Google Android 10 Review

Posted on September 5, 2019 by Paul Thurrott in Android with 34 Comments

I’ve been using Android 10 since its first beta release back in March. And while most focus on the new Dark theme, there’s more to it than that.

For starters, let’s discuss that name: Where previous Android versions arrived with silly, dessert-inspired names like Android 9 Pie and Android 8 Oreo, Android 10 is just Android 10. I’d like to believe that Google finally grew up a little bit, but that has nothing to do with it: Instead, the firm acknowledged that its naming scheme simply didn’t make sense in many languages. Whatever the reason, we are at least done with that silliness and the need to suffer through constant snack jokes in poorly written reviews.

Under the covers, Android 10 continues Google’s years-long efforts to further modularize the operating system, work that reminds me of what Microsoft did with Windows starting in the early 2000s. Regardless, the results are clear: Project Treble allowed Google to bypass blocks from hardware makers and wireless carriers and deliver more system-level updates and version upgrades to users. And new to Android 10, Project Mainline–now called Google Play System Updates—furthers this effort by creating a new APEX file format for system files (as opposed to most apps, which are delivered as APK files in the Play Store).

Android 10 also provides formal support for folding smartphones like the Galaxy Fold, optional “scoped storage” for apps, and a new kind of encryption for devices that are too slow to use Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) effectively. More noticeably, Android 10 introduces an obvious, and iOS-like, feature by which you can now configure apps to only access your location information while you’re using the app. The Privacy settings area has been nicely updated as well.

But it is, of course, the user experience changes that most people are interested in. And in using and researching Android 10 for the past few months, a few of these changes really do stand out.

The first, of course, is the new Dark theme, which many misname as Dark Mode. It works in tandem with other display features like Night Light and adaptive brightness to tone down the overly-bright light that your smartphone emits and can supposedly even help with battery life. Sure, some apps offer a Light/Dark theme toggle of their own. But with this formal support in the OS, compatible apps can now switch themes automatically with the system. It’s a big deal (as it is in Windows 10 and, soon, in iOS 13 too.)

Google Photos is one app that does already support the Dark theme

But there is a temporary downside to the Dark theme, too: For this system to truly work, all the apps you use need to support it too. And right now, most of Google’s own apps—Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Play Music, you name it—don’t even support Dark theme yet. I assume this will happen quickly.

The next big user experience change is Android 10’s new approach to gesture navigation. This is Google’s second try at it, and this time around they’ve pretty much just copied what Apple is doing with newer iPhones. Which is fine.

Honestly, I was OK with Android 9’s gesture-based navigation, but the criticism that it didn’t save on-screen real estate was fair: Instead of three virtual buttons on the bottom of the screen, Android 9’s gesture navigation provided two, a Back arrow and a “pill” Home button. But in Android 10, the system is now “fully” gestural. Meaning that it doesn’t basically display any UI at all and thus doesn’t take up any on-screen real estate.

The new Gesture navigation scheme provides three basic gestures: Swipe up from the bottom of the screen to go to Home, swipe from either side of the screen to go Back, and swipe up from the bottom of the screen and then hold to display the Recents screen. Additionally, you can swipe horizontally on the very bottom of the screen to quickly switch between apps; as with iOS, you’ll see a thin horizontal line there indicating where you can swipe. And you can swipe in from a screen corner to display Google Assistant.

I find this all to be very intuitive and easy to use. Thanks, Apple!

Google has also updated the Share pane in Android 10, with the goal of making it much faster. As anyone who uses this interface can tell you, Share was curiously slow in previous Android versions. And now it’s … well, it’s less slow. I wouldn’t describe this issue as completely fixed. But it is faster.

How much faster is hard to describe, in part because I don’t have otherwise identical handsets side-by-side running Android 9 and 10. But on the Google Pixel 3a XL, choosing Share causes the screen to go gray, followed by the slow-enough-to-watch-it-draw appearance of the actual Share pane, followed by the equally slow appearance of icons representing the people and apps with which you might want to share. The pane itself is smaller than before, which probably helps the performance since there’s less to draw. And there’s a nice, prominent “Copy” button so you can copy the shareable item to the clipboard more easily (previously, it was in the grid of icons).

Long story short, it’s an improvement. But more work needs to be done here: It’s like the Xbox One Dashboard, in that it’s not clear why the damn thing is still so slow. Here’s an obvious idea, Google: Let users configure the Share pane so that they can remove those apps/icons they never use. Surely, that would make it work faster.

Google also made minor changes to the notification shade that appears when you drag down from the top of the screen. As you may recall, the firm made major changes to this interface a few versions back. And it’s been iterating ever since. For Android 10, we get just small tweaks: There’s a new Silent notifications section that’s separate from Priority notifications, a battery life estimate (“1 day, 4 hr” mine says as I write this), and a scrubber control on media notifications so that you can swipe to move forward or back in the currently-playing content.

That’s all the important stuff. The Android 10 website lists a few features I’d not noticed, like Live Captioning, Sound Amplifier, and Family Link, plus a few others, like Focus mode, that are pretty basic and obvious. But the big bucket improvements are Dark theme and gesture navigation. And of the two, only Dark theme is truly transformational.

Overall, Android 10 is a very typical Android upgrade in that there are a few major new features and numerous smaller changes throughout the system. Whether this qualifies as a major release or not is up to debate, but I will argue here that the Dark theme alone makes Android 10 both desirable and a major milestone. And that will be even truer when all of the apps I use are upgraded to support it.

 

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Comments (34)

34 responses to “Google Android 10 Review”

  1. djross95

    Just updated my Pixel 3a and dark mode (er, theme) is very nice! Haven't tried gestures yet, but sharing is much faster and the whole OS seems more polished.

    • siv

      In reply to djross95:

      I did mine yesterday and actually find the new gestures easier to use than fumbling about trying to hit the on-screen widgets. Also the black theme is excellent for me as I hate the post Windows 8 love of brilliant white UI design. I always have a black theme in Windows and Visual Studio as well as Linux Mint which is what I run as my main desktop O/S nowadays.

    • TrevorL

      In reply to djross95:

      Can you choose whether to use the new gestures, or stick to the old back, home buttons? My wife has a Pixel 3a. She is not particularly IT literate, and has recently been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease which tends to fog her thinking processes a bit. I don't think she'd appreciate having no visual triggers to help her with navigation.

  2. aob

    Besides the Dark Theme and Gestures (which takes a bit of getting used to), I think your "big bucket improvement" should include the 'Permissions Manager'. Definitely worth going through and I also like the fact that you can now specify which apps can use your 'Location' either in the background - while you use - or not at all. For me it seems I only need Maps 'Allowed All The Time'.

  3. joinncc.online

    Really This Phone is awesome.

    Anyway, the features documented here were underwhelming. I've used the beta since the beginning and only in the final release did I find something to get excited about: finally it's possible to activate MMS without having data turned on! I'd never noted it before (of course, my experimental phone without a data plan was the one on Android 10 while my daily driver with a data plan was on Android 9 until only a few days ago). Thanks For This Post.

  4. Eric Dunbar

    Yawn. Didn't I just read an article proclaiming that Android does not have an upgrade problem yet here I see indications that Google has improved the situation slightly in recent years!


    Anyway, the features documented here were underwhelming. I've used the beta since the beginning and only in the final release did I find something to get excited about: finally it's possible to activate MMS without having data turned on! I'd never noted it before (of course, my experimental phone without a data plan was the one on Android 10 while my daily driver with a data plan was on Android 9 until only a few days ago).

  5. Rob_Wade

    In reply to SvenJ:

    Sure, like I want to be hounded about their over-brewed, over-priced coffee served by self-important dunderheads. Yup.

  6. Rob_Wade

    I just don't get the desire for dark themes. They are depressing and hard to read in any conditions. I don't use this on any device or platform.

  7. Mulderjoe

    I've read reports that features such as auto-rotation, auto-brightness, double tap and various sensor features break in Pixel phones with the Android 10 update. Has anyone else have similar issues?

  8. Flinchbot

    I've noticed a drastic performance improvement on my Pixel 3XL, specifically with app switching. Maybe they finally got RAM management figured out for 4GB phones.

  9. dcdevito

    Let's face it, it's called 10 because they couldn't name a good dessert that started with 'Q'

  10. anderb

    Check out the mess of fonts on all those screenshots! That hipster equivalent of Comic Sans that Google is so enamoured with is hideous.

  11. Rycott

    I just wish they would let me configure what is in my share panel and be done with it.


    It'd be a hell of alot faster if 2083920290 apps weren't adding themselves to it.

  12. MikeCerm

    It's very frustrating that the gesture system is so busted that Google is only letting people who use the stock launcher even try it. Couple that with the fact that the stock launcher kind of sucks, it means that, for better or worse, basically no one will be using this gesture system, which is sure to be completely overhauled again in the next version of Android. I can't believe it's taken this long and they still don't have something they are confident shipping to everyone.

    • minke

      In reply to MikeCerm:

      I'm using the new gesture system on my Pixel 2, and I actually like the stock Pixel launcher. Not finding the gestures work all that well. Some apps work better than others. Often the quickest way to actually go back is to simply swipe up and close the app, then reopen it--just doesn't go back reliably for me. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. On the other hand, I've always had problems with touchscreens not working with my fingers--some people call it zombie fingers.

    • Flinchbot

      In reply to MikeCerm:

      First thing I did was turn off gesture navigation and return to three buttons. I was in 2 button mode on Android Pie on my Pixel 3 XL and the app switching was, to be polite, not very good.

      • minke

        In reply to Flinchbot:

        I have reverted to 3-button navigation. Much easier and more reliable than gestures for me. I kept finding myself swiping three or four times to go back, and or triggering something by accident. Much better to just hit a button that you know will do a specific thing.

      • bill_russell

        In reply to Flinchbot:

        I was hopeful but ready to dismiss the gestures stuff as a failure I think as far as beta 5, but then by beta 6 they seemed to have improve greatly. I also think its something that can continue to incrementally be refined with the help of apps themselves, but I'm totally sold, even though at the moment I can't use nova lanucher. An interview with dave burke revealed that they just didn't have time in the final 10 release but in house is working great and an update in a month or two will allow the 3rd party launchers. I actually wish they could just improve the pixel launcher a bit and I'd stay with it.

  13. MadsM

    Google Calendar has had a dark theme for months.

  14. phuor

    With apps like Gmail you can always swipe from the left to open the sidebar and press back to go back to the list.


    Won't the new system gestures prevent apps from having these types of navigation features?


    • bill_russell

      In reply to Phuor:

      I can't understand preferring having swipe from left reveal a navigation panel (which does have a hamburger menu) rather than just go back. I rarely use navigation panels but go back ALL the time. They can coexist though but I think the trend is to avoid these panels anyway. However, regions can be defined which prevent the back gesture in certain areas.

  15. Jim Lewis

    Perhaps not significant to most users but Android 10 supports direct hearing aid connectivity. That means if you wear hearing aids (HA's), as I do, your hearing aids can function as ear buds and receive streaming or phone calls directly from your phone without an intermediary device. Apple, in conjunction with HA OEM's, hacked the BLE standard and created a proprietary connectivity protocol that has allowed direct connectivity between iPhones and HA's since 2014. Now the same is true for Android phones but the HA OEM must support the ASHA protocol (Google's nomenclature, not a Nokia phone). As of this moment, the only HA OEM's declaring their devices will support the ASHA connectivity are GN ReSound and Starkey. Phonak, the leading HA OEM, has made a lot of waves by adding classic BT functionality to its HA's but because of classic BT limitations, with Marvel 2.0, the most devices a Marvel with 2.0 firmware (its top-of-the-line premium HA) can be paired with at one time are TWO. Classic BT connectivity is not as energy-efficient as BLE or variants thereof and chews up a lot more battery. HA's are small devices and battery-limited. There are also problems outdoors, since streaming is to the device in one ear only in Marvel devices, of ear-to-ear communication between the HA's. As of right now, Google's Pixel 3/3A/XL are the only devices to support ASHA and it will be interesting to see how many other phone manufacturers make a point in their Android 10 version of doing a decent implementation of ASHA. Google has promised that some HA OEM's have killer apps and has demoed software that does a very good job of picking speech out of noise but so far the app involved has worked best only with a wired headphone connection. But it would be great if Google, with its AI chops (TensorFlow, Keras, etc), could revolutionize hearing in noisy situations (noisy restaurant, cocktail party). Everyone might then want to wear Google earbuds to better hear voices around them and cut out the noise.

  16. raptor

    >I find this all to be very intuitive and easy to use. Thanks, Apple!


    You should be thanking Palm because that's where Apple "swiped" the navigation gestures from:


    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gEhkQRP2zDk


  17. jaydsd

    Ahh. Android 10 has come then. Can we officially download this new version? also, can we use applications like Cyberflix TV on this?. Because I'm using this application for a long time now.


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