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Android P Beta hands-on: The best and worst features

Android P has been available as a Developer Preview for weeks, but that was basically just Oreo with back-end API changes. At Google I/O 2018 we got the first proper beta release, which includes all sorts of visual changes and new features that better represent what we'll actually see when Android P is released.

The OTA update hit my Pixel 2 XL after signing up for the Beta Program, and I've been using it for about 24 hours now. This is how I'm finding Google's latest build of Android.

What I love so far

Gesture navigation

Google's rumored move to gesture navigation in Android P finally came true ... sort of. It isn't enabled by default even though this is a developer-focused release, and it's clear that Google has further work to do on the entire system. Still, I'm already enjoying it.

Swiping up to quickly hop into a multitasking view already feels natural and more involved than before, and staring at a static multitasking button when you're not using it seems archaic by comparison. Getting a full view of apps in a carousel makes it easier to quickly identify apps and hop into them, and being able to copy text while in multitasking view is a neat addition. The quick swipe right on the home button to hop between apps is fantastic.

There's also a big signal here that the back button isn't shown by default when you enable gesture navigation — it only appears when an app can make use of it. Sort of like the menu button popping up in your navigation bar when the switch to on-screen navigation first began. Google's clearly thinking about how it can improve the experience of the back button in Android.

New animations

One of the biggest things that gives a phone its "personality," for lack of a better term, is animations and transitions. Android P has added back in lots of more pronounced and longer animations throughout the interface, particularly in the new gesture-based multitasking interface. Apps and windows kind of zoom in and out of frame, making it feel like they're moving around in a wider space than what's visible in your phone's screen. There's a little more fluid movement here than what we're used to in the original incantation of Material Design, but I feel like it's an improvement.

Some will hate how slow the animations are, giving a feeling that the phone is slow or trying to mask what would otherwise be delays in apps opening, but I think it adds a nice feeling of liveliness to the system.

Battery info and controls

Android P Beta

Google is working to improve battery life in the next version of Android! Never heard that one before.

Seriously, though, Google is doing some really smart things in Android P. The new "Adaptive Battery" feature uses AI to watch how you use apps, and will dynamically adjust how those apps can use power depending on how often you use them. For example an app that you use infrequently may not get full access to use power at any time, while others you use sometimes will only get access when you have lots of battery in reserve and apps you use frequently will be given priority no matter your charge level.

The general Battery settings are also just more useful for giving you the few bits of important information you need. No more graphs and charts that are confusing (and often misleading) to normal users — you get an overall readout of how your battery health is, and a information on how long your battery lasts on average. The "Battery Saver" mode also lets you set it to enable automatically at any single battery percentage, anywhere between 75% and 5% battery. I think I'll set mine to turn on at 17%, just to be unique.

Smart people-first feature changes

Android P Beta

I could easily break out each of these features and write 500 words about why they're so great, but I'm bundling them together into what I call "people-first features." Google talked a lot about this whole "digital wellbeing" idea at I/O 2018, focusing on using technology less, and that's part of an overall focus on how people use these phones. Here are my favorites:

  • Volume controls: When you press the volume keys, the volume slider pops up next to the keys — it also controls media volume by default, because we don't need to change our notification/ringer volume as frequently. Press and hold power + volume up briefly to immediately switch to vibrate mode. Flip the phone face-down on a table and it silences the entire system.
  • Auto brightness: Your brightness slider is no longer controlled by a fixed set of values. The phone learns how you set your brightness in different ambient lighting conditions, and starts to use those brightness levels automatically.
  • Auto rotation: Rotate your phone to landscape, and see a small icon in the bottom-right corner of your status bar that you have to tap to confirm the rotation of your screen. Turn back to portrait, and you do the same. So now you can have rotation when you want it, and no accidental flipping around when you just want to reposition your hand momentarily. You can still turn on full automatic rotation, but why would you when you have this? I've been calling it "two-factor auto rotation," personally.
  • Better Do Not Disturb mode: More on that digital wellbeing front, Android P takes Do Not Disturb very seriously. By default, DND hides all audible and visual disturbances, including the ambient display, the entire notification shade, notification dots and status bar notification icons. You can turn back on one or all of these things, but the default shows that Google wants your phone to actually not disturb you when in DND mode. By default, toggling on DND is also set without any expiration — you have to enter the settings to enable the option to set it for a fixed amount of time.

What I hate

Also ... gesture navigation

Android P Beta

For as much as I love the new gesture system, it's both broken in places and deeply flawed in others.

  • The home button: The combination of using the home button (or "pill" as we've started calling it, on account of its shape) as both a place to tap to go home and swipe up for multitasking, has led to a little confusion. It feels like Google could make a change here to make it all gesture based. The long-swipe or double-swipe for opening the app drawer feels unfinished as well — and Googlers here at I/O indicate that newer versions have smoothed it out considerably.
  • The back button: The back button feels extremely tacked-on and not integrated into the gesture system at all — of course that's because it isn't a gesture at all, it's just a button. I could easily see the back button transitioning to a swipe left from the home button instead.
  • Multi-window: The multi-window interface, too, feels like it hasn't received any work at all for this release. It's currently a four-step process: swipe up to access multitasking, tap on the app window's icon at the top, then tap "Split screen," then tap the second app you want. This will need to transition to some sort of gesture, too, if anyone's going to use it.

Again, gestures aren't even turned on by default in this first beta release, so I can't be too tough on it. There are changes that have to be made, but I'm certain Google will have made big strides here by the time Android P is released fully later this year.

This color palette needs work

Android P Beta

I'll agree that Nougat and Oreo maybe went a little overboard on the choice to go with flat, greyscale interface elements and Android needed some pops of color to add some life. But this is maybe a bit too much in the other direction.

The blue is a bit on the bright side and really clashes with the rest of the soft grey interface. The wide variety of colors found through the settings don't have much of a rhyme or reason, and just feel out of place as a result. It all reminds me of LG's recent software, actually. So much of the feel of a Pixel phone in particular comes down to the Google apps and Pixel Launcher, though, which have yet to be updates for Android P.

Coloration of an interface is one of those things that is very subjective, and also something that can be changed relatively easily if Google decides to make adjustments before release. It's also something that very few people in the grand scheme of Android will actually see — as just about every manufacturer applies their own design changes to Android, at the very least changing colors even if they keep a "stock" look otherwise.

Status bar troubles

Android P Beta

The clock moved to the left side of the status bar! Yes Android P is trying to be friendly to phones with display notches, and moving the clock to the left helps it do that. But not all phones with Android P will have notches, and the clock on the left is really throwing me off. It gives you less room for notification icons up there, which (at least right now) also truncate into an ellipsis where the notch would roughly be, and takes away that ability to glance up and say "okay, no notifications right now!" when you see an empty corner.

This very easily could change before release or be an option for configuration at the manufacturer level if the device being made doesn't have a notch, so I'll reserve judgement at least a little bit here — but I really hope the clock only goes on the left for phones with notches. Please, Google?

Stability

I feel bad even having this listed as a downside of software that's very clearly a "beta" release, but this first Android P Beta build is in no way stable enough to use on a daily basis on a primary device. Multi-window almost always crashes the phone's launcher, lots of apps just crash unexpectedly (including many of Google's) and every once and a while you'll just see visual jank that throws you off.

I wouldn't recommend installing this first beta release on your primary phone unless you're really wanting to walk on the bleeding edge. But I know this will improve over time, and I have no doubt that the final release of P will be just as solid as O and N before it.

Are you going to use the Android P Beta as a daily driver?

Andrew was an Executive Editor, U.S. at Android Central between 2012 and 2020.

66 Comments
  • Starbucks app won't let me pay but I really should stop eating my money there anyways. 👍 Some slowness but I'm happy with the overall look and feel. If the battery improvements make my 7 hours SoT go to 8 that would be awesome... Not that I need it. Happy Wednesday all!
  • How do you get 7 hours of screen on time?!?!
  • 50% brightness with adaptive brightness on. Clash of clans, Netflix or Prime Video and reading stuff all day. Unplug at 7am and plug in at 11pm. 3 hours of streaming videos (commute time) Pixel 2 XL is amazing!
  • +1
  • Same here. But uninstalled and installed again and it works fine now.
  • Thanks for the heads up! Works again... 😑
  • No problem with Starbucks app for me. Prordered coffee today and tipped, all in the app. Mine is the Disney World app, it pops up a close message, even if the app wasn't opened at all.
  • Screw starbucks!!! Crap coffee for crap people...
  • Reinstall Starbucks. It worked for me
  • The sound! Come on Google, I'm not that old yet. Let's turn it back up!
  • What is wrong with your sound?
  • Imo, this is a really smooth beta launch. Some apps don't work properly, but then again plenty of them still aren't optimized for O. I haven't had any big bugs besides buetooth getting stuck needing a reboot to fix
  • Agree - I am running this on my daily driver...stable enough IMO.
  • +1
  • I dunno. I'm running it as my primary device and haven't had a single issue yet. No app crashes, no incompatible banking apps, no jankiness or slowness. Granted, I haven't tried to use multitasking so I can't vouch for that and the back button definitely needs to go! Very happy with the new software so far.
  • Same here. I've seen no crashes or jank. Everything feels pretty fluid. I mean, I still don't like the looks of the Pixel launcher, and Nova needs an update to work well on Poptartz, and turning the display on with the fps seems delayed and "mushy" cuz there's no sound or haptic feedback tied to it, and, of course, there's still no sign of a @%^&$*!!! dark theme anywhere--still, so far so good on my everyday phone.
  • Oribit Jazz, black in wallpapers gives you dark mode.
  • I agree. A little harsh to make the statement he did, but it works fine enough for me..for now. 🤪
  • Same here. No app crashes and all good. Tried split screen (after I figured out how to do it!), and that works fine too, with apps that support it. So far so good, although the new animations do make things seem slower.
  • My experience is completely opposite Andrew's. I haven't had a single app crash nor have I experienced any slowness. In fact, this is probably the smoothest beta I have used to date.
  • Double tapping the multi-tasking button was a great way to toggle between two apps. The new gesture stuff has broken this great option.
  • It replaces that double tap with a flick. Flick the home button to the right and it switches to the last app.
  • And it's so much better than the double tap IMO
  • When I was on bb10 you could have up to ten apps open and all you had to do to move from one to the other was swipe up on the bottom of the screen and tap the next one open. I miss that. Once you get used to it, it's slick. I moved to bb10 from Android and then had to come back. I'm excited to see it come to android
  • bb's are crap...
  • Google Pay works
  • Same here. Tried it twice yesterday and it worked fine both times.
  • Seeing the header made me lament the fact that it will probably be another year before I see P on my S8. As I started reading, I noticed that I already have most of the features the author likes including the people first option and I can already see which aps use more batter power than others. Sure, there may be a little variances with the actual functions on the S8, however the end result is mostly the same. I'm fine waiting a while for the new gestures and animation.
  • So true, and on S8 the Navigation bar can be an overlay, you have the complete screen for content until you need the navbar. I think I'll like the gestures when I'm on as phone that has them, I rely on gestures a lot on my phone, to execute other functions using Nova. The change of the navigation bar will complete it for me.
  • He complained about the clock being on the left as if it was the end of notifications. SMH.
  • I really haven't run into many issues running the beta as of yet. Only apps I've noticed that have an issue is my banking app and BlackBerry Hub.
    Overall for being the initial beta release I've been very happy with it.
  • It's been pretty usable for me so far. Performance is fine, battery life is still good and my regular apps work fine (in the case of a really fussy bus app it actually runs better now). I'm running it with Nova launcher and the main issue I've noted is that swiping down with gestures crashes the launcher. Other than that it seems pretty stable.
  • A lot of gesture based ability is already incorporated into Samsung phones via Samsung Experience skin. I've always turned it al off because the sensors always looking for gestures are a battery drain. With all due respect, Android P is a nothing burger. It's a continued sow growth of Android OS that nobody was demanding. It's more a case of adding more stuff, because CPU and sensors in phones these days can.
    8 months from now Android P will have a 5% install base... And nobody on Android N or O wil care, or have any envy. I'm amazed a fingerprint sensor on the front of a phone is enough of an incentive for, otherwise intelligent, Android users to be enough to justify an upgrade.
  • It will be 12 months from now before Android P reaches 5% install base...
  • This is Google's and the manufacturer's biggest obstacle to overcome. People are sick of receiving their updated os, just in time to upgrade to a new phone. They should have the new Android systems out to devices with in a month or two of release. Worst part about Android hands down!
  • Horrible post, with shallow thinking assumptions. I'm sure you are amazed by many things that most people don't give a second thought to.
  • Well I think something is wrong with Andrew device or I don't know but my Pixel 2 XL with P Beta is very very stable. I mean no app crashes or janks. Of course some app not 100% compatible but come-on this is a beta. But even with that this is a very stable beta. So I recommend for daily usage !
  • Installed in my daily and working fine so far no major issues besides some jankiness with Nova but it isn't updated yet. Went back to the Pixel launcher for now and I'll probably stick with it until Nova updates, I hate stock icons. I wish Google would get with it and add a damn dark theme already! I gave up Andromeda and Substratum for this beta damn it 😠. So far NFC, Bluetooth and casting have all been solid. The back button definitely seems off though and needs replaced with a left swipe like the article suggested.
  • Best gestures OS? Blackberry 10! Android should consult with BB and get gestures done right.
  • WebOS was great for gestures as well.
  • Android P is Web OS! (soylent green) DXC ftw
  • WebOS was elegant in its simplicity using gestures. Hope Google doesn't **** the bed after having so much time to catch up.
  • I don't have a pixel so I don't have a hands on review, but I have watched every video I can about it. Watch the entire Keynote today and I have to say, this is one excellent update. I am not saying it's perfect, a swipe left should be there instead of a lopsided tiny arrow Left. The Multitasking button should be at the bottom of the app cards so it's easier to reach one handed. Over all, I absolutely love what I am seeing.
    I have the iPhone X. the gestures just "feel right". I am so glad to see android follow so that buttons can go away once and for all.
  • Only gripe so far is that my screen takes a split second longer to actually turn on. Whether I'm pushing the power button or using the fingerprint. Fingerprint sensor vibrates just as fast as before, but screen used to turn on at the same time it vibrated. Now it takes a very brief moment for the screen to turn on. Usually don't notice this as I normally use the fingerprint scanner while taking it out of my pocket. So it's still on by the time I look down at my phone.
  • I haven't had a single app crash since yesterday when I loaded the P beta. You mention stability as a negative, I actually find this build very stable for an early beta. I've had zero issues really with the beta.
  • Why not just slide the home button left for back?
  • Got one app that does not work, but it is installed and working as my DD.
  • I haven't had a single app "crash" since installing P. The clock being on the left doesn't bother me one bit, once I got used to looking there. Only thing is wish for is the total removal of the home, and occasional back button for more screen real estate. And a swipe left for back. Maybe a swipe down for split screen as well.
  • I've noticed that certain apps fill the screen with the home and back buttons overlayed.
  • Has anyone been able to find the Dashboard or Wind down features? Are they maybe not available in the Beta yet? Otherwise, I'm finding the beta to be pretty solid. Only one minor app crash and some Bluetooth finicky issues, but smooth otherwise.
  • Apparently those are coming later.
  •  "this first Android P Beta build is in no way stable enough to use on a daily basis on a primary device." Umm, ok. I've been using P for two days now on both of my primary devices (Pixel XL, Pixel 2 XL). Had almost no issues at all, certainly nothing that makes the phone not perfectly useable.
  • Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain
  • I like the hold the power button in for a screenshot option. Far easier than holding the power + volume button.
  • I disagree about the volume. It should go back to how it was in Oreo, if you're listening to media then it defaults to media control.
  • Spot on about the animations. I think they definitely add depth to the UI. As you, I am sure some people will think they are slowing down the launch if an app. What I like in multitask view is that the apps are live, rather than an image of what the app looked like when you switched out of it. I am not a fan of the new volume controls though.
  • I have been using the beta from the time it was made available. So far I have had no issues of any sort as mentioned this article with regard to stability or multi tasking or split screen. Everything is running smooth so far
  • I have been using P since DP1 and the only issue I had was with FitBit app, it wouldn't properly sync with my device. But I woke up the next morning, and without me doing anything, it was working properly. Now on DP2, and still haven't had any issues.
  • How does a noch have any effect on the space taken up for the clock depending on which side it's on?
  • I installed the beta on my daily driver (PXL2), and it's been rock solid for me so far. I agree that there is an occasional stutter to an animation, but otherwise with my app selection everything works (even Android Auto connected right away, which never worked on the Oreo previews). I don't ever use split screen though, so this may not generalize to most.
  • Is it wrong for me to want to beat whoever decided to put the clock on the left side
  • Installed P on my Pixel 2 XL today and seemed to go relatively smoothly, apart from the Samsung Gear app completely pooping itself and refusing to work, as well as my mobile carrier app (Optus Australia). Apart from that I'm liking it so far
  • I REALLY hope Google is listening... I do not know a SINGLE person that wants the Notch. Not one single person I have talked to IRL or online wants it, likes it, or even thinks it is a good idea. If the next Pixel has a notch, I will be speaking with my wallet and I will go Samsung or some other brand. Google, if we wanted a damn Apple product, WE WOULD BUY APPLE... stop trying to make my Android a DAMN Apple product!
  • If you do not know how many people wants the notch, then just go look at the number of people who bought Huawei P20 pro, P20, P20 lite, Asus Zenfone 5 and 5Z, Huawei Honor 10, Oppo R15 and R15 Pro, Oppo F7, Vivo V9, Vivo X21 and X21 UD, OnePlus 6, LG G7 ThinQ, Leagoo S9, Oukitel U18, Sharp Aquos S3.
  • While I agree with most of what you said in this article, I completely disagree with your sentiments against the colors. I love the fact that they are going back to adding nice colors, and will NEVER understand idiots pushing them away from colors, and into a flat gray boring environment. What is the purpose of buying a $800+ phone to get the beautiful amoled display, if Google makes everything drab gray????? It's not only moronic, but actually sub-moronic. We NEED color. More of it. Besides my hatred for the lack of color, I also hate the minimalist camp. WHY??? We push harder and harder to get these powerful devices, and you guys want them to look like blank slates... Horrible~!!!! Let the power out! Use the colors and stop making anything minimalist. Make it complex and cool. Make it colorful and awe-inspiring. For that kind of money, I want my device to be able to do work, without dying early. There should be a gesture to go back. There should be a SINGLE gesture to split the screen btw apps. Everything should roll from one task to the other. Speed isn't as importance as smoothness. Let it flow... Get to work Google!!!
  • I don't think I'm too impressed, especially with the soft key arrangement, but inevitably I'll probably get used to it. At least for now the gesture input is not on by default. I also cannot stand notches on phones. If notches were such a great idea I'm sure manufacturers would be putting them on television sets. 📺