It’s that time of the year when Google announce a new version of Android; this time simply named Pie. It doesn’t introduce any major aesthetic changes, but focuses more on background improvements and usability tweaks to enhance your daily experience.
As there are a couple of Pixel handsets at the Cedaro office we decided to check out the new features by installing Pie approximately a month ago, we’ve been using it on a daily basis since, see what we thought of the new features below:
First up, there are a few visual changes that although not hugely different to Oreo, do deserve a mention. The Quick Settings (available by swiping the notification bar down) have changed appearance slightly and no longer have a drop-down – it’s tap to toggle, or long-press for the full Settings page. The full Settings screen is now more colourful too.
The largest visual change is optional; by going to Settings > System > Gestures and activating “Swipe up on home button” you will replace the three standard navigation buttons with Gesture based ones. Although these are not as fully-incorporated as gestures you may see on the iPhone X or OnePlus, they work pretty well after some getting used to.
Battery life is always a point of contention with mobile devices, and Google have repeatedly added features to Android to improve it; remember Doze and App Standby?
Android 9.0 Pie includes Google’s next attempt, “Adaptive Battery” which, according to Dave Burke from Google, “uses on-device machine learning to figure out which apps you’ll use in the next few hours, and which you won’t use until later, or at all, today. And then the operating system adapts to your usage patterns so that it spends battery only on the apps and services you care about.” It does this by intelligently categorising apps into “buckets” named Active, Working Set, Frequent and Rare and applying different restrictions to those categories.
Hang on, haven’t we had this for ages? In dark rooms my screen brightness is automatically lowered and it increases when I venture outside… Nope, that’s Auto Brightness.
Adaptive brightness is different to Auto Brightness in that it can learn your preference for a lighter or darker screen in various situations, all you have to do is turn it on, then over a week or so teach it your preferred brightness levels in different scenarios by manually adjusting the brightness slider when the screen is too dark or too light. The OS will remember your preference and use that next time. It’s basically a personalised auto-brightness.
The brightness slider is now logarithmic too rather than linear, meaning the actual screen brightness should increase smoothly over the length of the slider rather than the brightness increasing massively when sliding in the first 10% and barely changing over the next 90%.
This has been present on iPhone and OEM-forks of Android from the likes of like Sony since I can remember; its purpose is to make text selection and cursor placement easier by showing a magnified view when you move the cursor or text selection handles within a text field. Text selection was one of my biggest bug-bears with Android; highlighting a name, phone number or passage of text was pure guess-work until Pie.
- The volume slider and power menu have moved to the right hand side so they are nearer to the buttons you press to activate them, and easier to reach to manipulate; very logical.
- The volume buttons also control the media volume by default, rather than the Ringer volume; this is really beneficial for me as I use my mobile as a mini-PC more than a phone and so alter the media volume constantly and the ringer volume once in a blue moon.
- Slices – these surface app actions outside of an app by using AI; for example, a link to a music playlist in the app drawer may appear when you get in your car.
- Smart Reply – Android can predict your response to messages so you don’t have to type simple responses like “OK, thanks” or “Sure, see you tomorrow” in response to an email or SMS.
- Notch Support – Android now supports notches so OEMs no longer need to implement their own workaround.
To read about any of these changes in more depth, or see what else has changed in Pie, see the Android Developers Blog here.