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Android P gives Android gestures like the iPhone X -- and it's not bad

But Google still won't tell us what the "P" stands for.

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Google sheds a little more light on Android P.

Google

The Android P era is upon us. If Android 8.0 Oreo was the wallflower update that focused mostly on behind-the-scenes tweaks, then Android P is the brash party animal. And parts of it feel alarmingly like the iPhone X.

Google showed off the Android P beta software, which will morph into the next dessert-themed version of Android at its annual Google I/O conference in Mountain View, California. For the record, we still don't know what the P in Android P will be called, but "Popsicle" is one option.

The most arresting changes are also the most like the iPhone X. Android P supports a notch design popularized by the iPhone X, and also a suite of navigational gestures that lightly anchor around a digital home button. I got a chance to try out the Android P beta here at Google I/O, and I've got to say, the gesture controls weren't as difficult to pick up as some might think (more below). 

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This is one of three notches Android P will support for future phones. Shot on a demo device at Google I/O 2018.

James Martin/CNET

In fact, I liked a lot of Google's changes. Android P is a much more ambitious, much more visual progression of the Android OS than in past years. For some of you, Android P's new look and features will feel like a breath of fresh air. For others, it'll signal a less intuitive entry point that could make it harder to pick up and use an Android phone for the first time.

Android P will also add larger images within notifications, let you edit screenshots after you take them, and use AI to stretch out battery life. 

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Android phones make up roughly 85 percent of the world's phones, according to IDC, which means that Google's changes to its operating system cue a shift in what we'll see in smart phone software and design for phones toward the end of 2018 and into 2019. First we have to wait for Google to finalize. However, not every phone maker will implement every change, and some may add their own software touches to expand Android P's offerings.

How to get Android P beta

Android P comes to a total of 11 phones today, including Google PixelGoogle Pixel XLGoogle Pixel 2Google Pixel 2 XLOnePlus 6Essential PH‑1Sony Xperia XZ2Xiaomi Mi Mix 2SNokia 7 Plus, Oppo R15 Pro and the Vivo X21. Go to google.com/android/beta to get started.

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Google Lens with Smart Select

Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Android P's new iPhone-like gestures

It was only a matter of time before Android embraces gesture navigation, like the iPhone X. 

Unlike the iPhone, Android P keeps a digital button to act as your anchor, though it's narrow capsule, not a circle. Google thinks of this as simplifying the home screen, giving you just this one "clean" home button to press instead of a total of three for home, back and recents. 

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Like the iPhone X, most navigation pivots on swiping gestures. You swipe up from the bottom to see a carousel of open apps, like an overview. You'll be able to scroll through these to open or reopen an app. You can also pull the new oblong home button to the right, which will snap open your previous app. Keep snapping the button to keep cycling through apps.

A full swipe up from the bottom (or another half-swipe), takes you directly to your app tray. The back button appears only when there's a page to actually go back to (so, not on the home screen). You still long-press the home button to launch Google Assistant. As the Recents button? It's gone, made totally obsolete because you can already see your open apps every time you swipe up.

 I've used the iPhone X enough for swipe-up gestures to become ingrained in my muscle memory. It didn't take long to figure out how to use Android P, and I expect that many future phones running on Android P (or whatever it becomes) will include a tutorial that shows you how to use the new gesture controls as you set up your phone.

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Android P beta works on 11 phones at the start.

Jason Cipriani/CNET

Better notifications with Android P

Android P adds images to notifications, which you can see in alerts and from the notifications shade. Google's OS will recognize the notifications you constantly ignore, and offer to disable them for you. 

You can long-press a notification to open settings and manage your options. In addition, a new "manage notifications" button at the bottom of the notifications tray lets you fine-tune your preferences.

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More new tricks in Android P: Screenshots, volume, shortcuts

  • Edit and annotate images right after taking a screenshot (like in iOS)
  • Smart selection: When you highlight a restaurant name, Android P will offer you Yelp reviews, directions, to place a call. If you select article text, Google may offer to search, copy or translate it
  • Shortcuts, called Actions internally, predict if you want to call a friend or do any other specific action with an app -- you'll see suggestions waiting for you in Google Assistant, your home screen and the launcher. App-makers have to set these up; it's meant to predict your intention, based on past behavior
  • Press the power button to surface a volume slider control and a quick-access button to toggle between audio modes
  • Your work apps can live in a separate tab in your app drawer (if your phone uses one)
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Jason Cipriani/CNET

Use apps without having to download them

Google is finally integrating an idea it briefed us on ahead of last year's Google I/O that will let you se apps without actually making you download them. For example, if you're making a reservation or flagging a Lyft, you can interact with just the right part of an app. 

This isn't anything you can set up on your phone; you'll just have to wait for developers to make it happen. Android P lays that base better than Android Oreo.

Android P's dashboard proves you're a smartphone addict

A new view shows you how much time you're spending on your phone, and also what it is you're looking at. If your engagement isn't meaningful (like if you waste a lot of time watching infomercials), you might change your ways. Android P will let you set time limits on apps -- say no more than an hour on Facebook or YouTube -- and it will gray out apps to remind you of your goal.

If you turn your phone over on the table, it'll automatically set the Do Not Disturb mode, which will keep it quiet until you turn it over again. Of course, you can give some contacts the go-ahead no matter what.

Android P wants to help you get to sleep with Wind Down

Google IO 2018 Android Wind Down

James Martin/CNET

Wind-down mode will fade your phone to grayscale as you start getting sleepy. This won't replace the blue light filter, but it will help you trick your brain into being less interested in the contents of your screen. It's not currently available on Android P beta, but will roll out in the future.

Originally published at 11:10 a.m. PT and updated at 3:32 p.m. PT with hands-on impressions.

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