Google made several announcements at the I/O 2017 conference including a new developer preview for their upcoming Android O. As soon as the factory images went live and OTA delivery systems kicked in, we straight away jumped into installing the preview on our phone. Here’s a quick walkthrough on how you can do the same and try out the new features of the second developer preview and first public beta release of Android O.
Downloading Android O beta
Before installing the beta update, you have to verify whether your device is supported. Currently, the beta is supported by a handful of official Google devices. There are two ways to install Android O. You can download the factory images from the Android O Developer portal and flash them to your supported device. The other way is to enroll yourself into the beta program and receive the beta as an OTA update. We will go through both these steps one by one.
Supported devices for Android O Developer Preview 2:
- Pixel XL
- Pixel C
- Nexus 6P
- Nexus 5X
- Nexus Player
Enrolling in the Android Beta program
The easiest and hassle-free method out of the two, users of the beta program receive previews through OTA updates. Here, you don’t need to worry about unlocking your bootloader and then flashing the factory images. All you need to do is sign up for the Android Beta program with the Google ID used in your Pixel or Nexus device. As you scroll down, you will see your device listed under “Your eligible devices”. Next, click on “Enroll device” and go through the steps to eventually receive the beta over an OTA update. After the update finishes downloading, restart your device and you will be running the Android O beta. Since it’s an OTA update, you won’t lose the existing data on your phone but it’s a healthy exercise to backup all your data before installing any system update.
Flashing the factory image
In order to manually install Android O beta on your Pixel or Nexus device, you need an unlocked bootloader. We’ve already covered in detail on how to unlock your bootloader in the “Customise your phone” article from previous month’s (May 2017) cover story. Now would be the time to revisit that particular section if you wish to enjoy Android O beta on your device. This method also requires you to install and use the Android SDK. That’s why henceforth, we will assume that you have some level of experience with the SDK tools.
Assuming you’ve already downloaded the factory image from the link mentioned in the first step, let’s move on to flashing the image to your device. Having adb and fastboot setup with Android SDK or just the Platform Tools , in this case, we recommend you to extract the files from the zipped factory image directly to the Platform Tools folder. Open the folder and while keeping the shift key pressed, right click in the explorer and click on the “Open command prompt here”. With USB debugging enabled, reboot your device to the fastboot mode and type adb devices to verify whether your phone is detected by your system. Then enter the flash-all command to flash the required files. After the flashing process completes, you can reboot your device to find your phone running the Android O beta. If you wish to keep your device secure, we would recommend you to lock your bootloader. You can do so by connecting your phone to the PC in fastboot mode and executing the command fastboot flashing lock (or fastboot oem lock). This will wipe your data so make sure that you lock the bootloader right after flashing the image.
Now that we have Android O installed, let’s explore few of the highlighted features.
View notifications dots
If you’ve been using Nova Launcher Prime for a while then you must be familiar with notification badges. These are tiny dots or numbers that appear on top left of the app icons denoting an unread notification. In Nova Prime, you not only get the dot but also the number of unread notifications. You can further customise to change the colour, size and location of the notification dot. In the Android O beta, you only get a dot on the top right of the app icon. Tapping the icon will throw the extended menu of the app as already available in Nougat but with Android O, the notification also appears in the extended menu in a small window. Although the window is too small to fit the entire notification, you will be able to scroll through if there are more than one notifications in that small window. This feature is quite helpful for IM and messaging apps where you only need to glance at the text. It becomes a pain and almost worthless if you’re trying to read an email from the window.
Adding extra buttons on the navigation bar
The System UI Tuner lets you customise several areas including the status bar, navigation bar and lockscreen. Before that, you need to enable System UI Tuner by pulling down the status bar and pressing the settings icon for a few seconds. Then head over to Settings > System > System UI Tuner. The status bar lets you enable or disable the icons that are visible on top including Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, Mobile Data, Airplane Mode, etc. The lockscreen setting will let you change the two default icons seen on the bottom of your lockscreen and switch them with any app. The navigation bar setting lets you add an extra button on the left and right of the default three navigation buttons on the bottom, making it a total of five buttons on the navigation bar. The buttons can either be a Clipboard or the Keyboard Switcher or you can manually enter Keycodes. Keycodes are values assigned to carry out a specific action or event. There are hundreds of keycodes and browsing through all of them can be overwhelming. You can learn more about them at Android KeyEvent.
Use apps in picture-in-picture mode:
Another awaited feature in stock Android, PIP mode lets you use two apps simultaneously. We say stock Android because this feature could be enabled in way older versions of Android. This was possible by a Xposed module called XHaloFloatingWindow. Although multi-window also lets you use two apps simultaneously, the advantage of PIP mode is the flexibility to move the window anywhere on your screen while using another app in the background. Usually enabled by default as soon as you upgrade to Android O, many users including us weren’t able to use PIP mode. The workaround is to head over to Settings > System > System UI Tuner > Navigation bar. Here you need to add an extra button on the bottom navigation and to do that tap on “Extra left button type” or “Extra right button type”. If you want to enter the extra button on the left then tap on Extra left button type > Keycode > Left keycode and enter 171. You can also add an icon with Left icon so that the tap area is visible. Now, open YouTube or Duo (the apps where PIP work for now) and tap on the newly created left icon. This action should take you to the PIP mode. We will soon see other apps supporting PIP mode.
Enjoy an improved copy/paste experience
There must have been times where you’ve copied the link of an address and pasted in Maps while searching for a place. There also must have been times when you copied an email address over to your email app before sending out your email. Google is making it easier by recognising the text selection and serving you the relevant app. They are calling it “Smart Text Selection” and it works by implementing machine learning on the device itself. This feature makes it possible to recognise addresses, locations, telephone numbers and email addresses. Google says they are also working on recognising URLs and for now, it requires an http or https prefix. Maybe later they will be able to recognise domains such as .com or .in and accordingly fetch the default browser.
There were minor tweaks made to the notification window in terms of animations and functions. For instance, you can now look at the battery percentage with a single down swipe rather than two swipes in Nougat. The Edit and Settings icon have also been moved to the bottom of the notification window. The useful update here is the snooze button that comes up if you swipe a notification to the right. You can tap on the snooze button and make the notification disappear and reappear after an interval of either 15 or 30 minutes or 1 hour. This feature takes care of the uneasiness some users feel with an unread notification looking straight into their souls to be opened. Once the set interval ends, the notification will reappear and if you wish, you can snooze it again.
Reverting back to Nougat
Let’s accept the fact that being a beta version, it will have its own set of bugs and crashes. It won’t be much of an issue for power users because they are anyway used to it. If the bugs start getting over your nerves, then you can go back to the stable Nougat build easily. In order to leave the beta program, all you need to do is head over to the Android Beta program portal (link mentioned above), click on “Unenroll your device” and then select “Leave beta”. Shortly, you will receive an OTA update that will take you back to the stable Android 7.1.2 Nougat build. Do note, installing this OTA update will wipe your phone data.
If you had installed the beta from the factory image manually, the process is the same as installing the beta factory image. You need to search and download the correct stable Nougat factory image for your device from http://dgit.in/AndFactImg. After downloading, you have to follow the same instructions mentioned in step 3 to finally roll back to Nougat.