Last year's Android 10 update was a big shift for the operating system. Not only did we get the long-awaited dark mode and important changes to app permissions, Android 10 also marked Google's departure from dessert names and ushered in a new Android logo/brand.

Android 10 was a year of growth and maturity for the operating system, and those same principles are being carried over to Android 11. We're still a few months out from the final build being available for everyone, but with a developer preview now out in the wild, we have a good idea of where Google wants to take Android in 2020.

Ready to learn all about what Android 11 is packing? Here's everything you need to know!

Fast updates

Google Pixel 4 XL

Great now, better with Android 11

If you want to be among the first to use Android 11 when it comes out later this year, the Pixel 4 is for you (specifically the larger XL model). The big draw is its guaranteed software updates and being first-in-line for them as they're released. You're also getting a 90Hz AMOLED display, outstanding cameras, OK battery life, and a sleek design with a matte glass back.

Developer Preview 4 is now available

Android 11 Developer Preview 2 HeroSource: Andrew Martonik / Android Central

On February 19, Google kicked off the hype train by releasing the first developer preview for Android 11 — giving us an early look at its biggest features and new logo. On March 18, Google followed up with the second developer preview, adding a number of new features and fixing many bugs present in the first two builds. Following that, April 23 saw the release of Developer Preview 3, with that build also focusing on bug fixes.

DP3 was supposed to be the third and final developer preview, but Google launched an unexpected Developer Preview 4 on May 6 — following the announcement that it was pushing back the public beta release until June.

Based on what we know so far, Android 11 looks to be a fairly modest year-over-year improvement compared to Android 10. DP2 brought a couple of minor UI changes, but nothing too radical. We'll dive deeper into some of the biggest features below, with some of them being improvements to how Android handles 5G connections, support for more display types, and more powerful permission controls.

That may sound kind of boring, but don't check out quite yet. Google often keeps changes and updates coming with each new developer preview, meaning even Developer Previews 2, 3, and 4 aren't fully indicative of Android 11's final/public build.

Lots of improvements for messaging

Google Hangouts on a OnePlus 6TSource: Ara Wagoner / Android Central

Reading through Google's initial press release for the first Android 11 developer preview, it's obvious that this update is doing a lot to improve Android's messaging experience. In fact, there are three core upgrades that should make a big difference in your day-to-day use.

First on the list, we have chat bubbles. Similar to what Facebook's offered for years with its Messenger app on Android, chat bubbles in Android 11 will hide your ongoing conversations in little bubbles on the side of your screen. You can move the bubbles around, and tapping on them will reveal that specific conversation. The Bubbles API is being made available for all messaging apps, with Google encouraging developers to adopt it.

In another effort to make sure you can get to your messages as quickly as possible, Android 11 introduces a dedicated conversation section in your notification shade that'll offer instant access to any ongoing conversations you have. In theory, this should help make your messages stand out from other notifications.

Speaking of messages and notifications, Android 11 makes it possible to send images when replying to a message directly from the notification shade.

One-time permissions

Android 11 One Time PermissionsSource: Jerry Hildenbrand / Android Central

Looking back on Android 10, one of its highlights was its improved handling of app permissions. Android 10 gave users more control over applications and what they could access, and Android 11 keeps this train rolling with a wonderful new addition.

Now, when an app asks for permission to use sensitive features like your location, microphone, or camera, you can choose to only grant it access on a one-time basis. The app will be able to use that permission during that instance of you using the app, but as soon as you leave it, the permission is revoked. The next time you use the app and it wants to use that permission, it needs to be granted access again.

Giving apps permission to these aspects of your phone should not be taken lightly, so we're thrilled to see Google giving users more control over their data like this.

A built-in screen recorder — finally!

Android 11 Screen Recording HeroSource: Andrew Martonik / Android Central

For the past few Android releases, we've been patiently waiting for Google to add a built-in screen recorder. It's not something you'll use every day (if ever for some people), but the fact that such a basic function isn't baked into Android at its core is getting annoying.

Thankfully, Android 11 looks to finally change that. Developer Preview 2 added a screen recorder, accompanied with a polished UI and toggles for recording audio and showing touches with your recording.

Early builds of Android 10 had traces of a screen recorder, too, but it was nowhere as complete as what was introduced in Android 11 DP2. It's still possible the feature won't make it into the final build, but based on what we're seeing right now, it looks like something Google is ready to ship to the masses.

Adapting the OS to different display types

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip Vs Hands On NiraveSource: Nirave Gondhia / Android Central

If there's been a place of notable advancement in the Android space, it's been with displays. Companies are doing what they can to offer the best and most exciting smartphone screen possible, and as great as this is, Android needs to catch up with better support for all of these advancements.

Folding phones are proving to be quite popular so far in 2020, and especially with devices like the Galaxy Z Flip and Motorola RAZR that have the "flip phone" folding design, Android 11 Developer Preview 2 added the "hinge angle sensor API" so apps can easily detect the hinge of these folding phones. With this information, developers can adapt their apps to work around the hinge and create unique experiences because of that (like how Google Duo changes its UI when you do a half-fold on the Z Flip).

The other big upgrade smartphone displays have seen has to do with faster refresh rates. It's no longer uncommon for phones to ship with screens that refresh at 90Hz or 120Hz, and Android 11 allows developers to take better advantage of these powerful displays. Introduced in Android 11 DP2, developers can select which refresh rate their application should run at. If the developer determines their app looks best at 90Hz or 60Hz, they can make that decision and have the phone's display change its refresh rate accordingly when using that app.

Getting Android ready for 5G

5G speed testSource: Android Central

5G finally started making its way to people last year, and throughout 2020, more and more folks are going to connect to the next generation of wireless data. To help that process be as smooth as can be, Android 11 adds a very important "Dynamic Meterdness API."

That may not sound very exciting on paper, but it essentially allows phones to take full advantage of all the power 5G brings.

If the API detects that you're connected to an unlimited 5G signal, you'll access the highest possible quality for videos and graphics. The potential for 5G is pretty darn cool, and this API ensures you take full advantage of the speeds available to you.

You can flash Android 11 on your phone (but you shouldn't)

Android 11 SetupSource: Jerry Hildenbrand / Android Central

Android 11 currently exists as a developer preview, and right now, it is in the earliest stage that we'll see. You can put it on your phone if you want, but we'd advise against that.

First of all, you need to manually flash Android 11 Developer Preview 4 to get it on your phone in the first place. Unlike later builds of the OS, you can't just download an over-the-air update.

Furthermore, the purpose developer previews is so developers can start working with the new Android version and get their apps ready for its final release. In other words, they aren't meant for regular use on your daily driver.

With all of that out of the way, if you're dead-set on putting Android 11 on your phone right now, we have a guide walking you through the process of exactly what you need to do.

How to download and install Android 11 on your Pixel Phone

We have a few months to go before the final build

New Android 11 release timelineSource: Google

Android 11 may technically be available right now, but we have a ways to go before it's ready for everyone.

Earlier in the year, Google's Android 11 timeline looked like this — there would be three developer previews, a public beta beginning in May, and then the final build would be ready for a Q3 release. On May 6, it was announced that things were changing a bit. Google rolled out a fourth developer preview on that same day, along with pushing back the public beta until June 3.

Two more beta updates will follow the initial beta, with those focusing on platform stability. Even with this slight delay, Google is still planning on a final release sometime during Q3.

Want Android 11 as soon as it's available? Check out the Pixel 4

Pixel 4 XL sitting on a treeSource: Joe Maring / Android Central

Whether you want to mess with Android 11 in its preview form or just make sure you get the update as soon as it's pushed out later this year, the Pixel 4 XL is the phone for you. It's true that battery life isn't amazing, but if you can get by with day-long endurance, there's a lot to like here.

Not only will the Pixel 4 XL get Android 11 before the Samsung and LG phones of the world, but it also has really impressive hardware. The Snapdragon 855 processor is a beast, the 90Hz AMOLED display is a joy to look at, and the dual rear cameras capture downright stunning photographs.

The Pixel 4 XL isn't a cheap phone, but it's very common to find it being sold for considerably less than the retail price — making it much easier on the old wallet.

Fast updates

Google Pixel 4 XL

Great now, better with Android 11

If you want to be among the first to use Android 11 when it comes out later this year, the Pixel 4 is for you (specifically the larger XL model). The big draw is its guaranteed software updates and being first-in-line for them as they're released. You're also getting a 90Hz AMOLED display, outstanding cameras, OK battery life, and a sleek design with a matte glass back.

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