We received news from Google some days back that Android 8.1, the first maintenance release of Android Oreo, was making its way to Pixel and Nexus devices as a developer preview in the coming weeks. And indeed, just 8 days after the initial confirmation, the first system images for the 8.1.0 developer preview have now dropped for the Google Pixel, Pixel XL, Pixel 2, Pixel 2 XL, Nexus 5X and Nexus 6P. While this update might seem like a really modest improvement over the first Android 8.0 release, there is actually way more than meets the eye, as the update packs some major fixes and improvements as well as some other small tidbits and changes that should, all in all, improve the overall user experience in various ways. Today, we’re doing a small rundown on some of what the Android 8.1 Developer Preview 1 brings to the table.
New Android 8.1 Oreo Features and Changes
Dark/Light SystemUI Theme Based on Wallpaper
One of the most criticized aspects of Android 8.0 was the move to a white theme for almost every single aspect of the SystemUI, including the Quick Settings panel and the volume sliders, hampering nighttime usage for some users. While they didn’t go back to the gray Nougat quick settings, we did get an interesting alternative: adaptive quick settings.
Basically, instead of just switching the shade and menus back to gray, the system UI now takes advantage from the newly introduced (API 27) WallpaperColors API, and grabs color from your phone’s wallpaper, switching many aspects of the SystemUI like the quick settings panel, the mini QS/notification shade, the volume sliders, the power menu and even the Pixel Launcher (both app drawer and folder/shortcut background) to a darker hue if the wallpaper is dark/black, and keeping it brighter if the wallpaper is light.
This change, however, only seems to stick as long as the wallpaper is displayed on screen. This means that the adaptive colors will be displayed on the launcher, the easter egg, the recents panel, and any other app activity which displays the device wallpaper as a backdrop, while every other activity or application will get the regular, white/light hue.
Quick Settings Panel Goes Semi-Transparent
The Quick Settings panel has received some small visual changes, and it now features a slightly transparent background. Just like the Pixel 2’s quick settings panel and Pixel Launcher app drawer, the semi-transparent light/dark quick settings panel allows users to continue seeing what’s behind the panel without pulling it back up. This works system-wide, unlike the adaptive coloring feature.
Furthermore, the padding of the tiles themselves increased ever so slightly, and the user icon was removed completely from the QS panel, leaving Settings as the only way for switching users inside the phone.
Settings Receives a Drastic Overhaul
Android 8.1 changes the user interface for the Settings application yet again. The newest Android release revamps the top toolbar completely: instead of having an icon on the right side of the toolbar for searching inside Settings, the search option now takes the protagonist role as a search bar replaces the top toolbar. Since some people simply ignore the previous Search icon, this toolbar is meant to be much more eye-catching and prominent in order to help people find what they need more quickly and easily.
Android 8.0 (left) and Android 8.1 (right) Settings menu. Credits: AndroidHeadlines.com
Some other, minor changes can be found as well. The whole Settings interface should feel much closer to what we can find on the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL, with some minor cosmetic/layout changes as well as a new, white navigation bar with dark icons, similar to what we’ve already seen on the Pixel Launcher app drawer.
New, Proper Oreo Easter Egg
8.1 also brings a small, yet noticeable change for easter egg lovers: the Android Oreo easter egg, which is accessed by tapping the Android version in “About phone” 7 times, now displays an Oreo cookie with the Android bugdroid instead of the known orange “O” icon that we’ve been seeing since the first Android O Developer Preview. There’s no new Oreo-themed game, though: the “Octopus” easter egg itself (which we were introduced to on DP4) remains unchanged, as it can be still accessed by repeatedly tapping the Oreo cookie.
SystemUI icons, like the USB debugging notification icon, have also been updated reflecting the new Oreo cookie easter egg.
Android 8.0 (left) vs Android 8.1 (right) easter eggs. Credits: /u/adrianj93
Navigation Bar Receives a Revamp, Dims Automatically When Inactive
One of the changes that can be noticed immediately after upgrading to Android 8.1 is the navigation bar’s new behavior. That’s because the nav bar itself has received a couple of cosmetic revamps. For starters, it’s now noticeably more compact – icons are now smaller, centered and closer together compared to the 7.1/8.0 navbar, making one-handed usage easier for big phones.
But furthermore, the navigation bar has also received a key behavior change: the opacity of the back, home, and recents buttons is lowered whenever there is no touch input. This “auto-dimming” nav bar works system-wide, and it’s probably a preventive measure in order to avoid, whenever possible, burn-in and image retention issues on OLED screens.
The Power Menu Changes Completely, Now Identical to the Pixel 2 Phones
Back when the Google Pixel 2 and Google Pixel 2 XL were announced, one of the changes that we’ve noticed right away was a new, completely changed power menu: instead of a pop up menu placed in the dead center of the screen, a long press of the power button would now give you a way smaller, more user friendly menu to a side of the screen, aligned with the power button in order to greatly facilitate one-handed operation (especially with the bigger Pixel 2 XL). Android 8.1 brings this same exact menu to all devices, including the original Pixel phones as well as the Nexus 5X and 6P. And as a bonus, it’s also themed with the WallpaperColors API.
The new Android 8.1 power menu in dark and light versions. Credits: /u/JediBurrell
Android 8.1 also brings other smaller, less noticeable improvements to the Pixels and Nexus devices, which aside from maintaining consistency with the new-generation Pixels, also slightly enhance the overall Android UX:
- The status bar now has system-wide increased padding on the left and right, similar to the Galaxy S8, the Galaxy Note 8 and the Pixel 2 XL, making the status bar more friendly for rounded-corner screens and taller displays in general.
- The date under the Ambient Display clock, which was removed in the 8.0 update, is now back for Android 8.1-powered phones.
- Download Manager has its notification priority lowered: instead of cluttering your notification shade with recently finished downloads, they’re now relegated as a MIN priority notification.
- Similar to Sony’s implementation, a dialog warning will appear before turning off mobile data.
- Just like with the Pixel 2, if you’ve skipped through the setup, a colored notification will remind you to finish setting up your phone.
- Bluetooth battery level, which is supported in OEM skins like EMUI and custom ROMs like LineageOS, is now officially supported in Android 8.1. The battery bar is displayed in Quick Settings.
- New toast message UI: the dark grey, semi-transparent background with white letters is swapped for a white, semi-transparent background with dark letters.
- Long pressing on a notification now prompts a vibration.
- “App is running in the background” and “Drawing over other apps” notifications can now be easily disabled by the user just like any other notification channel: long press the notification, disable the toggle, and you are done!
If you think we’ve missed something, let us know in the comment section!
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