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Developer preview arrives for Nexus devices: What you need to know about Android 7.1 Nougat

Google to launch Android 7.1 Nougat beta at the end of October

google android nougat  pixel phone
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

It’s been a little over a month since Android 7.0 Nougat dropped, but there is a new update coming soon. Android 7.1 will debut in Google’s upcoming Pixel smartphones, and it’s centered around Google Assistant, an artificially intelligent bot that acts like a personalized, enhanced version of Google Now.

Related: Hands on: Google Pixel and Pixel XL

Google announced several new products at its October 4 event in San Francisco, including the Pixel, Pixel XL, Daydream View, Chromecast Ultra, and more. Google Assistant, which debuted on the messaging app Allo in September, will soon be in two other surfaces: the Pixel smartphones and the search giant’s $130 Amazon Echo-competitor, Google Home. It’s safe to say it’s a core part of the company’s future.

But Assistant is not coming to other Android devices in the 7.1 update, at least not in the near future. In fact, Pixel smartphones have their own unique Android experience, much like how a Samsung phone has its own features compared to an LG phone.

Still, there is a decent amount to be excited about in 7.1. Here’s everything you need to know.

When is 7.1 Nougat launching?

If you want the latest and greatest Google and Android have to offer, you can pre-order a Pixel or Pixel XL from Google’s website and Verizon. They will ship with the Pixel-exclusive features and Android 7.1 toward the end of the month.

Android 7.1 Nougat launched in developer preview as part of Android Beta Program on October 20. “We’re continuing the model we used in N and earlier releases,” Google announced in a blog post. “We’re delivering the initial Developer Preview at beta quality for the Nexus lineup of devices.” Fair warning, though, that the developer preview isn’t free of bugs: Google notes that some users might encounter “instability,” “higher than expected” battery drain, and other issues.

Devices enrolled in the beta will receive the Android N developer preview “automatically.” Alternatively, it’s available for manual download and installation from the Android developer website.

Unfortunately, the beta is only available for the Nexus 5X, Nexus 6P, and the Pixel C tablet. Google said support will be added for other devices “in November” followed by Android N’s final public release.

The final release will come in December to the Nexus 6, Nexus 5X, Nexus 6P, Nexus 9, Nexus Player, Pixel C, supported Android One devices, and the Pixel and Pixel XL. It’s unclear when carriers and other manufacturers will roll out the update, but do not expect it to be anytime soon. Hardly any Android devices are running Android 7.0 Nougat.

What’s coming in 7.1 Nougat?

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It may seem like non-Pixel users are getting the short end of the stick — particularly with the lack of Assistant-integration. Still, there are quite a few new features in the Android version update.image-keyboard-7002

Notably, App Shortcuts are back. The feature was briefly introduced during the Android Nougat beta program, but was scrapped. It mimics the 3D Touch features introduced in iOS 9 — press and hold an app icon to quickly jump into specific actions. Pixel Launcher supports the API, and more app developers will be able to for smartphones running Android 7.1. Apps can have up to five shortcuts, according to the Android Developers website.

A new restart setting has joined the power menu. Now, when you press and hold the power button on the Nexus 5X or Nexus 6P, you will have the option of power cycling the phone instead of switching it off.

A new Moves menu in settings includes a number of toggle actions you can initiate by gesture. You can launch the camera by pressing the power button twice, for instance, or switch in and out of selfie mode by double-twisting your wrist when you are in the app. And you can life your phone to quickly check your notifications.

Image Keyboard support also allows developers to allow people to send content directly from the keyboard, like stickers, emojis, GIFs, and more. It is unclear if this will be supported in Google Keyboard.

Among those emojis are 100 additions the Unicode Emoji Subcommittee, the industry consortium that oversees the approval of new keyboard characters, approved in July. They comprise 11 new professions available in both genders and various skin tones and ethnicities, and new female and male versions of 33 existing emoji.

Related: Goodbye, Google Cast! App gets rebranded as the more inclusive Google Home

A lead Pixel engineer tweeted that the devices have improved touch latency — which is also confirmed in the changelog. This means the delay from tapping the screen to receiving a response is likely much smaller than before — a feature iOS and iPhones have particularly excelled at. For the average user, though, it may hardly be noticeable.

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The very nature of how Android updates and  installed are also different. Updates will install similarly to the process run in Chromebooks — they are installed in the background automatically on a separate partition. When your device restarts, it swaps partitions so you can use the new updated version.

Daydream VR mode is also supported in the update, as well as circular app icons, like the ones on the Pixel smartphones.

A new Android on the Pixel

Nougat on Google’s Pixel smartphones looks slightly different in comparison to other Android phones, like Google’s Nexus lineup. For starters, the notification drawer is black and the brightness slider is blue, as opposed to grey and a teal blue slider on Nexus devices. These color changes are meant to accent the Pixel with Google colors, and that includes the white, filled in navigation buttons.

The Settings menu also features a similar black color accent, but you will immediately notice something new — you can swipe left to a new tab to access Google’s support team. You can start a phone call, or a live chat to resolve any issues you have with the device. There is also a screen-share option that lets the support representative look at your phone to make things a little easier. These support features are not included in Nougat 7.1.

Pixel Launcher is also tied to the Pixel for now, and it includes a swipe feature to access the app drawer, a new search and voice search icon, the date and weather on the home page, and a dynamic calendar date icon. The latter changes the date on the Google Calendar icon to match with the actual date. There is also a wallpaper picker that improves the process of setting your wallpaper, along with adding more options.

Google rebuilt the camera experience for the Pixels from the ground up and so to entice consumers to try it out, Pixel owners will be able to back up the full resolution of their photographs and videos to Google Photos for free. This was already an option in the Photos app, but it would eat up storage in your Google account.

Tying into the free back up feature, Smart Storage works in the background and automatically removes old backed up photos and videos from your device to clear up space. These are still backed up to the Photos cloud, so you do not have to worry about losing them.

Related: The battle of the entry-level headsets: Google’s Daydream View vs. Samsung’s Gear VR

Speaking of photos and videos, the electronic image stabilization demoed at the event will be exclusive to the Pixel as well. This is a new video stabilizing method Google built into the Pixel’s cameras, and it offers smoother video playback.

According to a changelog posted by Android Police, there are several Pro features from the Pixel camera that are not included in 7.1 as well — white balance presets, exposure compensation, Automatic Exposure and Automatic Focus locking, and viewfinder grid modes. Smartburst, which takes multiple photos and selects the best one, and hardware-accelerated HDR+ image processing are also only available on the Pixel.

Google Pixel phone

Because the Pixel smartphones are “made by Google,” they allow for tighter hardware and software integration — similar to how well iOS is integrated with the iPhone’s internals. An Android Sensor Hub processor in Google’s Pixels feature “tightly integrated sensors,” including the accelerometer, gyroscope, cell, GPS, Wi-Fi connectivity, and more.

Part of that integration manifests in a night mode. Initially mentioned as a part of Android 7.1 but omitted from the Android Developers website, it is another feature that was dropped during the beta program of Nougat. Officially called Night Light, it removes blue tints from your smartphones screen at night to reduce the risks associated with the exposure before bedtime. Google said that it is tied to graphics hardware, meaning devices without explicit support — including Nexus devices — will not be seeing it anytime soon.

Fingerprint gestures are on the way as well. You will be able to swipe down your finger on the sensor to pull down the notification shade, and swipe up to close it. These gestures will be opt-in.

Packaged in the box is a Quick Switch adapter, which makes transferring data from an iPhone to the Pixel easy and fast. The setup process for the Pixel also features a new look.

But the biggest Pixel feature that is not coming to Android 7.1 is Google Assistant. It is tightly integrated with Pixel — just press the home button to activate the AI bot. You can ask it to help you with almost everything, from ordering an Uber to playing a song on YouTube, and more. A Google Pixel lead engineer tells Digital Trends that Google is “exploring” ways to bring Assistant to other Android devices, but it may take a while or may never even see the light of day.

“Our goal is to make the Google Assistant widely available to users, and we’ll continue to launch new surfaces over the course of the next year,” a Google spokesperson told TechCrunch.

Article originally published in October 2016. Updated on 10-20-2016 by Kyle Wiggers: Added information about new support tab, gestures, emoji, and more.