Android 12 Review: My favorite iteration of Android yet

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Android 12 has been here for about a month, and I’ve been using it as my daily driver on the Google Pixel 6 Pro since its launch. Android 12 represents API level 31, and it arrived in the form of an AOSP source code drop a few weeks before rolling out to Pixel smartphones.

In previous years, the new Android version would roll out to previous Pixel phones ahead of the launch of whatever new device is coming, but Google held back this time around. The cynic in me feels that it was for marketing purposes — after all, the entire tagline for the Pixel 6 series was that it was “For All You Are” with a heavy focus on personalization. Given that Android 12 is all about personalization, I don’t really think it’s controversial to think that Google intentionally held back the Android 12 Pixel rollout in order to reveal it alongside a new smartphone with a completely new look and feel when compared to its predecessors.

There’s a lot to delve into when it comes to Android 12, and while I’m comfortable in saying it’s my favorite Android version from an aesthetic point of view, I’m unsure if it’s my favorite overall. Google continues to blur the lines of what’s a Pixel-exclusive feature and what’s an Android 12 feature, but everything that I’ve identified as a Pixel exclusive feature will be identified as such.

Navigate this review:Material You and other UI changesQuick SettingsWidgetsPixel Launcher (Pixel-exclusive)Recents URL sharing (Pixel-exclusive)Other changesPerformance groupPrivacyPrivacy DashboardReduced location accessClipboard access notificationCamera and microphone accessPrivate Compute Core (Pixel-exclusive)Under-the-hood changes in Android 12The introduction of the Generic Kernel ImagePhantom processesMaterial You and other UI changes

By far the biggest change in Android 12 is Material You

By far the biggest change in Android 12 is Material You, the latest version of Google’s Material design language. Material You, as Google describes, “seeks to create designs that are personal for every style, accessible for every need, alive and adaptive for every screen.” When developing Android 12, Google created a new theme engine code-named “monet” that generates a rich palette of pastel colors derived from the user’s wallpaper. These colors are then applied to various parts of the system and their values are made available through an API that the user’s applications can call, thus letting apps decide whether they want to recolor their UI. Google has been going all-in on Material You, and the company has updated most of its apps to incorporate dynamic colors.

If you want to learn more about it, you can check out our explainer of how Material You works. Quick Settings

Android 12’s quick settings seem to be extremely polarising. There are some pretty big buttons, a whole new opening animation, and everything is very rounded. I love the new pull-down animation, though I miss the gaussian blur behind the notifications. The solid color doesn’t do it for me, even if it is also Material You inspired. Still, this new pull-down animation is one of my favorite animations in all of Android.

I think that Android 12’s notifications and quick settings look a whole lot nicer

When compared to Android 11, I think that Android 12’s notifications and quick settings look a whole lot nicer. I know that there are a lot of arguments saying that you lose out on useful space (it does drop from six easily accessible settings to four), but you also gain additional space in the pull-down sajian. There are now eight options as opposed to six, and the six that were previously shown were just the same six that were quickly accessed anyway. In other words, to access the next two settings, on Android 11 you needed to pull down, pull down again, and then swipe across. On Android 12, you just need to pull down, pull down, and then you already have access to two more toggles than you would have had previously.

To be honest, I also think it’s probably better if the buttons contain the name of the function, too. I’m a power user, so I know what the icons mean, but does everyone really? I’m sure some of the basic ones like Wi-Fi nearly everyone could hazard a guess at, but the do-not-disturb option, in particular, is one that I could see confusing people. There’s also a power button that brings you to a power menu, though the default behavior from Android 12L is that the power button in the quick settings will open up the Assistant first unless you long tap it.

I think that the most redundant addition to the quick settings has to be the Google Pay card. You don’t ever need to open Google Pay to pay with your card, as it works from any screen on your phone at any time. The only time you’ll really ever need to open it is to choose a specific card if you want to use one that isn’t your default, but how often do most people do that? I also don’t really ever use the smart home device controls option, as my lights are voice-activated. I access the device controls part of my phone maybe once a week at most.

Another controversial change made in Android 12 is how you switch off Wi-Fi on an Android 12 device. Tapping the internet quick settings tile will bring you to another hidangan where you can toggle your mobile data, your Wi-Fi, or select another Wi-Fi network.

If I’m honest, I personally do prefer this change over what it once was, but I can understand the frustration thanks to the introduction of an extra button tap. From my own experience, I feel that it makes sense for Wi-Fi and mobile data to be under the same umbrella. However, if you want to get back a dedicated button to toggle your Wi-Fi, Mishaal Rahman shared a command on Twitter that you can execute via adb to get it back. adb shell settings put secure sysui_qs_tiles “$(settings get secure sysui_qs_tiles),wifi”

Overall, I think that the new notifications drawer and quick settings are well designed, and I do prefer both of them, even if I would have liked to see the apps behind my notifications akin to previous Android versions. I think that a lot of these changes make sense, and I don’t necessarily buy into the hatred of some of them. Widgets

Google’s suite of apps has a ton of Android 12 Material You-compatible widgets, and they all take after whatever the dominant system theme is. They can be sometimes slow to change to fit the rest of the system theme, but they adjust based on where they’re located on the home hidangan, too. I still don’t really ever use Android’s widgets (I don’t spend a lot of time on my home screen or really care about making it look fancy anymore), but for people that do, you might like these changes.

Google announced an overhaul of widgets in Android 12, and the company definitely delivered. To align with the visual changes in Android 12, Google is encouraging developers to implement widgets with rounded corners with padding. The Widgets API was reworked entirely in order to enhance user experience across multiple platforms, Android variants, and launchers. Widgets got more dynamic controls that allow you to interact with checkboxes, radio buttons, and switches right from your home screen. The widget picker even offers responsive previews.

The new API also adds support dynamic coloring as part of the Material You theming engine, allowing widgets to adapt to the wallpaper, like other visual elements. Google has also removed the required configuration step when placing a widget on the home screen and has added a new API to construct backward-compatible widgets.

Interestingly, the information from widgets can now be accessed by Google Assistant to offer quick insights using the Capabilities API. In a blog post, Google noted that the Assistant would be able to provide users with “one shot answers, quick updates, and multi-step interactions” by glancing over the information available in widgets. Pixel Launcher (Pixel exclusive)

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