Google has officially released Android 9 Pie, the latest big update of the company’s mobile operating system. It’s got a new look, gesture navigation, more AI smarts, and, if you sign up for the beta, Digital Wellbeing tools to help you gain a better understanding of your smartphone usage. There’s other legitimately helpful stuff in there, too, like adaptive battery, which learns your usage patterns and restricts the amount of juice that rarely opened apps can use up.
I’m not going to discuss any of those things today. They’ll be covered in our full review of Pie. (Don’t we all love reviewing pie, after all?)
Instead, I want to highlight some of the cooler, under-the-radar features that Google built into Android 9.0.
It’s a Bluetooth speaker party
Android 9 Pie allows the user to pair “up to five Bluetooth devices and switch between these devices seamlessly.” If a phone call comes in, Google says that Android P will route it to any Bluetooth speaker or paired audio accessory that’s capable of handling calls. Android O supported two Bluetooth audio connections at once. But now? Let your heart be your guide.
Android Pie remembers your volume preference for each Bluetooth device
Speaking of Bluetooth, we’ve all had that ear-piercing moment when your wireless headphones or your car’s audio system just blast sound cranked up to 11 when you first connect them to your phone. No longer. Android 9.0 remembers the last volume level for paired devices.
Google added a rotate button to the navigation bar that only shows up when you need it
This might sound a little confusing, but it’s pretty great. If you’re like me, you probably disable Android’s auto-screen-rotate to prevent your phone from switching between portrait and landscape orientation when you don’t want it to. In Android 9 Pie, Google has added a nice touch that’s meant just for us.
With Pie, whenever an app is open that supports landscape and you turn your phone that way, you’ll see a new rotation lock icon pop up in the navigation bar to the far right. Tap it, and the app will rotate. This does not change the overall system setting. Just keep in mind that you're actually locking that app to landscape when you tap the icon. To switch back, just rotate your phone to portrait and tap it again.
Easily see which apps recently sent you notifications and which of them interrupt you most frequently
Did a random app hit you with an annoying or totally useless notification? Even if you didn’t address it at the moment, Android Pie makes it simple to see which apps have recently pinged you and stop it from happening again.
Go to Settings —> Apps & notifications. Then tap on “notifications” near the bottom. The next screen will show you the apps that have recently displayed a notification.
If you tap on “see all from the last 7 days,” you’ll get an option that’s potentially even more useful. Instead of sorting them by most recent, you can pick “most frequent” to get a surprisingly and maybe frustrating understanding of which apps pester you the most.
Android Pie suggests turning off notifications that you frequently dismiss
If Android 9.0 notices that you routinely swipe away an app’s notifications without ever tapping into them, the system will show a prompt asking if you’d prefer to just shut off notifications for that particular app instead of swiping over and over again.
There’s a new, helpful Accessibility Menu
Google has added a new Accessibility Menu to Pie that, when enabled, gets its own icon in the bottom navigation bar. The Accessibility Menu provides easier-to-reach shortcuts (and larger tap targets) for performing common functions like triggering Google Assistant, opening the app switcher, pulling down the quick settings / notification shade, taking screenshots, and more.
Lockdown Mode temporarily blocks fingerprint and face authentication on the lock screen
You may have noticed the new screenshot option that shows up when you hold down the power button on your Pixel smartphone. Convenient! But there’s also another security-focused button that you can optionally add there, as well; it’s just turned off by default. It’s called Lockdown Mode.
When tapped, Lockdown will exit out to the lock screen, hide all of your current notifications, and require your passcode or pattern to unlock the device. Even if it’s really you, other authentication methods — facial recognition, fingerprints, and so on — won’t be enough to bypass the lock screen. It’s either the PIN / pattern or no dice. You might use this in situations where you’re concerned about someone (the authorities, a thief, etc.) just forcing their way into your phone by pointing it at your face or forcing your finger onto the sensor.
Google has barely made any mention of Lockdown in the run-up to Android Pie’s release. To enable it, go to Settings —> Security & location —> Lock screen preferences. Toggle “Show lockdown option” to the on (blue) position.
Mobile hot spot will automatically shut off if no devices are connected
Here’s a fairly simple battery-saving measure: if you’ve enabled Wi-Fi hot spot in Android 9 Pie, there’s a new setting that will automatically turn hot spot back off when Android detects that no devices remain connected. This measure is toggled on by default. If for whatever reason you’d prefer to disable it, it can be found under the advanced section of the hot spot settings area.
There’s finally a magnifying glass when highlighting text
When your copy and pastes demand precision, you’ll be happy to have the new zoomed-in magnifying glass that appears above the text you’re trying to grab.
A new feature can help prevent audio lag with wireless earbuds
With Android 9 Pie, Google has added support for “sound delay reporting,” which could go a long way toward eliminating the pesky audio lag that you sometimes get when watching videos with wireless earbuds — especially with truly wireless ones.
Now, headsets that also support this feature can tell Android the exact amount of delay there will be, and the operating system will use that information to keep your audio and video in perfect sync. Note that sound delay reporting must be adopted by manufacturers to be of any real value. If your earbuds don’t have it, you might still deal with mouths moving out of sync with the audio you’re hearing.
The Ambient Display now shows weather and battery level
This last one is a simple but appreciated improvement: the ambient display on Google’s Pixel 2 now shows current weather conditions / temperature and your battery percentage. So you’ve got two fewer reasons to unlock your phone, which is in keeping with Google’s focus on digital well-being.