Android 13 beta hands-on: Only small tweaks for now | Engadget

The public Android 13 beta is here and it’s our first chance to look at what’s 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 much of it sounds like backend changes that may not have a big impact on day-to-day use. Android 13 is supposed to bring finer privacy controls and more themed app icons. While there are probably things on the way that the company has not yet shared – do not forget Google I / O coming in two weeks.

Most of the updates in Android 13 beta 1 are barely noticeable, and many of them are developer-centric. Things like more detailed permissions for media file access, better bug reporting, and “predictive audio routing” are not things that will immediately affect how you use your phone. These are tweaks that app manufacturers will have to implement before you can see a difference, just like upcoming features like theme app icons. Still, there are a few new features that may pique your interest.

Before proceeding, as usual, I must warn you that installing any beta software carries the risk of data loss. You opt for a platform that may not be stable, which means your apps may crash or no longer works. If you’re very sure you want to try this beta version and are fully aware of what you’re getting into, you can sign up for a supported Pixel phone on the Google website and a notification will appear on your device. I signed up for a Pixel 4a and downloaded the 1.79 GB update without any issues.

One of the first things I noticed after installing the beta was the updated media playback box. It’s higher in Android 13 compared to the one on my Pixel 6 Pro (running Android 12) and uses album cover as the background. Instead of just showing the pause, previous, and next buttons in addition to the song title and artist, the new panel displays an animated status bar that scrolls as the music continues. On the card for Spotify, at least I also got opportunities to mix and like the number.

A compilation of three screenshots of the media playbox in Android 13 beta.  The first shows the song


The new layout of this box is fantastic. Not only does it show more information and in a more attractive 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 miss the larger buttons for skipping a track. Additionally, it’s a bit buggy and said my music played on Pixel 4a instead of my Nest Audio speakers where it actually streamed.

Android Police also discovered a new QR code scanner shortcut in the quick settings panel that launches a dedicated viewfinder. In my short test, this was not only super fast, as Android police pointed out, but it is much easier to use. Instead of having to open your camera, point it at a code and try to hit the tiny little Chrome bar that pops up, you can just point this new scanner in the direction of the symbol and it locks right away. A box pops up at the bottom with an “Open” button that is larger and much easier to press, and the viewfinder closes and instead displays an image of the code you just snapped. This means that you no longer have to hold your phone still to keep the code visible while using the other hand to press the small, tiny link.

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


This is certainly a more convenient way to scan QR codes, which has become more prevalent during the pandemic, with many companies using them to serve contactless menus. But I would say that in very rare cases where you are aiming for one particular code out of few, this version of the scanner is harder to handle. Since it immediately takes a picture of the first QR code it sees, you will have to quarrel a bit with it to get the one you actually want.

Some other changes include new Material You themes and improvements to app suggestions in the big-screen-friendly L version. You can now choose from about 12 more color palettes that are automatically generated from your wallpaper and that can be used throughout the system.

Though Android police reports that the lock screen shortcut to access Android’s smart home device control 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 the lights in the living room from my Pixel 4a. However, this may be a bug and it may work for other beta users.

All in all, there were surprisingly more user-facing changes in Android 13 beta 1 than I expected, and I need to spend some time digging around for things we may have missed. But I still would not recommend anyone other than the most avid early adopter to install it – unless you are scanning dozens of QR codes a day. So far, it’s still too early to say what Android 13 will look like, but it’s nice to see that Google is at least working on some well-thought-out new features.

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