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Android 12: How to download and install Google's beta phone OS on Pixel, OnePlus and more

The first public beta of Android 12 is out and available for several phone models. We'll tell you which, and how to get it.

Android at Google I/O 2021

Android 12 is ready for your feedback. We'll tell you how to get started and what to know. 

James Martin/CNET

Google's new Android 12 operating system for phones looks stunning and is arguably the biggest Android redesign in years. Introduced at Google I/O, the software giant previewed the new Material You design, features and released the first Android 12 public beta that anyone with a compatible device can install and help test. 

For those who are brave enough to try this early version, the Android 12 beta will include features such as improved privacy controls and an adaptive interface that changes the color of your phone's looks to match your wallpaper. Android devices will also now work better with other devices, like Chromebooks and Android TVs

If you're an early adopter ready to help Google test the next Android operating system, here's everything you need to know about getting Android 12 on your phone right now. And here are the six top Android 12 features we think you'll love.

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Will my phone work with Android 12 beta?

Google is releasing the first Android 12 public beta for its line of Pixel phones, as well as select models from OnePlus, ZTE, TCL, Oppo, RealMe, Sharp, Tecno, Vivi, Xiaomi and Asus. Google's developer website published a one-stop website that includes links directly to the instructions for every hardware partner that's taking part in the beta program.

The installation process for each vendor varies, and each phone maker limits which models are included in the beta. For example, OnePlus is currently offering the Android 12 beta for the OnePlus 9 and OnePlus 9 Pro, and strongly suggests that only developers install the beta for now. However, if you insist, you can install the beta. You'll need to download the update package on your computer, transfer it to your phone's storage, and then go through the process of installing a "local OTA" update. OnePlus lays out the steps on this forum post, which also has a giant warning in red that the update may brick your phone. Yikes.

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There are plenty of partners this year. 

Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/CNET

TCL has released an Android 12 preview for the TCL 20 Pro 5G, and warns that the process will wipe all information and data from your phone. The installation process requires you to flash (install) the update using a program TCL built specifically to install the beta using a Windows computer. Here are the instructions.  

If you don't have a Pixel phone, I'd proceed with caution and, realistically, I'd opt to wait for the official release later this year, or at the very least, until closer to the official launch when each company has had more time to fix any major issues. 

Google's install process isn't as scary, but it doesn't come without its own share of risks. Here's a list of the specific Google Pixel models that can take part in the Android 12 beta: 

pixel-phones-opt-in-android-12.png

Pick which device you want to install Android 12 on. 

Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/CNET

How do I start using Android 12 beta on my phone?

Here are the steps I followed on a Pixel phone. If you're using one of the other supported devices, you may find there's some variation. Start by visiting the Android Beta Program website. Sign in to the site using the same Google account you're using on your phone. Google will present you with some warnings about using a beta operating system. Read through the information and agree to it when you're done. 

At the bottom of the page will be a list of phones linked to your account that are eligible to participate in the beta. Click the Opt-In button for the phone you want to enroll in the program. Accept the terms and conditions and click Confirm and Enroll when you're finished. 

Next, grab your phone and go to Settings > System > Advanced > System Update > Check for update. Your phone may need a few minutes to show the update, so if you don't see a pending update the first time you tap on the update button, give it a few minutes and try again. Once your phone does show the update, install it as you would any other update. But this time when your phone reboots, it will be running this early test version of Android 12. 

Can I leave the Android 12 beta?

If you decide that the Android 12 beta is too buggy or battery life isn't great, you can leave the beta program. But... and this is a big but... you'll need to factory reset your phone to go back to Android 11. You should be able to use an old backup to restore your phone to its Android 11 form, but it's entirely possible you'll lose some data during the transition. 

To leave the beta, visit the beta website again, but this time click on the Opt-Out button below your device. Wait a minute or two, then check for a software update on your phone in Settings > System > Advanced > System Update > Check for update. Install the update, which will factory reset your phone, and when it's done you'll need to set your phone back up, starting with signing into your Google account. 

My best advice? Wait until Android 12 is closer to final release before installing the beta. As Google continues to work on and refine the update, it'll become more stable and battery life will improve (not to mention app developers will be able to release updates ensuring that third-party apps are compatible).