If you’ve got a Pixel or the Essential Phone, chances are that you’ve got — or are about to get — the full stable release of Android 10, which has a bunch of interesting new features that are worth checking out.
But where do you find them? I installed Android 10 on my original Pixel XL late yesterday (yes, I’ve still got the first version of the Pixel — so sue me), and except for a few stylistic changes, the new features weren’t immediately obvious.
You can find them easily enough, though, if you know where to look.
INSTALLING ANDROID 10
First, of course, you have to make sure you have the new OS installed. If you haven’t gotten a notification, it’s easy enough to find:
- Open your phone’s settings
- Select System > Advanced > System update
(Note: Before installing a new OS, it’s always a good idea to make sure that your phone is backed up, just in case. Google has a feature that automatically backs up your phone; go to Setup and select System > Backup. If it says On under Backup, you should be fine; you can tap on Backup to see what’s being backed up and when it last happened.)
It took my phone about half an hour or so to install the new OS and update the apps; your mileage may vary.
So now that you’ve got the new OS, here are some tricks to try.
For several generations of Android, you’ve navigated by using the three symbols at the bottom of the screen including Back, Home, and the Recent task-switching button. Google has now replaced that format with a gesture system, similar to that used by recent iPhones.
If you’re the kind of person who is resistant to change, don’t panic: Google has made the use of these gestures optional. In fact, when my phone updated to Android 10, the old symbols were still there.
No matter your initial opinion of gestures, it couldn’t hurt to give them a try. Here’s how to turn gestures on:
- Go to Settings > System > Gestures > 3-button navigation
- From the three choices on the page, select “Gesture navigation.” There is a GIF at the top of the page to illustrate the various gestures you need to make; there is also a quick rundown of how to use them in our review.
- There’s a settings cog to the right of “Gesture navigation,” which lets you set the sensitivity of the screen when you back-swipe. You probably want to leave that setting alone until you’ve played with gestures for a while.
Now, instead of the three icons, all you’ll see at the bottom of your screen will be a black strip with a white dash in the center. (Or vice versa, depending on the page’s background color.) Of course, if you finally decide you’re not a gesture person, you can go back and return your phone to its old format.
Dark mode is very popular these days. It’s supposed to help keep your battery going longer (having not tested it, I can’t say one way or the other), but I find it very useful when I’m using my phone at night. While many Android apps have, over the years, provided their own dark modes, Android now has a universal dark theme. To turn it on:
- Go to Settings > Display
- Toggle on “Dark theme.” You’ll get a pop-up that lets you know that supported apps will also switch to the dark theme.
If you look in your quick settings menu (the one you get when you swipe down from the top), you can also access a dark mode toggle there. If you don’t immediately see the icon, click on the pencil icon in the lower left corner of the quick settings drop-down.
As mentioned in our review, it would be a lot nicer if there was a way to have the phone change to dark mode automatically at sunset. Maybe in a future iteration.
Yes, I am easily distracted. For example, while writing this article, I found myself clicking on an article I found in my Google drawer, and had to force myself to remember that I had work to do. So Focus Mode — which was created to help minimize distractions by pausing specific apps — may prove very useful, at least in my case.
Before I describe how to find Focus Mode, a note: To be able to use it, you have to be part of the Digital Wellbeing beta program. If you don’t see Focus Mode in your Digital Wellbeing app, then simply sign up for the beta, and wait for the app to be updated with the beta version; it should take only a few minutes.
- Go to Settings > “Digital Wellbeing & parental controls”
- Scroll down to “Ways to Disconnect”
You’ve got three choices here to help you manage your distraction level. Tap on each to set it up.
- Dashboard lets you set timers for specific apps so that they will pause if you go past your allotted time.
- Wind Down lets you avoid interruptions at night; you can use Night Light to tint the screen for dim lighting, have the app remind you that it’s time for bed by gray-scaling your screen, and put the Do Not Disturb mode in place, among other features.
- Focus Mode (mentioned above) lets you immediately pause apps such as Facebook or Twitter so that you can concentrate on the task at hand.
A lot of apps ask for permission to track your location. In Android 10, you can now set that permission so that the app can only track your location while it is in use rather than all the time. To find which of your current apps have permission to track your location, and to change their permissions:
- Go to Settings
- Go to Apps & notifications > Permission manager > Location
- You’ll get a list of all the apps that have permission to track your phone’s location, followed by all those allowed to track you only while they are in use, and then by those that have been denied the right to track your location. Tap on each app’s name to change its permission to “Allow all the time,” “Allow only while using the app,” or “Deny.”
A NEW CATEGORY IN SETTINGS: PRIVACY
By the way, you can find the Permission manager in another place now as well: the new category of Privacy in your settings listing. You can also find your “Show passwords” toggle here (so you can see passwords as you type them), your notification controls for your lock screen, your autofill manager for forms, and several other privacy features.
There are, of course, a number of other new features that will simply pop up as you need them — for example, more details on some notifications. And one very interesting new feature, Live Caption, is not yet available; it should offer closed captioning for all audio and video on the phone. As with all newly released operating systems, Android 10 is a work in progress. The features described here are probably only the beginning.