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Android P preliminary review: Perfecting the confectionery recipe

Android P preliminary review: Perfecting the confectionery recipe
Just yesterday, we told you about all the rumored features that might make it to Android P, starting with all the notch-related gossip to the tons of privacy-focused functionalities that might make it to the next super-sweet flavor of Android. We ended our piece by saying that the first developer preview should drop anytime now, and guess what - much to our surprise, this happened just hours later.

So, the very first Android P developer preview is here and it's giving us a pretty short sneak peek at few of the new features that might be making it to the final version of Android P. 

Overall feel and impressions

Before we dive in, it should be noted that the first developer preview of Android P is really devoid of any major new features. Aside from a few small interface improvements here and there, we were having a really hard time pinpointing what's new. Fortunately, Google has a nifty video that reveals anything new that has been included in this developer preview and will subsequently be added to future ones. Surprise, surprise, the majority of new features are under-the-hood ones that aim to streamline the performance and the overall stability and security of the operating system. 

In its current state, Android P feels just like a themed version of Android Oreo that has scored a few noticeable changes on the outside and on the inside, but is rather far from being representful of what the final release would look and feel like. If anything, Google traditionally adds a ton of features and removes an equal amount of these over the course of several months and a couple of developer previews.

While performance and security-related features will take their sweet time before they could be considered fleshed out in the new Android flavor, the visual changes and improvements are already here. Let's take a look!

Interface changes

Status bar clock shenanigans

The first and most startling new change is... the clock position in the status bar. For times immemorial, stock Android has had this essential element positioned in the top right corner of the screen, but Android P hints that this age is drawing to an end: the clock is now across the street and rests on the top left part of the screen. It really felt confusing the first few times, but in the end of the day, one should easily adapt to the change. It's obvious Google did that for the sake of equilibrium between the two sides of the display when a display notch is present, as the left one would traditionally remain unpopulated once the user clears all pending notifications.

Granted, many aftermarket Android skins have traditionally had status bar clocks positioned to the left or even in the center, but it's the first time stock Android scores such a change. Currently, there's no toggle that allows you to choose whether your clock should be positioned, though it will be good if Google eventually allows users to choose where this one should be positioned and doesn't force this change to just about anyone.

Android P clock (left) vs Android Oreo clock (right) on the Pixel 2 XL

Rumble in the dock

The dock is another area where Android P causes a ruckus. Remember the prominent white background that was making the rounds on the first-gen Google Pixel/Pixel XL? Well, it is now back on the seems to be making a comeback with Pixel Launcher P-4623511, which is the default launcher on Android P. We are certainly hoping that this change won't last long and will be dealt away with in a future preview because the white background looks totally dated, especially when you compare it with the much more appealing dock of the contemporary Pixel stock.

Android P dock (left) vs Android Oreo dock (right) on the Pixel 2 XL

Quick Settings redesigned again

It's been a while since Google overhauled the Quick Settings tiles, but Android P seems to be on track to introduce a rather major revamp to this essential interface component. The tiles now feature circular teal-colored settings icons. The pending notifications are also now separated from the quick settings by a gap that's several pixels wide. We are still on the fence if we like it or not but we wouldn't want to grow attached to it since it might go the way of the dodo pretty soon. To be honest, these new tiles look a bit ugly, here's to hoping they won't be included in the final build.

Android P preliminary review: Perfecting the confectionery recipe
Android P preliminary review: Perfecting the confectionery recipe

Colorful settings menu

The main settings hub has also gone way more colorful than before, sporting vibrant icons instead of uniform monochrome ones. For one, it looks more playful than before but we feel many will miss the older iteration which was much more serious in its overall tone. You can't stop progress though, implying that coloring a couple of icons can be considered as such.

Android P settings menu (left) vs Android Oreo settings menu (right)
Android P settings menu (left) vs Android Oreo settings menu (right)

The notch is now a feature

As we previously suspected, Google will natively support devices with a display notch starting with Android P. Much to the delight of developers, the first preview introduces s few notch overlays that showcase how the software will adapt around the notch. This option can be enabled from either the display submenu or the developer options (though it can only be disabled from the latter) and allows willing parties to employ an Essential Phone-like notch, a much wider iPhone X-like one, and finally, a middle-ground between the two.

Android P wide notch

Android P narrow notch

Android P tall notch

Now, you might wonder how notification icons accommodate with the notch in the way. Simple, once you have more than three different notifications present, you will only see the icon of the latest one followed by dots representing all the other notifications that will show up once you expand the notifications bar. 

Android P handling more than 4 notifications at the same time with the widest notch overlay

New volume panels

Android P introduces a new side-positioned volume menu that looks sleek and modern, pretty similar to the power menu introduced alongside Oreo. It stands on the right side of your screen and consists of two separate elements: a volume slider one that also allows you to quickly mute all media sounds and also control the volume of any connected device or accessory, and a ring mode window that lets you mute or unmute ringing sounds. Long-press any of these and you will be taken straight to the sounds menu. 

And in case you're wondering, yes, it also comes in black when you put on a dark wallpaper. Nifty!

The volume panels have received some much-needed love
The volume panels have received some much-needed love
The volume panels have received some much-needed love

Display rotation, reimagined

A new and wildly useful feature would be the new smart rotation mode. If you disable auto-rotation of the display from settings, everytime you physically turn your device to the side, a rotate icon will appear in your navigation bar. If you tap it, the screen will rotate. If not, it will disappear in a couple of seconds. This will come in mildly useful when you desire to lock your device in a certain orientation mode and is a great and actually useful addition to Android. However, if you enable auto-rotation, your device will act just like any other Android phone ever - turn it and it will promptly adapt to the change.

Tapping this button automatically rotates the screen even if auto-rotation is disabled

Enhanced screenshot controls

To be fair, I personally recall that tons of custom Android ROMs have had a similar feature for 7 or 8 years, but it's cool that Google is adopting useful features into stock Android. If you happen to dislike the hardware shortcut for screenshots, you can now simply hold up the power button until the power menu shows up and tap the screenshot button which will promptly snap whatever's on your screen.

Android P preliminary review: Perfecting the confectionery recipe

Message threads in notifications
Messages will now show up as threads in your notifications. Generally, the last two messages of the thread will be simultaneously shown in the notification shade, enabling you to never leave your current screen and keep up-to-date with all that's happening in the thread. A quality-of-life improvement that should work with most messaging apps.

You will be able to keep up with message threads straight from the notification shade
You will be able to keep up with message threads straight from the notification shade
You will be able to keep up with message threads straight from the notification shade

Easter egg

Android P preliminary review: Perfecting the confectionery recipe
Of course, Android P comes with its own Easter egg, and this one is particularly psychedelic. 

Every time you lock and unlock your device, a new color scheme will get applied to the easter egg, making up for a trippy feeling. We made a small GIF to illustrate almost all the color themes, check it out to the right!

While we don't say it reminds us of colorful popsicles, we do admit it is the software embodiment of having an acid trip in a confectionery. 

As usual with early developer previews, the current one doesn't give away too much as to what the final name of Android P will be, and while we have tons of possible names, we are in for a long wait before Google spills the beans.

Other new features

Android P introduces a trove of other features, too:

It now has:

  • Native dual-camera support
  • Text selection zoom
  • Many privacy ehnancements
  • Multi-Bluetooth HFP/A2DP support
  • HDR VP9 Video support
  • HEIF image compression

and many others. However, due to one reason or another, many of these can't be demonstrated at this point, but we are hopeful they will be soon. 

Release date

We keep talking about future developer previews like we have any idea when these are going to be released, and we totally do. Here's a rough breakdown of what we should expect from the future Android P previews:

  • Preview 1 (initial release, alpha)
  • Preview 2 (incremental update, beta)
  • Preview 3 (final APIs and official SDK, Play publishing, beta)
  • Preview 4 (release candidate for testing)
  • Preview 5 (release candidate for final testing)
  • Final release to AOSP and ecosystem

And here's when these will be released. As you can see, the final release of Android P will certainly be released in mid-August, which falls in line with previous Android releases.

Android P preliminary review: Perfecting the confectionery recipe

Conclusion and expectations

At this point, Android P is shaping up to be a quality-of-life update that introduces small but welcome changes to the operating system. We will keep our final verdict for ourselves for now as many of the features showcased above might get ditched. Conversely, important new ones will likely be introduced down the road. 

While the current preview is not intended to be used as a daily driver (don't even think of using it in your main device), it is stable enough to showcase Google's vision for the 2018 edition of its wildly-popular operating system, which has truly come a long way for the past few years.

Truth be told, we should all stop expecting any truly major and groundbreaking features or revamps to get introduced given the current state of the platform - it's pretty much close to perfect. It's quite easy to deem Android P a "boring" update, but we should remember that it has pretty much matured already. We should learn to appreciate incremental improvements, experimental overhauls, and UX touch-ups a lot more, because that's what we're going to get in the future, regardless whether we're talking about Android or even its only other rival, iOS.

Hopefully, with the advent of Project Treble, you won't have to wait for long to try out Android P on your phone. Here's to hoping Google's plan will work out.

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