Android Go: Everything you need to know about Google’s low-power mobile OS

Tech enthusiasts drool like Pavlov’s dogs at the mere hint of a new $1,000 phone from Apple or LG or Samsung, but in reality, many people don’t buy flagship phones. But even inexpensive phones should be great too, right? That is the theory behind Android Go — and it has proven to be a hit, with over 1,600 Android Go devices now available. Here’s everything you need to know.

Aren’t there lots of versions of Android already? Why build yet another?

In developing markets like India and Brazil, smartphone infrastructure is the biggest barrier to the adoption of online services, not handset ownership. Hundreds of millions of people in India use Android phones — more than in the U.S. Google said — but they suffer from expensive, spotty networks that make it difficult to reliably access the web. To address that problem, in May 2017 Google announced Android Go: A new platform for bandwidth-optimized apps.

In addition to emerging markets, Android Go benefits many U.S. users as well. At Google’s 2018 developer conference, Google I/O, the tech giant announced the U.S. is the second-largest market for Android Go devices. In fact, 25% of the 300 million entry-level smartphones currently in the market are in the U.S.

OK, so how does it work?

Android Go was designed from the get-go with slower, low-memory devices in mind, Google said. The new Android 10 Go ships on Android smartphones with 1.5GB of RAM or less (Android Pie Go and earlier was restricted to 1GB of RAM or less) and exposes device-level connectivity settings to internet subscribers. Carriers can let people top up their data in their phone’s settings menu, and Chrome Data Saver — Google’s traffic-saving tool that uses proxy servers, compression, and machine intelligence to cut down on the amount of data consumed by web pages — will be switched on by default.

What are Go apps?

Google has released a spate of Go apps over the past few months.

google maps go vs google maps
A comparison between Google Maps Go (left) and Google Maps (right) on the Galaxy S8

These Go apps are smaller, stripped-down versions of the original counterpart. Many of these apps will be pre-installed on Android Go phones, but there are also “Lite” apps that are ideal for low-powered smartphones, like Twitter Lite.

What Go apps are available?

Here’s a list of the Go apps currently available:

Gallery Go

The most recent addition to the stable is Gallery Go, a low-powered version of Google Photos that helps users to sort and edit their photos, without having to utilize their data connection. Like Google Photos, Gallery Go organizes user photos into specific categories, including selfies, pets, nature, and more. It uses machine learning to figure out what belongs where, so you don’t have to waste time labeling your photos. It also has access to a powerful editing suite that helps your pictures look their best. Best of all, all of this happens on your device, saving your mobile data for when you need it.

Gallery Go is available from the Play Store for devices running Android 8.1 Oreo and above.

What version is Android Go on currently?

Just as there was an Android Go (Oreo Edition) based on Android 8.0 Oreo, an Android 9 Pie (Go Edition) based on Android 9.0 Pie, there is now finally an Android 10 (Go Edition) based on the latest Android 10. According to Google, you’ll see some hefty performance increases in the new version, with apps launching 10% faster on Android 10 (Go Edition) compared to Android Pie (Go Edition).

However, not every Android Go phone will get the new version. Android Go doesn’t benefit from updates straight from Google, so updates are at the whim of each manufacturer. This was a problem with previous versions of Android Go, and it is symptomatic of Android’s continued fragmentation problem.

Those phones that are loaded with Android 10 (Go Edition) will benefit from Google’s new lightweight Adiantum encryption techniques, lending the same excellent level of data security to Android Go phones as is enjoyed on regular Android devices. Google’s excellent roster of Go apps has also been updated for Android 10 (Go Edition) with all the latest features, including Google Go’s read-along feature, and the super-slim Go Gallery that weighs in at a tiny 10MB.

Most excitingly, Android Go has grown significantly since the release of Android Pie (Go Edition). When the last version of Android Go was released, there were over 200 Android Go-powered devices available. Now, at the launch of Android 10 (Go Edition) Google boasts there are more than 1,600 devices running Android Go. These phones now make up over 80% of the entry-level Android phones activating today, with some devices being available for as little as $27.

It’s clear there is a strong demand for Android Go, and we can definitely expect to see more of it in the future.

Updated on September 25, 2019: Android 10 (Go Edition) has been announced.

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