A year (give or take) has gone by since Google’s release of the first Android version devoid of a sweet name, so you know what that means, right? Android 12 is here – well, “here” on Google Pixel phones and nowhere else, but still. Despite continuing with the ‘boring’ naming scheme, the company has packed quite a lot of new stuff into this iteration of its mobile operating system, more than we’ve been used to lately, so we took a deep dive and explore what’s new in Android 12 – features that are live today on Pixels and of which some may eventually make it to a few or more other devices running Google’s OS.
Like its predecessors, Android 12 went through months of iterative development, with a bunch of developer preview builds making way for public betas and now it’s time for the ‘final’ release to drop. While Android 11 didn’t really introduce any major groundbreaking features, Android 12 comes with the biggest redesign in years – an entirely new paradigm of approaching the user interface, through its theme engine that dynamically adjusts all UI elements based on the wallpaper you’ve chosen.
This is auto-customization at its finest, and we’ll definitely start this review by looking at that. But that’s not all – Google has packed other new things into the release as well. Animations have been redone to feel more fluid, motion on screen is smoother, there’s a new Privacy Dashboard, indicators for when apps are accessing the mic or camera, the ability to share approximate location information only, support for scrolling screenshots, new conversation widgets, and of course the notification shade has been redesigned – that’s a meme at this point because it happens with every new Android release. This time around, however, there’s also a very big redo of the Quick Settings tiles to go along with it.
Android 12 new features at a glance:
- Automatic theming system based on your chosen wallpaper
- New Material You design language throughout the OS and Google apps
- New widget picker in the Pixel Launcher, with new widgets for Google apps
- Redesigned Quick Settings with integrated smart home controls
- Fresh new lock screen and Always-on Display look
- Universal on-phone search in the app drawer
- Easy link sharing from Recents
- Extra Dim screen setting, improvements for picture-in-picture and auto-rotate
- Support for scrolling screenshots
- New Power menu, new setup wizard, and new emoji
- Improved performance and fluidity
- New Privacy Dashboard, camera and mic usage indicators
Note that all of the new features we are discussing in this review are currently available for Pixels only, and as always, it’s up to the other Android device makers if they adopt all of them or a small subset (or anything in between). So while we are very curious to explore what’s new in the latest version of the OS, we don’t know how many of these things will ever launch on handsets that aren’t made by Google. This has always been the state of Android updates, and we’re putting this out in the open so you don’t have unrealistic expectations.
As usual, expect Android skins that stay close to stock to eventually incorporate most of these features, while the heavy ones that stray far from what Google does are the least likely to get the user-facing stuff. That said, the under-the-hood improvements should theoretically be there for everybody once Android 12 updates start rolling out en masse.
That’s it for the introduction, we invite you to join us over the next few pages as we take a look at everything that’s new in Android 12.
This review has been based on Android 12 beta 5 (a.k.a. the Release Candidate), which was the most recent release at the time of publishing. Google is yet to seed the Final release to even Pixel phones so will revisit all chapters making sure their content is up to date and relevant to what’s available in the Final release.