Google these days.

  12. Lateef Alabi-Oki

    You have to enable navigation gestures in settings. It's off by default.

  13. Purian23

    Paul is still a chump and moron wow lol.

    Settings / System / Gestures / Swipe Up on Home Button. Welcome

    • YouWereWarned

      In reply to Purian23:
      Dude--please forward copies of YOUR publications so we can compare w/Paul's list.
      None? It figures.
      One day you will be old enough to realize that finding a bleeping setting is not worthy of a Nobel prize.

  14. Rayo Verweij

    The gestures are there, you just have to enable them in Settings > System > Gestures!

  15. rameshthanikodi

    so like....how much of this will actually land in the hands of consumers that buy an OEM skinned device with it's own Gallery app and a third-party launcher?

  16. Nicholas Kathrein

    I'm getting this now. Thanks for the link to opt in. Only took 5 seconds on the phone.

  17. Daekar

    You know, I'm having a lot of trouble getting excited about Android anymore. All the crap they keep adding to it is starting to look more and more like the crap Microsoft has been adding to Windows for the last few years.

    I don't WANT Google trying to figure out what I want based on past history, or any of that nonsense... give me the effing app drawer and get out of the way so I can get to the thing I explicitly came here for via muscle memory rather than having to think my way through your damn UI.

    There is precisely ONE area where I like this kind of thing: in Outlook 365, when you go to add an attachment to an email it automatically presents you with a reverse history of all the Office documents and such that you've been working on. That's lovely, and useful 25% of the time. This "throw random crap in this arbitrary screen that we've chosen, because machining learning" thing is crazy... unless those items stay the same, you are never going to go to that menu to achieve something specific. What will happen is, you'll go to that screen hoping the thing you want is there, and you'll likely have to go somewhere else anyway.

    When I want your blinkin' assistance making some super critical choice like where to go to dinner, I'll ask for it, Google. Now get off my lawn and go back to your cubicle.

    • Nicholas Kathrein

      In reply to Daekar:

      Are you old? You are not the customer that Google or Apple are looking to sell to. Oh and FYI, what you don't want or won't use doesn't mean shouldn't be made. You are not the only customer that matters just like I'm not.

      • Daekar

        In reply to Nicholas_Kathrein:

        Actually I'm a millennial... not that it means much. I'm also a pro-sumer/power user, which is far more relevant to whether or not Google and Apple try to market to me.

        So... my opinion doesn't count because it's only mine? Where do I go to get a collectively-endorsed opinion that is more valid?

        Seriously, I never claimed I was the only customer that matters. I did, like most humans, express my feelings about the thing from a personal perspective. I'll try to channel the Google-approved youngster-zeitgeist next time...

  18. jimbosf

    Paul, Settings / System / Gestures / Swipe Up on Home Button. Turn it on. Voila! Gesture interface is now available.

  19. jlmerrill

    Moto has had this gesture stuff in their phones for awhile.