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Android 12 Developer Preview 2 hands-on: Lighter dark mode and one-handed usability

One-handed mode on the Android 12 Developer Preview 2
One-handed mode on the Android 12 Developer Preview 2 (Image credit: Hayato Huseman / Android Central)

It's been nearly a month since Google rolled out the first Android 12 Developer Preview, and I've been using it daily on my Pixel 5 since its release, with only a small handful of issues and bugs.

Google promised once-a-month updates to its Developer Previews leading up to the first beta release, however, and right on cue, we have the second Developer Preview up and running. Of course, you don't need the best Android phone Google makes to run its pre-release software; this installs just fine on lower-end models like the Pixel 4a, as well.

So what's changed with this second Developer Preview? Quite frankly, not much; if the first build wasn't tempting enough to flash onto your personal phone (which, to be clear, you probably shouldn't do), this one likely won't be any different. But even small changes are changes nonetheless, and we've broken down what's new.

Aesthetic changes

Android 12 Developer Preview 2

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

One of the first things I noticed after installing the second Developer Preview was how much thicker the outline is now when drawing my unlock pattern. It's a bit reminiscent of the early days of Android, and it's ... well, it's certainly a look, though you of course may not see this if you unlock your fingerprint or a different security method.

Speaking of new design changes I'm not crazy about, dark mode is getting lighter with every update, and particularly in areas like the Settings app, what was once a perfect AMOLED black (and subsequently a dark shade of blue in DP1) is now a fairly light shade of gray. Battery-related concerns aside (I'm not convinced this alone will make any significant dent on battery life), I just wish the option for a completely black dark mode was still here.

On the home screen, the widgets list has been revamped, as well, now with a much cleaner vertically scrolling list view. You can only view the widgets from one app at a time in this new list view, but I actually think this helps keep the selector a bit less cluttered.

Strangely, the Wi-Fi Sharing screen in the Network & Internet section of the Settings app is now permanently stuck in light mode, though the corresponding Nearby Sharing box detailed in our last Developer Preview hands-on still matches your system setting.

Improved picture-in-picture video

Picture-in-picture video in Android 12 Developer Preview 2

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

As a chronic multi-tasker, picture-in-picture (PIP) video is one of my favorite additions to recent builds of Android, but up until now, it's been a bit of a messy experience. Resizing floating windows on the first try can still be tricky, and though convenient, PIP windows can often obscure whatever else you're trying to do on the screen.

With the second Android 12 Developer Preview, PIP windows are much more flexible. The transition from a video app like YouTube to picture-in-picture mode when swiping up to the home screen is a bit smoother now, and PIP windows can be expanded to fill the entire width of the screen by either dragging from a corner of the window or pinching to zoom.

Interestingly, when pinching a PIP video with two fingers, the floating window can be freely rotated, though every video I've tried this on resets to its original orientation once you let go.

You can also now pin a PIP window to the edge of your screen by dragging it all the way to the left or right of your display. This keeps the active video from blocking your screen without stopping playback. It's a bit odd to only see a slim portion of the video playing on-screen, but it makes it much quicker to jump back to the traditional PIP view versus coming from background audio playback.

Better support for rounded corners

This is more of an under-the-hood change than one you'll notice in daily use, but beginning with Android 12 Developer Preview 2, developers can set their apps to check whether your device has rounded corners on its display, and optimize the UI accordingly. Through various classifications within the new APIs, they'll even be able to see which corners are rounded, and whether different corners have different radii.

While this may not sound like much at first, if you've ever experienced text in the status bar or other objects being cut off by rounded corners, this step will help tidy things up in the future.

One-handed mode

One-handed mode UI in Android 12 Developer Preview 2

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

One-handed mode is now tucked in the Gestures section of the Settings app, under System, and can be enabled with a single toggle — in the first Developer Preview, this feature had to be enabled via feature flag, which required some ADB know-how. It's easily activated by swiping down near the bottom of the screen, and functions similarly to Apple's Reachability function in iOS, bringing the entire UI down to roughly the lower half of the display.

Surprisingly, one-handed mode works great in this developer preview, and you can set it to automatically time out after 4, 8, or 12 seconds of inactivity (or never, if you prefer), or exit manually by tapping anywhere in the upper portion of the display. There's a slick, bouncy animation that plays whenever you enter/exit one-handed mode; the whole thing works much better than I would've expected.

At least,it did at first. About five minutes after I enabled it, one-handed mode stopped working on my Pixel 5 altogether, not responding to my swiping gesture. This is still pre-beta software, after all.

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Hayato was a product reviewer and video editor for Android Central.

11 Comments
  • Design looks like garbage, as everything Google does. Not surprised they are doing a Grey Mode. They have proven time and again they don't know how to make a Dark Theme even if their lives depended on it. Yet another reason to hate stock Android and anything remotely resembling it.
  • Literally no one asked for a lighter dark mode. In fact, many ask for the opposite. If you don't like a dark theme, that's absolutely fine. That's why LIGHT THEME EXISTS! Dark theme should be darker than my soul, which is vantablack!
  • I don't know why they couldn't offer both gray and black as theme options so everyone can choose what they prefer. On LCD I prefer gray and on OLED screens I prefer black. Android 12 should have this ability baked in (as well as a light theme for those weirdos ;)
  • Heh. If only a Vantablack display were possible.
  • "Dark" theme doesn't do a damn thing for battery on oled unless it is pitch black.
    It also looks so much better, blending bezels into screen.
  • To each his own I think the grey looks better than pure black
  • These days, I think phones are efficient enough that pitch black versus a lighter theme isn't of huge consequence regarding battery life, but I do much prefer the look of AMOLED black over the gray theme in DP2. At the very least, they're both definitely easier on the eyes at night than the light theme.
  • As a former iphone user I can say reachability is virtually worthless. Samsung's one handed mode in infinitely better.
  • I think both implementations have their pros and cons. Apple's Reachability/Google's one-handed mode obviously move the lower elements of the screen out of view, but I see it as a quick way to reach elements near the top of the screen without having to shift the phone in your hand, then return to the normal view. Fwiw, I find Google's version much easier to launch than Reachability on the iPhone. I like that Samsung's execution still gives you a full view of your screen, but I'd argue that making everything on-screen smaller just makes it harder to see/use.
  • Do you realize that one hand mode is on Samsung one UI for 2 years now? This is the case with basically all updates for major android releases, they just implement what Samsung did a year or 2 before, and the reviewers are constantly busy that Samsung is still full of bloatware and unnecessary features, while the same time when google copies the same things, it's 'clean 'vanila android'...
  • The Galaxy S20 FE and S21 Ultra are the top two options on our list of best Android phones, I'm not really sure what more you're looking for here. Google's new one handed mode is much more similar to Apple's Reachability, which is why I mentioned it in the article.