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Android 12 vs. Android 11: The differences you'll want to know

There are things the old mobile operating system just can't do. We'll explain.

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

The Galaxy S22 series -- featuring the base Galaxy S22, S22 Plus and S22 Ultra -- are the latest to join the Android device family. They were announced at Samsung's February Unpacked event with the company's new tablet, the Galaxy Tab S8. There are many differences between the three, but they share one key feature: All three smartphones run Android 12.

Android 12 is Google's latest mobile operating system. Although it appears similar in many ways to Android 11, it offers new features and performance fixes to help your phone run as smoothly as it can. The update first came to Google's Pixel phones, including the new Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro, and has since started to roll out to other Android phones. 

Not every Android phone has joined the party yet, but there are a number of new features that will give Android 11 users a reason (or two, or three) to upgrade. And If you're still waiting on Google's new OS to make its way to your device, you can download and install the Android 12 developer preview now. But keep in mind that, you probably won't want to try out the developer preview on your primary device. It likely has some bugs. 

Here are three of the biggest new features we've seen in Android 12 so far, compared to Android 11.

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Privacy features for apps

Google is adding several new privacy features to apps to give you more transparency and control. You can now see when an app is using your microphone or camera through an indicator on your phone's status bar. You're also given the option to completely disable any and all apps' access to your microphone or camera in Quick Settings. Android 12 also lets you keep your exact location private by giving you an option to give apps your approximate location instead. 

According to an Android Developers blog post, one Android 12 update gives you more information about how cookies can be used across sites, while another changes how apps export information to prevent them from accidentally exporting activities, services and receivers. 

It's worth noting that these policies are less strict than those previously seen in Apple's iOS 14 software releases, which include new app "nutrition labels" that tell people what personal data their apps are collecting, and a change in iOS 14.5 that requires developers to ask people for permission to gather data and track them across apps and websites. (And here are even more privacy features included in Apple's iOS 15 update.)

Revamped notifications

With Android 12, Google is changing up the design of notifications to make them more modern and functional. When you tap on a notification, it will take you directly to the app or action you want to take, instead of going through an intermediary service to start that action. This should make everything run faster, according to the Android Developers blog post.

Android 12 also gets a new button that lets you snooze unimportant notifications, and choose how long to do so. You can also turn on adaptive notifications ranking to let Android rearrange your notifications based on how you work with different apps, and reset the ranking if you don't like it.

New one-handed mode

Android 12 also includes a few design changes that make it easier to operate Android phones with one hand and your thumb. XDA Developers noted that the updated settings UI moves the Search bar to the bottom of the display for easier one-handed access. It also uncovered a new feature called "silky home" that makes the entire interface more suitable for one-handed use. 

For more, check out everything to know about Android 12 and the best Android phones you can buy. If you're curious about the latest from Samsung, take a look at everything that was announced at Wednesday's Unpacked event and how the Galaxy S22, S22 Plus and S22 Ultra compare.