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Android 11 Beta hands-on: Should you install it? (Video!)
The first Android 11 beta is here! It’s an exciting time to be an Android user, especially if you own a Pixel. New priority notifications, media playback controls, messaging app bubbles, and many more features were announced for Android 11 Beta 1.
But! Before you go installing Android 11 on your main smartphone, keep in mind that this is a beta. It’s not meant to be the most stable version of Android ever made. In fact, we’ve found a handful of bugs in this build that may stop you from installing it on your Pixel device. Here’s what we’ve found out about Android 11 performance so far, as well as some of our thoughts on the new Android 11 features.
Don’t miss: The most notable new features in Android 11
What’s new in Android 11?
This is a bit of a unique Android 11 build. Usually, the first beta is where Google rolls out new UI changes (if there are any) or any other new user-facing features. We’re not getting a lot of that here. Google has trickled out feature after feature in the first four developer previews, and many of the things that weren’t already official leaked out weeks in advance.
What I’m saying is, there aren’t a lot of surprises here, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot to dig into. We’ve rounded up all the new and notable Android 11 features right here, so be sure to check that out for more granular developer-focused features. In Android 11 Beta 1, there are a handful of really useful tweaks that make Android feel much more mature.
Notifications are a huge priority in Android 11. Google is making thoughtful changes to the notification shade that prioritize your most important notifications. Notifications from messaging apps now have their own section in the shade at the very top, denoted by a “Conversations” header. That’s where you’ll see emails, texts, Telegram messages, and so on.
I won’t go into too much detail here — Eric already did that in a very informative article on Android 11 notifications — but I can tell you this will no doubt be a mainstay in Android going forward. Android’s notification shade has become so cumbersome over the years, that it can be difficult to pick out the most important things. Now, Google is putting these important messages at the forefront of your interaction with your phone.
Furthermore, you can mark certain conversations as Priority, meaning these convos bypass “do not disturb” mode. They’re also pinned to the top of your notification shade, and that person’s profile icon will show up in your status bar instead of a generic app icon. How cool!
To further clean up the notification shade, Google is also moving media playback controls into the quick settings panel. Once enabled in developer options, your music or podcast app will now show media controls in the quick settings. You get a small, condensed playback box with a single swipe down of the quick settings page and an expanded view on your second swipe down.
I’ve been using this feature all day, and again, I love it. As someone who listens to podcasts and music for hours a day, it’ll be so nice to always have quick access to those settings without accidentally swiping away the notification. It also just makes everything look much cleaner.
Google further changed things around with the Android 11 Beta 2 update. Now, the condensed media controls span the full width of the notification shade and appear below the quick settings toggles, as opposed to being crammed to the left side of the panel. The expanded media controls now sit below the quick settings tiles, instead of above.
Google also made big changes to the way you access smart home controls, contactless payments, and certain device settings. Press and hold the power button and you’ll be presented with a new page, showing emergency information, power controls (power off/restart/lockdown mode), Google Pay cards, and smart home controls. It now operates like Apple’s Control Center on iPhones, which is very much a good thing.
Interactions with all of these options — especially lockdown mode, Google Pay, and smart home controls — need to be quick and seamless, and adding them to the power menu makes it a breeze. By far, my favorite feature here is the ability to dim my office light from the power menu. No more opening up the Google Home app and digging around.
The stuff we’ve already seen
Again, a lot of the new features coming to Android 11 have already rolled out in other developer previews. Here are a few big features we’ve already gotten our hands-on in previous Android 11 builds.
- Native screen recording is one of the biggest new features we hope will stick around in Android 11. In Beta 1, it’s pretty stable.
- You now have quick access to detailed notification history, so you can quickly find that message you accidentally swiped away.
- The overview menu (recent apps menu) received a new design, complete with screenshot shortcuts and an option to quickly select and share text.
- Google also introduced new permission controls. Now, there’s an option to grant a permission (like location) to a certain app just one time.
The stuff I haven’t tried yet
Google likes to announce a lot of features for new versions of Android, but they don’t all show up at once. Instead, the company lays the groundwork for certain features, allowing it to enable them in future releases. Here are a few features I haven’t been able to try yet.
Call me crazy, but I actually like Facebook Messenger’s chat heads feature. I really only talk to my best friends and family through Facebook, so having those conversations floating around my homescreen on a daily basis is actually quite convenient.
Google is introducing APIs that enable messaging apps to implement chat head-like “Bubbles” in Android 11. Google actually announced Bubbles in Android 11 Developer Preview 1, and we were able to get the feature working back then. Now, in Beta 1, that functionality is turned off again. Even Google’s messaging apps don’t work with it.
Technically, Android recognizes Facebook Messenger as using Bubbles, for what it’s worth.
Scrolling screenshot support
Updated (July 10): Google has hinted at scrolling screenshot support for Android 11, but it looks like that feature will be pushed off to another Android release. Google announced that scrolling screenshot support wouldn’t be ready in time for the full Android 11 rollout.
Various APIs and developer-focused features
New Android beta builds aren’t just for us early adopters. This is Google’s time to introduce new APIs and under-the-hood features that make developing for Android much easier. Google is introducing new Autofill APIs, a new ADB incremental installation method, better support for curved displays, scoped storage, and many other updates. A lot of the most interesting new features in Android 11 won’t be here until developers start adopting the new APIs.
Android 11 performance and bugs
After using Android 11 Beta 1 for a few hours, I’ve run into a handful of issues with a few of my apps. Enabling the new media playback controls feature, while fun, breaks a lot of things with the notification shade. Multiple times I’ve tried to swipe down from my notification shade, only to see that the entire OS has locked up. Locking and unlocking my phone seems to get things back to normal, but it’s cumbersome when it happens multiple times within a few minutes.
Also, while we’re on the subject of media controls: Once you enable the controls and play some music, the quick settings page decreases from nine quick settings down to six to make room for the playback controls. However, when music is no longer playing and the feature is still enabled in at a system level, the quick settings page still only shows six icons. I’m not sure if this is a bug or if it’s intentional. I’m calling it a bug.
I’ve noticed a lot of jank and lag when trying to switch between apps in the overview menu. The new power menu has also force closed on me more than once.
It’s far too early for me to comment on battery life, but as a rule of thumb, treat this like you would with any other beta. Expect battery life on your phone to take a hit, since Android 11 isn’t optimized to its full potential quite yet.
Other known Android 11 performance issues
Those are just the issues I came across while using the Android 11 beta. Google has outlined a handful of other issues on its release notes page, so be on the lookout for these bugs as well:
- This release may have various stability, battery, or performance issues on supported devices.
- For users with accessibility needs, this release may not be appropriate for daily use.
- Some apps may not function as expected when running on this release. This includes Google’s apps as well as other apps.
- Android 11 Beta builds are not Compatibility Test Suite (CTS) approved, but they have passed preliminary testing and provide a stable set of prerelease APIs for developers. Apps that depend on CTS-approved builds or use SafetyNet APIs might not work normally on Android 11 Developer Preview builds.
- Device may crash (reboot) while using gesture navigation to switch apps in different orientation and while rotating the device at the same time.
- On Pixel 3 and 3a, users setting up devices after reset may not be able to activate a pSim service if the phone is currently using an eSIM service.
- Android Enterprise: For apps installed in the personal profile, clicking Share > Switch to work profile sometimes launches the share menu with the Personal tab open rather than the Work tab. To work around this, open the Work tab manually.
- Users might experience an issue during Android Auto projection with audio routing. When a user is connected with Android Auto in the vehicle and playing music or using navigation, the audio may be played on the phone’s speaker instead of the vehicle speakers. We have fixed this issue internally and it will be available to you in the next Beta release.
- In Android 11 Beta 1, the system incorrectly enforces Bluetooth privileged permission for RemoveBond. This can affect pairing, unpairing, and bond reset flows for Bluetooth devices, such as for Forget Watch on Wear OS devices. This issue will be addressed in an upcoming release and RemoveBond will then function as it did before.
Also, be sure to check out Google’s Issue Tracker to see if anyone else has run into your same issue.
How stable has Android 11 Beta 1 been for you?
When will Android 11 be released?
Android 11 is only available in beta form at the moment, so we’re still a little ways off from the official Android 11 release date. Right now, we’re expecting Google to release the full, consumer-ready version of Android 11 sometime in Q3 2020, likely around early September. A September 8 release date was thrown around, but Google said it was an error and the final release date has yet to be confirmed.
Should you install Android 11 Beta 1 or 2?
Yes, but maybe don’t do so on your daily driver.
My experience has been fairly positive, and I haven’t run into anything too detrimental to my overall user experience. However, your mileage will almost certainly vary, so remain cautious and expect to find a few more bugs than what I reported here. Maybe hold off until Beta 3 to install it on your daily driver.
It may not have seemed like it from the leaks and trickling features for the past few months, but Google’s vision for Android 11 is finally coming into focus. Now that Google doesn’t need to spend countless releases tweaking Android’s UI, it’s finally able to put emphasis on what counts — interactions with family and friends, as well as easier access to the tools you need most. I’ll echo what C Scott so eloquently wrote earlier today: Android 11 might seem like a subtle upgrade, and that’s okay.