We've officially left the land of candy and dessert.
Google is apparently much more serious about Android with version 10--either that, or the free cafe at the company's Mountain View campus ran out of sweets to name the world's most popular mobile operating system after. I can't think of any other reason why the version of Android that dropped on Tuesday has such an incredibly purposeful name as "Android 10." Okay, the official reason is apparently that the treat-themed names don't translate so well across international users.
Either way, that's not actually the most important part of this column. I've been trying Android 10 out for a few days, so I could take a little time and poke around and give you an overview of the best features that you definitely can't live without.
Except, it turns out, unless you're using one of Google's Pixel devices, you're out of luck. Don't take it out on me--I'm an iPhone guy--it's not my fault. Still, most newer devices should eventually get 10, so we'll talk about the best new features, and then we'll talk about why you have to wait.
1. Dark Mode
Google is rolling out the popular "dark mode" in both the overall user interface and within certain Google Apps like Calendar and YouTube. More apps are expected to gain support soon, including Gmail and Chrome. Dark Mode has some real benefits, like better battery performance (Android will turn it on automatically in battery-save mode) and less strain on your eyes, but honestly--it's also just really cool.
One of the more controversial updates, at least in the Android community, are the new gestures that you can use to swipe through apps and go "back." It seemed normal to me, but then again, I'm an iPhone user, and this more closely mimics how you navigate in iOS. This was a little confusing, because I had grown comfortable with the "back" button as a safety net that would get me out of whatever I was using when I wasn't sure exactly what else to do.
That button is now gone, replaced by a gesture. It's probably a better overall experience, but let's be honest, no one likes change, especially when it's something you've grown to depend on.
3. Focus Mode
Technically still in beta, this lets users turn on a "focus mode" in order to quiet and disable notifications from any distracting apps. That means no pesky Slack notifications while you're trying to finish your presentation, or incoming email notifications while you're on a conference call. It hasn't rolled out widely yet, but it's basically "Do Not Disturb" on an iPhone or Mac, which I use all the time.
4. WiFi QR Code
If you've ever had to share a WiFi password with a friend, you know how fun it is unless of course you use AirDrop on an iPhone. Oh yeah, this is an Android 10 review, sorry. This one is helpful in the real world, maybe more than the others. It lets you generate a QR code with your login credentials that your friend or coworker can simply scan to connect to a secure network.
One of the biggest changes with Android 10 is that Google is centralizing how users access Privacy and Location settings across devices. Google is especially focusing on how apps share location information, requiring them to ask users for permission, and allowing users to restrict use only to when the app is open on the screen.
Google is also fighting against device fingerprinting--the practice of gathering specific data about a device to track it across apps and the web. Both of these are a huge step in the right direction, especially for Google, which isn't exactly known as a champion of user privacy.
The big news here is Live Captioning, which is basically closed captioning, but at an OS level. And it's not just for Netflix or Hulu (which already have their own captioning services). Live Captioning will add text over any video sent to you, even if it's your spouse or kids sending you random video messages. Which is actually kind of helpful for those times when you're not sure it would be a great idea to turn up the volume but still want to know what it says--like in a meeting or on the subway.
Not For Everyone
But, there's still the problem that Android 10 is only for Pixel devices at this time. That's largely because Google only controls its own devices--again, unlike Apple. That means that if you're using a device from Samsung, Huawei, or OnePlus, you'll be waiting for updates down the road. Google has taken a step towards a better update process for users by delivering new software through the Google Play store, but unless you're on a Pixel, you'll still be waiting--at least for now.