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Android 12: We love these hidden features. Here's how to use them yourself

Android 12 is so close to release. It has a lot of new features, some of which Google hasn't even talked about. Here's what we've found so far.

Android 12

What's inside Google's new Android 12 operating system for phones? We found some tricks that fly under the radar. 

James Martin/CNET

Google released the fifth and final beta for Android 12 in early September and noted that the official release is only a "few weeks" away. The current build is a release candidate, which means that -- if there aren't any major bugs or issues -- it's likely to be the same build at official release. We are so close to the release of Android 12, I can almost taste it. Well, actually, that's not true now that Google has ditched naming Android updates after desserts. But I digress. 

If you have a compatible phone, you can install Android 12 right now through Google's public beta program. This will get you early access to things like Android 12's new privacy features, and a completely new look for Android -- the biggest one to date.

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Brett Pearce/CNET

But, as I often say when new operating systems are released, the best features are usually the hidden ones. These are features that haven't been announced, but ones you have to dig into the operating system to find. For example, there's a dedicated game mode in Android 12, but it's buried in the Settings app. There's also a shortcut to your device's notification history for when you accidentally dismiss an alert.

I'm still digging through Android 12 and what it has to offer, but so far I've found four hidden features that are sure to be useful. 

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Android 12 keeps your notification history a tap away

Do you ever clear out a notification without reading it? I do it all the time. Android has offered device notification history for some time now, but you either had to know where to look, or you had to install a third-party app to see it. 

In Android 12, all you have to do is scroll to the bottom of your notification shade, where you'll see a new History button. Tap it, and you'll see recently cleared notifications as well as alerts from the last 24 hours. 

If you see Manage instead of History, that's because Notification History isn't turned on. Enable it by tapping on Manage, then select Notification History and slide the switch to the On position. 

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You now have quick access to your past notifications. 

Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/CNET

Android 12 makes big phones feel smaller

A new one-handed mode in Android 12 may not be a headlining feature, but it's one that could make a big difference in how you use your phone. This is especially true if you're using a phone with a big display, like the Galaxy S21 Ultra

The new one-handed mode moves the top half of whatever's on your screen to the bottom half, making it easier to tap a quick settings tile or a notification. To use it, place a finger on the small bar at the bottom of your phone's screen and swipe down. It may take a few tries, but once you get the gesture figured out, it's easy to reproduce. 

Before you can do that, though, you'll need to turn it on by going to Settings > System > Gestures > One-Handed Mode and slide the switch to the On position. Below the switch to enable the feature, you'll have two options: Pull screen into reach or Show notifications. Select the first option and then close out the Settings app.

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Use the new Game Mode in Android 12 to boost performance or live stream on YouTube. 

Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/CNET

There's a dedicated gaming mode in Android 12, but you can't use it (yet)

If you play a lot of games on your Android device, you'll be happy to know that Google is adding a dedicated Gaming Mode to Android 12. When it's turned on, your phone will do things like automatically turn on do not disturb when you start playing. 

But you'd never know the mode existed if you didn't venture deep into, of all places, your notification settings. More specifically, go to Settings > Notifications > Do Not Disturb > Schedules. Once there, check the box next to Game Mode to turn it on. Next, tap on the Settings gear icon to and toggle both items.

In my brief experience testing it, game mode doesn't work in every game (looking at you, Asphalt 9). It does work in Call of Duty Mobile, however. When it's active, you can do things like force your phone to optimize itself for gaming in a single-tap or view your device's current frames per second.

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Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/CNET

Android 12 has a new app layout option, but it might be Pixel-only

The app grid on your phone's home screen normally ranges for a 4x4, 5x5 or 6x6 grid (or similar combinations). However, in Android 12 on the Pixel 5, there's a new app grid option that's downright funny at first glance -- 2x2. I assume this is limited to just Pixel phones, but hopefully, other phone-makers adopt it, as it's a huge accessibility feature for those in need of larger app icons. 

Switch to the new 2x2 layout with a long-press on your home screen, then select Styles & Wallpapers> Grid > 2x2

We don't know when Google will officially release Android 12, but until then make sure to check out our favorite Android 12 features thus far. And if you're ready (read: brave enough) to take the plunge, here's how to install Android 12 right now.