Google has officially released the latest Android update: Android 8.0, Oreo. This update brings faster start up times and more control over notifications and apps for better performance and (hopefully) better battery life from your device.
Oreo is only available to the Google Pixel, Pixel XL and Nexus 5x, for now. Other manufacturers are announcing which of their phones will receive the Oreo update. Here’s a look how much sweeter your phone can be with Oreo.
App notifications have long been out of control, but Android Oreo brings a few new tricks for managing them.
Apps with unread notifications now sport a small dot over them, brilliantly called a dot notification. Long pressing on the icon brings up a preview of unread notifications and a shortcut to access the app’s widgets. I love this new option because it consolidates app activities previously scattered throughout Android. It’s also more convenient than reaching the top of the phone for the notification shade.
Despite the convenience, Android Oreo hasn’t ditched the notification shade. In fact, it cleans it up and adds a few new controls.
Music and media notifications now show off accompanying album art and a complementary color scheme that brings some much needed life to this area. Persistent notifications take up less space and you can suspend individual notifications for up to 2 hours with Oreo’s new Snooze feature.
You can also choose different categories of notifications to ignore in apps that support Notification Channels. This feature gives users more freedom to choose the notifications they want to receive from apps versus the current all or nothing approach.
Picture-in-Picture (PIP) Mode
Pressing the home button when watching a video brings up Picture in Picture (PIP) mode. It’s a small pop-up window that keeps playing a video while you do something else on your phone. The window isn’t resizable, but you can play, pause and skip through videos or go back to the original app. You can get rid of the window simply by dragging it to the bottom of your screen.
Samsung Note phones have had this feature for years, but now it’s officially making its way into Android with the Oreo update. Unfortunately, I have to keep the screen on when using PIP mode or the phone restarts itself. Clearly, Google still has some bugs to work out of Oreo.
The settings app receives a big visual overhaul and new features in Android Oreo.
Oreo ditches the slide-out panel and tabbed view in Android Nougat. It cleans up the main navigation area by reducing the number of top-level categories and adding brief descriptions about the settings they house. The result is less scrolling, but enough information to get to the right setting quickly.
There are a few new settings that come with the new Oreo update. A Wi-Fi preference option to automatically turn Wi-Fi back on when near a saved network is added. Wi-Fi Aware, connects nearby phones without a cellular or Wi-Fi connection. Google promises, “Wi-Fi Aware network connections are more reliable than Wi-Fi P2P connections and support higher throughput rates across longer distances than Bluetooth connections.”
Security & Location settings has a new security status section. Here you can enable Google Play Protect, Find My Device and Security Updates. Play Protect regularly scans your phone for malware and virus in apps. Find My Device has been around for years, but Android Oreo gives it more prominence. Security updates are self explanatory.
Battery settings gets a visual makeover and now shows your last full charge and screen/app usage since that charge. Tapping any of the apps listed brings up a selection of power management options to adjust accordingly. Storage settings receives a similar visual revamp and more prominently displays the Smart Storage feature in Android Nougat.
Performance & Battery Gains
Android Oreo brings surprisingly quicker start up times to phones. My Pixel is up and running in 30 seconds, about half the time it used to take.
Oreo also reduces how frequently background apps can request things like location data down to a “few times” an hour. For even more control, there’s a new shortcut to manage app location permissions in Location Settings and a toggle to disable individual app background under the app’s Battery Usage section.
Autofill & Smart Text Selection
If you use password managers like LastPass or Dashlane, you’ll soon be able to select login information from within any app thanks to Oreo’s new Autofill feature. No separate plugins or apps will be required.
Smart Text Selection tries to automatically select phone numbers, celebrity names and email addresses when you double tap on them. It even shows you relevant actions to make a call or pull up Google Maps. The entire process is done entirely through machine learning directly on your phone. Oddly, it’s limited to text you’re typing in a messaging app (not Gmail) and not text that’s sent to you.
There’s a lot more to take in with the Android Oreo update, but the bulk of Oreo focuses on saving battery life, improving device performance, and giving Android users more ways to limit apps and notifications.
Other smaller, but notable improvements include being able to replace the default phone app with a VoIP app, redesigned emojis, support for HQ Bluetooth connections and adaptive icons (multiple icon shapes).
The only thing Oreo doesn’t improve is the number of Android devices it will run on. If you haven’t received last year’s Android Nougat, which less than 15% of Android devices run, you’re unlikely to receive this update. That’s a lot of Android phones that probably won’t be getting this dessert.
Maybe some of these features will make their way into Nougat, maybe not. For now, this update is limited to Google’s devices – but it shouldn’t be.