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Hands-On with Android 12 Beta 1

Posted May 22, 2021 | Android | Android 12 | Windows


At Google I/O 2021 this past week, Google announced that Android 12 would launch with a major new UX refresh for the first time in years. It also made Android 12 Beta 1 available for developers and other customers to test, and while it doesn’t have all of the visual goodness Google promises for the final release, it’s still an exciting enough update that I’ve installed it on my Google Pixel 4a and Pixel 4a 5G.

Here’s what I’ve seen so far.

First, I hope you like rounded rectangles: As we’re seeing on other personal computing platforms, Google is softening the look of major UI components by rounding their corners. And it’s the first thing I noticed, literally: When the Pixel rebooted following the Android 12 Beta 1 install, a rounded “Finishing system update” dialog appeared over the refreshed lock screen.

That new lock screen and the related always-on screen are particularly nice-looking, I think, with the clock more centered on-screen and using a large, easily readable font. Curiously, the date and weather are correspondingly tiny, however.

Because the phone had to reboot to install the update, the next step is to sign in with a PIN, since the normal fingerprint-based sign-in method is unavailable. Here, too, we can see some pleasant new UI in the form of a larger, new PIN number pad with round buttons.

After signing in, the phone displayed the home screen, which hasn’t changed in any obvious way. Here, you can see my old Android 11-based home screen on the left and Android 12 on the right.

 

But if you start navigating around and opening apps, the differences start stacking up. For example, when you press and hold on a blank area of the home screen, the menu with Home settings, Widgets, and Styles & wallpaper options, is a rounded rectangle.

So, too, are the menus that appear when you press and hold on any home screen icon.

Pull down the notification shade, and you’ll see some major changes. The Quick Settings area, which used to consist of a grid of roughly square icons, now displays only four options by default, since the icons are rounded rectangles large enough to support only two icons per row. Here, again, is Android 11 on the left and Android 12 on the right.

 

Pull down further and the notification shade, and Android 12 will display 8 Quick Settings icons, two per row, and you’ll get your first peek at the new Android 12 slider control, which is used here for the Brightness slider at the top. This UI, like that for volume and other similar controls, is now much larger and more easily accessed with a finger. Again Android 11 (left) and Android 12 (right) compared:

 

I should mention that one of Android 12’s key new UX features, a dynamic theming capability that lifts colors from your home screen wallpaper and applies them across the UI, is not available in Beta 1. So all of the controls are styled with a medium blue color, at least on my handset. Dynamic theming is coming in a future beta release.

There are other changes. Settings has a much cleaner look but because I had configured my phone with the largest possible font size, they looked a bit large the first time I did so. (I’ll need to bump down the font size with Android 12, I guess.) Here, again, is Android 11 (left) compared with Android 12 (right):

 

And when you launch apps, they now display a large app icon in the middle of the display before transitioning to the app itself. I guess we can view this as a splash screen of sorts for those apps that don’t have one already.

I really like the rounded rectangle look in notifications, which you can see on the home screen/always-on display, in the notification shade, and when they pop up while you’re doing something else. There are subtle gaps between the different areas of these notifications, as is the case with pop-up menus too, through which the background peeks. And they seem to offer more padding, which takes up more space but is more visually appealing as well.

 

You can see the larger new UI elements at work in other places, too, including the Volume pop-up that appears when you change the volume.

Obviously, there are more visual changes to come. In addition to the aforementioned dynamic theming, Android 12 will provide much prettier on-screen widgets, similar to those Apple first shipped in iOS 14, and, yes, they will be styled as rounded rectangles and squares as well. These together constitute what I feel is a major and most welcome change to Android. And they will provide Android users with a more modern and visually attractive UI that is similar to what Apple did with iOS 14 and macOS Big Sur. And hopefully what Windows 10 users will see with the “Sun Valley” update whenever that comes together.

More soon.

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