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Android P: two steps forward and one step back

With another year comes another Android dessert, NOT heading to a phone near you. With the announcement and release of a second developer preview, Android P, as it’s currently known (until Google can make up its mind on what to call this one), is already out in the world with most of its highlight features out in the open for all the world to see and analyse.

If you were expecting this to feature a major shakeup like Lollipop’s Material Design or Oreo’s Notification Controls, you are in the wrong year. While P has a boatload of new things to bring to the table on an exclusive few devices later in the year, it’s nothing worth going nuts over, yet. Do keep in mind that these are not the final additions, and more things may be added or removed as this gets closer to the release date. With all that said, lets jump into what’s new with Android’s latest treat:

Gesture navigation

We must admit, we were surprised Google hadn’t implemented gesture controls previously as Android had the most diverse landscape with towering screens long before Apple thought of going Plus sized. Anyway, with this new addition to Google’s stable, the navigation bar has been slightly redesigned with the removal of the recent apps button, and instead, swiping up from the home ‘bar,’ you’ll see all of your app icons. Sliding your home button to the left opens up multitasking views, and you’ll be able to perform quick actions from this view. For those who are already terrified at the prospect of learning new controls, the system also has a ‘legacy’ mode where it brings the traditional controls back.

Redesigned quick toggles, settings and notification shade

If you thought the vanilla Android look was boring, you wouldn’t be wrong. Seems Google thought that way too as their quick toggles have been given a slightly ‘bubbly’ look and some colours to liven it up. The same treatment was given to the settings menu as well, all in a bid to liven it up and make it easier to find what you need. Google has also taken to P to further enhance the way you interact with notifications, as a continuation of Oreo’s improvements, such as adding the ability to send pictures straight from the notification. Oh, and the volume slider sees its first proper redesign by now making them vertical, with proper toggles to change profiles.

Efficient learning

Machine learning goes big with Android P as it plays key roles behind the scenes. Starting from learning how you use your apps, to adjusting your brightness based on times and locations, not just from the ambient light sensor. Android P will also use your usage habits to save as much battery as it can. Dubbed Adaptive Battery, it’s mostly targeting to managing battery when your device is idle.

https://youtu.be/gmWIf5sINEc?t=5m3s

Multi-camera and notch support

Android P allows developers to access streams from two different physical cameras simultaneously using the multi-camera API. This API requires either dual camera setups, a norm these days (plus maybe a Pixel 3 prediction). Another new addition is support for the very controversial notched displays, also a trend nowadays (although not a great one).

The annoyances

As mentioned before, many of these features are subject to change and most of the changes are under the hood. As it stands though, P is also set to introduce some interesting annoyances too. For one thing, the gesture control system is nowhere as complete or as intuitive as its iOS counterpart. Also, if you were to bring up the idea of saving screen real estate, you’d lose on that one too because the navigation bar is still very much there. So until Google irons out this new gesture control system, iOS leads by a country mile.

Another interesting annoyance with the current build is the omission of some very helpful shortcuts, which were present in previous versions of Android. Most notably, the expandable small options menu attached to Wi-Fi and Bluetooth is gone. Another omission is that small icon to jump directly to the full system settings from the Quick Settings screen. Their attempt at streamlining the DND (Do Not Disturb) has ended up dumbing down a very useful feature. Gone are the Alarms Only and Priority Only modes, and that’s sure to annoy the hell out of most users.

Technically, Android P still isn’t in its complete form yet and things are subject to change, but as it stands, this new one is mostly a just a generational update and nothing more. There are some things that iOS still trumps it on, mostly the gesture based navigation, but assuming Google polishes it up, it could very well become its secret sauce.

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