Android 11 Review: All the new features


Android 11 is officially out of beta as troves of Pixel and select other Android phones got treated to the latest installment of Google's OS on September 9. Mostly a quality-of-life update, Android 11 doesn't explicitly bring any truly groundbreaking feature, but in all honesty, this has been the case for the past few Android updates. So, don't fret — the tons of minor improvements and touch-ups more than make up for the lack of any major new Android 11 features. 

All the new Android 11 features


  • New media controls: Media players now display a widget with all the essential media controls straight into the quick toggles bar, above than the rest of your regular notifications.
  • Quickly select media output: A useful new toggle lets you switch between the phone's internal speakers and Bluetooth or any other connected media device. You can even quickly pair a new Bluetooth device straight from that button.
  • Priority notification grouping: One of the best new Android 11 features will group priority notifications from select messaging apps at the top of the notification list, making up for a more pleasing and clean look. These are placed in a dedicated Conversations section and certainly help de-clutter busy notifications shades.
  • Chat bubbles: Google has taken a page out of Facebook Messenger' book and implemented chat bubbles for select messaging apps in Android 11. This feature will let you chat from anywhere without having to open the specific chat app. (However, at the time of writing, the chat bubble feature seems to be bugged for many Android 11 users)
  • Homescreen suggestions: Android 11's stock launcher will intelligently suggest dock apps depending on your unique usage patterns.
  • One-time permissions: Whenever you open a new app for the first time, you can grant the asked permissions one time only; the next time you open that app, it will request the same permissions once again.
  • Better foldable phone support:  Android 11 now fully supports foldable devices with a hinge, like the Microsoft Surface Duo

 

Android 11 overview


Android 11 is all about quality of life updates to the world's most popular operating system. There's no new design language or any major new features that overhaul the whole system; instead, Google has focused on fine-tuning notifications, improving the messaging experience, toning down visual clutter, improving permission management, and so on. Let's delve in a little deeper with all the new and noteworthy Android 11 features!

Android 11 features


Android 11 Media controls


For a while now, most self-respecting Android music players have displayed a pretty dandy widget in the notification shade, containing media controls and info for the current music track that's playing, and that seems to be the default case for Android 11 as well. Yet, a new toggle in Developer options allows users to squeeze in the Now Playing widget within the notification shade itself. The six or so quick toggles, usually lad out in a row, get squeezed in a 3X2 configuration that surprisingly doesn't feel that claustrophobic and restrictive. Of course, album art has fallen victim to the tight spacing, but it's undoubtedly a more efficient layout, provided you can stomach it. Once you swipe down one more time, the Now Playing widget will expand in all its glory.

I, for one, like it a lot. Google says the feature will be enabled by default in the next preview build, and frankly, I can't wait to see how the rest of the Android manufacturers will implement this in their own custom skins. 


Another quality-of-life improvement in Android 11 promises to organize your connected devices way better. A new button in the Now Playing widget lets you quickly choose which connected media device should play your tunes. Honestly, it's now a lot easier to switch between your phone's speaker, Bluetooth headphones, or your connected Bluetooth speaker. You can even pair a new Bluetooth device straight from the context menu that pops up, which makes it much more intuitive.


Android 11 Notifications


Android has been killing it as far as notifications come, and Android 11 will turn things to, well, 11. The most important type of notifications, those from messaging apps, will now be permanently stickied to the top; those notifications from other apps will be displayed right after the conversations section. That's actually a great idea, as conversation notifications are much more important and could easily get buried in the trove of visual clutter that lives in most phones' notification shade. 


Android 11 Chat bubbles: Great idea, mediocre execution


Chat bubbles are great and probably the sole redeeming feature of the Facebook Messenger app. Now that Google has include the respective API in Android, we can expect more text messaging apps to employ this functionality and use text bubbles. That's very nice. You know what's not that nice just yet? Google's execution of said chat bubbles. 

In its current state, it's a pretty bare-bones take on what Facebook Messenger had seemingly perfected. The red notification dots with a message count that appear on the chat bubble when someone texts you are nowhere to be seen, substituted for a rather nonchalant pale blue dot that you might seemingly miss across all the visual clutter. At this point, it seems that Facebook's take on the chat bubble is definitely superior as it seemingly does a better job at alerting you about any unread chats.


Hopefully, this will be improved in future developer previews as Google improves these new text notifications as they carry a massive potential for multitasking. Instead of having to juggle between several apps in order to keep a conversation going while doing something else, bubbles will let you get back to the thread at hand from just about any screen, app, or activity. What's even better is that any messaging app will support these chat bubbles, provided that the developers implement it.


Android 11 Home screen app suggestions 


You know how most Android phones have a dock with five or so apps that one rarely changes? Well, Android 11 is shaking things up. If you choose to enable the all-new Home screen app suggestions feature, your regular shortcuts will by moved upwards on your screen, while the regular dock row will now show you the apps that you're most likely to use based on your daily routines. 


Android 11 Device controls and payments


If you've got a trove of connected smart devices in your home, Android 11 will certainly be a boon. By pressing and holding the power button, you are now not only getting access to the power off and restart shortcuts, but can also control your smart home devices.

What's more, you can even access your Google Pay cards quickly, without having to open the app. This is a great utilization of a usually underused screen and a makes the power button that much more useful. 


Android 11 Privacy


Privacy is a pretty important leitmotiff of almost all Android updates in the past few years. Android 11 is no exception. One of the new features that got introduced with Android 11 is one-time permissions. How do these work? Pretty simple, actually. Whenever you open a new app for the first time, you can grant the asked permissions one time only; the next time you open that app, it will request the same permissions once again. This is a great privacy feature that should give a peace of mind when dealing with new apps that you forget to uninstall later on. What's more, permission will auto-reset once you haven't used an app for some time.



Android 11 Release date


Android 11 was released on September 8, 2020 to all eligible Pixels, as well as some other eligible Oppo, OnePlus, and Xiaomi devices.
 

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