The public Android 13 beta is here, and it’s our first chance to see what might be in Google’s OS update. We’ve already learned a bit about what the company is focusing on improving for the next version, and a lot of it seems like backend changes that might not have much impact on daily use. Android 13 is about to bring better privacy controls and more themed app icons. However, the company has a few things in the works yet to share – don’t forget the upcoming Google I/O in two weeks.
Most of the updates in Android 13 beta 1 are barely noticeable, and many of them are developer-focused. Things like more detailed permissions for media file access, better error reporting, and “anticipatory audio routing” aren’t things that immediately impact how you use your phone. These are tweaks that app makers have to implement before you can see the difference, as are upcoming features like themed app icons. Still, there are some new functions that might pique your interest.
Before I go any further, I have to warn you as always that installing any beta software carries a risk of losing data. You may be selecting a platform that may not be stable, which means your apps may crash or no longer work, If you’re pretty sure you’d like to give this beta a shot and have a good idea of what you’re getting into, you can enroll a supported Pixel phone on Google’s website, And a notification will appear on the device. I signed up with a Pixel 4a and downloaded the 1.79GB update without any trouble.
The first thing I noticed after installing the beta was the refreshed media playback box. It’s longer in Android 13 than on my Pixel 6 Pro (running Android 12), and uses album art as the background. Instead of showing only pause, previous, and next buttons in addition to the song’s title and artist, the new panel shows an animated progress bar that squiggles as the music plays. On Spotify’s card, at least, I also got options to shuffle and like tracks.
The new layout of this box is great. Not only does it show more information and in a more engaging way, it also lets you move the slider to fast-forward through parts of a podcast episode without having to unlock your phone or launch an app. That said, I miss the big buttons for skipping tracks. Plus, it’s a bit buggy and said my music was playing on the Pixel 4a instead of my Nest Audio speaker, where it was actually streaming.
Android Police also spotted a new QR code scanner Shortcut in the Quick Settings panel that launches a dedicated viewfinder. In my brief testing, not only was it super speedy, as Android Police pointed, but it is very easy to use. Instead of opening your camera, aim it at a code and try to hit the little chrome bar that pops up, you can just point this new scanner in the direction of the symbol and it takes over. A box pops up at the bottom with an “Open” button that’s large and very easy to tap, and the viewfinder closes, instead showing a picture of the code you just snapped. This means you will no longer need to hold your phone steady to take note of the code, while using your other hand to tap the little, tiny to link.
It’s certainly a more convenient way to scan QR codes, which have become more prevalent during the pandemic, with many businesses using them to serve up contactless menus. But I would say that, on the very rare occasions where you are aiming for one of the few particular codes, this version of the scanner is difficult to handle. Since it instantly snaps a picture of the first QR code it sees, you’ll have to tweak it a bit to get exactly the one you want.
Some of the other changes include new content you themes and improvements to app suggestions in the L version, more suited to the larger screen. You can now choose from about 12 more color palettes automatically generated from your wallpaper to apply across the system.
Although Android Police reports that the lock screen shortcut to access Android’s page of smart home device controls can now be accessed without unlocking your device, this was not true for me. When I tried to turn on my living room light with my Pixel 4a, I was still asked to enter my PIN. But it may be a bug and it may work for other beta users.
All told, there were surprisingly more user-facing changes in Android 13 beta 1, and I’ll need some time to dig around for things we may have missed. But I still wouldn’t recommend it to anyone other than the most eager early adopter to set it up—unless you scan dozens of QR codes a day. For now, it’s still too early to tell what Android 13 will look like, but it’s good to see that Google is working on at least some new features.
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