The Android 8.1 Developer Preview has been released – just 64 days after the last Android 8.0 Oreo update.
While only one third of Android smartphones have been upgraded to Oreo, Google’s development team is already moving onto 8.1.
The Developer Preview has been mildly controversial so far. Google initially released problematic files, then later pulled the update files after they stopped working. Now, however, the Developer Preview seems to be working without issue.
Like most x.1 releases for Android, there are a number of smaller changes in this latest update. It’s not nearly as big of an update as Oreo, but there are still some changes Android users need to know about.
1) Everyone Gets Pixel 2 Features
The most important change in Android 8.1 is the addition of Pixel 2 features to other Androids. With Android 8.1, some of the Pixel 2’s biggest features are getting back-ported.
The original Pixel, the Pixel 1, is getting most Pixel 2 features, including all of the following:
- A new Pixel home screen with the “at a glance” widget and bottom search bar
- A new clock icon with moving hands
- Use of the “Product Sans” font in Google Assistant, including the update screen and setup
Meanwhile, other Nexus devices get Pixel 2 features like:
- Dark and light themes that will automatically kick in based on your wallpaper
- A new Settings design with a top search bar
- A new power menu
If you have a non-Pixel 2 device, then you won’t get any Pixel 2 wallpapers. However, you can still easily get Pixel 2 wallpapers by following the instructions in this XDA Developers Forum thread.
Meanwhile, a number of Android devices, including the Pixel 1 (but not the new Nexus devices) received Google Lens a few days ago.
2) System UI Changes
One of the criticisms of the Pixel 2 has been its grainy display and burned-in images. These problems have been particularly pronounced on the Pixel 2 XL.
The Android 8.1 update is designed to mitigate the burn-in in an easy way: the white navigation buttons now dim after the phone is idle for a few seconds.
When you first turn the screen on, the buttons will be at full, white brightness. However, they’ll only stay bright white for two seconds, after which they’ll switch from white to a dimmer, gray color. The buttons will light up again whenever you touch the navigation buttons, but will stay dim when scrolling or using the phone in general.
3) Bluetooth Battery Levels Are Available in Quick Settings
One of the biggest improvements in the Pixel 2 was its ability to display battery levels on Bluetooth devices. Unfortunately, this battery percentage was buried in the Bluetooth settings menu. With 8.1, you can now see Bluetooth battery levels from the quick settings menu, making it easy to see how much juice is left in your headphones or other device.
Unfortunately, battery levels are still not in the status bar.
4) SMS Connect
Android 8.1 has a new APK called SMSConnectPrebuilt that allows you to launch a program called SMS Connect. Using SMS Connect, you can read and reply to text messages on your Chromebook.
Windows has had a similar feature for a little while, and Apple users have long been able to message over Mac OS through iMessage. It’s great to see Chromebook users get the same support.
5) Pixel Visual Core
The Pixel Visual Core is a major update for developers, but it won’t have an immediately significant impact on users.
The Pixel Visual Core is a Google-designed co-processor designed to accelerate machine-learning functions and image processing. In a blog post announcing the 8.1 update, Google said it would enable Pixel Visual Core as a developer option in Android Oreo 8.1.