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Android O brings fun customizations that set the stage for bigger changes

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But install at your own risk

Photo by James Bareham / The Verge

The Android O developer preview just dropped, and we’ve been poking around to see what’s new with the latest version. So far, it’s hard to judge the new features on Android O since most require app developers to update their code, but some digging does show tons of interesting settings that hint at what’s to come.

Before we go further, note that this is a developer preview of Android O. It’s designed for programmers to prepare their apps for the new OS, and these settings and features may change by the time the final version rolls out to the public — Google is also likely to add more features, too. If you’re curious, you can install it at your own discretion, though I’ll note now that there doesn’t seem to be enough immediately consumer-facing changes to make it worth risking your device.

That said, here’s what O looks like so far.

One function that you can immediately use is the ability to snooze notifications. You do this by pulling down on the notification, then slowly swiping to the left or right. (It’s the same gesture you use to bring up the gear icon in Android Marshmallow.) This will bring up a clock and a gear icon, the former of which lets you snooze the notification for 15, 30, or 60 minutes. Those of you used to dismissing the notification might have to retrain and relax your thumb — in my many attempts to snooze a notification, I often swipe too far and send it away permanently.

Google teased a bunch of new updates coming to notification control, including the ability for developers to customize background colors for high-priority alerts that may require the user’s attention. What this will look like in practice is still up in the air — I’m envisioning a pink pop-up notification from the Lyft app when your driver arrives. Android O notifications can also be grouped into categories, but there aren’t any compatible apps to test this with just yet.

The most visible changes appear in Android’s Settings app, which is now completely white — including the top search bar. Menu options have been condensed into tappable categories instead of being all laid out for you to scroll through and find.

Okay, so like an off-white.

Data usage, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi, for example, are now all under the “Network & Internet” tab instead of taking up the first 50 percent of the screen when you open up Settings. It looks more refined, but it does require some digging for a specific function that could vaguely fall under two different categories. Do I go to App Notifications or Display for YouTube’s Picture-in-Picture setting? (The answer is App Notifications, but you can also find it under Special Access, which saves you a tap or two.)

There are also little UI changes in addition to the all-white background. The battery page now has a big icon instead of a line graph of your power-consumption timeline, and it includes relevant management settings like Adaptive Brightness and Sleep on that same screen. On ambient displays, Android O no longer writes out the date under the time — and only displays icons of apps with notifications. You can double tap them to see more.

Some of the more interesting changes appear in the System UI Tuner, which is activated by holding the gear button on the quick settings panel at the top of the screen. In addition to fiddling with the status bar, you can now customize the navigation bar at the bottom of the screen, do not disturb mode, and the lock screen.

The navigation bar menu lets you choose to realign buttons on the bottom farther to the side. You can also add a button that sits to the left of the Return icon. Theoretically, you’ll be able to assign function to that button by picking a keycode, but right now there isn’t much you can do with it.

The more useful tool here is the ability to add shortcuts on your lock screen. Now, you can swap out the default Google Assistant and Camera shortcuts on the lock screen for any app. I’ve opted for Google Maps and SMS, but you can even select app functions as specific as “Open Trending on YouTube” or “Compose on Gmail.” It’s not the weather app widget that Adi Robertson was asking for, but maybe the ability to customize the lock screen is one step closer to that.

Diving further into Settings, I also noticed that on the Pixel XL, there is an option for Device Theme under the Display menu. (This does not appear for the Nexus 6P, the other device I checked Android O on.) This suggests that perhaps Google is thinking of adding a native theme-changing tool on its flagship device, but so far we’re only seeing two options that essentially just invert the colors into dark or light themes. Google has been doing more with theming lately, including creating a little tool for Android users to find launchers and icon packs to customize their phones.

Alongside themes, there is the option to toggle Picture-in-Picture on and off. This is a little different than Multi-Window support, because you can set your own aspect ratio and overlay it on top of another app instead of just splitting the screen in two. The YouTube app appears to support this immediately, but again, there aren’t apps to try this on top of just yet.

Other features include support for LDAC support for Hi-Fi Bluetooth audio and wide-gamut color for all those beautiful Pixel camera photos. While the customization tools for notifications and Systems UI Tuner are fun, a bunch of this seems like setup for more to be announced at Google I/O later this spring. Again, I wouldn’t recommend running off to install it first thing (assuming you don’t conveniently have a spare Nexus or Pixel lying around), but there is a lot to be excited about when developers get the opportunity to catch up to what Google’s prepping for them.

For now, here are some screenshots to get you ready for what’s to come.