Google’s Android Q beta is here, and you can download it right now, in order to get an early look at all the new features and functions Google’s next major mobile OS release will bring to the table. In this guide, we’ll take a look at the biggest Android Q features (both confirmed and expected).
While the beta doesn’t yet include all of the rumoured features like the Dark Mode and the redesigned stock apps and desktop mode, there’s enhanced support for foldable devices, like the Samsung Galaxy Fold and Huawei Mate X, a number of privacy and security updates, faster app startup and more.
There’s no news yet on what Google plans to call Android Q, but here’s what the company is bringing to the table with the first beta.
Related: How to download the Android Q beta
Android Q features
Google describes Bubbles as a new way for Android device owners to “multitask and reengage with apps”. Bubbles will give users the opportunity to pull up floating versions of apps on top of content, similar to Facebook Messenger’s Chat Heads. For example, when you’ve got a notes app open, you’ll be able to pull up a text conversation over it, in order to send a quick reply.
That’s the example Google uses in the screenshot below:
“Bubbles help users prioritize information and take action deep within another app, while maintaining their current context. They also let users carry an app’s functionality around with them as they move between activities on their device,” says Google.
“Bubbles are great for messaging because they let users keep important conversations within easy reach. They also provide a convenient view over ongoing tasks and updates, like phone calls or arrival times. They can provide quick access to portable UI like notes or translations, and can be visual reminders of tasks too.”
New location tools
As speculated, the Android Q beta brings new location permissions options for Android Q users. With the OS running on their device, users will be able to access additional controls for when an app can access their location.
Users can choose from three options when an app requests for location permissions: “Allow all the time”, “Allow when using the app,” or “Deny.”
The company writes: “An app asking for a user’s location for food delivery makes sense and the user may want to grant it the ability to do that. But since the app may not need location outside of when it’s currently in use, the user may not want to grant that access. Android Q now offers this greater level of control.”
New privacy tools
Android Q Beta 1 also includes security tools that limit apps’ access to device IMEI, serial number, and other identifying information. It also gives users a little more protection when using Wi-Fi networks by randomising the devices MAC (media access control) address.
Google says there are “new restrictions on launching activities from the background without user interaction,” while apps “now need FINE location permission to do wireless scans Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, telephony, and camera metadata.”
New sharing and connectivity features
There’s not a lot in the way of user-centric features in this first beta, but Google is adding some new Sharing Shortcuts, which will allow users to jump between apps more easily.
Google explains it as such: “Developers can publish share targets that launch a specific activity in their apps with content attached, and these are shown to users in the share UI.”
Google is also adding a new connectivity settings panel within third-party, meaning they can easily access settings like Wi-Fi, Airplane Mode and other settings without having to leave the app.
Better support for folding phones
Google announced support for foldables within Android Pie last autumn and Android Q will continue that work.
On the developer side of things, Google is also adding a foldables emulator, which will make it easier for app makers to scale their content for the next-generation smartphone form factor.
Better media notifications
As spotted by 9to5Google, the Android Q beta lets you see a progress bar for music and videos when you expand the media notification. While it’s hardly the most important feature in the world, it’s nice to be able to see how much of a song or TV show you have left so quickly.
Unfortunately though, you can’t skip forward or rewind by tapping along the progress bar.
Read more: Best smartphone
Android Q − Features we expect
Easily the most talked-about feature in the run-up to the release of Android Q. Some users have been requesting a system-wide dark mode for generations at this point, so the fact that it’s set to be a native part of Android Q is a major win for many.
While talk of a dark mode and signs that it might make an appearance in Q have circulated for a while, it wasn’t until Google product manager Lukasz Zbylut outright confirmed its existence that we knew it was set to become a base part of Q.
As spotted by Android Police, Zbylut seemingly confirmed its inclusion when responding to a comment on the Chromium bug tracker, saying: “Dark mode is an approved Q feature. The Q team wants to ensure that all preloaded apps support dark mode natively. In order to ship dark mode successfully, we need all UI elements to be ideally themed dark by May 2019.”
Based on Zbylut’s statement, how flawless this dark mode operates does partly hinge on third-party support for certain icons and other UI elements, but just knowing that Google has laid a foundation within Android is promising enough as it is.
In Android Q, dark mode will be accessible under Settings > Display > Dark Mode.
Revamped app designs
Google overhauled its Gmail web experience early on in 2018, and pushed similar changes onto its Gmail mobile apps at the start of this year.
The changes to Gmail on mobile include a brighter, cleaner, all-white interface, an ever-present search bar and a new compose icon. Switching accounts has also been designed to be more seamless, while images and other attachments should appear in-line more naturally, rather than appearing at the bottom of a message thread as before.
In the blog post announcing the release of the Gmail refresh, the company described it as “part of a larger effort to make G Suite look and act like products designed in the Google Material Theme, with ease-of-use in mind.”
As such, the thought process behind the Gmail redesign is expected to make its way to other Google mobile apps to coincide with the launch of Android Q.
Google is preparing to add support for ‘deep presses’ within Android hardware, similar to the 3D Touch functionality on Apple’s iPhone handsets. It hasn’t been included in any of the beta releases so far, but has been mentioned in documentation for the forthcoming OS.
The MotionEvent docs, which 9to5Google explains handles the touchscreen functionality on Android devices, explains how the touchscreen would recognise and respond to a deep press. Effectively it would give app developers the ability to tie-in a piece of functionality with a harder press on the screen. This would expedite the existing long press tool, which has been available in Android since Oreo arrived back in 2017.
It reads: “Deep press. The current event stream represents the user intentionally pressing harder on the screen. This classification type should be used to accelerate the long press behaviour.”
So, instead of just launching an app, users might see 3D Touch-like features for composing a message, for instance. So far there are no Android devices designed to take take advantage of the forthcoming deep press facility, but presumably the major players have been briefed on Google’s plans here.
Greater carrier SIM lock control
While consumers are usually the ones to benefit from the bevvy of new features that major Android updates bring, one new set of traits destined for Android Q is unquestionably geared in favour of networks.
As spotted by 9to5Google, Google added four new commits to the Android Gerrit source code management, under the title “Carrier restriction enhancements for Android Q.”
While the definitions of these “enhancements” aren’t spelled out, it seems that carriers will have the ability to lock devices off from rival networks on a whitelist/blacklist basis. Such restrictions could even extend to dual-SIM phones, with carriers able to block the second SIM slot unless an approved SIM sits in the primary slot.
Naturally, this could lead to frustration if a user wants to use their phone on another network outside of their contract term, or run a second SIM from another network in a dual-SIM device. Depending on the feature’s impact and whether carriers make use of it, we could see an uptick in the sale of unlocked devices and the purchase of SIM-only contracts to pair them with.
Force Desktop Mode
Android Q also sets the stage for a desktop mode that could let Android users plug their device into a dock, outputting to an external display that they could then interact with via a PC-like user experience.
The terms “force desktop mode” and “force experimental desktop mode on secondary displays” are already visible within Android Q’s developer options and hint at the feature, which looks like a native alternative to Samsung’s DeX user experience and Huawei’s Desktop Mode.
With the release of Android Pie, we said farewell to Android’s long-standing three navigation keys (although they never really left). In their place, Google showcased a pill-shaped button that consolidated the home and recent keys into a single UI element, that could perform the function of either by weaving swipe gestures into the mix.
Despite the change, the back button remained part of Android’s base navigation experience; appearing when needed. Now, that too looks as though it’s going to be assimilated into the pill too.
As uncovered by XDA Developers, swiping right on the home button in Android Q will serve as the equivalent of pressing the back button.
This isn’t the first implementation of a back swipe gesture we’ve seen from an Android device, with the likes of Xiaomi’s MIUI launcher, Huawei’s most recent EMUI launcher both feature swipe-based navigation in place of on-screen keys. Motorola’s latest one-button UI feature, as found on the likes of the Moto G7 Plus, behaves almost identically to how Android Q looks to interpret the back action too.
Have you ever regretted installing a software update? Perhaps you’ve downloaded a buggy release that breaks a fundamental feature or a particular update plays havoc with your battery life. Right now, such updates are part and parcel of smartphone ownership, and you’re usually saddled with any issues until the developer or Google steps in to dole out a fix.
With Android Q it looks as though users will have greater control over such situations, with the ability to uninstall updates that don’t sit right with their devices.
As spotted by XDA Developers, there’s code within these early builds of Android Q that contains lines like “PACKAGE_ROLLBACK_AGENT” and “MANAGE_ROLLBACKS”, which hint at Google’s intention of adding the option to downgrade apps.
iPhone-like app switching
Android Q is getting the iPhone-like ability to swipe between open apps, by moving a digit left or right across the bottom of the screen.
You can see it demonstrated in the video posted by 9to5Google’s Ben Schoon below.
Better native face unlock
There are already phones with the tech to rival Apple’s Face ID. Devices like the Huawei Mate 20 Pro and the Oppo Find X have had to engineer their own hardware and software to run atop Android’s existing security layer to support the in-depth facial recognition technology. With Q, such software might become a native piece of Android.
XDA Developers again stepped in to announce that it had unearthed “dozens of strings and multiple methods, classes, and fields related to facial recognition.” This doesn’t necessarily mean that the likes of the Pixel 4 will boast a Face ID alternative at launch, but it does hint at the fact that devices with compatible hardware will accommodate native face unlock and authentication support.
Excited for Android Q? Which features are you most interested in? Let us know on Twitter @TrustedReviews.