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Android 10: Top Features, Release Date and How to Get It

(Image credit: Google)

Updated Oct. 16: We've updated this post with information about Live Caption, as well as some phone makers' plans for updating to Android 10.

After half a year of betas, Android 10 — or Android Q, as Google used to call it earlier this year — has arrived. Google announced today (Sept. 3) that the new version of its mobile operating system is now ready for mobile devices, starting with Google's own Pixel phones.

Thanks to a series of public betas — the first one came out in March — we have a pretty good idea of what to expect from Android 10. During the beta process, we've seen lots of exciting new features in this update, including the much anticipated dark mode, automatic closed captioning, new privacy features and more.

If you’re curious about what’s coming to Android phones with this release, we’ve got what you need to know about Android 10 below.

Android 10 cheat sheet: What you need to know

  • Android 10 is rolling out to Google's Pixel phones first. It's going to ship on the Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL, which hit stores Oct. 24. The OnePlus 7T will run Android 10, too.
  • It's unclear when other Android phones will get the Android 10 update. That's determined by the phone maker and carrier, though Samsung has announced an Android 10 beta program.
  • New features in Android 10 include a Dark Theme that gives you a black background, Live Captions that automatically add close-captioning to videos, and expanded Digital Wellbeing features that aim to make you use your phone less.
  • Privacy changes are also a centerpiece of the Android 10 update.
  • Android 10 drops Google's penchant for naming its operating systems after desserts.

Android 10 rollout

The big question with any Android update is "When is this going to be available for my phone?" And as with past Android updates, the answer with Android 10 is "it depends."

In a blog post announcing the Android 10 release, Dave Burke, vice president of engineering at Google, said that the company was working with phone makers and carriers to update existing devices to Android 10 in 2019. That means Android 10 availability is going to vary from phone to phone.

We're waiting on the top Android phone makers to detail their Android 10 rollout plans, and we expect more information to emerge now that Android 10 is available. HMD Global, which makes and markets Nokia's phones, announced its Android 10 road map in August. The Nokia 9 Pureview, Nokia 8.1 and Nokia 7.1 are supposed to get the update during the fourth quarter of this year; other Nokia devices will follow in early 2020.

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

OnePlus says its new OnePlus 7T phone will ship with Android 10. The update is rolling out to the OnePlus 6 and later this month, with OnePlus 5 and 5T models set to get Android 10 next year.

Samsung has started a beta program for its One UI interface built on Android 10. Currently, select Galaxy S10 models are eligible for the beta program, with a full update of One UI ready in the next few months (probably early 2020, if Samsung follows the same path it took with last year's Android update). Samsung is holding a developer conference on Oct. 29, where it will likely go into further details on its Android 10 plans.

There's one way to make sure you get Android 10 quickly — get one of Google's phones. All Pixel models, including the Pixel 3 flagships and Pixel 3a midrange handsets, are going to get Android 10, with the update rolling out those devices as we speak. The Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL, shipping Oct. 24, arrive with Android 10 in tow.

Android 10 new features

A lot of what’s new in Android 10 is behind-the-scenes stuff that developers will like, but users aren’t likely to notice. Still, here’s a rundown of the new and altered features the average Android phone owner will likely notice once they upgrade to the new OS. For a closer look at how these new features work, be sure to check out our Android 10 review.

Dark Mode: Android 10's Dark Theme gives you a black screen and alters the other colors in apps, either to developer-set Dark Theme colors or Android defaults if not. This not only makes it easier on your eyes when the lights are low, it can also conserve smartphone power, as your device’s battery isn’t working away to keep the screen lit up.

(Image credit: Google)

Activating Android 10’s Dark Theme is as simple as toggling on a Quick Settings tile. The feature also turns on automatically on Pixel handsets when you activate your phone’s battery-saving mode.

Live Caption: If you watch videos with the sound muted, Android 10 adds a feature that will allow you to still follow along with what’s being said — a closed caption capability that should also benefit people with impaired hearing or anyone straining to hear a video in a noisy environment. And the way Google has pulled off this feat sounds quite clever.

(Image credit: Google)

Live Caption will appear in near real-time, automatically. And that closed-captioning will take place entirely on your phone — Android 10 won’t turn to the cloud for help with speech recognition.

Google credits a breakthrough in on-device machine learning for powering Live Captions. The neural net Google needs to turn speech into text has been reduced from 2GB to about 80MB — small enough to live on your smartphone without squeezing out other applications and features.

Live Caption will work with video, podcasts and audio messages across any app with just a tap. Google also says the feature will work with videos you shoot yourself. Once speech is detected, captions start appearing on your phone’s screen.

One downside to Live Caption — it won't be available on every phone running Android 10. In fact, it wasn't even ready when Android 10 arrived in September. Instead, the Pixel 4 will be the first phone to support Live Caption, with Pixel 3 and 3a models getting support later in the year. Google says it's working with other Android phone makers to add Live Caption to more devices in 2020.

Smart Reply: If you use Gmail, you’re likely familiar with the Smart Reply feature in that mail client, which suggests responses based on how you frequently reply to messages. Google’s worked a similar feature into Android 10, baking Smart Reply into the OS’s notification system. That means you’ll get suggest replies to notifications, but it’s not just pity responses to text messages. Android 10 will also suggest relevant actions — opening maps when you’re sent an address for example, using similar kinds of local processing.

(Image credit: Google)

Sharing Shortcuts: Google wants to make sending files a quicker process, so it's added Sharing Shortcuts as a feature in Android 10. This lets app developers set a path into their app from the sharing menu, making sure everything’s in place for the user to send what they want.

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Foldable Phones Support: Foldable phones are still tipped to be the next big thing in smartphones, even as Samsung and Huawei pushed back launches of their respective foldables, and Google’s making sure that Android 10 is ready for it.

Functions for pausing and resuming apps have been updated to allow for the multiple different processes that could run simultaneously on a foldable phone, and apps can now be more easily resized or adjusted, letting them work in a new aspect ratio or in shared windows depending on what displays are currently active. 

Android 10 will also support screen continuity, meaning the app you were using before folding or unfolding the phone will pick up right where you left off once you’ve switched to the other display or displays.

MORE: Galaxy Fold vs. Huawei Mate X: Which Foldable Phone Will Win?

Multi-display: This feature’s partly intended for a future where foldable devices use multiple screens at once, but also for existing applications like using a smartphone and a monitor in tandem. Developers can specify which display should be used for which tasks, and what happens if a user switches between displays while using an app.

Wi-Fi and Connectivity: There have been some under-the-hood changes to Wi-Fi in Android 10, which Google says will make it faster and more secure to connect to other devices — handy if you’ve got a house full of smart home tech that needs controlling via apps.

Apps will be able to contain Wi-Fi credentials in a format that will make your phone automatically connect to a given network. Handy perhaps if you have a corporate app that allows new members or visitors to instantly access your office’s Wi-Fi instead of having to login separately.

It’s now also easier to give your Wi-Fi password to someone else via the Settings menu. Under the Wi-Fi section, you can share the password in the form of a QR code, or read one such QR code to connect to Wi-Fi. No more turning your router this way and that to find the sticker with the password on it.

Privacy: The Access Storage permission, which you’ve likely tapped through a few times when apps request the use of data stored on the phone, has now been split to individual folders, including Photos, Videos, Audio and Downloads, so the apps have no more access than they need to have. Apps can also no longer leap into the foreground while you’re using another app; the most an app can now do is give a notification that it wants to do something. You have the option of marking notifications as "silent," too, so they won't make noise or appear on your phone's lockscreen.

(Image credit: Google)

Android 10 also tries to give apps less access to identifying information about your phone. If an app searches for your contacts, it’s given the information in entry order, rather than by how frequently you use them. Your phone’s MAC address (the code that identifies it on internet and Bluetooth networks) will be randomized under normal circumstances to protect your identity, and apps will need special permission to access key device information like its serial or IMEI number, or the serial of any devices you have connected to it.

In addition, certain pieces of information or settings are locked off from all but relevant apps. This includes things like camera data, Wi-Fi settings, communication and Bluetooth data.

Privacy settings get their own section in the main Settings menu in Android 10, allowing access to all of these new options plus those already in Android from one logical place.

Call Screening: If you’re frequently bothered by telemarketers and robot callers, Android 10 wants to help with its screen feature. Calls that don’t come from numbers saved in your contacts book can be automatically rejected, while still appearing in your call log if you want to check on the source of these irritating calls. There’s also the option to access and display information associated with a calling number, such as a business name or social network profile.

Camera and Photography: There are two main improvements to photography included in Android 10 — changes to monochrome photography and depth

Monochrome is self-explanatory, and can be found in the current version of Android, 9.0 Pie. The changes let these greyscale images be saved in RAW format, which is good for anybody or any app wanting to process them; a new data storage method means the images will take up less space too.

App makers can now read more kinds of image data, including XMP (depth information) and compressed JPEGs, in their camera apps, by saving the information in a new dynamic depth format (DDF) file. For users, this means both default and downloaded photography apps will have the potential to produce better effects and more effectively process images.

Additionally, there’s a new more efficient file compression format and improvements to Android’s ability to fuse the input from multiple cameras together, a necessary change now that many top phones include two or three rear cameras working together.

Settings Panel: Apps can now add support for a kind of settings pop-up that features only relevant options to the app you’re in. For example, if you’re not connected to the internet when you open a browser, the settings panel will let you immediately toggle your Wi-Fi, mobile data and Airplane Mode settings without having to go into the full Settings menu. The features list also mention panels for turning NFC on and off, or adjusting volume.

(Image credit: Google)

Location: Unless you’re devotedly toggling the settings before and after each time you use something like Google Maps, it’s most likely that you’re giving apps your location permanently, letting apps track your movements even if you’re not using them.

(Image credit: Google)

In Android 10, the location permissions have expanded. You can still prevent an app from accessing your location, or give it permanent access, but now there’s a middle ground of only letting an app access your location while it’s running in the foreground — iOS offers a similar feature.

You’ll be able to adjust your location-sharing preferences through a new Location section in settings. Android 10 will also notify you when an app running in the background is trying to access your location so you can adjust that setting.

Digital Wellbeing: Android 9 Pie introduced the Digital Wellbeing feature for managing how often you look at your device and providing tools for minimizing interruptions. Android 10 continues the latter half of that mission with a new Focus Mode that lets you block specific apps when it’s time to concentrate. Pick the apps you see as potential distractions, and they’ll be inaccessible when Focus Mode is turned on. 

(Image credit: Google)

In addition, Android 10 adds Family Link parental controls to every device with Digital Wellbeing features. In addition to setting limits on screen time, parents will also be able to set limits on specific apps and grant bonus time if their kids need to use a particular app just a little bit longer.

(Image credit: Google)

Gestures: Google is still trying to get users to move to gesture-based navigation from physical or virtual buttons. In Android 10, these gestures have been refined.

Apps, whether designed for Android 10 specifically or not, will all work with gesture control, with the option for them to override the system-level gestures for specific areas of the display. This means that in some apps, you might need to use different gestures to navigate if the devs have customized or disabled parts of the default control scheme. 

Apps that want to use the full screen, like mobile games, can even suspend all normal gesture controls until you swipe up from the bottom of the phone to reenable them. Handy for avoiding backing out of your game in the heat of the moment.

Biometrics: In apps that use biometrics (fingerprint scan or facial recognition), Google’s now given the option for developers to stop their apps from repeatedly asking you to give fingerprint or face confirmation. Alternatively, the devs can force a reconfirmation if you try to do certain actions in the app to make sure you’re certain about what you’re doing, like making a big purchase.

if your phone’s playing up and your camera or fingerprint reader aren’t functioning, developers can add in a fallback so you can authenticate your actions with a PIN or password instead, making sure you aren’t locked out of the phone’s functions as a side effect of other problems.

Performance: If your phone is getting warm due to charging or heavy CPU usage, the OS may try to throttle the performance of your phone to make sure it doesn’t get too hot to hold or hot enough to damage the hardware. A new feature in Android 10 lets developers take control of this safety feature, nominating what features should be reduced in the event of throttling to make sure you’re not losing out on key parts of the app. The documentation Google wrote suggests that a camera app could disable its flash or a game could lower the graphics settings, rather than the app having to deal with less processing power across the board.

Audio and Video: Android 10 has also changed how the microphone behaves, and allows for one app to take over control of the microphone or other input device while the other remains running, or in some cases that both apps can listen/record from the microphone simultaneously. This will allow you to still use Google Assistant while on a call, for example.

In certain kinds of app notifications, developers can now add a seeker bar, letting you skip through parts of a podcast or a music track without having to open the app fully.

(Image credit: Google)

Accessibility: It’s important that smartphones don’t needlessly make themselves difficult or impossible to use for people with various mental or physical disabilities, which is why accessibility features are a necessary addition. New features to Android 10 include extra text-to-speech feedback in certain situations, and the ability to enable accessibility mode with swiping gestures and keyboard controls.

System Updates: In a similar way to how third-party apps will update themselves in the background without disrupting your phone’s activity, Google wants to make updates to the OS just as easy to process without having to restart your phone. According to Google, security and privacy fixes will now arrive via Google Play, similar to app updates so that your phone stays secure.

Autofill: Having your phone automatically type out your information is pretty useful, and Google’s giving Android 10 the ability to make it work with a wider variety of methods that apps and sites could use to prompt you for your password, and will recognize when you enter the last digits of your credit card number and save them too. Also, when you update a password, Android 10 will be smart enough to update the relevant entry, rather than saving a fresh one and leaving you confused as to which one’s the correct one.

(Image credit: Google)

Bubbles: Bubbles are a new style of notification which look similar to Facebook Messenger’s Chat Head feature. If you’re using one app, notifications for a second app (assuming you’ve given it permission to do so) will pop up not in the top bar of the phone but as a circular icon. When you tap the bubble, it will launch a cut-down version of the relevant app where you can then attend to whatever the notification’s drawing your attention to e.g. replying to a message, and then close the bubble and carry on with your first task. As of this writing, Bubbles aren't in the shipping version of Android 10, and it's unclear when the feature will arrive.

This isn’t an exhaustive list of everything that’s new or changed in Android 10, but these are the ones that the average user might notice, rather than a developer who will notice many more changes to the back-end of Android. You can always find the full list of features here.

How to get Android 10

Unlike the Android 10 beta, which you could join be enrolling in Google's beta program and installing the OS on an eligible device, you're at the mercy of your phone maker and carrier for when the finished version of Android 10 shows up on your device.

Pixel owners can check if the Android 10 update is available for their phone by going to Settings > System > System Update. If it's not there, it will be soon, as Google staggers the rollout of new versions of its OS in case show-stopping bugs crop up.

Richard Priday

Richard is a Tom's Guide staff writer based in London, covering news, reviews and how-tos for phones, gaming, audio and whatever else people need advice on. He's also written for WIRED U.K., The Register and Creative Bloq. When not at work, he's likely thinking about how to brew the perfect cup of specialty coffee.