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Android Pie works like the iPhone X these two ways

Android 9.0 is already on some Android phones. Here's what you can expect when it comes to yours.

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Google sheds a little more light on Android P.

Google

The Android Pie era is upon us! Android 9.0, Google's latest system software for Android phones, has already come to several devices, including all Google Pixel phones, the OnePlus 6 and the Essential Phone. Here's how you install Android Pie right now.

Read also: When is my phone getting Android Pie?

If 2017's Android 8.0 Oreo build was the wallflower update that focused mostly on behind-the-scenes tweaks, then Android 9.0 (better known as Pie) is the brash party animal. And parts of it feel strangely like iOS 11 on the iPhone X.

For example, Android Pie supports a notch design and a suite of navigational gestures, both of which Apple's iPhone X famously popularized. Google wasn't the first to mimic these iPhone behaviors; brands such as OnePlus, LG, Motorola, Huawei and Xiaomi have already incorporated one or both. 

Google's support for the notch and gesture navigation underscores a priority in the phone industry to make the screen as large as possible, without buttons and sensors getting in the way. Android Pie gives appmakers the tools they need to help their apps consistently adapt to phone designs that include the notch or use gesture controls instead of physical or on-screen buttons. Google may lag behind Apple, but embracing both trends will have a major impact for phone owners around the world, 85 percent of whom own Android phones, according to Statista and IDC. But not every phone maker will implement every change, and some may add their own software touches to expand Android Pie's offerings.

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Android Pie works, but it doesn't work as elegantly as it could. The gesture controls are pretty easy to pick up, especially if you're familiar with how they work on other phones. In some senses, Android Pie's bold new look and features feel like a breath of fresh air. In others, it's a less intuitive entry point that could make it difficult to pick up and use an Android phone for the first time.

As well as notches and gestures, Android Pie adds larger images within notifications, lets you edit screenshots after you take them and uses AI to stretch out battery life. Read on for hands-on impressions and more details on how to start using Android Pie. 

How to get Android Pie and Android P beta

Currently, Android Pie is available to download for Google-branded phones, such as the Google Pixel ($374 at Amazon)Google Pixel XL ($314 at Amazon)Google Pixel 2 ($649 at Google Store) and Google Pixel 2 XL ($849 at Google Store). You can also expect it to roll out to other Android phones too by "the end of this fall" according to Google, and it's already available for the Essential PH‑1

If you can't wait, you can get the beta version of Pie, which is available for the OnePlus 6Sony Xperia XZ2 ($700 at Amazon)Xiaomi Mi Mix 2SNokia 7 Plus, Oppo R15 Pro and Vivo X21. Go to google.com/android/beta to get started.

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Google Lens with Smart Select.

Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Android Pie's new iPhone-like gestures

Don't start thinking that Android Pie is a total iPhone X clone. Its gestures center loosely around a pill-shaped home button and, unlike iOS on the iPhone X, Android Pie keeps the Back button in apps that call on it.

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 recent apps. 

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Like on the iPhone X, most navigation involves swiping gestures. You swipe up from the bottom to see a carousel of open apps, like an overview, and you scroll through these to open or reopen an app. You can also pull the pill-shaped home button to the right, which snaps open your previous app. Keep snapping the button to cycle 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. And the Recents button? It's gone, made 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 Pie, and I expect that many future phones that ship with the software 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 Pie is now available for some Android phones.

Jason Cipriani/CNET

Still, Motorola's Moto phones do gesture navigation much better. The worst thing about Android Pie for me is that it feels a little lopsided to use. You can tap and flick in the center of the screen, and you can swipe right. But you can't swipe left to go back. To go back, you have to press the back button, remember? 

Also remember that this setup on Android Pie doesn't mean that every Android phone will use the back button. Phonemakers will continue to use their own skins on top of Android Pie. So Android 9.0 on the Galaxy S10, for example, should look different from Android 9.0 on the Google Pixel 3.

Better notifications with Android Pie

Android Pie adds images to notifications, which you can see in alerts and from the notifications shade. Google's OS recognizes the notifications you constantly ignore and offers 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 Pie: Screenshots, volume, shortcuts

  • Edit and annotate images right after taking a screenshot (like in iOS).
  • Smart selection: When you highlight a restaurant name, Android Pie will offer you Yelp reviews, directions and the option to place a call. If you select article text, Google may offer to search, copy or translate it.
  • Shortcuts, called Actions internally, predict that you may 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 has one.
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Android 9.0 Pie is already here for some phones.

Juan Garzon/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 see 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 that 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 Pie lays that base better than Android Oreo.

Android Pie'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 Pie lets you set time limits on apps -- say no more than an hour on Facebook or YouTube -- and it grays out apps to remind you of your goal.

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

Android Pie 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.

Originally published on May 5.
Updated, Aug. 23: Added new intro and more on iPhone-like gestures.

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