Android 12 Beta 4 hands-on: The tune-up before the race
Android 12 Beta 4 is now available for all supported Pixel phones, as well as some additional phones that you can install Android 12 beta on. The previous three beta releases have been chock-full of new features and massive visual changes that make Android 12 the biggest update in a while, but beta 4 is a bit of a muted release compared with those.
In a nutshell, Android 12 beta 4 can be considered the platform stability update first and foremost, but that doesn't mean stability is the only thing Google has been working on for the past month. A surprising number of visual tweaks can be found around common parts of the OS, and features like Game Dashboard are making their first full appearance. This release should mark the last few big changes to the OS, which will be coming to the best Android phones in the coming months.
Stability and speed
As previously mentioned, Android 12 beta 4 largely revolves around the concept of platform stability for developers. While Android 12 beta 3 was one of the buggiest beta releases we've seen in a long time, platform stability doesn't mean stability for users. Instead, it means that Google won't be making any big changes in the OS that will affect how apps interact with Android itself, giving developers a more consistent way of fixing bugs for the eventual final release of Android 12.
That's not to say that no bugs have been ironed out in this release, though. Over the last two days, I've noticed significantly fewer app crashes and freezes — a significant improvement from beta 3 from what I can tell — and overall performance improvements throughout the system, as well. Setting wallpapers is notably faster in this build, with the change occurring as quickly as the animation takes to complete. Changing wallpaper in beta 3 sometimes took several seconds and would occasionally freeze and hang the system, requiring a quick system process reboot.
Adding to those fixes is a fun new feature buried within Android's experimental options. Once enabled, the new enhanced search bar can better find local and personal content, including things like apps, contacts, bits of conversations within apps, shortcuts, settings, widgets, and more. It's a good look at how Google is increasingly moving things to local processing instead of doing everything in the cloud.
Sights and sounds
Material You is easily the most gorgeous design language Google has ever created, and it's now being applied to a few new areas in beta 4. You'll now find that the search bar is themed along with the icons from the home screen when you select the themed icons option under the wallpaper & style section. Unfortunately, that themed icons setting includes a beta tag this time around, so, likely, Google isn't quite done tweaking and adding to this functionality.
As you peruse the system settings, you might also notice the more distinct addition of Material You components throughout the experience. For example, dark mode users should be able to read several different titles once again, as Google has added bits of color behind that text to enhance readability. Likewise, toggle switches also feature the prominent theme color behind them now. So All-in-all, it's a more consistently themed experience than before.
The screenshot tool has also seen some tweaks, including easier-to-grab crop box anchors and better overall performance compared to beta 3. The new quick share feature within Overview now includes large images, meaning you can one-click share URLs and images straight from Overview without having to copy or save them to your phone. It's a nifty feature that will probably see more usage than the copy/paste text functionality Google added a while back, as prominent icons now appear in places where you can perform actions.
Folks unhappy with the new Wi-Fi quick settings pop-up should be a bit more pleased with the new design tweaks, which finally include a switch for turning Wi-Fi on and off from that quick panel. That's a pretty important change considering quick settings are supposed to let users make quick changes without navigating away from the currently active app.
Lastly is the addition of brand new sounds for Pixel phones, as first spotted by 9to5Google. It's been some time since Google added or changed any of these sounds, which power the phone's audible notification, alarm, and ringtone sounds. Even existing sounds were tweaked to fit Android 12's softer look, helping to better fit the Material You landscape.
Gamers, please apply
Game Dashboard was, ironically, one of the featured additions of Android 12 beta 3 — ironic because it didn't really work at all, that is — and is now a feature that will appear when you launch a game on your Android 12-powered phone. Game Dashboard is a small pop-up vertical bar that allows users to quickly and easily perform common tasks like taking screenshots or recording video.
New to vanilla Android is gaming Do Not Disturb (DnD), a familiar feature on other Android-powered phones made by companies like Samsung, but one that's incredibly handy nonetheless. Gaming DnD will keep those annoying notifications and calls from popping up on your screen when you're just trying to play a game and can be easily toggled on and off via Game Dashboard.
While taking a screenshot or recording a video of your gameplay might be something you'd assume would be on a Game Dashboard, Google has also added one less obvious feature: live streaming via YouTube Live. Pressing the live streaming button will immediately activate your phone's microphone and use it to provide voice-overs for your live video, including various controls for the live streaming experience.
As has been the case with these betas, the current implementation of Game Dashboard is a bit buggy. Alex Dobie was able to get Game Dashboard working on his Pixel 5 in the video above but not until he rebooted his phone after enabling Game Dashboard. Likewise, my Pixel 4 XL, as has been my experience generally and in previous Android 12 beta releases, isn't working quite as expected. I imagine they'll be ironed out just fine in time for the final Android 12 release, though.
Until next time
As you might expect, beta 5 will be the next Android 12 release and should mostly include bug fixes and further minimal tweaks, including fixing visual problems like the oversized search bar in the app drawer. We're also expecting additional changes and tweaks to the Android 12 theme engine that should further pull together the new design language and functionality. Folks who enjoyed the ability to change fonts or the shape of their icons might be disappointed, though, as it looks like that functionality has been fully removed.
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It's been widely reported, and I can confirm from personal experience, that beta 4 breaks ALL vpns. Your phone seems like it's hooked up to your vpn, but it's not. I chatted with nord customer service and they confirmed it's a known issue. And Android police reported on it two days ago. Given it's a pretty big deal when you think you're private but you're not, I'm curious why it's not mentioned in your story?
People who partake or rely upon VPN/privacy services really shouldn't even be installing ANY beta software - including Android OS betas. That's just incredibly ill-advised. This is why they don't encourage beta on "daily drivers", and thus isn't necessary to report on.
Amazing insight! Genius!
I'm guessing no sign of the return of the really handy power menu that they seem to have killed off in Android 12? 😢