Wednesday, May 29, 2024

c’t 3003: What can Android 13 do and what it still can’t?

Date:

Android 13 is here, at least the first preview version, the “Developer Preview 1”. c’t 3003 installed it.


Video transcript:

I installed Android 13 on my Pixel 4a, the first version, Developer Preview 1. In this video, I not only show you the new features of Android 13, but also the bugs that still exist. Stay tuned.

Dear hackers, dear netizens, welcome to c’t 3003!

In case you’re wondering: Hey, Android 13, don’t I even have Android 12 yet? Yes, I know you are not the only ones, not at all: here are the most recent statistics from Google, which version of Android is installed on how many devices. Yes, and what can I say, the numbers are embarrassing: more than a quarter of the devices are running Android 9 or earlier, that is, an operating system that was released in the summer of 2018 (!). Android 11, that is, the one from 2020, reaches 24.3 percent, and Android 12 is not even included, although it was already being delivered on pixel smartphones at the time of recording. Google used to publish these numbers monthly, but they don’t anymore; they probably feel a bit uncomfortable.

Once I asked colleagues at heise online, they can see so-called “user agents” there; so to speak, the welcome message that each browser sends to the web server – and also contains the version of the operating system: And of course the audience at heise.de is much more tech-savvy than in the general comparison – yes, and the Android from penultimate is by far the most popular year, i.e. Android 11. Android 12 is at least ahead of Android 10 and older on heise.de.

One thing is clear: this so-called fragmentation is still a problem. Whereas with Apple’s iOS all devices less than four to seven years old get updates right away, Google is dependent on the manufacturer. Yes, and in the past they have always been more interested in selling new devices than taking care of updates. It is slowly getting better, many manufacturers now promise at least in advance how many years they will provide updates. And: What Google also does: They decouple core elements from the operating system so that they can easily update them through the PlayStore, regardless of the version of the operating system. This means that if you have a cell phone from an unreliable manufacturer that doesn’t handle updates, you’ll still receive some updates directly from Google. It’s called Project Mainline.

But enough of theory, what can this Android 13 do? To answer this question, I installed Developer Preview 1 on a Pixel 4a. After that comes Developer Preview 2 and probably three betas until the final release in late summer, so we’re still very early. Therefore, I would absolutely advise against installing the version on a smartphone in normal use, it is still too unstable for that. And very important: the features that are included in the preview versions can also be removed again for the final version.

However, very briefly on how I got Android 13 Developer Preview 1 on my cell phone: Unlike beta builds, it’s not enough to just sign up with Google for the beta program and then things just come as updates over the air, no it should restart the phone completely and flash the image manually with a USB cable. However, for some time this has been possible without command line tools or the like, you can simply do it in the browser: go to flash.android.com and voila, thanks to WebUSB technology in Chrome and Edge. That’s pretty fancy.

So now what’s new in Android 13? I will present six things here and rank them roughly in order of importance.

A really important feature: Now you can finally share apps with just individual photos. Until now, it had only been on and off, that is, post all photos or none. And yes, that’s not a bit cool, maybe not-so-reliable apps open the entire photo library. By the way, Google also wants to push the option to restrict photo sharing to Android versions 11 and 12. I just told you about Project Mainline, which decouples features and distributes them through the Playstore. By the way, Apple’s iOS has had the feature since version 14, that is, from the year before last.

You can’t see it yet, but it’s coming: Also as mainline modules that can be installed via the Playstore, Google provides support for Bluetooth LE Audio and Ultra Wideband with Android 13. There’s hardly any hardware for Bluetooth Low Energy Audio yet, but it will be great in the long run: not only can you build more energy-efficient headphones with it, but you can also reduce latency. Ultra Wide Band or UWB is a radio technology that can be used primarily for position determination. Apple’s competition has been using this for a long time, for example for the Airtag Find trailer.

Android 12 came with the biggest design overhaul since Android 5, so it’s clear Android 13 won’t win again. (By the way, because I just raved about Apple: when it comes to design, iOS could use a little modernization; personally, I find Android to be more visually advanced since version 12.)

Yes, but small design changes are also possible with Android 13: there are now so-called “Themed App Icons”. These are monochrome versions of application icons that adapt to the colors of the selected system; this allows you to achieve a very stripped down look and customize the look to your liking, as app icons visually recede into the background and the background comes more to the fore. you understand. So far I haven’t found many non-Google apps that bring these icons, although the feature was included in beta versions of Android 12; probably to motivate developers. But in the end there probably weren’t enough of them, so the feature was removed from the final version of Android 12. However, some manufacturers like Samsung have already implemented it in Android 12.

To be honest, I can’t quite judge whether it’s a fully specialized special function, but in any case, I’ve been annoyed at times that it doesn’t exist: in the future, you can set the language for individual applications. For the application to run in English, for example, even though the system language is German; I would have liked that for games, for example, if I didn’t like German speakers, for example.

Until now, most of the applications have been adapted to the system language: there were already some applications that had their own language setting function, but they were quite few. What would be nice, though: If the news feed on the far left home screen supported multiple languages. For example, I would like to use Android with German as the system language, but also find articles in English in this so-called Discover view on the far left. Currently there is only one or you have to start the Google News app manually for two languages ​​to work. That’s a bit weird again, isn’t it Google? That there are two apps that actually do the exact same thing, namely display personalized news feeds?

There are a couple of new quick launch tiles in Android 13, the most useful of which is probably the one for QR codes; these can also be easily recognized via the camera app, but sometimes it’s tricky if the code isn’t recognized correctly. outside. Here, in the Developer Preview, there is already the icon, but there is still nothing behind it. However, some manufacturers already have it. Also new is the quick launch tile for one-handed mode. It was there before, but until now you had to activate it in the settings menu, now you can use the quick launch bar. One-handed mode scrolls everything down a bit if you swipe down here, which is helpful. There are also rumors that in the future it will be possible to adjust the intensity of the flashlight, as is the case with iOS, but this has not yet been officially confirmed.

We also discovered a few little things that aren’t in the final build of Android 12: For example, there’s a quick selection with the last four backgrounds if you long-press on the home screen. In addition, the security dialog in the settings looks different, as it now has “security recommendations” integrated, which until now could only be found in the Google account.

And: The media player button in notifications now has more features if the app supports it. Here, for example, with the Pocket Casts podcast app, Android 13 on the left, Android 12 on the right; for example, here you can change the playback speed. Yes! What a pity, by the way: the popular Easter egg, which has been hidden behind a few taps in the Android version in the system settings for a long time, is still the old one from Android 12 in Android 13 Developer Preview 1, a pity. But what’s funny: while Google no longer mentioned the dessert codename so prominently in previous versions of Android, the developer preview ONLY shows the codename in the version information: it simply says ” Tiramisu”. Yum, tiramisu!

The fact that Android now allows apps to only share individual photos instead of the entire library is not only useful, it’s long overdue. Unfortunately, what hasn’t been resolved yet is the rather silly idea of ​​putting mobile internet and WLAN behind a single quick launch tile; at least, very often I only turn off one of the two and then I always have to play several times. Otherwise, I think the detailed improvements make a lot of sense, like per-app language settings and the QR code quick launch tile. An aesthetically interesting feature is the monochrome app icons – you can really create a very individual look if all app developers also provide such an icon in the future; because even a single normal colorful icon unfortunately destroys the overall impression.

But actually the most interesting thing: that many of the most important functions are no longer built into Android, but are updated through the PlayStore, that is, things like limited photo sharing and Bluetooth LE audio. And while the Android update situation is far from perfect, it’s at least heading in the right direction. Bye.


not 3003 is c’t’s YouTube channel. The videos of c’t 3003 are independent content and independent of the articles of c’t magazin. Publisher Jan-Keno Janssen and video producers Johannes Börnsen and Şahin Erengil publish a video every week.

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Ebenezer Robbins
Ebenezer Robbins
Introvert. Beer guru. Communicator. Travel fanatic. Web advocate. Certified alcohol geek. Tv buff. Subtly charming internet aficionado.

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