Android 12 is getting closer to an official release now that Google has rolled out Beta 3, which includes several new features and improvements. For example, there's a new scrollable screenshots tool (finally!), and on-device search gets a big improvement when it comes to finding information inside third-party apps. Google also said it improved auto-rotation by using the front-facing camera to determine which direction the screen should be rotated. Kind of cool.
The latest crop of features aren't the only noteworthy changes Android phones and tablets will get when Google officially releases Android 12 in the next month or two. A new Privacy Dashboard gives you a minute-by-minute look at which apps are accessing your private data. There are also system alerts that now let you know when an app is actively using your camera or microphone, and with a tap of a button, you can revoke access.
If all of that sounds good, and you have a compatible Android device, you can download and install Android 12 right now. Beta 3 is available for Google's Pixel devices now, while the third-party phone makers might take a few days to release the update for the models each one is supporting in the beta. But keep in mind that beta previews are often full of bugs and random issues, so if you decide to take the plunge, be ready to live with some annoyances. Below are some of my favorite features from the beta so far. Features I'm sure you'll love as well.
New tools for keeping tabs on your privacy
Google has really stepped up its privacy efforts in Android 12, catching up to features the iPhone gained with iOS 14, and even passing it in some regards. There's a new Privacy Dashboard that makes it easy to quickly see which apps are accessing which private data and how often. You can then revoke access if you find an app doing something you don't want.
You can find the new dashboard by opening the Settings app, then going to Privacy > Privacy Dashboard. There, you'll see a chart detailing which privacy categories have been accessed during the last 24 hours. If you tap on the menu button in the top right corner, you can tell your phone to include system apps in the chart as well as third-party apps. Tap a category, such as camera, and then view a timeline that details when an app accessed your camera, for how long and whether it was done in the background.
Capture an entire conversation or webpage in a single screenshot
One subtle Android 12 feature that I suspect most of us will use regularly is scrollable screenshots. Surely you've taken screenshots of a webpage or a text conversation, either to save for yourself or share with a loved one. But instead of capturing the message thread in one, long screenshot, you've been forced to take multiple screenshots and then hope they arrive in the right order and make total sense.
Well, with Android 12, the option to take one long screenshot is now built-in to the OS. Samsung owners may be scratching their heads right now, and I understand the confusion -- Galaxy phones have had this feature for as long as I can remember.
When your non-Galaxy phone receives the Android 12 update, here's what you need to do to take a scrollable screenshot.
Take a screenshot as you normally would by pressing the side or power button and the volume-down button at the same time. A thumbnail preview of your screenshot will show up in the bottom-left corner of your screen, where you'll find a new button labeled Capture More. Tap it and Android 12 will automatically scroll down and capture more of you screen, then ask you to use the crop tool to adjust exactly how much you want to include in the screenshot. When you're done, you can share the screenshot as you normally would.
A warning when apps are using your camera or microphone
Once you're up and running with Android 12, you'll notice that a new indicator has been added to the top menu bar to show when an app is accessing your camera or microphone, and when you see it, you can swipe down from the top of the screen to view your quick-settings panel and turn access off. The indicator shows up where battery percentage is normally found.
If you add two new tiles to your quick-settings pane after updating your phone or tablet, you'll be able to turn off systemwide access to either camera or microphone with just a tap.
Custom color themes for Pixel phones
If you have a Pixel phone, you'll be one of the first with access to Android 12's new color palette feature and redesigned widgets. That means whenever you set a new wallpaper image, Android will pick the dominant colors and adjust the rest of your phone's system colors.
The colors will be used in the notification shade, lock screen, volume controls and the redesigned widgets. You don't have to do a thing other than change your wallpaper. In my testing, it took about 30 seconds before the colors switched.
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 > Quick 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, launching Google Assistant or opening an app of your choosing.
When you're in the settings panel for Quick Tap, you can test out how soft or hard a tap is needed to trigger it. A small notification will show up at the bottom of the screen when you successfully activate it.
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. In Android 12 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.
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.
There's more to come...
There's undoubtedly more to be found and discovered in Android 12 as Google continues to release updates and get closer to the final version. As we do, we'll be sure to update this post. Until then, make sure to bookmark this page and check back frequently. In the meantime, take a few minutes to check out our favorite Android 11 features. And, if you insist, here's how you can install the Android 12 public beta right now.