Google officially launched the first Android 11 beta yesterday, finally opening up the latest software for a few billion smartphones beyond developers. Eventually, anyway.

Android 11 Beta – Everything you need to know!

What it means:

  • For most people, this is the first chance to see changes coming to the wider Android ecosystem. A bunch of new features is for developers and phone makers, like better 5G support, or Google Play features to help apps find audiences, but there’s plenty of stuff for you and me as well.
  • The main changes aren’t sweeping new visuals or adaptations, new changes, which you might’ve expected only a few years ago. 
  • Now, with Android a more complete and mature operating system, refinement is everything. Google’s task is making your phone do what it does, just better.
  • What’s new is focused on conversations and notifications, navigation (including by voice!), multitasking, and privacy/permissions.

What to expect

  • The intrepid explorers of the Android 11 Beta, aka my colleagues, confirm that what we saw in early developer previews is on the money.
  • I just want to touch on some of the more obvious ones that you’ll immediately see if you try it out, or it comes to you later in the year.
  • Conversations and notifications: Android 11 now prioritizes messaging conversations in notifications. And, gives you more options for setting notifications to priority (letting them even break Do Not Disturb settings), alerting, and silent. Plus, chat bubbles now exist for all apps: floating orbs that offer swift multitasking to open a message window and conversation easily. Think chat heads from Facebook Messenger, but for all apps, if you want them.
  • Easier device and media controls: Media player controls now head to the quick settings bar, as you can see above, rather than acting as notifications. Smart home controls are now in the long-press power menu, too. This surprised me and I only have a lamp and Nanoleaf Canvas. Plus, there str shortcuts to an emergency button, and Google Pay.
  • Suggested apps row now offers whatever apps Google thinks you want, but I mean, most people have a set of dock apps that exist in expected positions, so I’m not sure about that one.
  • Native screen recording, and muting notifications during video are both small, but welcome features, and I like the new one-time permission option for giving an app your location temporarily, not forever. Also, auto-revoke permissions, where Android will automatically revoke permissions such as camera, location, and more, from apps that haven’t been used for a few months or so. This is great.
  • There’s more to like, such as an airplane mode that won’t turn off your Bluetooth connection. Which is helpful for when you’re listening to things. A Voice Access accessibility feature looks really useful for helping people, via an ‘on-device visual cortex’.
  • Here are all the Android 11 features spotted so far, with that page updated as more tweaks are found.

The point

  • Google is improving Android further, trying to help you navigate chat apps and conversations more quickly and easily, hide chats when you don’t want to be bothered, and pulls back much further on app permissions.
  • And then there’s a bunch of refinements, most of which you’ll naturally see and appreciate.
  • This isn’t meant to be strictly a positive review. The negatives and faults of Android are waiting for what improvements Google tinkers with to be distributed to your particular phone. Companies like OnePlus are fast to roll out Android updates, Motorola is not.

How to get it

  • Even for newbies, it’s now actually really, really easy to get Android 11 Beta 1 if you have a compatible device. You just have to check you can participate by going to https://www.google.com/android/beta and clicking enroll/opt-in.
  • Then, you get an update to your phone without having to USB tether, or flash. Easy!