Android isn’t perfect: 5 improvements we’d like to see from Google

samsung galaxy s9 one ui review android pie logo easter egg

Android has evolved considerably over the years, introducing new UI redesign and gaining plenty of unique features and optimizations along the way. However, as refined as the modern Android experience is, a lot could still improve or change. With the anticipated release of Android Q this year we thought it’d be good to talk about a few things we’d like to see Google address in its next major OS release.

Better gesture navigations

OEMs such as Apple, Motorola, and OnePlus have all implemented their own takes on gesture navigation and Google followed suit soon after them. The introduction of Android Pie brought gesture navigation natively to the Android OS. It sounded great at first, but if you’ve used Google’s gesture navigation you’ll know it’s pretty awful.

First and foremost, Pie’s gesture navigation doesn’t actually free up any screen real estate, defeating the purpose of gesture controls entirely.

There’s also still a navigation bar at the bottom, so it isn’t even all gestures. The home button is pill-shaped instead of a circle and there’s still a back button, but it only shows up when you’re in an app or essentially anything other than the launcher. The overview or recent apps button is the only button that’s truly gone. This was replaced with a short swipe up from the bottom to launch recent apps and swiping right on the navigation bar became the new way of swapping back and forth between your last two apps.

Android gesture navigation could use a lot of work — a lot of the UI elements just don’t make sense right now

Another reason why Android Pie’s gesture navigations are so bad is some of the gestures and UI elements don’t make sense. I like that I can swipe up to get to my recent apps but I don’t like that I have to perform a long swipe to get straight to my app drawer or swipe up a second time if I only did a short swipe. Despite using it all the time, I still haven’t gotten used to it. Putting the swipe up for recent apps on the right side of the navigation bar and swiping up from the middle to open up the app drawer would be an easy fix for this. This would negate the need for a long swipe to get to the app drawer entirely.

My final big issue is the placement of the “clear all” button on the recent apps screen. Many OEM Android skins give you a clear all button that is accessible no matter where you are within your recent apps. That isn’t the case with Google’s implementation. The clear all button for recent apps isn’t static, and the more apps you have open, the further it moves to the left of the list. It just doesn’t feel intuitive and can be cumbersome if you have a laundry list of recent apps.

Long screenshot and screen recording

Google’s done a great job improving and adding new features to Android over the years. Many features that you used to have to root, flash custom ROMs, or use an OEM skin for are now natively baked into Android. Back in the early days of Android, I would root my device just to get a flashlight toggle and a restart option in the power menu. Nowadays I no longer feel the need to do that, but some are essentials are still missing.

Google has yet to implement the ability to take long screenshots or create screen recordings into Android. OEMs like OnePlus, Huawei, and Samsung have one or both of these features baked in. If you’re on pure Android you’ll have to resort to third-party apps or rooting if you really want them. These are fine options, but having the features built directly into the OS is always a better experience.

Override OEM left-panels with Google feed

HTC’s Blinkfeed and Samsung’s Bixby Home are two well-known examples of left home panels set in place by OEMs. These panels are meant to provide quick information at a glance, but are often bloated and clunky. Most OEMs let you disable the feed if you don’t like it, but you can’t replace it with a different feed of your choice.

I personally enjoy Google’s own feed. It’s clean, provides the information I need, and doesn’t feel clunky or bloated like ones I mentioned. This is one of the main reasons why I prefer using Pixel devices, but it would be great if you could substitute an Android OEMs feed with Google’s.

Improved app permissions

Google’s done a great job of giving users more control over app permissions on Android over the years, but we’re still hoping for more. According to some early leaked builds, Android Q could give us god-like powers over app permissions.

Until the update is official we won’t really know for sure what improvements will be implemented, but one thing we would like to see Google change with app permissions is the ability to grant app permissions temporarily or only while the app is in use. This is great if you only want an app to know your location or use your camera temporarily and would put users with privacy concerns at ease. An app called Bouncer on the Google Play Store does exactly this, but having it built in natively to Android is always better.



Better sharing interface

If you’ve ever shared anything on Android, you know it’s quite a messy system. Many things about sharing on Android need improvement. I’ll try to keep this as brief as possible and touch on just a few points.

One of the most obvious problems you’ll notice with the sharing UI is that it’s very slow, especially if you have a lot of apps installed. The direct sharing items also don’t load in at the same time as the rest of your apps and the suggested direct share shortcuts seem completely random at times. The options you get for direct share varies from app to app. Sometimes simply reloading the sharing UI can change who or what you can share to.

Another major issue is the inconsistency of the sharing UI across apps. It doesn’t always look the same, because developers can make the UI look however they want. However, even across Google’s own apps the sharing UI isn’t the same. In the examples below you can see how YouTube and the Play Store have a vertical scrolling UI, which is the most common sharing UI you’ll see across Android, but apps like Google Photos and Maps have horizontal scrolling.

Google also needs to have a standard look and placement for the share button. Most of the time it’s that familiar three-dot triangle, but sometimes it can be an arrow, plain text, or a combination of text and a share icon. The share button can pop up at the top of the app, in the middle, on the bottom, or buried in a three-dot menu. You can see some examples down below. Having a standard placement and look for the share button across all apps would make the experience feel more intuitive, especially for users that aren’t as well versed in the Android ecosystem.

This certainly isn’t a be-all-end-all list of everything Google should improve with Android. These are some of the top things we’d like to see addressed. Hopefully with Android Q, Google will straighten some of these things out. The update isn’t too far away, so we’ll find out pretty soon what the company decides to change. Are there any other features or UI changes you desperately want to see come to Android in the future? Let us know about them in the comments. 

Galaxy Note 9 Android Pie beta launched (and pulled?) in US

Galaxy Note 9

  • Samsung reportedly opened up registrations for its Galaxy Note 9 Android Pie beta in the U.S. recently.
  • However, the company has apparently now halted the registration process, without explanation.

Samsung opened up Android Pie beta registrations for the Galaxy Note 9 in the U.S earlier today. According to XDA Developers, Note 9 owners could sign-up to test the new software, featuring Samsung’s latest OneUI interface, through the Samsung+ app. However, registrations may have now been pulled.

XDA reported the OneUI beta notification showed up in the latest Samsung+ APK ( beta) and that both Sprint and Verizon Galaxy Note 9 users had so far managed to sign up. However, commenters and SamMobile suggest the notification no longer appears in the app.

Smartphone manufacturers have pulled numerous software rollouts in the past after discovering a particular problematic bug. Seeing as this wasn’t the software rollout, though, only registrations for it, the issue likely lies somewhere else.

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As far as we can tell, Samsung hadn’t officially announced the Note 9 beta through any of its social or PR channels, so perhaps the Pie beta registration notification only appeared in error.

The Galaxy Note 9 beta is a particularly exciting prospect as it would mark the first time Samsung has officially launched the program on a Note smartphone. We hope it’s still planned and that this is only a temporary setback.

You can get the latest version of the Samsung+ app here in case the notification reappears unannounced. We’ve reached out to Samsung for comment on the matter.

Here’s why Android Pie’s Adaptive Brightness mode is so efficient

  • Google has revealed some details on the inner workings of Android Pie’s Adaptive Brightness setting.
  • The company discussed how the setting learns from its users and how it will continue to improve as Pie lands on more smartphones.
  • Google also explained how it improved the brightness slider setting based on how our eyes perceive light.

When Google released Android Pie in August, it introduced a feature called Adaptive Brightness. This is an extension of the automatic brightness display setting many Android users will already be familiar with. In a post on the Android Developers blog earlier this week, Google explained how and why it’s better than its forerunner.

The Adaptive Brightness setting allows Android Pie to determine the optimal brightness for your smartphone. It’s an automatic setting, just enable it and it will raise or lower the brightness depending on the light in your current environment. This is not only intended to save you time manually altering brightness settings, but also to improve battery life; your smartphone should always be bright enough for your needs but not so bright that it’s consuming more battery than is necessary.

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These were also the aims of automatic brightness, though it wasn’t always effective. Manual adjustments often yielded better battery life and a better brightness level for the current situation. However, the Android Pie solution differs from previous automatic brightness modes in that it uses machine learning algorithms to help achieve the best results.

With Adaptive Brightness enabled on Pie, the system will learn your preferred settings over time. As you manipulate the brightness slider during the day, you will train the phone to understand the display brightness you want in various lighting conditions. Google says this should mean you gradually use the slider less and less, presumably until you no longer need to touch it at all.

You can find Adaptive Brightness on the Google Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL.

It’s a smart system because it lends itself to our natural behavior — we are tapping that brightness slider anyway, Pie just uses the input to inform optimal settings in an unobtrusive way. Google also says this model is updateable and should become better over time as more people use it.

Additionally, Google claims its brightness slider control accounts for the human eye to a larger extent than previously. Humans register greater differences in light changes when the display is dark compared to when it’s bright, and Google has updated the Pie slider to reflect this. It’s said to provide greater control, though it means you “may need to move the slider farther to the right than you did on previous versions of Android” to get the same brightness.

Adaptive Brightness isn’t an Android Pie feature that will come to every handset by default, but Google says it’s now working with third-party OEMs to incorporate the setting into their Pie builds. Hopefully we’ll see it on plenty of devices in the future.

For more on the new Android software, read our Android Pie review at the link and check out our Android Pie update page to find out when your device will get it.

Google dev hints Android Q previews could come to more users, sooner

  • A Google developer has hinted that early Android Q builds may reach more users next year thanks to prospective Generic System Image (GSI) developments.
  • The moves could allow any Project Treble-supported device, not just select handsets, to run previews ahead of the software’s full launch.
  • The developer said there may be a way to test Android Q without physically flashing the GSI in future, too.

A Google engineer has hinted that Android Q previews may be available on more devices than ever before ahead of its full-scale release in 2019. The engineer, Hung-ying Tyan of Google’s Project Treble team, made the comments during Android developer summit last week (via XDA Developers).

Hung-ying was holding a talk on Generic System Images (GSIs). A GSI is a pure version of Android based on the Android Open Source Project (AOSP) code used to test compatibility on Android smartphones. In order to benefit from quick updates via Project Treble, for example, a hardware manufacturer must be able to boot a GSI and ensure it works correctly on their device.

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This is a key part of Project Treble, but it seems Google wants to diversify GSI use cases. Hung-ying said the team is “exploring ways to make future GSI available earlier than the release of next Android version. So you will be able to try out next Android version earlier over GSI.” This, according to Hung-ying, would be mutually beneficial, seeing as more users would get access to the software the team could receive earlier feedback.

What’s more, Hung-ying said that there might be a way to test out GSI, without flashing it, in the future — something which can be a tricky process.

What this would mean for Android fans is that more people could gain access to the early version of Android Q (the upcoming version of Android), sooner. With the Android P Developer Preview, Google allowed Pixel users (and later some other Android device owners) to test the software from March last year ahead of its full release in August. The implication of GSI becoming available earlier is that any Project Treble-equipped phone would be able to install the next Developer Previews — opening them up to many more users.

This is just a possibility for now, but Hung-ying said we should stay tuned for more information in the future. It seems like it could happen.

Samsung talking Android Pie beta this week, may launch same day

Samsung Galaxy S9 Sunrise Gold (3 of 9)

  • Samsung has confirmed it will reveal its Android Pie beta software at its developer conference this week.
  • The company is likely to launch the beta program for Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus users shortly after.

Samsung has added the Android Pie beta program to its list of talking points at this week’s Samsung Developer Conference 2018 event. The new event on the calendar, spotted by SamMobile in the conference app, suggests the company may also launch the beta in the coming days.

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Samsung said those attending the event would be able to “explore the new Galaxy UX” through the beta, but little else was mentioned about it. If the software is usable or presentable at the show, presumably it’s in a decent shape. We had expected Samsung to launch the beta sometime soon, so it seems likely it will use the event as a platform to do so.

The beta will likely be available for the Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus, giving select users a chance to test the new software before its official rollout (probably sometime in the new year). In the U.S., this may only apply to Snapdragon models with specific carriers.

Samsung Developers conference app screenshot. Sam Mobile

We don’t know exactly what the new software (Samsung Experience 10) will deliver in terms of features, but we have encountered some leaked screenshots which have offered some clues as to the design changes (like an abundance of headers and bubbles).

Meanwhile, Samsung has also said it will show off how its upcoming folding phone works at the conference.

The Samsung Developer Conference 2018 begins tomorrow and runs until this Thursday. We’ll be bringing you all the announcements as they happen.