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Android 12 release date, beta and all the new features

Android 12 release date, beta and features
(Image credit: Photo Illustration by Mateusz Slodkowski/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

You can grab Android 12's third Developer Preview, which is available for install on a Pixel 3 and above. Not all changes are final, nor are they all present just yet, but you can catch a glimpse of what's coming if you have a spare Pixel laying around.

So far, we've heard about a sleeker user interface for Android 12, as well as smart upgrades. These include a double tap gesture for the back of Android phones, the ability to rotate the screen based on your face and a one-handed mode that will be very welcome for the biggest devices on our best Android phone list. 

Expect a public beta to follow the Developer Preview as everything builds up to an Android 12 release later in the year. While we’re certain to hear more about the new version of Android when the first preview release lands, here’s what we know so far about Android 12. 

Android 12: Latest news and rumors (Updates Apr 18)

Android 12: Release date and betas

Google used to tie the release of the new version of Android with the launch of the latest Nexus or Pixel phone, though the company has gotten away from that pattern in recent years.

The last two versions of Android came out in early September — Android 10 on September 3, 2019 and Android 11 on September 8, 2020. (The latest Pixels didn’t arrive until a month later in both cases.) Despite the pandemic interfering with Android 11’s development cycle, Google still hit that September mark.

android 12: Google i/o

Google I/O is usually where we find out a lot about the latest version of Android. (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

That said, it’s very likely that Android 12 will also arrive in September this year, though there’s no word on that, official or otherwise. We’re expecting to hear a lot more about Google’s Android 12 plans at its Google I/O developer conference, which typically takes place in May (COVID-19 concerns canceled that event last year.)

Google also likes to sprinkle Android Developer Previews throughout the year. In 2020, Android 11’s first Developer Preview came out in mid-February and received updates on an almost monthly basis. 

On February 18, Google released the first Android 12 Developer Preview. With it comes a lot of new developer-focused features, including the Platform Stability milestone. Google wants to have Android 12 stable by August 2021.

Android 12: Features

android 12

(Image credit: Google)

The first Developer Preview has landed, but it seems pretty focused on developer-centric features. We'll highlight some of the more important ones, but we've also included some things that leaked before Google released the first preview and a couple that have leaked since.

Double tap gesture: First appearing in the Android 11 beta builds, the double tap feature codenamed Columbus allowed Pixel owners to double tap on the back of the phone to summon Google Assistant. We believe that this feature can be toggled to do other actions instead, like open the notification shade, take a screenshot, pause/resume media playback, and open Recents. 

Many users found the feature too sensitive in the Android 11 betas, and Google removed it from the final release. According to reports, Android 12 will allow you to adjust the sensitivity to only accept firm taps. You can also turn it off if you want.

App Pairs: App Pairs will allow you to launch two apps simultaneously. While this isn’t a new feature for Android phones, it’s lacked official, seamless integration in the operating system’s codebase. It appears that Google will rectify that in Android 12, allowing users to launch two apps together. App pairs will be especially beneficial to foldable phones, which offer more screen real estate.

Theming system: According to information obtained by 9to5Google, Android 12 will include a theming system. Users have asked for this for years. Basically, it will allow you to apply preset color palettes to the system as whole. And if app developers bake in support, this color scheme could apply to other apps as well. For now, it doesn't look like Google will let users create their own palettes, instead leaving it up to phone manufacturers to create presets.

One-handed mode: Google might finally tackle the biggest problem with using the best big phones one-handed. Several other Android phone manufacturers have used their own one-handed modes for years, but Google might introduce a native one in Android 12. Information from 9to5Google says that Google might just squish the UI down vertically, making for a squat interface. The mode can reportedly be enabled/disabled with a gesture. You may also be able to disable it via timeout, switching apps, or opening the keyboard.

Face-based auto rotate: It looks like Android 12 will address the auto rotate issue when you're laying down on the couch or on your bed. 9to5Google reports that Android 12 will be able to detect when you're laying down based on the orientation of your face. If it notices that both you and the phone are horizontal, it will disable auto rotate accordingly. That would mean no more weird angles trying to keep your screen upright, or disabling auto rotate outright. This will be limited to Pixels initially.

New notification UI: From some of the early leaks about Android 12, we saw what could be a new UI centered around notifications and the notification shade. This is a critical part of Android, so users will notice any visual changes right away. Right now, the Developer Preview includes updates to the transitions and animations to make them smoother, plus some tweaks to the controls and templates. 

More responsive notifications: Google wants to change how Android 12 handles tapping notifications. It plans to accomplish this by ensuring that apps that target the new platform open their target activities immediately upon a tap instead of relying on the intermediary "trampoline" services that run first. In short, for the end user, this will theoretically mean faster, more responsive notifications.

Support for AVIF images: Android 12 introduces support for the newer AV1 Image File Format (AVIF). This format sports high image quality yet with more efficient image compression. In some cases, it looks markedly better than a JPEG counterpart while having a similar, if not smaller, file size.

Compatible media transcoding: Android 12 will support automatic media transcoding to higher quality formats. For apps that don't or can't support the High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC) codec that many modern camera apps use, Android 12 will automatically transcode the video file into the more common Advanced Video Coding (AVC) format.

Android 12 trash bin: XDA Developers’ Zachary Wander dug into the latest Developer Preview code and discovered a feature that would let Android users manage a list of pre-deleted files. Trash on Android will let you see how many gigabytes of data are in the bin, and will then give you the option to empty it.

A new way to get Google Assistant: This one came from a leak of an unreleased build, given to XDA Developers , and would let users activate Google Assistant by holding the power button.

Android 12 widget picker: The same leak detailed a widget picker which includes fold-out menus for each app and a search bar at the top.

Extra-dim mode: Still on the XDA Developers' leak, this would add a dark filter to the display, which could be useful when using your phone in a low-light area.

Dual-pane homescreen for tablets: Yet another feature discovered in the above leak was an option for a dual-pane homescreen which would display two sets of apps and widgets side-by-side, so that devices such as those in our best Android tablets list could take advantage of their bigger screen size.

Android 12: What devices will it support?

Having an exhaustive list of every phone that will receive Android 12 is a nearly impossible task, but you can count on Google's own Pixel phones getting the software first, including the upcoming Google Pixel 6

You can expect 2021 flagship phones like the Samsung Galaxy S21 and OnePlus 9 to receive Android 12, too — hopefully by year’s end.

Android 12

The Pixel 5 will certainly be at the head of the line to get the Android 12 update later this year. (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Unfortunately, the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL will not receive Android 12; Android 11 was their last update. That means the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL are next on the chopping block, making Android 12 potentially their last hurrah. Of all Pixels currently available, here are the ones we think will get Android 12 when it comes out:

  • Pixel 3
  • Pixel 3 XL
  • Pixel 3a
  • Pixel 3a XL
  • Pixel 4
  • Pixel 4 XL
  • Pixel 4a
  • Pixel 4a 5G
  • Pixel 5

Obviously, the upcoming Pixel 6 will likely ship with Android 12 pre-installed. If we get a Pixel 5a or Pixel 5 Pro this year, you can add that to the list of Pixels getting Android 12, too.

In recent years, Google has made the next version of Android available as a beta to some third-party phones. But that's generally once the public beta comes out — the Developer Preview is usually an exclusive for Pixel phones.

Android 12: Should you install the Developer Preview?

As you might expect, the Android 12 Developer Preview is all the rage in Android land right now. While it is exciting, and good for developers to install ASAP to make sure that their apps ready for the final release, we don't recommend that you install the Developer Previews on your main device. If you have a spare Pixel 3 or above laying around, then go right ahead.

Developer Previews often break compatibility with some apps, or make the phone unusable as a phone until Google issues an update. It’s best to temper your excitement, at least at first, and wait for either the Android Beta program or the final release later this year. Beta software can be a lot of fun, but it’s not intended for use as a daily driver.

Android 12: What we want to see

We don’t expect Android 12 to be full of user-facing features like some past releases. Android is in a pretty good spot right now, so Google is likely to focus on underlying tweaks to improve things like system performance and battery life. However, there are some things we’d like to see.

Scrolling screenshots: A feature that is surprisingly still missing from stock Android, scrolling screenshots allow you to take a screenshot of more than just what’s currently shown on your screen. You could use this for sharing larger portions of an article, for example. We’ve seen phone manufacturers implement their own takes, with OnePlus being the best so far. It wouldn’t be hard for Google to add this, and we just hope Android 12 finally gets it.

Improved media controls: Android 11 moved media controls from the notification shade to the Quick Settings bar, making for a cleaner interface altogether. We are big fans of this change, but it’s not perfect. Volume and Cast controls are noticeably absent, so we’d like to see Google tweak things a bit in Android 12 to let us adjust playback volume or cast to relevant hardware.

Android 11 review

Improved media controls in Android 11 (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Gaming mode: As more and more people play games on their phone — be it from the Play Store, Stadia, Xbox Game Pass, or what have you — we’d like to see Google officially embrace it and add a dedicated gaming mode to Android 12. You can get this on a lot of other devices like OnePlus phones, but Pixels and Android One devices lack it.

Basically, it’s a setting that tweaks incoming notifications to make them less intrusive, or only allow certain ones to come through. It’s great when you’re in the middle of a match, boss fight, or intense puzzle, seeing as a notification popup can distract you from the game.