The final build of the Android 12 beta is out, and it gives us our closest look yet at all the features coming in the next big update. We can see the new Material You theming engine in this latest release, and some new icons. The Privacy Dashboard is also available to try, plus a few new gestures. The updated Power Menu is starting to take shape, though you might not be too happy about how Google moved things around.
If you’re impatiently waiting for Android’s big upgrade, you can give it a try before it’s final. It’s easy to install if you’re on a Pixel 3 or newer—all you have to do is opt in to get the over-the-air update. It’s also available for the OnePlus 9 and 9 Pro, though those phones require a little more preparation. Remember to proceed with caution, as you might run into bugs and borked features because this isn’t the finished source code. But half the fun of being an Android user is taking a look behind the scenes.
If you decide to run the beta, here are the features you’ll want to check out first.
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There’s much more of Material You in the fourth and fifth betas compared to the first. It still isn’t quite the full array of customization we’ve seen in renders, but you will see the color-stripping part populate across the interface. Even the Google logo has been made over to match with the accent color extracted from the wallpaper.
To see the Material You theming in action, long-press on the Home screen and select Wallpaper & style. Then, choose a photo from your files or any of the stock options offered by Google. Once you select an image and whether you want it displayed across both the Home and Lock screens, Android will pick a color that matches the background.
The color-matching is very subtle in the current iteration, and it’s not entirely clear how the OS makes its choice. But it looks much more cohesive in the fourth Android 12 beta and beyond. The Lock screen remains the most prominent showcase of the Material You style.
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Android has long been fighting the reputation that it offers fewer privacy protections than iOS. So Google made some changes to the way Android informs you about what phone features apps are accessing in the background. It’s called the Privacy Dashboard, and it’s like Digital Wellbeing for apps that have access to your permissions. For instance, you’ll see which apps have constant access to your location data and how often those pings occur throughout the day.
You can access the Privacy Dashboard in the Settings panel, under Privacy > Privacy dashboard. Once you’re there, you’ll see a pie chart of your most recent app activity. Next, tap on the permission itself to see a timeline of which apps have accessed that day. You also have easy access buttons to manage the rest of your permissions if you look at your chart and decide you need to do some tweaking.
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Don’t want an app having access to your Android device’s camera or microphone? In the Android 12 beta, there is now a kill switch for both in the Permissions settings panel. They’re also available as a quick tile in the notification shade.
Note that some features won’t work within the apps that rely on those elements, but Android 12 can better handle those requests, so you can still use other components within that app.
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Sometimes, apps running in the background continue to access your camera or microphone even when you’ve moved on to another app. Now you can look for the privacy notification indicator in the top right part of your screen. It will pop up when an app is actively using the camera or microphone. Once it minimizes, it appears as a tiny green dot, similar to a feature in iOS 14.
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Google pared down the power menu in the Android 12 Beta, and there are no more shortcuts for smart home controls. I’ll show you how to get them back in the Notification Shade in the following slides. On your way there, be sure to pay your respects to what could have been the universal remote equivalent of a power menu.
If you decide you’d rather long press the Power button to launch the Google Assistant, there’s a switch in the Android settings. First, search in the settings for the Power menu, then tick the option to Hold for Assistant. After it’s turned on, you can hold down the Power button to give Google a command.
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Android 12's smart home controls have been rolled up into the Quick Settings panel. Drag down from the notification shade twice to reveal the quick tiles. If you had smart home controls set up before you installed the beta, you should see a Device Controls button pop up next to the Wallet option. Tap on it once to expand your smart home controls. From there, adjust your lights, cameras, thermostat, and other compatible devices as you need. You can also long-press on a particular room or control to expand into the Google Home app.
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The Google Pay wallet was also extracted from the power menu and moved up into the Quick Settings panel. By default, you can drag it down once to access your Wallet. If you have Google Pay set up, you’ll see your default card show up on the screen, ready to be scanned. If not, Google will ask for some verification, and then you’re ready to start spending.
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Initially an accessibility setting, you can select the quick tile from the notification shade to enable the Extra Dim mode. It will immediately bump down the screen brightness, regardless if you’re on the lowest or highest available setting. It’s a convenient feature if you’re prone to headaches because of bright light, or if the blue light still manages to pierce through for you, even in the default night mode.
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If you’re running the latest Android 12 beta on the Pixel 4a 5G or Pixel 5, you can enable the new Quick Tap gesture. Either search for it in the settings panel or head into the Gestures options and select Quick Tap. Once you turn it on, you can choose whether you want to double-tap on the back of the phone to take a screenshot, access the Assistant, play or pause media, see recent apps, show notifications, or open a specific app. You can also select whether the phone should require stronger taps to avoid accidental launches.
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Rounded corners are having a season, as we’ve seen with Microsoft’s Windows 11 upgrade. They’re plastered all over the Android 12 beta. Even the picture-in-picture window that pops up when you navigate away from a video in progress has rounded corners. Eventually, all widgets and other elements of the interface will also sport a border.
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In Android 12 Beta 3, Google introduced Android’s new Themed icons. However, it appears to be a double beta feature, which means if you enable it, expect to put up with some quirks. The app icons are themed according to dark or light mode and feature the color accent applied to the rest of the interface. The theme will apply to Google’s apps, while most third-party apps appear to look the same.
To turn this on this in the Android 12 beta, long-press on the Home screen and then select Wallpaper & style. Scroll down, and you’ll see the option to enable Themed icons.
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Google’s been emphasizing privacy a whole lot more lately. Some of the abilities introduced in Android 12 Beta 4 work in the background to ensure sensitive data remains protected.
This includes features like the Private Compute Core, which was introduced at Google I/O this year. The Private Computer Core is a partitioned space within the OS that keeps sensitive information used to train the machine algorithms for Live Caption, Now Playing, and Smart Reply safely tucked away. When the option is turned on, all audio and language processing happens exclusively on the device.
The Private Computer Core can be set up through the Privacy tab in the Settings panel. This will allow “sensitive computing” to happen in an isolated environment, kind of like when you’re browsing the web in Incognito mode. Currently, you can choose to turn off smart text suggestions in Gboard.
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There’s a new way to share a link from an active Chrome browser tab: Assuming you’re in a single tab and not in a group tab, simply zoom out to the multitasking window and then tap on the link button that pops up. Android 12 will automatically populate a few of your latest contacts at the bottom for quick link sharing. You can also share an image by tapping on the accompanying image button.
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Finally, Google has its own version of a Game Dashboard for Android. It’s a feature that’s been available on Android smartphones by manufacturers like OnePlus and Samsung for awhile now. The Game Dashboard not only blocks out notifications and other interruptions while you’re playing a game, but it also lets you record gameplay, spruce up the hardware, take screenshots, and in some instances, drops you into your broadcasting suite of choice. In Google’s case, it links you to YouTube Live.
To turn on the Game Dashboard, open the Settings app, tap on Notifications, then scroll down and tap on Do Not Disturb. Scroll down when you get to the screen, and select Schedules. Tap on the Gear icon next to the Gaming choice, and you’ll see two options for the Game Dashboard. You can choose whether to toggle on the Game Dashboard shortcut in games or whether Android should go into Do Not Disturb mode when you’re in a game. You can also find this menu by simply searching for “Game settings” in the Settings panel.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t get the Game Dashboard to appear while I was in Pokémon Go, though there are screenshots showing games that are compatible with the overlay. The Game Optimization options are not yet available, but there are other options to turn on the frames-per-second (fps) counter, stream directly to YouTube Live, record, or snap screenshots.
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Every version of Android since KitKat has offered an Easter egg hidden deep in the settings menu. In the Settings panel, tap on About phone, then Android version. On the next page, tap the Android version option three times to launch the easter egg.
You’ll see a clock pop up in the middle of the screen, outfitted in the same colors as your wallpaper. Turn the dial so that it reads 12:00 to unlock the paint splattering. The Android 12 easter egg will populate with what some think might be the colors extracted from within the theme. Despite where its palette actually comes from, it sure does produce a delightful image. Enjoy!
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In the fifth version of the Android 12 Beta, Google bundled the clock widget that we’d previously seen in the Material You renders. The clock can be found with a long press on the Home screen. There are other Material You clock widgets in there, too, including a stacked clock and a world clock, both of which have the new interface’s signature rounded edges.
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The calculator is a timeless tool and now it’s available in the Material You design. The fifth beta includes the updated Calculator app, which adopts the color scheme based on the rest of the interface. There are even dark and light mode versions of the app, and the “AC” option is always an accented color.
There are other apps getting the Material You treatment separately from the software update. You’ll see the new loo appear in apps like Gmail and other Google Workspace apps, as well as Google’s Phone app.
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In the past, Google has waffled as to whether it wants shortcuts on the Android lock screen or not. During the beta, Google added options to add both device controls and Google Pay access on the first screen you see when you turn on the phone. You’ll need to turn these on in the Lock screen settings panel, however, before you’ll see them pop up. Then, when they become available, simply tap to access rather than swiping left or right as in previous versions of the Android OS.
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Android’s version of Apple’s AirDrop is called Nearby Share, and a new option in Android 12 Beta 5 expands the wireless file-sharing specification to anyone in proximity with a compatible device.
In the Settings menu, search for Nearby Share, then scroll down and select the Device visibility option. You can also add the Nearby Share tile to the Quick Settings for easier access.
The next page is your Device visibility options. By default, Nearby Share is available only to your contacts. Or you can switch to Everyone, and anyone can share with you when they are nearby. There’s an option to allow file-sharing with everyone temporarily or at all times.
You don’t have to use Nearby Share if you don’t want to. You can simply turn it off by selecting the Hidden option.
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