Android 13 beta hands-on: just minor tweaks for now

The Android 13 public beta is here, and it’s our first chance to see what might be coming in Google’s OS update. We’ve already learned a bit about what the company will focus on improving for the next version, and a lot of it sounds like backend changes that might not have much of an impact on day-to-day use. Android 13 is supposed to bring more precise privacy controls and more themed app icons. However, there are likely things in the works that the company hasn’t shared yet; don’t forget that Google I/O will appear in two weeks.

Most of the updates in Android 13 beta 1 are barely noticeable and many of them are developer-focused. Things like more granular permissions for media file access, better error reporting, and “earlier audio routing” aren’t things that will have an immediate impact on how you use your phone. These are tweaks app creators will need to implement before you see a difference, as are upcoming features like themed app icons. Still, there are some new features that may pique your interest.

Before I continue, I must warn you, as usual, that installing any beta software carries the risk of data loss. You’ll be opting for a platform that might not be stable, which means your applications might crash or no more work. If you’re really sure you want to try this beta, and you know exactly what you’re getting into, you can enroll a compatible Pixel phone on Google’s website and a notification will appear on the device. I signed up with a Pixel 4a and downloaded the 1.79GB update with no issues.

One of the first things I noticed after installing the beta was the updated media playback box. It’s taller on Android 13, compared to my Pixel 6 Pro (running Android 12), and uses the album art as the background. Instead of showing just the pause, previous, and next buttons, plus the song title and artist, the new panel displays an animated progress bar that undulates as the music progresses. On the Spotify card, at least, I also have options to mix and like the track.

screenshots

The new design of this box is great. Not only does it display more information and in a more engaging way, it also lets you drag the slider to fast-forward through parts of podcast episodes without having to unlock your phone or launch an app. That said, I do miss the bigger buttons to skip a track. Also, it has a bit of bugs and says that my music was playing on the Pixel 4a instead of my Nest Audio speakers, where it was actually streaming.

Android Police also spotted a new QR code scanner shortcut in the quick settings panel that launches a dedicated viewer. In my brief test, this was not only super fast, as android police pointed out, but it is much easier to use. Instead of having to open the camera, point it at a code, and try to press the little Chrome bar that appears, you can point this new scanner in the direction of the symbol and it’s instantly hooked. A box appears at the bottom with an “Open” button that’s larger and much easier to touch, and the viewer closes, instead of displaying an image of the code you just captured. That means you no longer have to hold your phone steady to keep the code in sight while using your other hand to touch the tiny, tiny Link.

Two screenshots showing the new QR code scanner in the Android 13 beta and some new color themes in Settings.

screenshots

This is definitely a more convenient way to scan QR codes, which have become more prevalent during the pandemic, and are used by many businesses to serve contactless menus. But I will say that on the very rare occasions when you are looking for a particular code among several, this version of the scanner is more difficult to deal with. Since it immediately takes a picture of the first QR code it sees, you’ll have to argue a bit to get the one you really want.

Some other changes include new Material You themes and improvements to app suggestions in the large screen compatible L version. You can now choose from over 12 more color palettes automatically generated from your wallpaper to apply system-wide.

Although android police reports that the lock screen shortcut to access the Android smart home device controls page can now be accessed without unlocking your device, this was not true for me. I was still asked to enter my PIN when I tried to turn on my living room lights from my Pixel 4a. But this might be a bug and might be working for other beta users.

All in all, there were surprisingly more changes for users in Android 13 beta 1 than I expected, and I’ll need some time to look for things we’ve missed. But I still wouldn’t recommend anyone but the most enthusiastic early adopters to install it, unless you scan dozens of QR codes a day. For now, it’s still too early to tell what Android 13 will look like, but it’s good to see that Google is working on at least a few thoughtful new features.

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