The latest Android P Preview (Preview #4, Beta #3) is out. It’s a few days late given that it was supposed to launch in June, but now the Google Pixel 1 and Pixel 2 are free to update to the latest build. This “June” release has been bumped up to the July security patch, and it includes “the latest bug fixes and optimizations for stability and polish” according to Google blog post.
Flash Beta 3 to a device and you’ll find a few changes, mostly related to gesture navigation. Keep in mind it’s still a beta, and while I’m going to point out that things are incomplete, things are allowed to be incomplete. Again, .
Gesture Nav changes
Google is building a (so far optional, disabled-by-default) gesture navigation system into Android P. Gesture nav was widely panned in the earlier betas. It didn’t save any screen space—which seems like it should be the whole point of gesture navigation—it wasn’t faster than regular buttons, and it had an awkward, lopsided design. None of these problem were addressed in Beta 3, but Google is adding some polish to the system.
The first thing you’ll notice is the new back button. It’s now a barely-there caret icon instead of the old Nexus-style triangle button the gesture system inherited in Preview 2.
Sliding the pill home button to the right triggers a scrolling recent app screen, and sliding left and right kind of actions like a scroll bar. In Preview 4, the scroll area is a lot larger—it takes up the whole bottom of the screen instead of a small area on the right. This now gives you a bit more control over how the scrolling happens. The thumbnails are also bigger, which is nice.
It seems like the awkward lopsided design is here to stay. Normally Android has three bottom navigation buttons. From left to right they are: “Back,” “Home,” and “Recent apps.” With gesture navigation enabled, the recent apps button is replaced with a swipe up gesture, and the back button hides on the home screen. Having only the home button in the middle looks great on the home screen, but when you are inside an app, the back button pops up, and now you have the back button, the home button, and a blank space where recents used to be.
In Beta 3, Google will occasionally make use of that blank space. If you have multiple keyboards installed, the keyboard switcher will appear in the blank space when you open the keyboard. Android P’s awesome new smart rotation toggle will also popup in this spot when it senses a rotation change. Both icons are redesigned in Preview 4, and the smart rotation toggle triggers an eye-catching animation when it pops up. It was easy to miss before.
I still don’t think these icons look like a cohesive whole right now. It’s lopsided, and the super thin back button looks odd next to the thick, puffy home button. Everything just looks very strange. It’s a beta though.
New icons and other settings changes
A new icon style has popped up in Preview 4. In general, this new style is thinner and often uses outlines to represent things rather than filled in shapes. So far they’ve appeared in the quick settings and all throughout the system settings. Remember, Android P is introducing a whole new design style to Android, so it’s not surprising to see more tweaks in the run up to release.
Only about half the icons have changed, which looks strange (remember, beta). For instance, in the quick settings there are new icons for do not disturb, flashlight, battery saver, autorotate, and the SIM card, but not for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, airplane mode, or night light. The battery saver icon is a new outline style in Quick Settings, but the very similar battery icon in the system settings uses an old filled in design. Hopefully more icons are coming.
Speaking of quick settings, Google restored the alarm app shortcut while quick settings is open—just tap on the time.
For a while now, the Pixel phones have had an automatic light/dark mode for the quick settings. It triggered based on the color of your wallpaper, so if you had a bright wallpaper, it gave you a white quick settings. If you had a dark wallpaper, you got black quick settings. In the “Display” settings, there’s now an option to turn off automatic mode and directly pick a light or dark theme. Google calls this “Device theme,” but it only changes the quick settings color.
That’s about it for the major tweaks in Preview 4. Google is calling this a “near final” release, but we’ll still have one more release between now and the final version. Remember beta releases are coming to more than just the Pixel phones this year, and Google says that these devices will be updated in “the coming weeks.”