Almost two weeks have passed since Google served us a slice of its official Android 9 Pie. Some of us had followed for months as the different developer previews landed and weren't too fazed by the final release, but for those users who preferred to wait, there were many surprising changes from 8.1 Oreo to 9 Pie.
We've previously listed our five favorite Android P features and five least liked ones, but that was back in March, after the first developer preview and before the implementation of many other interesting changes. Today, we take another look at the final Pie release and see which features we like and which ones we're not too fond of.
7 favorite features
While it is not perfect, we've been fans of Pie's new gesture navigation since it was implemented in DP2. After some changes and improvements, and with the help of some hidden gestures, we've grown used to this control method. Swipe and drag to switch between open apps, quick swipe to go back to the previous app, swipe all the way up to get to the app drawer from anywhere, and swipe up a little to see a list of recommended apps based on your usage.
The latter always gets me, personally, because it really knows I'm likely to open Money Lover when I'm in Gmail (to log my expenses from received emails), Google Photos and Leetags when I'm in Instagram, and Fitbit after Spotify (at the gym).
Gestures are not to everyone's liking, especially the way Android's are implemented, but if you try them for a few days, it's hard to go back to using static buttons.
Temporary rotation lock
We have loved Pie's rotation lock from the first developer preview, and while it has changed icons several times over the months, it still does the same thing. When auto-rotation is turned off and locked to portrait, if you turn your phone sideways, you get a small rotation suggestion in the bottom navigation bar that temporarily locks the orientation to landscape. It's perfect when you want to view some photos, watch videos, or use any app that's better enjoyed in landscape. Flip your phone around and you get the same icon to switch back to portrait.
It might be a small feature, but it's a perfect middle ground between having auto-rotation on the whole time (and having your screen flip-flop while laying down) and turning it off completely (and cursing each time you want to see some photos or videos).
It is a standalone app, it's still in beta, and we have some reservations about it, but Digital Wellbeing is a welcome addition to Android Pie. We like how it shows us our app usage in a very visual and easy-to-understand way, we appreciate the app timers that try to curb us from spending too much time scrolling mindlessly through Instagram/Reddit and watching puppy videos on YouTube, and we're starting to get the point of the Wind Down mode and its deterring grayscale colors.
Digital Wellbeing won't do much for those who are so far gone into their smartphone addiction that they spend a vacation enjoying the world through the display while shooting an Instagram (or Facebook or Snapchat) story, but it can be a neat utility to gently remind the less hardcore users to put down their phones and appreciate real life.
So what's this fascinating feature exactly? When you're in Overview (otherwise known as the app switcher view), you can tap and hold on any text or image and copy it, search for it, or share it. It works for selecting text in apps that don't let you select text, for copying text from images, and for sharing images from apps that don't normally allow that (think Instagram, Spotify, Facebook). It's a very handy feature and one you may not use all the time, but you always appreciate having when you need it. Let's just say that it has helped me up my puppy picture game with my husband, by a wide margin.
Better dark theme
A system-wide dark theme this isn't, but at least Android Pie has taken a step toward allowing you to choose a dark look in your app drawer, Google Feed background, and Quick Settings. Previously, the only way to get it was to choose a very dark wallpaper and hope it was enough to trigger it automatically. Now, you can keep any wallpaper you like, no matter how bright and colorful, and still manually choose a dark theme. It also helps that Pie uses a darker (and less transparent) background for the Feed and app drawer.
We'd love to be able to take partial or scrolling screenshots in Android at some point, but we're happy that Pie gave us at least a native screenshot editor. Markup, the hidden app that does this, showed up in the first developer preview and was further improved to allow us to crop, annotate or draw, and share any screenshot. If you spend several hours a day looking at your phone, you're likely to come across some things you want to share with a personal comment, and Markup lets you do that easily, without having to install a third-party app.
On one hand, it's good that Google is taking steps to standardize notch implementations instead of leaving it to the OEMs to solve that missing display section in their own UIs, but on the other hand, we wish the changes were notch forced on every device, even those that have a full display without any silly cutouts. In a word, we liked our notification bar the way it was, and we just want an option to keep it organized the old way on our notch-less phones.
More volume and Do Not Disturb changes
The chronicles of Google and its Android volume / Do Not Disturb changes continue. At this point, it's no longer a saga, it's a sad pathetic story that adds a new chapter with every release. Maybe the changes with the volume controls and DND are for the better now, we're not arguing that point; what we are arguing is that Google can't make up its damn mind about the things you can control and how you control them. Even bad options would be good now, as long as they stay the same for a few months at a time, instead of changing and moving around inexplicably, thus forcing users to dig in and try to find where a certain setting has gone.
That's a lot, really. Even for someone like me whose livelihood depends on knowing as much about Android as possible, changing any sound/vibration/DND setting is a dreadful, daunting task that I only do once when setting up a new phone and hope to never have to touch again. If a friend ever dares to ask me about it on their phone, I just evade the question or, if they're insistent, pray that I still remember how things worked in that particular version of Android. Get your shit together, Google, we've been through this for several years and it's not rocket science.
Half-disappearance of System UI Tuner
For a few versions of Android, System UI Tuner was where some quirky tweaks hid. It let you launch DND with the volume buttons, disable some status icons from showing up in the notification bar, and even trigger Demo Mode when you want a clean bar for screenshots and video screengrabs. The latter was decoupled from System UI Tuner and added to Developer Options before Android Pie, so you can still relatively easily access it. The first two, however, are no longer easily reachable.
On Pie, you can't turn on System UI Tuner by tapping and holding on the settings button in the notification drop-down, but the feature is still there, though invisible. It can be triggered via adb, Nova Launcher, or any app that accesses activities (such as Activity Manager). But the fact that it's so well hidden now leaves us scratching our head: is this feature staying or was it meant to be completely removed but someone messed up and left it by mistake? We don't know, and that's why we don't like this change. Hold on to your seats, UI Tuner may not be long for this world.
Overall, after running the developer previews for several months then the final release for these past weeks, we're liking Android 9 Pie. At first, we weren't fans of the white overload and the colorful iconography, but it has grown on us and, in daily use, we barely notice it nowadays. On the downside, we had higher hopes for the adaptive battery, but it has been very hit-and-miss. On DP2, I was getting phenomenal battery life on my Pixel 2 XL, but later versions nullified that effect. Other users' reports are as inconsistent as mine. We also like the idea of app actions and slices, but those won't be useful until more developers implement them.
Pie isn't a revolutionary update, yet it still packs more useful features and incremental improvements than we noted here, along with a few other unwanted changes. Ryne took the time to gather all the Pie features we have covered over the past months, so check out that list if you need to know more about Android's latest version.