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Android 12's first public beta arrives Tuesday. 4 features we think you'll love

The first public beta is expected to launch during the opening keynote of Google I/O when it kicks off Tuesday.

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If you have a Pixel phone, you can install Android 12 right now. 

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Google's annual developer conference Google I/O returns on Tuesday, May 18, after Google skipped last year's event due to the pandemic. We expect Google will walk us through and then release the first public beta of Android 12 during the event's opening keynote. Up until now, Android 12 has been available to developers and those brave enough to install a very early version of the next operating system that will underlie Android phones and tablets

Not only has the developer version of Android 12 been buggy and unreliable, but there aren't very many user-facing features in it. I think Google did that on purpose in order to dissuade early adopters from installing an update that's clearly a work in progress. 

That said, we are expecting many new features in the public beta when it's released. For example, XDA Developers published a deep dive into Android 12 after the site got its hands on an unreleased build. If even half of the features included in the leak make their way into Android 12's official release later this year, it would be a pretty big update. More features could creep into daily use as well, including a refresh to the volume adjustment settings, better control over notifications and improved location prompts (that look a lot like the ones in iOS 14).

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This is Google's own schedule for Android 12 beta releases. 

Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/CNET

I don't have access to the same build that XDA does, so I'm using features in the current developer preview. Of which there are a few! 

You can install Android 12 right now, but I don't recommend it just yet. Beta builds are full of bugs and random issues, and there's no true benefit to being an early adopter quite yet. At a minimum, I suggest waiting until we see the first public beta in a few weeks. Until then, here's what you have to look forward to so far.

Now playing: Watch this: Our first look at Android 12
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A new double-tap gesture to get things done

Apple's iPhone has a cool feature that lets you tap on the back of the phone a set number of times to trigger an action of your choosing. It looks like Google is going to use that idea by adding a new double-tap gesture. 

On my Pixel 5, I went to Settings > System > Gestures > Double tap and turned on the new feature. Once it's enabled, you'll see a list of actions that you can trigger. The list currently consists of taking a screenshot, playing and pausing media, seeing recent apps, opening the notification shade and launching Google Assistant. 

That said, I haven't been able to successfully trigger the gesture in any of the developer previews. Clearly it's a feature coming to Android 12, but it doesn't appear to be fully integrated yet. 

Another sign that Google's work is unfinished here: The animation that plays at the top of the screen shows the person double-pressing the power button instead of tapping the phone. 

S21 Ultra vs. Note 20 Ultra

Phones like the Galaxy Note 20 will benefit from one-handed mode whenever Samsung releases Android 12 to its phones. 

Lexy Savvides/CNET

Big screens on phones are easier to use one-handed 

For the last few years, the iPhone's Reachability feature has made it easier to use a large-screen phone with one hand. And now in Android 12's second developer preview there's a new one-handed mode feature that does the same thing. Turn it on by going to Settings > System > Gestures > One-Handed Mode and slide the switch to the On position. 

To use it, swipe down on the bar that's at the bottom of your phone's screen. Doing so will pull the interface down to the middle of your display, putting whatever's at the top of your screen within reach. 

A small change to how notifications look

This is a minor change and one that's sure to be expanded in future updates. The notification panel has a new look that's very subtle. When you're using the light theme, there's a blue tint to the notification shade and the app icons are more pronounced. It shows a glimpse of the new approach to the interface that we expect to see more of in future releases. 

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Interface changes are coming. 

Screenshots by Jason Cipriani/CNET

Media apps don't all need to take over controls

Instead of allowing every app that plays audio or video to use the quick-settings media control panel, Android 12 adds the option to turn off individual apps. For example, if you want to be able to control playback of Spotify in the quick-settings panel shade, but you don't really want YouTube taking up space, you can turn it off for YouTube. 

Open Settings > Sound & vibration > Media and turn off all of the apps you want to ban. 

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Media controls are no longer an every-app affair. 

Screenshots by Jason Cipriani/CNET

There's more to come...

We know that Google has a lot more in store for Android 12 based on what people are finding buried in the current preview, along with the leaked build we highlighted at the beginning of this story. Check out this Twitter thread to see a list of features that are currently turned off, but XDA Developers' editor-in-chief, Mishaal Rahman, has been finding and showing off features and settings that require tech-savviness to enable.

Yea, there's a lot to be excited about. 

We'll update this story with new features as they're officially added to Android 12. Until then, make sure to bookmark this page and check back frequently. In the meantime, make sure to check out our favorite Android 11 features. And, if you insist, here's how you can install the Android 12 developer preview right now.