For a patch, Android 13 Beta 3.2 contains many more changes than expected and we’re diving into everything new as a result.
Over the coming hours, we’ll dive into all of Android 13 Beta 3.2’s new features and every single change. (The newest updates will be at the top of this list. Be sure to check back often and tell us what you find in the comments below.) Beta 3.1 screenshots appear on the left and Beta 3.2 at the right.
Prep towards new Easter Egg
Tweaked Pixel Tips layout: More prominent highlights
Tweaks to Clipboard
Sharing is now done via the bottom-left corner overlay.
The share button is no longer in the full-screen editor. After making any edits and tapping “Done,” you’re taken back to the previous screen with the corner overlay still visible.
Pixel Launcher: ‘Always show keyboard’ in app drawer
Updated Google Lens icon
Google rolls out Android 13 Beta 3.2 to Pixel with several bug fixes
Following a patch last Friday, Google is back with Android 13 Beta 3.2 today to fix more issues on Pixel phones.
Google usually does not release more than one patch in-between major previews, but Beta 3.1 was required as a more pressing fix — coming only two days after Beta 3 — given the unavailability of the Beta Feedback app for new users.
At a high-level, Beta 3.2 includes the “latest bug fixes and improvements to stability and performance.” Five Android 13 issues are specifically addressed with this update:
Fixed an issue where the back gesture wasn’t working in some apps.
Fixed an issue where the At a glance settings page would collapse inconsistently when scrolling.
Fixed an issue where some apps would crash instantly on opening.
Fixed an issue where the microphone would turn on and off unexpectedly during unrelated use of the device.
Fixed an issue where the Google Photos app would crash frequently.
These problems are particularly application and user-facing, though we have not seen widespread reports of them.
Factory images for Android 13 Beta 3.2 build TPB3.220610.004 (versus TPB3.220513.017.B1 previously) are available now. On a Pixel 4a, the OTA comes in at 238MB.
After the main release and two patches, Google is now asking for feedback on Android 13 Beta 3 in a survey that’s slightly different from past versions by focusing on the search experience.
For starters, the survey is hosted on Qualtrics instead of Google Forms and asks for demographic information (age and occupation). It opened today and ends on June 28 at 5 p.m. PT.
This survey should take no longer than 10 minutes to complete. Please keep in mind that all questions and content within this survey are confidential and should not be shared with anyone.
This Android 13 Beta 3 survey is not limited to Pixel with various OEMs, including those that have not announced preview programs yet, listed:
Realme, Momo, Oppo, Samsung, Microsoft, Google Pixel, OnePlus, Motorola, Sony, and Nokia
After specifying the current build on your device, Google asks which “search box did you primarily use since using your device on Android 13”: Search widget on the home screen or All Apps Drawer search box. You’re able to select “Both.” Google wants to know whether Android 13 has changed your usage compared to Android 12. Listed capabilities include:
Apps not yet installed (i.e. Google Play store apps)
Apps (installed on your phone)
Content within Apps
Quick app actions (i.e. shortcuts)
Web content (e.g. websites, Google search results page)
There’s then a question about “how easy or difficult was it to find what you were searching for in the search box” with the ability to expand further via written responses; Google then asks you to compare the two search fields.
Likely to help improve the process of registering your fingerprint on devices with in-display readers, Android 13 Beta 3 has gained a new enrolment UI.
Of course, with the Pixel 6a and Pixel 7 series yet to be officially available, that means the new UI is currently limited to the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro. If you update a device which already has pre-registered biometric data, you may never actually see this new UI. However, when enrolling a fingerprint or thumbprint, during the latter stages of this process in Android 13 Beta 3, you will see a new animation and guides to help you get a better reading of your finger.
Given the bad press that the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro in-display fingerprint scanners have received, it’s likely that this new guidance and improved UI have been added to ensure better registration processes for all users. We do know that the upcoming Pixel 6a will utilize a different in-display scanner, but it remains to be seen if this new change will help alleviate the Pixel 6 series issues.
By adding a new fingerprint enrolment UI within Android 13, it makes it more obvious just when to begin adjusting your finger and add the extremities or edges. In Android 12, a text prompt alongside guide brackets are currently used, which are actually not entirely visible when pressing your finger on-screen.
Making this change to the fingerprint enrollment section within Android 13 could have major benefits for the upcoming Pixel 7 series, but could also help those with problems with their existing Pixel 6 series handset and ensure better unlock times when using the new unlock method.
Android Sound Amplifier updated with new UI as Lookout adds Images mode
In addition to Gboard updates today, Google is updating two of its accessibility apps. Android’s Sound Amplifier gets a redesign and accuracy improvements, while Lookout now offers a new mode for analyzing images.
Introduced in 2019, Sound Amplifier uses the microphones on your Android phone to enhance and filter “important sounds around you.” Google says the latest update improves background noise reduction, while there’s now “faster and more accurate sound.”
There’s also a new Material You UI with a waveform that’s similar to the Recorder app on Pixel phones. A carousel lets you pick input from the phone mic or playing media with cards below to fine-tune noise reduction and boost quiet sounds.
Meanwhile, Lookout uses your phone’s camera to “provide information about the world around you with a variety of modes.” A new Images mode — currently in beta — leverages Google’s latest image understanding ML model to let you “hear a description of an image by simply opening it from just about any app.” Users specifically get a generated caption, details of what’s present in the scene, and any text that appears.
More clearly access labels, menus and receipts in real life using just your Android device’s camera.
Meanwhile, the modes for Text and Documents now offer improved reading order for formatted text, like menus and receipts. The Explore mode “detects objects more accurately,” while the Food Label/barcode reader is better at recognizing products in Brazil and India.
Lookout now also works offline without the need for Wi-Fi or data service. Download or update Lookout in Google Play to get the new features.
Android Automotive OS 12L brings Quick Controls, notification and Bluetooth upgrades, more
Besides tablets, Android 12L also brings a slew of features to Android Automotive OS as Google quietly detailed last month during I/O 2022, which mostly focused on the upcoming Android Auto redesign.
In terms of System UI improvements, Android Automotive OS 12L introduces Quick Controls that allow OEMs to add selected settings, like Bluetooth toggles, to the Status bar or other SysUI elements. This lets users “change key settings safely while driving, without opening the Settings app,” and is dependent on car maker adoption. Each will likely offer their own UI and approach.
There’s also a “notification visual overhaul” that improves grouped notifications, while support for rotary controllers (hardware knob) get bug fixes.
Other highlights include improved Bluetooth reconnection performance that will see AA OS “connect to devices more often and under the right circumstances.” Car OEMs will be able to “preview from automotive camera services, while said manufacturers can now remotely enable ADB and other Android developer options remotely. This could be used for “crypto token access mechanisms and remote web service.”
The full developer-facing changelog for Android Automotive OS 12L is below:
System UI and core apps improvements
Quick Controls feature. Enables OEMs to add selected settings (for example, Bluetooth toggles) to SysUI (for example, the Status bar) to enable users to change key settings safely while driving, without opening the Settings app.
Dual STA. Enable the IVI to connect to an OEM restricted Wi-Fi network, concurrently with a primary connection to a Wi-Fi network.
Audio ducking signal. Provides HAL with audio focus state and information on what output devices to duck.
Volume improvements. Enable for finer control of volume, including providing and API to get active volume groups.
Muting per volume group. Enable per volume group muting and enhance HAL and UI communication about the mute states.
AIDL migration for the AudioControl HAL. Migrated the AudioControl HAL from HIDL to AIDL to fully use AIDL functionality.
Power policy handling for Audio. Enabled power handling functionality for the car audio service, including disable and enable focus requests, and mute and unmute volume groups on power policy changes for audio.
CarEvsManager. Enables OEMs to implement Android Activity that shows the preview from automotive camera services.
System reliability and stability
Car watchdog flash memory management. Manages system flash memory by limiting the amount of data written to storage. Enables OEMs to define the write thresholds (for OEM, media, and maps packages) and collect statistics for OEM applications. Disables and terminates non-critical applications and services that exceed defined thresholds.
Vehicle bound encryption. Android storage encryption can now be configured to store some key encryption parameters on an external ECU. This prevents the harvesting of data by removing the head unit from the car (for example, due to theft or relegated to a junkyard).
Secure developer options. Android developer options and ADB can be remotely enabled exclusively by an OEM. Reference implementation provides crypto token access mechanisms and remote web service.
Advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) location switch. Access to device location for apps used for ADAS can now be controlled with a separate location switch in the Settings app.
Edge-based analytics capability. Enables the ability to perform more edge-based metrics processing on Android Automotive devices. Android infotainment and vehicle property metrics can be configured in scripts written in the Lua language and processed on-device to be sent to the backend of OEM choosing.
Compliance fixes. A number of patches ensure compliance with the Android certification test suites. The Android 12L AAOS Release is 100% compliant on CTS, CTS-Verifier, and STS test suites on our internal reference platform with no additional fixes needed in the AOSP software.
Google is ever on the quest to improve the general perception of security and privacy on its mobile operating system. The latest effort is called “Protected by Android” and that branding looks set for a broader rollout.
The Android YouTube channel today uploaded a 50-second video about how the OS “is all about keeping you and your information safe so you can focus on what matters most.” Still images of people using smartphones – presumably Android-powered ones, but we’re pretty sure there’s one of an iPhone 8 Plus at 0:05 – with short captions are used throughout:
From detecting and defeating bad apps to helping you control your personal information, you’re always protected by Android.
A slick animation sees the green Android head morphs into a checkmarked shield: “Whatever you’re up to, you’ve got peace of mind when you’re protected by Android.” Highlighted platform and ecosystem features include:
Verified by Play Protect: “You’re safe from malware and harmful apps”
Monthly security updates: “Defended by non-stop security”
Location access permissions: “And in control of your personal information”
Besides this ad, Google at I/O 2022 showed off Android 13’s upcoming unified “Security & privacy” settings page. Underneath the prominent “Scan device” button there’s the same “Protected by Android” branding and shield.
The page will be anchored by new action cards that notify you of critical steps you should take to address any safety risks. In addition to notifications to warn you about issues, we’ll also provide timely recommendations on how to enhance your privacy.
After testing for some time, YouTube Music is finally bringing the song/video switcher to the Now Playing UI of the web client.
Just above cover art is the Song and Video switcher that has been a staple of the Now Playing screen on Android and iOS.
There are two primary use cases for this switcher. The first is switching between the official music video and the album version of a song, as evidenced by cover art appearing in the latter instance. Your playback position is retained when switching. The switcher appears grayed out when songs aren’t available as videos.
The other use is disabling the video aspect of a live recording, which just uses the thumbnail as cover art. It’s useful for those that just want to listen to audio, with users previously resorting to minimizing Now Playing at the expense of being able to see the Up Next queue.
YouTube Music has been testing the switcher for some time on the desktop, but it looks to be widely rolled out today. It’s another example of the web client getting feature parity with the mobile apps, while the Related tab was introduced in recent months.
Google should also theme the background of Now Playing to album art instead of defaulting to just a dark background. This was previously spotted but never widely rolled out.
YouTube Music artist pages now list songs and albums ‘From your library,’ like Play Music
After rolling out a redesigned “Add to playlist” UI, YouTube Music is adding a “From your library” section to artist pages that is similar to something that was found in Google Play Music.
It’s third from the bottom and just below the “Videos” carousel. Up to five songs or albums are listed with “See all” in the top-right corner. That button takes you to a list of just tracks. There’s a convenient “Shuffle all” button, while sort options include Release date, Recently added, A to Z, and Z to A.
YouTube Music’s Library essentially lets you save media for quicker access, but it does not include songs you’ve manually uploaded. This new grouping joins the Albums, Songs, and Artists views, while “From your library” also exists as a carousel in the Home tab.
The From your library section in artist pages is widely rolled out today on YouTube Music for Android and iOS. However, it’s not currently found on the web, and would ideally be ranked higher up in the page. In all, this new feature is similar to “My Library” in Google Play Music.
In a surprise announcement at The Game Awards,Google this evening revealed that it’s bringing Android gaming to Windows PCs next year through a desktop Play Games app.
Android users might know Play Games as the pop-up that loads when they open a title, as well as a mobile application that shows various achievements and serves as a directory. Google uses “Play Games” as the umbrella term for the various services (e.g. player accounts, storing/syncing data, social, achievements/leaderboards, testing, and store distribution) it offers to aid Android game developers.
In all, the company says there are 2.5 billion monthly active users gaming with Android apps across phones, tablets, and Chrome OS, with the latter form factor seeing game usage grow three times year-over-year.
Google now wants to bring its multi-screen gaming platform to Windows PCs. This expansion is pitched as a continuation of its mission and as something desired by the Android developer community.
It will take the form of a native “Google Play Games” Windows application. In addition to the app, Google will be directly distributing content, which includes both emulated Android titles and games that run natively on Windows. There will be seamless game experiences that let players go between mobile and desktop.
Behind-the-scenes, the Google Play team built something different from what Microsoft has for Windows 11. In fact, Google’s app will be available on Windows 10 and newer — exact specs coming at a later date. As part of this, the app/service has a new green, triangular icon with half a controller.
“Google Play has helped billions of people find and play their favorite games across multiple platforms, including on mobile, tablets and ChromeOS. Starting in 2022, players will be able to experience their favorite Google Play games on more devices: seamlessly switching between a phone, tablet, Chromebook, and soon, Windows PCs. This Google built product brings the best of Google Play Games to more laptops and desktops, and we are thrilled to expand our platform for players to enjoy their favorite Android games even more. We’ll have more to share soon!”
Greg Hartrell, Product Director, Games on Android and Google Play
Play Games for Windows will be available next year and more details are coming “soon.”
Google is not yet ready to detail specifics of this upcoming experience, but it did lay out the first part of a grand vision that’s inline with the internal “Games Future” presentation made public in August as part of the Apple and Epic Games lawsuit.
This document laid out the cross-platform ambition that Google just made official at The Game Awards. It includes a possible image of the straightforward desktop app, which is rather tablet-like. At a high level, Google wants to let users “play on any screen,” including the Android, Windows, and macOS platforms and all form factors like phones, tablets, desktops, smart displays, and TVs, with the company possibly creating a “low-cost” Bluetooth controller.
After waiting what felt like ages, Android 12 has arrived with a literal mountain of changes, tweaks, and tuning to sink your teeth into. We’ve whittled or distilled our deep dive down to a selection of 20 of the best features added in Android 12 — features we think you’ll really love right away.
We’re going beyond Material You here though. The wallpaper-based theming approach sure is different to what we’ve seen on Pixel hardware in years prior, but there are some things to love and even a few things to hate — a lack of independent customization being one sore point for just about everyone.
Even so, selecting 20 of the top features in Android 12 is no easy task. With over 100 new user-facing additions, functions, and tweaks, there is so much here to try out for yourself. We have done the hard work, so you don’t have to.
The fact that it has taken until Android 12 to even get a dedicated one-handed mode in AOSP is quite shocking. Then when you consider the way it has been implemented owes a lot to iOS and the “Reachability” mode, and you’ll scratch your head wondering why we have waited to get the option.
However long the wait, it’s just nice to have the option to use larger smartphones without requiring hand gymnastics or huge hands. Unfortunately, you cannot access the one-handed mode unless you are happy to use gesture navigation.
Yet another feature that has been so long in the making that we were beginning to wonder if it would ever arrive. You might not even remember Quick tap as it was originally codenamed “Columbus.” Basically, this new gesture lets you double-tap the back of your Pixel to do things like activating the flashlight, activating the Google Assistant, taking screenshots, or launching an app.
It took Google so long to implement that iOS has had the option for over a year at this point. You need to enable the feature, and it’s a great way to access common parts of Android without needing to unlock your device.
Microphone/camera access dots
People are rightly taking privacy on their smartphones and connected devices more seriously. The number of permissions that many apps request upon first launch and accepted without much thought can be remedied. If an app is concurrently or has very recently accessed any of your on-device cameras or the microphones, you’ll see a small green dot or icon at the upper-right of your smartphone display.
This is just a quick indicator that an app or service has accessed either hardware. Expanding the notification shade and tapping the icon informs you just which app has done so. An extended feature as part of the wider Privacy controls lest you quickly disable or enable Microphone and Camera access from the Quick Toggles section on a whim.
If you’re a big mobile gamer then the dedicated Game dashboard will be a very important new addition. Built directly into Do Not Disturb mode, Game dashboard brings a floating pop-up menu with a few extra tweaks and controls to enhance your mobile gaming.
This allows you to screen record, get frame rate indicators and ensures that any incoming calls and texts are silencing when you’re deep into your favorite mobile games.
Picture-in-picture mode tweaks/tuning
Android 12 brings some enhancements to the picture-in-picture mode, which makes a big difference to the experience. To better fit with the rest of the “rounded” aesthetic, the playback windows do away with sharp corners with what could be considered a more “pill-shaped” player.
There is a new ability to “stash” a playing video so that UI portions are not obstructed. This means that background playback doesn’t affect anything you’re currently doing. When you dismiss or close a playing window, the animation envelops the player and it snaps or “pops” out of view.
The process of opening an app from a URL should be much easier with “Verified link” in Android 12. Effectively, these are URLs that specifically state that it should open an app and are able to bypass the old “open with” dialog that would show on previous versions of Android.
You likely won’t even notice the feature in action as it just acts automatically and streamlines your day-to-day UI experience. Heading into the Settings app, you can change the behavior of verified links on an app-by-app basis.
Link/image sharing from Recents menu
To save some time, you can quickly grab web page links and images on web pages or in apps courtesy of a quick-select option within the Recent apps screen. When viewing the Recents section, web pages will include a “link” icon or an “image” icon.
Tapping the “link” icon brings up a color-coordinated site link that can be copied or shared directly. Alternatively, you can drag the link icon to a recent contact or into a “more” option, which will launch the wider Share Sheet.
When tapping the “image” icon a similar menu will launch but this will include “Lens” and “Save” options. Similarly, dragging downwards opens up three recent contacts or apps with the ability to drag into a “more” option which also launches a wider Share Sheet.
Yet another long-overdue addition but an important one nonetheless. Scrolling screenshots are finally here in Android 12 and represents one of the top or most requested features over the past few years. The implementation is not dissimilar to how it has been added in various third-party Android skins from the likes of OnePlus and Xiaomi.
Just take a screenshot and if the app or screen can be expanded, you will get a “Capture more” toggle appearing in the bottom-left preview pop-up. At the moment, this doesn’t work everywhere. A case in point is that of Chrome, which isn’t yet working with the Scrolling screenshot feature.
Ongoing call chip
Although this feature is not completely reliant on Android 12, when using Google Phone as your default dialer a status bar “chip” will give you at-a-glance information on call progress/timings. This does appear to adapt or change based upon Dynamic Color theming on devices where color-tuning and accenting is currently supported.
This works as a semi-replacement for the pop-up “bubbles” that offers call controls and gives quick access to return to a call in-progress. Unlike bubbles, a status bar call chip fully minimizes phone calls without affecting any other apps you have open or are using at a particular point in time. Tapping reopens your call and minimizing or opening another app will return the call to the status bar chip.
Universal device search
Provided you use the Pixel Launcher as your default home screen, when accessing the app drawer there is an expanded Universal device search option within Android 12. This expanded search lets you find contacts, messages, email, and apps so long as you use the default launcher on Pixel phones.
It’s worth noting that you can access the feature automatically by enabling the keyboard each time you swipe up into the Pixel Launcher app drawer. Alternately, you can just access via the search bar at the top of the app drawer as and when you see fit.
Face control auto-rotate
To help ensure that your phone is in the right orientation all the time auto-rotate has been given a big boost with the ability to activate face controlled rotation. The feature uses the selfie camera to orientate in conjunction with the accelerometer for even more accurate auto-rotate than using the accelerometer alone.
If you often watch YouTube or other video content in landscape mode then this is a great added feature. You can still use the standard auto-rotate mode or the quick toggles to snap to landscape orientation if you prefer that method.
While the Gboard redesign is not technically part of the Android 12 update, the changes are only available on devices with the most recent OS. Top of the new features in this Android 12-specific Gboard overall is full compatibility with Material You theming and Dynamic Color tweaks.
If you like rounded or soft corners, the new Gboard will really appeal. All of the tweaks are most prominent when using your on-device light theme.
If you are using your phone in a dark or low-light environment and want to quickly adjust the screen brightness, “Extra dim” allows you to do so with just a single tap. You can customize the luminance level or brightness of your display to a preset level of your choosing with a single button press.
Security and personal safety features have been elevated in priority within Android 12. While this might not seem like a big deal, the Emergency SOS feature is one of the top new additions for personal safety and peace of mind.
You can press the power button quickly five times or more to have your device emit a loud sound and countdown alarm before calling emergency services or a predetermined number of your choice. This will call for help, but your device will need to be unlocked if you choose a number that is not directly to emergency services.
Approximate or precise location controls
Privacy is one of the core tenets of the Android 12 update, and this means a number of new features are coming to your smartphone including the ability to give apps and services access to “approximate” or “precise” location data.
This includes a new pop-up with a new animation to indicate the inherent differences when apps request your location. For apps that only require a locale or region data, this is a great way to conceal or protect your location without losing access to in-app features or functions.
New pop-up Power menu
Every year the Power menu on Android seems to receive a facelift and the latest looks the best so far despite a few substantial changes. Cards & Passes and smart home controls are now accessible in separate lockscreen toggles leaving the Power menu to be just that – a place to access device power controls.
This simplification and separation mean that it is abundantly clear just what the pop-up offers. While the previous version in Android 11 felt like a “hub” for some incompatible UI and system controls. Now there is no confusion and it’s all the better for it.
Editor available from Share Sheet
When sharing an image, be that a direct screenshot or even just an image from your gallery, an editor has been added to allow you to do things like add emoji, text, and draw without needing to first edit your image or screenshot.
For those wondering why this is one of the top features in Android 12, it means you can just add or tweak things right before you send them on. Not only does this save time, it makes things a lot easier across the board.
Adaptive charging tweaks
While you likely won’t see the benefits initially, Adaptive Charging has now been tuned to ensure that your smartphone battery lifespan is considered when the feature is activated in Android 12.
Adaptive charging slows the charging speed between the 80 and 100% thresholds and, in turn, helps reduce the wear and tear on your Pixel internal battery. This charging process should more closely match when your on-device alarm when your phone is placed on charge overnight.
Face controls in Android Accessibility Suite
Expanding on the growing suite of accessibility features Android 12, a new “Camera Switch” allows you to control your phone with facial expressions via the selfie camera. The facial expressions that can be performed include opening your mouth, smiling, raising your eyebrows, and looking left, right, or up.
The feature will, by default, ask for the user to set expressions for next, select, and “pause,” which stops the phone from recognizing other gestures temporarily. Other actions include previous, touch & hold, scroll forward/backward, home, back, notifications, quick settings, and overview/multitasking.
On/off labels in Quick Settings
Simple. Effective. The new pill-shaped Quick Settings toggles now have an “on” or “off” indicator underneath to make it even more obvious if something is activated or not. You might not understand why this is a nice addition, but for accessibility and those with vision-related issues it makes it explicit rather than a highlighted button accent.
Starting next month, YouTube Music is getting free background listening in a major revamp of the streaming service’s ad-supported tier. As part of that, the YouTube Music app is going audio-only and will no longer play videos if you don’t pay for Premium.
With background play, the application will keep streaming music when it’s no longer open or your screen is off. This previously required a paid YouTube Premium (or Music Premium) subscription. Today, those that don’t pay can watch videos found in the Home and Explore feeds, as well as search. They cannot, however, use the seamless “Song/Video” switcher at the top of the Now Playing screen.
To balance the upcoming change, free YouTube Music users will no longer be able to watch music videos in the app. This is becoming a YouTube Premium perk as Google shifts YouTube Music for free users to be an audio-only experience. Users are advised to use the main YouTube client for their regular video-watching.
This change starts on November 3, when free background play rolls out. It’s first coming to Canada with “global expansion plans” not yet detailed. Google confirmed to us this change to videos in YouTube Music, while a help post lays out the new tiering system.
That that don’t pay for YouTube Music (and see an “Upgrade” tab” in the bottom bar) can:
listen to music in the background
shuffle play personalized mixes (that are made just for you!)
find the perfect mood mixes for activities like workout, commute and more
explore millions of songs & thousands of playlists, free of cost
Meanwhile, YouTube Premium lets users:
listen to songs on-demand
watch videos on YouTube Music
skip tracks an unlimited number of times
enjoy YouTube Music without ads
It comes as Apple Music on Monday introduced a cheaper “Voice Plan.” As per usual, Google and YouTube are just combating that with a free “radio-like” tier that is supported with advertising.
The fact that we haven’t seen a stable Android 12 release means that at least Samsung has the opportunity to catch up to Google with their One UI 4.0 Beta 2 update.
Although it’s quite unlikely, we could have a situation where the first stable Android 12 update comes to a non-Pixel device. That would be a real shock, but given that Samsung is only pushing the second One UI 4.0 beta based upon Android 12, we’d be very surprised, to say the least.
Here’s everything notable in the latest Android 12-based update for Samsung Galaxy devices:
A huge component of Android 12 on Pixel phones is now available as part of One UI 4.0 Beta 2 but with a few Samsung-ish tweaks in tow. “Color theme,” as Samsung has renamed it, is the Korean firm’s take on Dynamic Color and the “Monet” theming system seen on Pixel hardware.
From your homescreen, long-press in an empty space or pinch to zoom outwards and head to Wallpapers > Color theme. From this new panel you’ll be able to choose a three-color theme based upon your on-device wallpaper. You can leave it as the preset blue, white, and black setup or select one of up to four patterns determined by your device.
You’ll see a nice preview pane above showing just what colors will be adopted across your device too. The effect isn’t nearly as obvious as it is on Pixels, but it does work across almost all core One UI 4.0 system areas — including notification toggles and the lockscreen.
It’s worth noting that the change is very noticeable but not quite as extensive as you might expect. Instead, it’s more of an accent addition that tweaks some UI elements but doesn’t appear to work with any of Google’s recently updated and tuned first-party applications including Messages, Gmail and many more.
You’ll still see the Material You tweaks on those apps, but for now at least, most will just adhere to the stock or standard colors applied. Some apps are fully themed but will depend heavily upon which version you have installed or have updated. A fine example is the Google Podcasts app, which will adjust based upon your wallpaper-based “Color theme” accenting.
Because of the inherent changes to apps as a result of your system accent color, “Color theme” changes just how you’ll experience Android 12 on your Samsung Galaxy device. Google is pushing it hard for Pixel, and it was initially expected to be limited to Made by Google devices but the arrival here in One UI 4.0 Beta 2 is far earlier than expected.
To explain, “RAM Plus” is a feature that uses a portion of your on-device storage to create “virtual RAM” that ups the limit on your Galaxy smartphone. For higher-end Samsung Galaxy smartphones in excess of 8-12GB of RAM, this probably isn’t even an issue, but for the low-end devices with hardware limits, this could be a real way to expand or improve general performance levels.
In One UI 4.0 Beta 2 you can’t actually disable “RAM Plus” as it’s simply enabled by default. You can see just how much space is being used by heading to Settings > Device care > Memory. Here you’ll be able to clear or free up RAM as well as see just how much “virtual memory” is being adopted where the system deems necessary.
We’re not sure if this will decrease or automatically disable if you lack the available space, but it appears to be capped at 4GB. It’s also worth noting that this isn’t the same as physically adding 4GB of RAM to your device, but it might help if heavy apps are taking up system resources or you want to play more demanding games and are happy to sacrifice other app performance levels. It’s worth noting that this has already been released to some mid-rangers from Samsung, including the Galaxy A52 and even the brand-new Z Fold 3, but joining the main One UI 4.0 build could expand it to all devices.
Enhanced video calling options and effects
When initiating a video call, you have more options at your fingertips as part of the “Video call effects” floating panel after updating to One UI 4.0 Beta 2. These include the ability to adjust background blur effects or add a color/image. Effectively, this simply mimics the kind of things you can already do in the various calling apps like Zoom, Google Meet, and others, but this works on any app that your Galaxy device detects as a video calling app.
Enhancing those controls is a new “Mic mode” option that lets you choose just what audio is picked up when making video calls. There’s a “Standard” mode that works just as you expect, a “Voice focus” option that attempts to cut out any annoying background noise but a neat option for group or family calls is an option labeled “All sound.” When making large group calls — something fairly normal since the start of the pandemic — this might help as it boosts the audio picked up in the vicinity of your phone.
Gallery metadata editing
It’s almost as if Samsung lifted the ability to edit and adjust the time and date metadata from images in the Gallery app right from Google Photos — although it’s simply a highly requested feature. Tapping the overflow menu and then selecting details opens up the metadata menu for any image within the Samsung Gallery app.
From here you’re able to edit everything from the photo name, the location it was taken, and even the time and date — complete with Dynamic Color supporting time and date picker. Not having to upload to Google Photos or use another third-party app is likely a massive added feature for many that use the default gallery app on their Galaxy devices.
Android 12 easter egg with Dynamic Color
Not necessarily a massive update but provided you are using “Color theme” on your device, the Android 12 easter egg will adhere to your preset theme — just like it does on Pixel smartphones running the Android 12 Beta. Is this is an important change? No, but it’s nice all the same.
Should I install One UI 4.0 Beta 2 on my Galaxy S21?
If you want to try this modest set of additional features alongside the previous — and more extensive add-ons — then you’ll need to sign up the One UI 4.0 Beta via the Samsung Members app. At this stage it has only rolled out in the US and UK, but more regions will get access to this Android 12 preview over the coming days.
However, at this stage, we’d suggest holding on a little longer. Although this update includes a number of bug fixes, performance can be quite unstable at times with texture pop-in and lag in certain apps when scrolling. Beta 3 will hopefully add a bit more stability.
Bottom line: Samsung’s Galaxy S21 is a great overall package, delivering 5G, the latest hardware, and all the extras you could ask for in a 2021 flagship.
6.2-inch AMOLED, 2400×1080, 120Hz refresh rate
Qualcomm Snapdragon 888
128 or 256GB
12MP primary, 12MP ultra-wide, 64MP telephoto
25W wired, 15W wireless
151.7 x 71.2 x 7.9mm
Compact and lightweight design
Snapdragon 888 is a performance beast
120Hz AMOLED display
Very capable cameras
All-day battery life
Doesn’t have expandable storage
No MST for Samsung Pay
In 2021, Samsung has released a smaller and more affordable smartphone in the regular Galaxy S21. For shoppers that want a fully-fledged smartphone experience without completely breaking the bank, it’s well worth your consideration.
One of the best things the Galaxy S21 has going for it is the display. It’s a Full HD+ AMOLED panel, and when paired with a smooth 120Hz refresh rate, it is nothing short of excellent. It’s not quite as sharp as the Quad HD+ resolution found on the S21 Ultra, but the picture still looks really crisp thanks to a smaller 6.2-inch display size. Combine that smaller display with plastic construction, and the S21 ends up being a really comfortable phone to use thanks to its small size and lightweight design.
Another highlight is performance; the Galaxy S21 features the Snapdragon 888 and 8GB of RAM. No matter what tasks you throw at the phone, it’ll handle them with ease. There’s also a 4,000 mAh battery for all-day endurance, an IP68 dust/water resistance rating, and your choice of 128GB or 256GB of storage. The camera experience isn’t as jaw-dropping as what you’ll find with the S21 Ultra, though it is a bit better than the S20 FE. Once again, it’s a nice middle-ground between the two.
You get three guaranteed Android updates and four years of security patches on the software front, making the Galaxy S21 one of the best phones for long-term use. That said, the Galaxy S21 shares the same cons as the S21 Ultra, meaning there’s no expandable storage or MST for Samsung Pay. Those are two features you do get with the S20 FE, but the S21 still manages to stand out thanks to its improved cameras, faster performance, nicer design, and more pocketable form factor.
Bottom line: The S21 Ultra stands out as the phone to get if you don’t want to spare any expense. Everything from the display, performance, cameras, and more are among the very best you can get — just be prepared for it to cost you a pretty penny.
What Samsung achieved with the Galaxy S20 FE is nothing short of amazing, and for the vast majority of you reading this, it’s the phone you should probably buy. But if you’re itching for a device that has even more to offer and you’re OK spending more to get that kind of experience, you’ll want to turn your attention towards the Galaxy S21 Ultra.
This is Samsung’s top-of-the-line flagship for 2021, and in virtually every regard, the premium nature of the S21 Ultra is easy to see. Starting first with the display, you’re treated to a massive 6.8-inch panel that’s capable of running a Quad HD+ resolution with a 120Hz refresh rate at the same time — something very few smartphones are capable of doing. This means you get razor-sharp text, buttery smooth animations, and the stunning colors of Samsung’s Dynamic AMOLED screen technology.
Powering the S21 Ultra is the Snapdragon 888 chipset, paired with either 12 or 16GB of RAM. In real-world use, that means the Galaxy S21 Ultra is one of the fastest phones money can buy. Keeping with the theme of high-end specs, other niceties include a 5,000 mAh battery, up to 512GB of storage, an IP68 water/dust resistance rating, and a larger in-screen fingerprint sensor that’s much faster and easier to use than the one found on the S20 FE.
As if that wasn’t enough, the tour de force of the Galaxy S21 Ultra is its camera system. The primary camera is a 108MP sensor that captures extremely detailed and colorful shots. The 8MP ultra-wide lens is a strong performer. The two telephoto cameras — featuring 3x and 10x zoom distances — allow for some of the very best zoom pictures we’ve ever seen.
There’s no denying the impressiveness of the S21 Ultra, but that’s not to say it’s without its faults. Samsung got rid of expandable storage and MST for Samsung Pay, two hallmark features of Galaxy phones before it. If you’re alright with losing out on those features, the Galaxy S21 Ultra experience is well well worth the price of admission.
Bottom line: The OnePlus 9 Pro delivers a gorgeous new design combined with top-notch internal hardware, cameras tuned by Hasselblad, and clean software. OnePlus finally has a phone that measures up to Android’s best, and the OnePlus 9 Pro is an affordable alternative to the Galaxy S21 Ultra.
The OnePlus 9 Pro is gunning straight for the Galaxy S21 Ultra. The phone features the latest hardware you’ll find today, including the Snapdragon 888 chipset, along with LPDDR5 RAM and UFS 3.1 storage modules, and a marquee addition this year is the cameras.
OnePlus always nailed the hardware, but it just couldn’t deliver cameras that held up to Samsung, Google, and Xiaomi. That has changed with the OnePlus 9 Pro. The device comes with an upgraded 48MP camera at the back that takes fantastic photos. OnePlus also partnered with German camera giant Hasselblad to deliver outstanding photos to capture every moment. The result: the OnePlus 9 Pro takes amazing shots in just about any lighting condition. There’s also a 50MP wide-angle lens that may just be the best on any phone today, and you get an 8MP module that offers 3x digital zoom.
The OnePlus 9 Pro is one of the fastest phones you can buy today, and a new 120Hz AMOLED display joins the top-notch hardware. The phone uses an LTPO display to dynamically change the refresh all the way from 1Hz to 120Hz, allowing it to conserve battery life while delivering a smooth and fluid user experience in daily use.
You’ll also find clean software without any bloatware at all in the Android 11-based OxygenOS 11. The interface has plenty of customizability, and unlike Samsung’s One UI, you will not find any errant ads anywhere. The clean UI combined with a focus on performance and customization make OxygenOS the default choice for enthusiasts.
The phone doesn’t miss out in other areas either — you get IP68 dust and water resistance, 5G connectivity over both Sub-6 and mmWave, and dual-band GPS along with NFC. But a key highlight is around battery tech — the OnePlus 9 Pro offers 65W wired charging along with 50W wireless charging, with the phone taking just 29 minutes to fully charge using the bundled charger. OnePlus also recently announced that its flagship phones would begin receiving three major Android updates — up from the two promised previously.
While it’s exciting to see the gains in this area, the one downside is that battery life itself isn’t on par with other Android flagships. For example, the OnePlus 9 Pro barely manages to last a day with heavy use, so you may want to take the charger along if you’re heading out.
That said, the OnePlus 9 Pro is a great overall package that nails the fundamentals. So if you’re not sure about the Galaxy S21 Ultra and are looking for an alternative, you will love what the OnePlus 9 Pro has to offer.
Bottom line: There are many good smartphone deals out there, but none of them are as amazing as the Pixel 4a. From its flagship-grade cameras, reliable performance, all-day battery life, and long-term software support, no other phone gives you this much for so little.
5.81-inch OLED, 2340×1080, 60Hz refresh rate
Qualcomm Snapdragon 730G
144 x 69.4 x 8.2mm
Flagship camera on a budget phone
Easy to use in one hand
AMOLED display looks great
Three years of software support
The Pixel 4a is the best phone value available today, period. Google’s packed most of what makes the Pixel 4/5 series good into a smartphone that costs over 50% less. You also get a compact device that, despite its size, excels in the battery life department. Seriously, this phone lasts all day and then some.
Perhaps the most impressive part of the 4a is its camera, which is nearly on par with the Pixel 4 that preceded it. The main camera shoots exceptional photos in all lighting conditions, with Night Sight really showing its strength in poor lighting. Google even added Astrophotography mode this time around and improved the already impressive Portrait Mode. The front-facing camera is also tack-sharp and focuses more quickly than on the Pixel 3a from 2019. Both front and back, you’re getting flagship-level camera quality out of a phone that’s a fraction of the price. Google’s also improved the video quality on the 4a, thanks to an improved Snapdragon 730 chipset and 6GB of RAM standard.
So what do you lose by spending a third of the price of a more traditional flagship? Well, the Pixel 4a is made of plastic and lacks both water resistance and wireless charging, features you can take for granted at a higher price point. It also only comes in one size, a 5.8-inch variant, and one color, black. There are no storage size options, either: you get 128GB of internal memory, which should be plenty for most people, but a lack of microSD expansion may be a problem for the content collectors out there. Also, there’s no 5G support here.
All of these limitations shouldn’t impede your desire to buy the Pixel 4a, which proved to be one of the best smartphone surprises of 2020 — even if it did launch a few months late. Google’s latest budget phone is a winner, from the size to the performance to the battery life and camera quality.
Bottom line: They say that the best camera you have is the one you have with you, so make sure it’s the best it can be. Google’s Pixel 5 takes incredible photos in virtually any setting, and thanks to the company’s top-notch image processing, you don’t even have to be a pro photographer to get impressive shots.
6.0-inch OLED, 2340×1080, 90Hz refresh rate
Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G
12.2MP primary, 16MP ultra-wide
18W wired, 15W wireless, 5W reverse wireless
144.7 x 70.4 x 8.0mm
Among the best cameras on the market
Compact and comfortable to hold
90Hz AMOLED display
Great battery life
Three years of software updates
Might be too small for some users
The Pixel 5 is Google’s latest flagship smartphone that you can buy. Compared to past releases, it’s a huge departure. Rather than trying to have the absolute best specs possible, the Pixel 5 focuses on offering a great all-around user experience at a competitive price. And, in just about every regard, it succeeds.
First thing’s first, we have to talk about the Pixel 5’s camera performance. Simply put, if camera quality is a key priority for you, the Pixel 5 should be at the very top of your shopping list. The 12.2MP primary and 16MP ultra-wide cameras may not look all that impressive on paper, but combined with Google’s unmatched image processing, they kick out truly incredible results. The detail is sharp, colors are true-to-life, and the Pixel 5 handles low-light environments without a hitch. The best part? The Pixel 5 does all of this more reliably than any other smartphone.
Outside of killer cameras, the Pixel 5 has a bunch more to offer. We’re in love with its design, which is refreshingly compact and is made entirely out of aluminum. The paint job gives it an exceptional in-hand feel, and if you ask us. The Sorta Sage color is one of the best we’ve ever seen on a phone. Period.
Rounding out the Pixel 5 experience is a 90Hz AMOLED display, fast performance thanks to the Snapdragon 765G processor, and long-lasting battery life. For considerably less money than a lot of other flagships, the Pixel 5 is well worth your consideration.
Bottom line: Samsung’s Galaxy S20 FE is a solid, affordable 5G phone that offers most of what makes Samsung flagships so good in a cheaper, colorful package.
6.5-inch OLED, 2400×1080, 120Hz refresh rate
Qualcomm Snapdragon 865
12MP primary, 8MP telephoto, 12MP ultrawide
15W wired, Qi wireless charging
161.6 x 71.1 x 9.3mm
Flat 120Hz display is terrific
All-day battery life
Promised three years of software updates
Impressive cameras with 3x optical zoom
Sturdy design with fun color options
Not every color option is available everywhere
Camera can be slow to load
Samsung clearly understands that this is a time for people to pare back their expenses because the Galaxy S20 FE is a value flagship that really doesn’t skimp. It’s based on the successful foundation of the Galaxy S20+, featuring a spacious 6.5-inch 1080p AMOLED display with a luxurious 120Hz refresh rate, a Snapdragon 865, 6GB of RAM, 128GB of storage, and an all-day 4,500mAh battery.
Of course, to hit its affordable price point, Samsung needed to make some sacrifices, so it traded the Galaxy S20 series’ back glass for colorful plastic — the FE is available in six delicious colors — and cut back on the quality of the triple-camera setup ever-so-slightly.
Still, the S20 FE has everything you’d expect in a high-end phone and performs just as well. We especially love the IP68 water resistance and wireless charging, two features rare in this price bracket. Plus, it shares the same primary camera sensor as the Galaxy S20 and S20+, ensuring beautiful results in good light and bad.
Samsung’s One UI 3.0 is also on-board, and the company’s promising three years of platform and security updates, ensuring that you’ll be getting the latest Android features well into the next decade.
Finally, Samsung includes sub-6Ghz 5G in all variants of the Galaxy S20 FE, and we found performance to be excellent on both AT&T’s and T-Mobile’s 5G networks. If you want a Verizon version that supports mmWave, it’s also available for purchase.
Bottom line: The Moto G Power 2020 has reliable hardware combined with outstanding battery life and clean software. There are a few downsides — it’s limited to 10W charging and will only get one Android update, but you are getting a great entry-level package overall.
6.4-inch LCD, 2300×1080, 60Hz refresh rate
Qualcomm Snapdragon 665
16MP primary, 8MP wide-angle, 2MP macro
159.9 x 75.8 x 9.6mm
At least two-day battery life
Large 1080p display
Will get only one Android update
Charging limited to 10W
If you’re in the market for an entry-level phone, the Moto G Power 2020 is still a great choice in 2021. Motorola has nailed the basics here, delivering a robust phone with all the features you’re looking for in a budget option.
The standout feature on the Moto G Power 2020 is the battery: featuring a large 5000mAh battery, the phone manages to last over two days without fail. The charging situation isn’t ideal, though; the Moto G Power 2020 has 10W wired charging, so you will want to plug in the device overnight.
The phone holds up pretty well in other areas too. You get a 6.4-inch 1080p LCD that’s decent enough in its own right, and the Snapdragon 665 is a reliable performer in normal use. The phone has stereo sound, a 3.5mm jack, a rear-mounted fingerprint sensor, and a microSD card slot. And as the phone is officially sold in the U.S., it works on all the major carriers.
In fact, it’s a better option than the Moto G Power 2021 in key areas — the 2021 model has fewer LTE bands, a lower-resolution 720p display, and a less powerful chipset. You’ll find positives on the software side as well, with Motorola offering a clean interface without any bloatware. The downside here is that the phone will get just one Android update — to Android 11 — and if you’re okay with that, the Moto G Power 2020 has plenty to offer in 2021.
Bottom line: If you’re looking for a value flagship and want a phone with a gorgeous design, the latest hardware, stellar cameras, fast charging, and clean software, the OnePlus 9 is the obvious choice.
6.5-inch AMOLED, 2400×1080, 120Hz refresh rate
Qualcomm Snapdragon 888
48MP primary, 50MP wide-angle, 2MP portrait
65W wired, 15W wireless
160 x 74.2 x 8.7 mm
Sublime 120Hz AMOLED display
Clean software with no bloat
65W wired / 15W wireless charging
Three years of Android updates
Single-SIM in the U.S.
With the OnePlus 9, OnePlus sets its sights on the Galaxy S20 FE. The phone delivers on the same fundamentals as Samsung’s value flagship, offering the latest internal hardware, a 120Hz AMOLED display, reliable cameras, and many extras from the OnePlus 9 Pro.
The 120Hz AMOLED display on the OnePlus 9 is one of the best you’ll find in this particular category, and thanks to the Snapdragon 888 chipset, the phone handles anything you throw at it without breaking a sweat. You also get 5G connectivity over Sub-6, Wi-Fi 6, NFC, AptX HD audio codecs, and an excellent vibration motor.
The phone has the same 4500mAh battery as the OnePlus 9 Pro, and you get 65W wired charging. What’s new this generation is the addition of 15W Qi wireless charging. It may not be quite the same as the insane 50W wireless charging on the 9 Pro, but the upside is that the OnePlus 9 works with any Qi-enabled wireless charger available today. This particular feature is missing on the Indian and Chinese models, but you’ll find it on the OnePlus 9 variants sold in North America and Europe.
Coming to the software, OxygenOS 11 continues to set the standard in terms of customizability. The bloatware-free UI is a delight to use, and recently OnePlus announced that it would begin supporting its flagship phones with three years of Android platform updates.
Overall, the OnePlus 9 is a solid contender to the Galaxy S20 FE. It has the latest hardware, great cameras, clean software, and fast charging, and for what it costs, you are getting a great overall value.
Bottom line: The ASUS ZenFone 8 is a bit of a departure from its predecessors, but it is the best smallest Android flagship you can buy right now. It has an excellent build, clean software, great cameras, 5G, and the powerful Snapdragon 888 SOC.
5.9-inch OLED, 2400×1080, 120Hz refresh rate
Qualcomm Snapdragon 888
64MP primary, 12MP ultra-wide
148 x 68.5 x 8.9 mm
Easy to use one-handed
Gorgeous screen with 120Hz refresh rate
3.5mm headphone jack
No wireless charging
No telephoto camera
If you’re one of those people who still pines for a smaller, flagship-level phone, then we have some good news for you. The ASUS ZenFone 8 delivers one of the best Android experiences that you can get in mid-2021 for much less than the competition. Plus, it’s one of the smallest Android flagships around.
Unlike the ZenFone 6 and 7 series and the ZenFone 8 Flip, the ZenFone 8 has done away with the flipping camera module in favor of a more traditional design. While this new (older) form factor makes the device more pocketable, ASUS was able to retain an excellent camera setup nonetheless. It also means that it is now IP68 water-resistant. The ZenFone 8 features a gorgeous AMOLED display with a 120Hz refresh rate, and it even retains an old-school fan favorite with its 3.5mm headphone jack.
The ZenFone 8 has top-notch internal specs, too, including the powerful Snapdragon 888 processor, fast 20W wired charging, and one of the cleanest builds of Android we’ve seen this year. However, you miss out on wireless charging, and ASUS’s track record for updates has left us wanting in the past.
This is the perfect phone for someone who admires the size and capabilities of something like the Google Pixel 4a but who also wants a more premium and performant Android phone.
Bottom line: Folding phones are here, and the Galaxy Z Fold 2 is the best one we’ve seen yet. It’s basically a smartphone and tablet in one device, and while it is costly, it’s also the best attempt yet we’ve seen for this form factor.
6.23-inch AMOLED, 2260×816, 60Hz refresh rate
7.6-inch AMOLED, 2280×1768, 120Hz refresh rate
Qualcomm Snapdragon 865+
12MP primary, 12MP telephoto, 12MP ultra-wide
25W wired and 11W wireless
159.2 x 128.2 x 6.9mm (unfolded) and 159.2 x 68 x 16.8mm (folded)
Puts a mini-tablet in your pocket
Great cameras and battery
App compatibility issues
Just like any piece of technology, smartphones evolve and change as time goes on. We’ve seen screens get bigger, cameras get a lot more capable, and processors rival those found in computers. The next big thing for phones is the folding form factor, and so far, the best yet in this niche is the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2.
The best way to think about the device is as a phone and tablet in one. When the Z Fold 2 is closed, you’re treated to a 6.23-inch AMOLED display that you can use for anything you’d like — checking email, scrolling through Twitter, watching YouTube videos, you name it. Should you find yourself wanting a larger canvas, however, all you need to do is open up the Z Fold 2 up. There, you’re treated to a larger 7.6-inch AMOLED screen with a 120Hz refresh rate. It’s a lot like having an iPad Mini that you can fold up and take with you wherever you want, and if you ask us, that’s pretty amazing.
As you might expect for a new technology like a folding phone, the Z Fold 2 does come with some unique dilemmas. For example, the Ultra-Thin Glass for the tablet display is prone to scratches more than traditional glass. The folding design raises questions about long-term durability, and not all apps are properly optimized for that larger display size. There’s also the matter of price, with the Galaxy Z Fold 2 costing more than two OnePlus 8 Pros.
This isn’t a phone that we recommend everyone go out and buy right now, but as far as folding phones go, the Galaxy Z Fold 2 is the best we’ve seen to date. If you’re willing to spend the money and put up with those quirks, the Z Fold 2 has a lot to offer.
Bottom line: The Galaxy A52 5G gives you amazing hardware in the form of a 120Hz AMOLED screen and a Snapdragon 750G chipset with 5G connectivity. Although the design looks similar to the S21 series, you also get great cameras and all-day battery life, which is much more affordable.
If you want to switch to a 5G phone but don’t want to pay too much money, then the Galaxy A52 5G may just be the ideal option for you. Samsung has always delivered value packages with the Galaxy A series, and it is taking things to a whole new level in 2021.
The Galaxy A52 5G offers considerable upgrades over its predecessor; the 6.5-inch AMOLED panel now has a 120Hz refresh rate, giving you a level of immediacy during daily interactions that was missing in last year’s Galaxy A51. The internal hardware has also received a boost, and the Snapdragon 750G chipset is faster in almost every day-to-day scenario.
The camera has received some attention as well, with the A52 5G now offering a 64MP lens at the back. There’s even a MicroSD slot and a 3.5mm jack, two features you won’t find on the Galaxy S21 series. And thanks to a generous 4500mAh battery and 25W fast charging, you don’t have to worry about battery life.
Samsung added IP67 dust and water resistance to the Galaxy A52 5G, making it just that little more enticing. Oh, and there’s, of course, 5G connectivity here, so if you’re thinking of switching to a 5G plan this year and need a mid-range phone, the Galaxy A52 5G ticks all the right boxes.
Bottom line: The ASUS ROG Phone 5 is designed for gamers. It has an incredible build, a stunning 144Hz AMOLED display, and is paired with a massive 6,000mAh battery and 65W wired fast charging. There are also great accessories and extras to help you get the most out of your mobile gaming experience.
6.78-inch AMOLED, 2448×1080, 144Hz refresh rate
Qualcomm Snapdragon 888
64MP primary, 13MP ultra-wide, 5MP macro
172.8 x 77.2 x 10.2mm
Huge battery (6,000mAh)
144Hz refresh rate
3.5mm headphone jack
Gaming inspired design
Fast and fluid performance
This phone is BIG
No wireless charging
No water resistance
Gaming phones are definitely a niche category, but the folks who are interested in these devices really care how they perform. ASUS knows this subset extremely well and has been cranking out heavy-duty gaming phones for several years now. Its ROG line of phones complements its gaming PCs quite well, and there is undoubtedly a lot of crossover between owners of these computers and phones.
The latest in the vaunted ROG series is the ROG Phone 5. It boasts one of the largest capacity batteries we’ve seen (6,000mAh) for extended play sessions, as well as a brilliant AMOLED display with an high 144Hz refresh rate to make your content fly. You also get a 3.5mm headphone jack, so you don’t have to worry about audio latency, and it’s all powered by the latest and greatest Snapdragon 888 chipset.
There are several great accessories that you can purchase separately to help you get even more out of the experience, such as gamepads, coolers, and cases, but the phone looks great au naturale. The biggest drawbacks of the phone are that it doesn’t have wireless charging or an official IP rating, and it is quite a big and heavy device.
Bottom line: The Redmi Note 10 Pro takes things to a whole new level in the budget segment. The phone has a 120Hz AMOLED display, robust internal hardware, a 64MP camera that takes great photos in any lighting, and a gigantic 5020mAh battery with 33W fast charging. You can’t ask for much more in a budget phone.
Xiaomi knows how to deliver a value-focused package, and with the Redmi Note 10 Pro, it is setting a new standard for budget phones. The phone has features previously only seen on flagships, including a 120Hz AMOLED display that makes an immediate difference in day-to-day use.
The Snapdragon 732G delivers decent performance for most tasks, including intensive gaming. The phone also has generous memory and storage options, and you get a 3.5mm jack, microSD slot, NFC, and even an IR blaster that lets you control your TV or other AV gear. The phone also has IP53 dust and water resistance to withstand the occasional splash of water or be submerged in a pool without any issues.
The 5,020mAh battery on the Redmi Note 10 Pro easily delivers over a day’s worth of use as for battery. When you need to charge the phone, the bundled 33W charger ensures the battery is full in just over an hour. You won’t find wireless charging here, but honestly, the battery life is good that you don’t need to plug it in during the course of a day.
The 64MP camera is also new, and it takes great photos in just about any lighting condition. This may just be one of the best cameras you’ll find for under $300, making the Redmi Note 10 Pro that much more enticing. Xiaomi has made a lot of changes on the software front as well. MIUI 12 comes with Android 11 out of the box, and the UI is cleaner than earlier iterations. You get more customization options than you’ll end up using, and there are genuinely useful features here.
Ultimately, the main drawback is that the phone isn’t available officially in the U.S. You can pick up the global version of the Redmi Note 10 Pro from Amazon, but you miss out on the warranty.
How to pick the best Android phone
Android phones have never been better than they are right now. So regardless of how much or little money you can spend, you can go out and buy a phone that you’ll be thoroughly happy with. Out of every single phone on the market in 2021, however, we have to give our top recommendation for the best Android phone to the Samsung Galaxy S21.
Samsung makes amazing phones every year, but you need to pay out the nose for the privilege of owning one more often than not. With the Galaxy S21, you get a top-tier Samsung experience for less than previous years, and that makes it a better overall value.
Compared to a more expensive Galaxy handset like the S21 Ultra, the standard S21 does an admirable job of holding its own. It has a 120Hz AMOLED screen, excellent performance, great battery life, and the same One UI software experience. Even wireless charging and an IP68 rating are here, and the only area it misses out on is the Quad HD+ display and a glass back.
There are plenty of other options on this list if something about the Galaxy S21 just isn’t clicking for you, but we think it’s easy to see why it has our highest recommendation at the end of the day.
1. What size screen should I get?
You should consider many different things when buying a new Android phone, and it all starts with the display. This is the component you interact with more than anything else, so you must get one that you’ll enjoy using. Things like the resolution and refresh rate of a screen are worth talking about, but more so is the size.
Smartphones come in different shapes and sizes, and the biggest determining factor for that is the display. A 6.8-inch screen results in a much larger phone than one with a 5.8-inch one, and because of that, you need to know how big or small you’re willing to go.
Take the Galaxy S21 Ultra, for example. It has the largest display on this list (outside of the Z Fold 2, but that’s different), and because the screen is so huge, it’s a phenomenal canvas for watching movies, playing games, and browsing the web. Basically, any kind of content consumption you do looks better on a larger display because the more room you have, the bigger and easier to see your media is. The downside to this, however, is that phones like the S21 Ultra can be rather unwieldy. Especially if you’re someone with smaller hands, managing a phone like that can be a pain in the butt.
Then there are smaller-sized phones, such as the Pixel 4a. It’s substantially easier to manage and can actually be used with one hand, but you have less room for your movies and games on the flip side. It also means you can fit less content on the screen at one time, and if you’re someone who likes to increase your font size, things are easier to read, which could result in you having to do a lot of scrolling.
And, of course, there are plenty of phones that fall somewhere in the middle between these two extremes. If you’re really concerned about whether or not a phone will be too big or small, your best bet is to honestly go hands-on with it yourself at your local carrier store or Best Buy before making your purchase.
2. Are software updates important?
It’s easy to compare displays, processors, and cameras, but something that’s just as important to talk about is software updates. Android is constantly evolving and getting better, and unfortunately, only certain phones are backed by a few years of software support.
As it currently stands, Google, Samsung, and OnePlus are the best in the business when supporting their phones with long-term updates. All of the Pixels, Galaxy devices, and OnePlus phones mentioned on this list are backed by three years of major OS updates from their initial release, which is by far the best support any Android phone maker has to offer. Google even goes a step further with three years of guaranteed monthly security patches, and while Samsung does the same for its flagships, it is now starting to follow suit for its mid-range devices.
On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, you have a company like Motorola. Take the Motorola G Power, which is only promised to get a single update to Android 11. Security patches are even worse, with Motorola having a track record of falling multiple months behind on updates.
So, how important is it that your phone gets software updates? That ultimately depends on how much you care about new Android features. Google releases a new version of Android every year, and while these updates don’t tend to be that drastic from year to year, they give your phone important features and security settings that help keep it running in tip-top shape for a long time. It also ensures that your phone stays compatible with all the apps and games on the Play Store because as Android versions become too outdated, app developers eventually drop support.
A phone like the Motorola G Power won’t be unusable two years down the road just because it’s running Android 11 and not Android 13, but it’s also a bit disheartening to buy a product and know it’s backed by such a small window of post-purchase support. This divide in updates is something Android has been faced with for years, and while companies are gradually getting better in these regards, we still have plenty of room to grow.
3. How many cameras and megapixels do I really need?
Over the last couple of years, there’s been a trend going on with certain phone companies where they throw as many cameras onto their devices as possible. As it’s become more common for phones to ship with two, three, or even four cameras, there’s something of an expectation that phones have to have multiple camera sensors to be any good.
Spoiler alert — this isn’t true.
Let’s look at the OnePlus Nord 9, for example. It has a 48MP primary camera, 50MP ultra-wide, and a 2MP monochrome portrait camera. Compared to the single 12.2MP camera on the Pixel 4a, one would assume that the OnePlus 9 takes better photos, but that’s not always the case.
Having those extra camera sensors can be a lot of fun, but only if they’re high-quality. Far too often, we see companies throw in a bunch of extra cameras on their phones only to have these secondary lenses not be very good. The primary camera sensor is always the most important, so that’s the one you want to be concerned about the most.
On a similar note, more megapixels (referred to as MP) don’t always mean you’re getting a better camera. As mentioned above, the 48MP camera on the OnePlus 9 sometimes takes photos that aren’t as good as those taken from the 12.2MP camera found on the Pixel 4a. There are so many other factors that come into play with phone cameras, so don’t let the megapixel count be your only factor for judging them when you’re out shopping. Read reviews, look at camera samples, and you’ll have a much better understanding of what kind of camera you’re dealing with.
4. What size battery should I get?
Battery life isn’t the most fun thing to talk about with smartphones, but ultimately, it’s one of the most important components. Your phone can have the best display and processor around, but if it’s constantly dying throughout the day, what’s the point?
There are many different battery capacities for all of the phones on this list, and if you don’t regularly keep up with them, it can be difficult to know what a good size is and what isn’t. So, here’s a general rule of thumb. If you’re buying an Android phone in 2021, the ideal capacity is 4000mAh or larger. As phones move toward larger displays with faster refresh rates, more battery is needed to keep them powered throughout the day.
Of course, this can vary a bit depending on the type of phone you’re buying. The Pixel 4a, for example, only has a 3140mAh battery but can still get through a full day of use without a hitch. What gives? It has a small display by 2021 standards and only has a 60Hz refresh rate, resulting in substantially less power use.
These are factors you’ll need to consider when shopping for your phone, but generally, more mAh means more battery life.
5. What smaller features should I look out for?
Last but certainly not least, there are a few smaller features and specs that can be easy to overlook when doing your shopping — a prime example being NFC. NFC stands for Near Field Communication, and it’s the chip in most phones that allows you to pay with your smartphone with Google Pay at grocery stores, restaurants, etc. Most of the phones on this list support NFC, but many cheaper Motorola phones often lack the feature. You may not care about Google Pay, but if you do, it’s worth double-checking that the phone you want to buy does, in fact, have NFC.
Another spec to check for is an IP68 rating. This is a seal of protection many phones have, and it ensures they’re protected from a certain amount of dust and water. If you happen to get caught outside in the rain or take your phone to the beach, an IP68 rating is nice peace of mind that your phone should survive just fine.
Some phones lack this IP rating yet boast water resistance or have a water-repellent coating. Those devices are also probably fine to get splashed with water here and there, but you don’t have that same guaranteed protection. The best-case scenario is to avoid getting your phone wet whenever possible, but if you happen to be around the water a lot, it’s probably worth getting something with that IP68 protection.
We should also address a trend that’s been going through the smartphone space for a few years now — the death of the headphone jack. The vast majority of new phones coming out these days no longer have the port, but few holdouts continue to offer it. It’s certainly nice to have if you’re someone that primarily uses wired headphones or earbuds, but if you’ve moved on to the wireless bandwagon, it’s not something you need to be all that concerned with.
This year’s Android 12 update is shaping up to be Google’s biggest release in years, judging by all the cool new features we’re finding. Earlier today, XDA Recognized Developer and friend of the site Quinny899 gave us our first look at Android 12’s hidden Conversation widget, but that’s not the only feature he enabled. Thanks to some reverse engineering, he managed to get Google’s hidden Gaming Dashboard feature working. It’s currently extremely barebones and only has a floating toolbar with two non-functional buttons, but it’s our first look at yet another unreleased Android 12 feature.
As you can see in the screenshot below, two icons are overlaid on top of the screen: A record icon and a controller icon.
According to the code for Gaming Dashboard contained within Android 12’s SystemUI, the record button simply starts a screen recording session. That’ll be useful when you want to record your screen without interrupting gameplay by pulling down the Quick Settings panel. As for the button with the controller icon, we don’t know what it’ll do because it doesn’t work and there’s no obvious functionality tied to it in the code.
The Gaming Dashboard classes are part of the com.google.android.systemui namespace rather than com.android.systemui, which suggests this feature may be Pixel-exclusive. However, many OEMs already have their own Gaming Mode features, and there’s nothing about this version that stands out right now. Before the first Developer Preview dropped, we learned that Google is working on a game mode for Android 12. We don’t know if this new Gaming Dashboard and the Game Mode we heard of are one and the same, or if the former is simply a feature built on top of the new GameManager service. We’ll probably learn more information from subsequent Android 12 Developer Previews, though.
The Android 12 beta contains a hidden game mode within Digital Wellbeing.
This feature will allow mobile gamers to take screenshots, record gameplay, live-stream, and more.
We first heard murmurings in February that Android 12 could support a game mode, following in the footsteps of a ton of OEMs that already offer this feature. Now, it looks like the Android 12 beta does indeed have a game mode hidden away.
Redditor Kilarasx discovered the game mode by tapping Settings > Digital Wellbeing > Do Not Disturb > Schedules. Alongside the expected “sleep” and “event” schedules for Do Not Disturb functionality, there’s a “Game Mode” schedule. We were able to find this on our Pixel 4 running the Android 12 beta — check out the screenshots below and the featured image above.
It looks like this is near-identical to the menu found by XDA with the third Android developer preview. Tapping the gear icon takes you to the game mode menu (image on the right), showing six options in total. The four options at the top are taking a screenshot, recording the screen, presumably viewing the frames per second, and activating/deactivating Do Not Disturb.
All these options bar the FPS toggle seem to work right now, with the screen recorder tool also letting you choose the audio you’d like to record (microphone, device audio, or both) and whether you want touches to be displayed.
Meanwhile, the bottom two options allow you to optimize the game you’re currently playing or stream your session via YouTube Live. The former doesn’t appear to work right now, and I didn’t meet YouTube’s requirements for mobile live streaming.
Presumably you won’t have to dig to find the game mode in the final version of Android 12, as this would be a very inconvenient departure from manufacturer implementations. Many manufacturers automatically display a game mode/tools via a small screen overlay, floating toolbar, or in the notification shade when you’re playing a game.
XDA-Developers previously posted an early Android 12 screenshot showing a floating toolbar for games, so it seems like Google is/was thinking about a similar approach as OEMs.