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Android Oreo Beta Review: The new features tried and tested

We’ve spent many weeks living with the Android Oreo beta and so far version 8.0 of Google’s mobile OS certainly impresses. Here’s our hands-on review and our run-down of the biggest new features in Oreo.

Android Oreo is now in its second beta form, available for developers and the curious to test out on their Google-branded smartphones. While the latest version of the Android mobile OS is still far from complete, not to mention without an official title (Oreo for the win?), we couldn’t resist downloading the beta to try it out for ourselves.

Here’s our review of the Android Oreo beta after almost a week of play time on the Google Pixel phone, including a run-down of some of the best new features and what’s changed compared with Nougat. For a quick round-up, check out our best new Android Oreo features article instead. And if you want to try out the latest version for yourself, have a squint at our how to upgrade to Android Oreo feature.

Android Oreo notifications

Notifications have been further tweaked and updated for Android Oreo, after numerous improvements were already implemented in Nougat. We’re even happier with the new system, which makes notifications even neater, tidier and easier to respond to.

For a start, we love how expired notifications now disappear on their own. No more flicking away old calendar reminders and the rest; if a time-sensitive entry is ignored, Android will ditch the beggar all on its own.

We’ve also been promised the ability to snooze notifications when needed, which will be helpful for reminders which we want to return to later. Our beta version didn’t appear to have this functionality, however. So far you can only snooze reminders through Google Now, rather than the notifications bar.

You now get plenty of control over your notifications inside the Android settings. For instance, you have the option to swipe a digit down your fingerprint sensor, to drag out the notifications bar – something we’ve seen on the likes of Huawei’s handsets in the past. That’s a great addition for bigger handsets, which is very much the trend these days. This feature was actually introduced by Nougat 7.1.2, but Android Oreo will probably be most users’ first chance to test it out.

Dot notifications and quick app shortcuts

We’re also enjoying the dot notifications feature, which at a glance shows if your favourite apps need your attention. Any apps with waiting notifications now display a dot above their desktop icon, so you know that something is ready for your attention. Long-press that icon and you’ll get a glimpse of what’s waiting, similar to iOS’ 3D Touch functionality.

Even if there’s nothing new, you can still long-press most regular app icons to bring up some quick action shortcuts. For instance, in YouTube you can check to see if your subscribed channels have posted any new videos, while Gmail offers the option to immediately start composing a message. It’s a handy way of skipping a couple of steps for frequently-used features, once you’re used to the method.

App control in Oreo

Android Oreo offers more control over your apps than ever before, so you can give them exactly the preferred amount of access to your phone’s features.

Dive into the new Apps & notifications settings menu and you can of course see your current app permissions setup. This shows you exactly which apps can access the main phone components, such as the mic, camera and contacts list – with the option to grant and revoke access to individual apps. Android Oreo also offers up a Special App Access menu, where you can check out which apps can make use of certain Android features. This includes access to the do not disturb, picture-in-picture and device admin features, as well as other resource management.

You also have the option of changing default apps for set tasks, such as browsing the web. Definitely handy if you discover a new favourite and wish for it to load automatically each time you click a link.

Finally, the new Autofill feature is a great way for busy users to bypass entering login details every time they use an app. Of course, most apps these days remember your details so you don’t need to sign in every time, but for those that don’t, this is a secure shortcut.

Android Instant Apps

Don’t have a massive data allowance? Chances are you’ve found yourself wanting to use a new app on the move but you don’t want to spend a large chunk of your remaining allowance downloading it. Either that or your connection means downloading it will take far too long.

That’s where Android Oreo’s Instant Apps feature comes in. This gives you the full app experience, complete with slick interfaces designed especially for mobile devices, without any installation necessary. It’s essentially a web version of the app, packed with all of the usual functionality.

This feature will also be backwards compatible, so older devices with Android 6.0 Marshmallow and above can take advantage.

Battery life

Android Oreo promises even better battery life than before, thanks to a number of behind-the-scenes changes and improvements. These primarily concern our apps and their background privileges. In other words, apps are no longer allowed to churn away when out of sight and drain our precious charge, unless we expressly allow them to.

Tap into the Battery Usage section of the Android settings and you can still see which apps are the biggest energy hogs. In addition you can see exactly how long you’ve actually used each app since the last charge. Poke an app that’s really sucking your juice and you can see their precise background activities (i.e. how long it’s spent active when not in use).

If the app is proving problematic, you can disable its background privileges with a quick tap. However, Google’s battery optimisation is turned on by default for pretty much all apps, to keep them in check. Certainly this seemed to be doing the trick, as none of my apps over the past week have drained much battery life at all when not in active use.

In fact, even with quite heavy use, my Pixel phone lasts for well over a day between charges. That’s a marked improvement on the 24 hours I was originally experiencing, when I first reviewed the Pixel with Nougat on board.

Google Play Protect and other security boosts

As Android viruses are still very common, Google is taking mobile security all too serious. Android Oreo adds a few new essential features to help keep you and your data safe, including a new Find My Device feature to remotely locate and wipe your handset if lost.

The Oreo update also serves up the Google Play Protect feature, which can scan the apps on your handset and detect any trojans or other harmful viruses. These can then be removed from your device. This is another backwards-compatible feature, which will also benefit any devices on Android version 4.2 or later.

Picture-in-picture mode

One new feature that we’ve seen on Android phones previously is the picture-in-picture (or PiP) mode. This allows you to watch a video or continue a Duo face-to-face chat in a mini window, while messing around inside other apps.

The likes of LG’s flagship phones have already given us this kind of functionality, but now all modern Android phones will offer the feature built-in. Sadly we couldn’t get this to work on our Pixel phone with the Android Oreo beta installed, even after much fiddling around.

Head into the Apps & Notifications section of the settings menu and tap Special App Access and you’ll find a picture-in-picture option. This allows you to grant access to the feature for Chrome, Duo and YouTube. However, even with these all activated, the feature wasn’t playing ball. We even tried removing the previous app updates and force restarting them, with no joy.

Here’s hoping the feature just works as expected with a future update.

Emoji updates

Now, onto the often controversial subject of emoji. Android Oreo has given a literal facelift to those old blobby emoji, offering a fresh set of expressive icons for your messaging sessions. The redesigned emoji are more traditional than the semi-melted visages of Android Nougat, with rounded faces replacing those bizarre sacks of saggy flesh. You once again get a massive selection to choose from, including the only one that actually counts – the steaming turd.

Is this alone a reason to upgrade your phone to Android Oreo? Of course not. It’s bloody emoji. If you care even the slightest little bit, you need to take a long, hard look at your life. Seriously.

Stay tuned for our in-depth Android Oreo review and more Android features, highlighting the best bits of Google’s latest mobile OS. In the meantime, head to our Android Oreo hub for everything you need to know.

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