Android Q: Best and worst features of Google's beta OS so far - CNET

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Hint: Night mode is awesome, I love using QR codes to join Wi-Fi networks but some things are broken.

With the annual Google I/O developer conference right around the corner, we can expect to soon hear about what that Google has in the works for the rest of the year, including for Android Q, the next version of the company's Android operating system due in the summer or fall.

I'm coming up on two months of using Android Q -- Google's beta software available on its Pixel phones -- every day since the middle of March. I love dark mode, I want guests to visit so I can add to them my Wi-Fi network via a QR code, and I appreciate getting a better of idea of my battery usage. But I also miss a few of my favorite apps that don't work quite right in Android Q yet.

The first prerelease versions of any new operating system are interesting because they show the direction a company is heading and offer you a chance to try out a feature before it's finished. But they can also be unstable, as a company works out the kinks. And some apps may not work as expected because they depend on a part of the OS that is changing. I am up to the challenge, because I want to find out what kinds of treats Android Q will bring us later this year when Google intends to release Android Q to the public.

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Android Q beta: Here's what you can look forward to

Google released the first public beta of Q on March 18, the second beta on April 3 and then a security patch on April 5. The software runs on any Pixel device and gives interested Android owners a chance to check out upcoming features as well as help Google track down issues with the prerelease software and apps.

Honestly, unless it's required for your job -- or you have a spare Pixel you want to try it on -- running a beta of a mobile OS may not be the best use of your time. With Q, Google is focusing in large part on privacy, giving Android owners finer control over what data they share and creating stricter limits on the information apps can ask for. It also includes small but useful changes to its notifications and controls.

Google makes it clear what you're getting into with Android Q, cautioning before you install the mobile OS that the prerelease software contains significant changes that may affect your photos, videos and other files you store on your phone. I was curious enough to jump in anyway. So here, about two months, is what stands out about Android Q so far.

Where Android Q is already solid

You expect odd behavior when running a beta. Google said the system might be "janky." But over the two months I've used Android Q and my Pixel 2 to stream movies to my TV and music to my car's audio system, navigate up and down the California Central Coast with Maps, check email, listen to podcasts, take pictures, make calls, message with family and friends, fill in the holes for the Marvel movies I missed prior to seeing Endgame… basically everything I'd regularly do on my phone. Except for a few annoyances I'll get to in a bit, Q has so far been stable and usable, despite Google's warnings.

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Dark Mode in action.Screenshot by Clifford Colby/CNET

Dark mode. To my eye, everything looks better in dark mode. Android Pie finally made it possible to apply a dark theme via the Display settings. That setting is gone in the first two beta releases of Q, but you can still force Q into dark mode. In Battery settings, if you turn on Battery Saver -- which is designed to conserve a battery charge -- you can make the phone switch to dark mode when you unplug it. You can also set when Q switches to dark mode to converse battery either based on your routine or on the percentage of battery life left. And Q's dark mode appears in more places than Pie's does, which is nice.

More info on lock screen. Android Q's lock screen displays more interesting and useful notifications, such which song is playing or your expected arrival time if you are using a transit app like Citymapper.

More feedback. Running Q, you get the charging sound and a vibration when you plug in the phone to charge it. And when you select text, you get haptic feedback. It's a little unnerving at first to feel my phone vibrate more, but I appreciate the notification that I've successfully plugged it in.

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Share Wi-Fi network credentials with Android- and iPhone-using friends.Screenshot by Tuong Nguyen/CNET

Sharing Wi-Fi details. First-time visitors to my place no longer have to type -- and retype -- the super-secret Wi-Fi password to hop on the network. In Android Q, I can create a QR code containing Wi-Fi information that visitors then can scan to connect.

Helpful battery level indicators. Android Pie shows battery status via an icon in the status bar. Q goes a step further and displays battery level as a percent to the right of the battery icon. When you're unplugged, you can swipe down on the status bar to view an estimate of how long your battery will last. Does it make the status bar cleaner? Maybe not. Is it more usable information? For me, yes.

Quick access to emergency info. I don't plan to use this, but press and hold the power button -- with the phone locked or unlocked -- to bring up an emergency shortcut. It appears below the Power off, Restart and Screenshot buttons. Tap the shortcut to bring up your phone dial pad and access to your emergency information, if you've filled it out. (You can include your name, address, blood type, medications and contacts in the emergency info.)

Where Android Q is still a work in progress

No deal-breakers, but Q has a few not-quite-ready-to-use things that have made me change how I use my phone.androidqcantsave

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You can take photos in Q, but editing them may not work.Screenshot by Clifford Colby/CNET

Some apps don't work as expected. Google notes in Q that some apps have known issues. One of those is the Photos app, which may not handle photos as expected. According to Google, Q stores more information about the images its camera captures in a separate file, letting you adjust the depth of a photo. Google says this will be especially useful for AR images, but I've not seen it in action yet.

Pokemon Go and Ingress are yet not fully supported,

. For me, Pokemon Go won't open at all. Ingress will sometimes open, and sometimes I get a message that the game is not supported on my device configuration. If I close and reopen -- and reclose and re-reopen -- the app, I can usually get it to work. Niantic said it will have news on Harry Potter: Wizards Unite support for Q as the game gets closer to release.

I initially also had problems getting my Pixel 2 to sync with my Fitbit Versa smart watch via Bluetooth with the first beta. The second beta seemed to have fixed the problem, but the syncing issue has come back again recently.

And some apps don't work at all. Both of Mozilla's Android browsers -- Firefox and Focus -- close right after I tap to open them. Promisingly, the Firefox beta works fine, so Mozilla may have a fix in the works. Other browsers based on Chromium, such as Chrome, Opera and Brave, also work fine.

Up next for Q

In the second beta, Google added bubble notifications, which act a bit like Facebook Messenger's Chat Heads and provide a way for apps to display a notification. Developers need to add bubble notifications to their apps. None of the apps I have installed are using them yet, but I look forward to seeing them in action.

Looking ahead, Google said it intends to release four more betas through the spring and summer before having the final release ready in the third quarter.androidqtimeline

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Google intends to release Q in the third quarter.Google

Originally published on April 14.

Update, April 23: Add information on Pokemon Go and Ingress.

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