Android Q is here—in an early, beta form—and if you’ve got any generation of Pixel phone on hand then you can give it a test run. We’ve been playing around with the beta edition, and these are the most significant changes we’ve spotted, alongside the new features Google has been trailing.
If you want to install Android Q for yourself, you’ll need a Pixel phone—even the first generation handsets have been included in the beta. Head to the official Android Beta for Pixel page, click View your eligible devices, and you should see your Pixel phone listed: Click Opt in to install the beta.
The usual caveat about beta versions applies here—expect a lot of bugs, a lot of crashes, and a lot of weird behavior from your apps. We wouldn’t recommend installing this on a phone you rely on every day, in other words. You should also check your dark mode setting before installing, as you can’t change it in Android Q yet (see the first section below).
Signing up for and installing the beta version of Android Q won’t wipe your phone or get rid of any apps or data, and if you don’t do anything you’ll continue to get beta updates over the air and then the final, stable version of Android Q when it’s ready.
If you want to go back to Android 9 Pie before that happens, it only takes a couple of clicks on the same Android Beta for Pixel website, but in this instance your phone, apps, and data will be completely erased—so you’ll need to start again with a fresh phone.
We’ve taken the plunge and here’s what we’ve noticed so far, with thanks to the fine folks at Android Police, 9to5Google and XDA Developers for helping us uncover some of these new features and options.
Android 9 Pie makes a half-hearted attempt at dark mode—it’s under Display, Advanced and Device theme in Settings—but it’s much more extensive and complete in Android Q. As yet though, there’s no actual dark mode toggle switch, so make sure you’ve set the theme the way you like it before you abandon Android 9 Pie (there’s a workaround here).
Small but potentially significant: Android Q only lets you dismiss notifications with a swipe to the right. Previously a swipe to the left or the right would dismiss them, but now a swipe to the left brings up the notification options. Oh, and there’s a new ringing bell icon that lets you identify the newest alert when you’ve got a whole bunch of them up on screen.
Here’s another change to notifications in the Android Q beta. If you long-press on a notification you get three options: Block, Show silently, and Keep alerting. That silent mode (where notifications appear without an accompanying noise or vibration) was available in Android 9 Pie too, but you couldn’t get at it from the notifications themselves.
Android Q brings with it the first signs of native theming for the operating system. Enable developer options (with seven taps on Build number in About phone in Settings), then from Settings choose System, Advanced, and Developer options—you’ll see theming options for the accent color, system fonts, and icon shape down at the bottom of the list.
A potentially significant change if you take a lot of screenshots on your Android devices (like we do)—screenshots now include notches and rounded corners as black cutouts, more closely matching the actual look of your screen. It’s possible that an option to toggle this feature on and off might appear in future Android Q beta releases as time goes on.
Apps will sometimes ask you to change something in Settings—like switching to an ad hoc wifi network when setting up a smart home kit—and in Android Q you don’t have to jump over to Settings and back again. Apps are now able to request that certain settings pop up in a floating window, which means you can get back to what you were doing more easily.
If reading out a wifi passcode to someone sounds like too much trouble, use this new feature in Android Q instead: In Settings tap Network & Internet, then Wi-Fi, then the name of your network and Share to reveal a QR code. Someone else can then scan it with their phone camera by tapping the icon to the right of Add network on the Wi-Fi menu.
As you would expect, plenty of little touches are scattered through Android Q. If you’re playing music, the track you’re listening to shows up on the ‘always on’ display on the Pixel, and if you then try to wake up the phone you’ll see the lock screen background adopts a blurred version of the artwork of whatever it is you’ve currently got playing.
It looks as though Google is prepping a Samsung Dex-like desktop mode for Android—although without a secondary display we couldn’t test it. If you go into System, Advanced, Developer options from Settings, you’ll see an option to Force desktop mode when another screen is attached. You can read more about the new mode here.
Yet more privacy controls arrive with Android Q: Location access for apps can now be allowed all the time, only when the app is in use, or never (just like iOS). Access to photos, videos, and audio is set independently, and apps are no longer allowed to jump into the foreground and take focus (they can only show a notification instead).
You might have noticed one or two foldable phones appearing lately, and Android Q is keeping up to speed with support for “innovative experiences and use-cases” (in Google’s words). Not having a foldable phone ourselves, we haven’t been able to test these innovative experiences out as yet, but if you do buy a Huawei Mate X it’s good to know.
The Android Share menu can be both very versatile and very frustrating, so Google has made some tweaks to it in Android Q (as it previously promised). You’ll be able to see exactly what you’re sharing for a start, at the top of the Share sheet, and app developers can preload particular sharing shortcuts in advance so they load up more quickly.
Many modern smartphones capture depth data through their cameras to create focus and bokeh effects, and in Android Q apps can request more of that data to create more specialized effects. This is going to depend on your make of smartphone and the apps you use, but look out for more advanced 3D and augmented reality features in the future.
It looks as though Google is making a native Android screen recorder. Open up Settings in Android Q, choose System, Advanced, and Developer options, and you’ll come across a Feature flags option. Enable the settings_screenrecord_long_press setting, then long press the power button and long press the Screenshot button, and hey presto...
There’s plenty more to come as the betas carry on rolling out this year, so stay tuned for updates. You can now undo an action to remove an item from the home screen, for example, as well as change the default app used to show emergency contact information (via Apps & notifications, Advanced, Default apps, and Roles in Settings).