The latest version of Android 12 offers some cool new ways to interact with Google Assistant, widgets, and even the home screen.
Found in an unreleased build by XDA Developers (opens in new tab) , given to it by an anonymous source, this version is newer than the current public build, and therefore contains some new toys to try out. Some of these are only surface-level interesting, such as new emojis or a different volume slider design, but many offer enhancements that will please Android power users.
- The best Android phones right now
- Plus: Samsung Galaxy S22 could this killer iPhone feature
Android 12: New way to get Google Assistant
One feature that looks borrowed from Apple is the new option to activate Google Assistant by holding the power button. It's similar to how you summon Siri on recent iPhones, and seems like a big improvement to the fiddly gesture you currently have to use while avoiding having the phone constantly listening for the "OK Google" wake word.
Android 12 widget picker
If you're a fan of widgets, you'll love the new widget picker. This gives you fold-out menus for each app and a search bar at the top, making it easier to find and check out the widgets you're interested in. This one also resembles an Apple feature, namely its own widget picker in iOS 14.
Android 12 converstation widgets
On the topic of widgets, the Conversations widget and associated selection menu has been updated visually from the Developer Preview 2 version. This new feature lets you pick a contact or group from a messaging service to add to your home screen, making it easier to reply to them or to see if you've missed a call.
Android 12 dual-pane homescreen for tablets
If you own an Android tablet, then Android 12 contains a couple of treats for you. The current DP2 build offers a persistent taskbar at the bottom of the display, while XDA's new build also offers a dual-pane home screen, showing two sets of apps and widgets side-by-side to make the most of the larger display.
Android 12: Easier access to cards and passes
Inside the notifications shade, there are new quick setting tiles for accessing device controls or your cards and passes menu. XDA Developers suggests that these features, usually found by holding the power button, may have been added in case you decide to use the new Google Assistant summoning option instead. Either way, it's good to have another speedy way to get a hold of your tickets and loyalty cards or the switches for your smart home gear.
Android 12 Extra Dim Mode
Google is continuing to tinker with an "extra dim mode" in Android 12, the latest name for the feature previously named "Reduce brightness" and "reduce bright colors". Its effect adds a dark filter to the display, making it look, as the name implies, extra dim. It sounds like something you may want to turn on if you're using your phone in a low-light area, or if you're trying to avoid blinding yourself when turning it on at night.
Usability improvements include a change to the brightness slider, which makes the slider thick up to the point you've set the brightness and thin beyond it. It'll make it easier to see what level it's at if you've not set the phone to automatically alter its brightness.
Android 12: Internet and new animations
The Wi-Fi menu has also been simplified, as has its name to just "Internet". You're also able to take a scrolling screenshot more easily, by selecting which area of a page you want to capture from a preview window.
There are several animation changes, too, in Android 12. Opening the app drawer, charging the phone, scrolling past the end of a menu or tapping options in a menu all result in new animations. In addition, Android 12 also creates app splash pages for when you open them, based on the app's color scheme.
Android 12 app pairs improvements
App pairs, the official version of certain Android phones' existing split-screen app features, now lets you swap the positions of the two apps by double-tapping the bar in the center. It's not much by itself, but hopefully indicates more changes are coming to make this feature more useful, particularly on foldable devices with the screen space needed to take full advantage.
Android 12 security upgrades
Android 12 also adds new permission and security prompts. These allow you to see when an app has used something from your clipboard, and to more precisely tailor notification, location, alarms and reminders and media access permissions to your liking.
Android 12: Sideloading made easier
A final bit of good news for Android enthusiasts: sideloading an app is now easier. If you're installing an APK file by a method other than the Google Play Store for the first time on a device, the pop-up for installation appears immediately after you give permission for third-party apps to install. It saves you a few frustrating moments by not having to hunt down the file and starting the install again.
Android 12 outlook
Together these all paint a picture of a welcome, although not groundbreaking, OS update from Google. We'll get to see the final version of these features, and learn about the rest of what Android 12 offers, at Google I/O on May 18.