Our guide to the best new features in Android O shows you how to get started with Google’s big 2017 Android update. Here’s all you need to know about the biggest and best upgrades found in Android O, including how to update your phone to the beta version and what's different compared with Nougat.
What is Android O?
Android O is the next big update to Google’s Android mobile OS, a step up from the current version 7.1.1 which is rolling out to smartphones and version 7.1.2 (which is still in beta).
Android O was first revealed by Google in March 2017, and then further detailed at the Google I/O 2017 conference in May, where the latest beta version was released for testing. This means that while the public version of Android O won’t be released until later this year, it’s possible for anyone with the right hardware to download and try out Android O right now.
What are the best new features in Android O?
Here’s a rundown of the best new features found in Android O. Some of them are pretty obvious when you start playing around with the latest version of Android, while others happen behind the scenes to improve your everyday experience.
Notifications improvements: Snoozing, timeouts and more
We already saw some nifty notifications improvements in Android Nougat, including automatic grouping of an app’s notifications and the ability to directly reply without opening the app in question. However, Android O tweaks things even further, adding some rather excellent new notifications features.
For a start, you can now ‘snooze’ any notifications that hit your phone, if you want to clear the clutter while being reminded about something when the time is right. That’ll be handy if an email arrives, for instance, and you want to reply to it later when you have more information (or simply more time).
Critical notifications can also now sport a specific background colour, to really stand out from the crowd. This way you can see at a super-quick glance if anything urgently demands your attention, while ridding yourself of the spam and rubbish.
Additionally, more important notifications can be accompanied by vibrations and sound alerts, while non-important ones can simply pop up in the notifications menu.
And if you tend to let notifications pile up, the good news is that they will automatically time out with Android O. If they’re time sensitive, such as a calendar alert, then they’ll disappear as soon as they’re no longer relevant.
As well as an improved notifications tab, you can now view your notifications right there on your desktops - handy if you have a massive handset and can't quite reach up to the top of the screen. Or alternatively, if you're only interested in notifications from one particular app.
With Android O, a dot will appear above any app icons with waiting notifications. If you long-press an icon with a dot, a widget-style menu will pop up on screen showing whatever requires your attention. You'll have the option to respond right there and then, as well as perform other relevant actions.
Android O comes packing a new ‘picture-in-picture’ mode (or ‘PiP mode’ if you will), which allows you to watch a video in a small window while messing around with other apps.
This is a feature already found on some other Android phones, including some of LG’s recent flagships. But now with Android O, all Android mobiles will boast the ability to multitask with video. This is a natural extension of Nougat’s split-screen mode, giving you more flexibility with how you work on your mobile.
Note that to begin with, picture-in-picture mode will only work with a select number of video apps. However, the likes of YouTube and Duo appear to be supported.
Better audio quality
Google collaborated with audio titans like Sony for Android O, to ensure that anyone using quality Bluetooth headphones enjoy the best possible fidelity. This is all achieved via the Bluetooth audio codecs.
Auto-select and auto-fill
Handy little time-saver, this one. Tap on a section of an address in an email or similar and Android O can smartly highlight the entire thing automatically. No more awkward dragging around of the highlight bar.
Even better, once highlighted you'll be offered some smart app-based suggestions on what to do next. So highlighting an address brings up the option of navigating there in Google Maps, for instance.
You also get a funky new auto-fill feature which can take your ID and password details from websites you've visited (such as Twitter.com) and enter them into the relevant apps when opened.
Further battery life improvements
Nougat already introduced Doze-on-the-go, a handy way of keeping your apps from sapping valuable battery life when your phone was hibernating. But Android O takes this a step further with some additional improvements, including smarter handling of location updates and other background services.
For instance, the Wise Limits feature prevents apps from running in the background when it's no longer necessary. Developers also have improved tools to see the exact power drain of their apps, to make them as efficient as possible.
As this stuff all happens behind the scenes, you shouldn’t directly notice any changes - except for hopefully longer battery life between charges.
More visible virus protection
Google Play Protect is a new security feature that's directly integrated into the Android O version of Google Play. This shows the results of any virus scans that Android performs on your apps, for peace of mind.
How can I update to Android O right now?
If you have a recent Nexus or Pixel device, then you can download Google’s Android O beta release and install it on your phone. This of course may be a glitchy experience as it’s an incomplete version of Android’s latest mobile OS. However, it’s worth doing if you’re an impatient type who can’t wait to get stuck into Android O.
Check out our feature on how to update Android for full instructions. And stay tuned for our in-depth Android O early review, coming soon.