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Android Q beta a month on: Dark mode is awesome, some apps are broken

 

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I’ve been using Android Q — Google’s beta software available on its Pixel phones — every day for a month and so far I can say that it has a few additions that I love, a few tweaks that make my phone easier to use and a couple of bugs that I wish Google would fix.

The first prerelease versions of any new operating system are interesting because they point to the direction a company is going and give you a chance to try out a feature before it’s finished. But they can also be unstable, as a company works out the kinks. I wanted to use it anyway to find out what kinds of treats Android Q will bring us later this summer or fall, when Google intends to release Q to the public.

Google released the first public beta of Q on March 18 and the second beta on April 3. The software runs on any Pixel device and gives interested Android owners a chance to check out upcoming features and help Google track down issues with the prerelease software and apps.

Unless you need to use it for your job — or have a spare Pixel you want to try it on — running an early beta may not be the best use of your time. With Q, Google is focusing in large part on privacy, giving Android owners finer control over what data they share and creating stricter limits on the information apps can ask for. It also includes small but useful changes to its interface and controls.

Google makes it clear what you’re getting into with Android Q, cautioning before you install the mobile OS that the prerelease software contains significant changes that may affect your photos, videos and other files you store on your phone. I was curious enough to jump in anyway. So here, after a month, is what stands out about Android Q so far.

Where Android Q is already solid

You expect odd behavior when running a beta. Google said the system might be ‘janky.’ But over the last month I’ve used Android Q and my Pixel 2 to stream movies to my TV and music to my car’s audio system, navigate up and down the California Central Coast with Maps, check email, listen to podcasts, take pictures, make calls, message with family and friends… basically everything I’d regularly do on my phone. Except for a few annoyances I’ll get to in a bit, Q has so far been stable and usable, despite Google’s warnings.

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Dark mode. To my eye, everything looks better in dark mode. Android Pie finally made it possible to apply a dark theme via the Display settings. That setting is gone in the first two beta releases of Q, but you can still force Q into dark mode. In Battery settings, if you turn on Battery Saver — which is designed to conserve a battery charge — you can make the phone switch to dark mode when you unplug it.

And Q’s dark mode appears in more places than Pie’s does, which is nice.

More info on lock screen. Q’s lock screen displays more interesting and useful notifications, such which song is playing or your expected arrival time if you are using a transit app like Citymapper.

More feedback. Running Q, you get the charging sound and a vibration when you plug in the phone to charge it. And when you select text, you get haptic feedback. It’s a little unnerving at first to feel my phone vibrate more, but I appreciate the notification that I’ve successfully plugged it in.

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Helpful battery level indicators. Android Pie shows battery status via an icon in the status bar. Q goes a step further and displays battery level as a percent to the right of the battery icon. When you’re unplugged, you can swipe down on the status bar to view an estimate of how long your battery will last. Does it make the status bar cleaner? Maybe not. Is it more usable information? For me, yes.

Quick access to emergency info. I don’t plan to use this, but press and hold the power button — with the phone locked or unlocked — to bring up an emergency shortcut. It appears below the Power off, Restart and Screenshot buttons. Tap the shortcut to bring up your phone dial pad and access to your emergency information, if you’ve filled it out. (You can include your name, address, blood type, medications and contacts in the emergency info).

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Sharing Wi-Fi details. First-time visitors to my place no longer have to type — and retype — the super secret Wi-Fi password to hop on the network. In Android Q, I can create a QR code containing Wi-Fi information that visitors then can scan to connect.

Where Android Q is still a work in progress

No deal breakers, but Q has a few not-quite-ready-to-use things that have made me change how I use my phone.

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Some apps don’t work as expected. Google notes in Q that some apps have known issues. One of those is the Photos app, which doesn’t handle photos as expected. I can take photos with the camera but I can’t apply filters to them in the camera or photos apps.

And some apps don’t work at all. Both of Mozilla’s Android browsers — Firefox and Focus — close right after you tap to open them. Chrome works fine, however, as do other browsers based on Chromium, such as Opera and Brave.

Up next for Q

In the second beta, Google added bubble notifications, which act a bit like Facebook Messenger’s Chat Heads and provide a way for apps to display a notification. Developers need to add bubble notifications to their apps. None of the apps I have installed are using them yet, but I look forward to seeing them in action.

Looking ahead, Google said it intends to release four more betas through the spring and summer before having the final release ready in the third quarter.

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