The latest version of Android is available now (on some phones, at least), it costs nothing, and it’s a strong step up from the previous version of Google’s excellent smartphone operating system.
I’ve been using Android Pie (Android version 9.0) for just shy of 24 hours at this point, and I’m already convinced it’s the best version of Google’s already best-in-class smartphone software – with a few minor caveats.
First: An unfortunate warning.
I’m using a Google Pixel 2, one of the small handful of phones where the latest version of Android is available.
The sad truth is that Android Pie is only available on a trio of phones at the moment: The original Google Pixel, the Pixel 2, and the Essential phone. Google says that the update will arrive on most major smartphones at some point this fall.
In the meantime, it’s only available for a select group of devices. Major bummer!
Now: The #1 best thing about Android Pie is a lot of smart, subtle changes.
In a lot of little ways, Android Pie is a striking update to Android, visually speaking. Everything seems a little friendlier, with softer edges and bright colours taking center stage. Even the animations appear a little more friendly.
What stood out most, immediately, was the subtle updates to the resting home screen: Now, instead of just displaying time and date in the middle, it also has a tiny weather bug. Additionally, the phone’s battery percentage is pushed to the bottom. The changes sound small, right? They’re totally small – agreed.
They’re also tremendously useful!
That seems to be the theme of Android Pie thus far: Small, nice changes that improve the general experience of using Android phones (so-called “quality of life” changes). Nothing major, though.
I have one major gripe: The new way to switch between apps is an unfortunate change.
Where before, all your open apps would appear in a stack when you try to switch between them, they’re now displayed on a carousel. It requires a more dramatic swipe upwards to close an app, and it’s impossible to see everything you’ve got open at once. I’ve found it more difficult to use and, thus, less useful overall. That’s tremendously unfortunate given how integral the app switching function is to Android.
2. Removing a crucial photography feature/replacing a crucial photography feature.
For years, on the homescreen of every smartphone I’ve used – iPhone and Android alike – I’ve swiped up from the lower-right corner to access a camera quickly. Sure, there are other ways to access smarphone cameras quickly. On the Pixel and Pixel 2, for instance, you can double-click the power button to rapidly access the camera.
With Android Pie, I quickly realised that the double-click method is now the default method for opening the camera. Swiping on the homescreen from the lower-right corner? It’s gone.
That said, I’ve found the power button method to be far more effective. The camera seemingly appears instantly, and there’s no fussing about with the screen not recognising swipes.
It’s a weird change, and I wasn’t able to find a way to reactivate the camera option on the homescreen. But it’s so easy and quick to access the camera through the power button that I’ve quickly acclimated.
3. Changes to how volume is controlled in Android are long overdue, and they’re finally here with Android Pie.
One of the most major changes I noticed right off the bat was to volume control.
In the past, Android has handled volume through a cluster of difficult to manage sliders. It was hard to use, and frustrating, and led to a lot of complication.
Thankfully, finally, volume controls have been moved to their own dedicated page (seen above, in the middle). It allows exactly the kind of fine-tuning that I’m looking for with Android. It’s also, just, you know, much easier to use.
4. In general, my phone feels slightly faster.
This may be specific to the Pixel 2, or it may be all in my mind, but the Pixel 2 I’m using feels faster somehow. General phone usage – like unlocking with my fingerprint, or switching between apps, or opening/closing apps – feels smoother and quicker.
I’ve still experienced occasional hitching, where it takes a second to open the camera or some such. But, in general, the Pixel 2 feels better for having gone through the update. Whether that will hold up over time, or if the same result will play out on other Android smartphones, remains to be seen.
The same could be said for new features like “Adaptive Battery” (which tailors battery usage to usage habits) – is my battery lasting longer as a result of Android Pie? Maybe. It’s the kind of thing that can only really be tested over time with normal usage.
For now, though, Android Pie seems to be a relatively minor update with some very nice changes and updates.
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