Android 12: Everything you need to know

Android 12Source: Nick Sutrich / Android Central

Android 12 has (technically) arrived. As predicted, Android developers released Android 12 source code to the Android Open Source Project on October 4.

However, that doesn’t mean you can use the final version on Pixel phones just yet: in a statement to Android Central, a Google rep told us that “We’re putting the finishing touches on a special release with Pixel-exclusive and Pixel-first experiences on Android 12. This will roll out to Pixel users in the next few weeks.”

Based on that vague timeline, Android 12 won’t arrive on your Pixels until mid-to-late October. Given all the recent rumors about the Pixel 6 launching on October 19, the “Pixel-first” Android 12 could launch around the same time. If not then, it should certainly arrive in time for the official Android Dev Summit on October 27, at which Google will be “talking about Android 12 in more detail.”

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Android 12 is “the biggest design change in Android’s history,” according to Google, and so far, it’s lived up to the boast. The new Material You UI customizes and enlivens your phone screen without needing an Android launcher or icon pack. And it adds new features like a Privacy Dashboard, scrollable screenshots, approximate location sharing, faster animations, and smarter notifications.

Perhaps due to the scale of these changes, Android 12 is taking much longer to surface than past OSs, which arrived in August or September. At least Google has provided the source code, so other manufacturers can release their own Android 12 versions without delay.

It also has plans to release an Android 12.1 release focused on foldable phone software later in the year. It’s the first point release since Android 8.1, proving just how ambitious Google was with this software release.

As for the release schedule for the rest of the best Android phones, it’ll vary by manufacturer. The Samsung open beta has already begun on Galaxy S21 phones, while betas for OnePlus, OPPO, and Xiaomi are expected to take place in October. Recent flagships should get the final OS before the end of 2021.

We’ve tested each Android 12 release since the first developer beta in February and first public beta in May. With literal months of experience with the OS, we know all the top Android 12 tips and tricks to help you get started, along with vital info like which phones will get Android 12.

Android 12: Release date and availability

Source: Nick Sutrich / Android Central

While the timing of Android version releases has changed over the years, the past few have been pretty consistent. Here are the dates for the last four releases:

  • Android 8.0: August 21, 2017
  • Android 9: August 6, 2018
  • Android 10: September 3, 2019
  • Android 11: September 8, 2020

Source: Google

We initially anticipated a mid-September launch, but Google has needed more time with Android 12, thanks to its drastic changes. The Release Candidate beta arrived on September 8, 2021, with a note from Google that the final version will roll out “in the coming weeks.” Unfortunately, we didn’t anticipate how many weeks we’d have to wait.

On October 4, an Android Developers Blog post said to “keep an eye out for Android 12 coming to a device near you starting with Pixel in the next few weeks and Samsung Galaxy, OnePlus, Oppo, Realme, Tecno, Vivo, and Xiaomi devices later this year.”

We knew that Pixel phone owners would get Android 12 first — specifically anyone who owns a Pixel 3(a), Pixel 4(a), or Pixel 5(a); and, of course, you’ll get Android 12 out of the box with the Pixel 6 when it arrives this fall. But we’d fully expected Google to launch the OS alongside its source code release in early October. Now it looks like we’ll have to wait even longer.

Other manufacturers will take longer to release their Android 12 skins; the only question is how much more time. Here’s what we know so far.

Samsung

The One UI 4.0 beta recently began on the Galaxy S21 series, adding tools like upgraded home screen widgets, charging limits for battery health, the eSim privacy center, updated security settings, and other tools. In our Samsung One UI 4 Beta review, we were impressed with some changes but found it very buggy and lacking some key features.

The beta should later come to older flagships like the Galaxy S20 and Note 20, plus the new Z foldables — likely sometime in October. From there, history suggests the official One UI 4.0 launch will take place in December on the S21 series, followed by most other Galaxy S and Galaxy A phones in the first few months of 2022. You can check our guide on when your Samsung phone will get Android 12 (One UI 4) for more specifics.

OnePlus and OPPO

OxygenOS 12 is on its way. Unlike last year’s skin, the latest OnePlus OS will be built from ColorOS 12, the OS created by parent company OPPO. Unsurprisingly, both sets of phones are on a similar release schedule.

Alongside the Android 12 source code release, OnePlus announced the first OxygenOS 12 beta on October 4. That means anyone with the OnePlus 9 or 9 Pro can download the beta now, simply by following our guide on how to install OxygenOS 12.

OPPO also announced the ColorOS 12 global beta that same day, starting with the Find X3 Pro in certain Asian territories. The company has a global launch event scheduled for October 11, where we should learn more.

Surprisingly, OnePlus 9 owners will have two beta systems to choose between. In a previous ColorOS 12 announcement, OPPO gave a beta timetable, noting that the OnePlus 9 would also get ColorOS 12 beta access in October. Given that OxygenOS and ColorOS will merge in 2022 into a single OS, starting with the OnePlus 10 in early 2022, it’s not surprising that you get try Android 12 in multiple forms.

The other brands

Matching up with the other top brands, Xiaomi has already begun its MIUI 12.5 Android 12 beta on the Mi 11, though only in China. We don’t know when the beta will come to other Xiaomi, Redmi, and POCO phones. Still, based on last year’s Android 11 updates, it’s a safe bet that the top flagships will get the final version in December 2021 or January 2022, followed by other phones later.

We don’t have hard information on other manufacturers like Nokia and Motorola. Both of these brands have struggled to release speedy updates to Android 11 for many of their older phones. There’s no reason to think Android 12 will be any easier or faster to adapt and roll out. Basically, unless you have a true flagship phone from them, you might not see Android 12 arrive until mid-2022.

For more general info on release schedules, check out our guide on when your phone will get Android 12.

Android 12: The final beta version is now live

Source: Nick Sutrich / Android Central

The fifth public Android 12 beta arrived on September 8. After Beta 4 achieved “Platform Stability for developers — meaning devs can use the beta to test how their apps will run in the final version — Beta 5 reached the long-awaited Release Candidate version. That theoretically means the Android team thinks it’s nearly ready for final launch, barring any unexpected bugs.

Unfortunately, based on our Android 12 Beta 5 hands-on, the OS still seems like a work in progress — which is a bit worrisome. Android 12’s pre-release versions have been buggier than past Android betas, making us concerned that the first release could still have lingering issues.

Despite that, it’s still an improvement over previous betas. It added some Material You design tweaks to core apps, improved widgets (buggy in earlier versions), upgraded device search, revamped Nearby Share, made one-handed navigation much easier, and fixed various bugs.

We’ve come a long way since the first Android 12 developer preview in February, which barely made any changes. The real paradigm shift came at Google I/O 2021, where Google revealed the new OS and kicked off the public Android 12 beta program. Since then, we’ve seen five major public beta releases: Beta 1 outlined the brand-new Material You features; Beta 2 gave us automatic color theming and revamped privacy tools; Beta 3 added anticipated features like scrollable screenshots and improved battery stats; and Beta 4 and 4.1 focused on stability and minor tweaks.

After the launch of Beta 5, Google said it would release the final version “in the weeks ahead.” On October 4, it technically released that final version. But Pixel owners still have to wait a bit longer to download the OS.

The beta is available on all Pixels starting with the Pixel 3 series, as well as over a dozen third-party handsets from 11 manufacturers. We’ve rounded up the best ways to install Android 12 on your device. That being said, anyone who installs the beta will have to wipe their phone to install the proper version of Android 12 once it releases; so if you’ve gone this long without testing it out, maybe it makes sense to wait at this point.

Android 12: Interface

Source: Nick Sutrich / Android Central

Google calls the new visual paradigm Material You, an evolution of Material Design. The key highlight here is customization. Google is making it easier than ever to personalize your phone to your tastes. For example, the “transformative” feature gives you a custom color palette, and you can easily change the interface colors.

Its color extraction tool picks the colors straight from your phone’s wallpaper, then applies them throughout the UI. So your notification shade, lock screen, widgets, volume controls, and other elements take on a custom theme that’ll change every time your wallpaper does. Our Android 12 beta 2 hands-on gave us our first look at the theming engine we’ve been waiting for.

Beta 3 then unlocked the option to pick a theme color manually, independent of your current wallpaper. The main downside is that Google only offers four colors for light and dark mode, as we discussed in our beta 3 hands-on.

Another new feature is themed icons. These convert the icons to a stylized design that incorporates your color theme. Beta 4 added more converted app icons for Google apps, but third-party apps remain their usual selves. We’ll have to see if Google lets third parties submit alternate icons with the final release.

Source: Android Central

With each update, Google gives users more power to update their phone’s UI in the Settings — without needing the best Android launchers or the best icon packs. However, one drawback to the new OS is that it killed font and icon shape options in favor of Material You, seemingly for good. That means we’re exchanging one form of customization for another instead of Google allowing us to pick and choose.

Google finally gave us the theming engine we’ve been asking for all these years.

Another major Android 12 update is animations. Google scattered fun animations throughout the interface as a way to make daily interactions much more playful. In addition, Google says that it has overhauled interactions to make them more fluid and energy-efficient — noting that core system services use up to 22% fewer resources.

One significant animation update is faster auto-rotation between portrait and landscape. This is because Google uses the selfie cam to detect the angle of your face in relation to the phone, outperforming the gyroscope by 25%. Unfortunately, it’s a bit buggy so far in the beta, so we made a guide on how to disable Android 12 auto-rotation.

Yet another aesthetic change is around dark mode. Google seems intent on making it lighter with every preview. What was a true dark mode now has a distinctly grey tone, and it doesn’t look all that great on AMOLED panels. While other manufacturers offering the ability to customize the intensity of dark mode — ColorOS 11 does this really well — Google is unlikely to do the same.

Source: Google

Google has listened to feedback during the betas, adjusting or dialing back visual changes to align with community expectations. For example, beta 2 debuted a taller, thinner volume slider when compared to beta 1, while beta 3 removed the “sparkle” animation that appears when clicking some UI elements. And beta 4 fixed a controversial change to the internet tab in Quick Settings, making it easier to change your wi-fi settings quickly.

Pixel phones will also get a proper one-handed mode with Android 12. Added in preview 2, this mode lets you swipe down from the center of the screen to condense the app into the bottom half of the screen, then swipe up or exit the app to turn it back to normal.

Widgets are also getting a considerable makeover in Android 12. Widgets were a big focus for Apple last year with iOS 14, and for Android 12, Google could be taking a few notes from Apple’s approach to giving Android widgets a much-needed refresh. Google debuted some new widgets with Android 12 Beta 1, like the conversations widget,…

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