The Google Pixel 7 Pro and its smaller brother are the brand’s first smartphones to ship with the new operating system, which was introduced with much excitement in August 2022. In contrast to Android 12, this release only includes a small number of upgrades. It is more concerned with making minor adjustments and repairing stray parts and pieces that were left over after Android 12’s significant Material You interface redesign. Android 13 is less interesting than Android 12L, Google’s mid-term update focusing on tablets and foldable devices, but it still includes a few quality-of-life enhancements for all the top Android phones now available.
But don’t get me wrong. It’s wonderful that we have some breathing room and time to adjust after the major, hectic, and contentious rollout of Android 12. Android 13 doesn’t fundamentally alter the way Android looks and feels, instead returning to a more iterative process in an effort to improve on what Google unveiled in Android 12.
Remember, before reading the article, that this is an examination of Android on a Pixel phone, namely the Google Pixel 6 and Google Pixel 7. The majority of the topics discussed here will be most obvious on Google Pixel phones, however underlying features like new permissions, privacy adjustments, and API tweaks will also make their way to other phones. Rest assured that we are also examining Android 13 on other smartphones, such as Samsung’s One UI 5.
Google’s newest and best smartphone operating system, Android 13, is expected to power billions of devices in the future. It’s one of the minor advancements compared to its predecessor, but it still has a few amazing features that you shouldn’t pass up.
- More Material You colour selections are a key feature.
- notification choices
- brand-new Pixel Launcher language settings for per-app searches
- newly created media player
- new dialogue for selecting photos
- Does not significantly alter the functionality or appearance of your phone.
- A game-changer for multilinguals are the much-needed sophisticated Material You upgrades Per-app language options.
- One of the most minimal Android releases in recent memory
- Regressions in split-screen on smartphones
- There are just a few apps that support search regressions in the Pixel Launcher’s per-app language settings when it first launches.
Android 13: Design and interface
Material You evolution
Google’s most recent edition of its Material design language, Material You, debuted with Android 12. A contentious modification that fundamentally alters how Android’s interface typically functions was made with the Material You upgrade, and it probably still is. The most versatile and unique user interface in any app that supports it may be created by Material You, which pulls a dynamically generated set of colours from your wallpaper rather than designers meticulously choosing which colour palette to use for their apps.
Android 13 builds on what Android 12 brought and improves some elements, but it doesn’t completely address any of the fundamental problems with the new design language. The biggest difference is that Android 13 gives you access to a lot more extracted colours, enabling you up to 16 different colour themes from a single wallpaper. This is a much-needed step in the right direction because it allows you to change the colours of your interface without changing wallpapers. Everything on the home screen’s Wallpapers & Style options is easily accessible.
Building on the features of the initial version, Android 13 allows you to enable customised icons for your home screen, just like Android 12 does. However, Android 13 is the first Android version to feature themed icons in third-party apps, allowing you to finally branch out from the world of Google’s themed apps. The idea behind this is to apply the same wallpaper-based background and foreground colours to every programme on your home screen, giving your interface a unified appearance. We were initially concerned that third-party developers wouldn’t add support because they would want to preserve their brand colours, but we are pleasantly surprised by the number of well-known developers who have already signed on. The new technology is already supported by WhatsApp, Twitch, Spotify, Reddit, Microsoft Edge, LinkedIn, Bitwarden, 1Password, PS Remote Play, Pocket, VLC, Pinterest, Signal, and Telegram. At this rate, having a complete Material You look without having to make compromises about the apps you want to add to your home screen isn’t so far off.
We might yet have to wait until this theming option becomes fully commonplace because themed icons will stay opt-in for a long time. Google hasn’t exactly set the bar high. Its brand-new Wallet app didn’t previously have a themed icon and didn’t have one until recently; now that Stadia is no longer around, customised icons are definitely never going to be made available. You will at least receive a complete refund for your Stadia software and gear.
I regret that Google has not reinstated the use of unique app icon fonts and shapes. In Android 11, this was one of the main customization options, and if implemented properly, it wouldn’t even conflict with Material You. You can still configure these features on other phones and with third-party launchers, but Google appears to have opted to stop doing so.
System UI changes
Google made a few more changes to the user interface in addition to all the Material You colour magic. When you update from Android 12, the new, bolder navigation bar will undoubtedly be the most noticeable. Unfortunately, it only looks nice and has a little less vertical footprint than the tiny navigation bar that was first introduced in Android 10. It now more closely matches iOS’ navigation bar, though it is still shorter and thinner than the iPhone’s equivalent.
The addition of the new bar makes it even more unfortunate that Google still does not require translucent backgrounds for the navigation bar to the same extent as Apple does, as the extra space taken up by the new bar wouldn’t matter as much in that scenario. Currently, practically all apps you use will suffer a little loss of pixels as a result of this change, including several popular Google services like Chrome and Gmail that don’t support transparent menu bar sections.
The media player that resides in the notification shade and on the lock screen receives a more significant update. You’ll notice that the seek bar for the music you’ve already listened to is now squiggly in addition to some minor button positioning changes. Even if I don’t find it to be particularly attractive visually, it has a purpose. You can quickly determine if audio is playing because it only squiggles when you’re actively listening. This is especially helpful when you just want to make sure you didn’t forget to switch off the music at low volume or are ready to put your headphones away.
Finally, the lock screen will soon experience two minor adjustments. First, you can now permanently prohibit the dual-line clock from the upper left corner by turning it off when there are no alerts. Finally, you won’t need to unlock your phone to control your smart home appliances from the lock screen. Both of these must be enabled in the system settings under Display in the lock screen choices. They are both optional. (Update: A commenter kindly pointed out below that the time adjustment was previously included in Android 12L.)
Google is also preparing the groundwork for a change to back gestures, but this won’t be implemented until the subsequent Android 14 version. The animation that plays when you swipe up from the bottom to return to the home screen will also play when you make the subsequent move, bringing the app window closer to the matching icon on the home screen. This is meant to more clearly signal when you are going to exit an app. You must enable the developer settings on your Pixel and turn on predictive back animations in order to make this behaviour possible. The only app I could find that was exhibiting this behaviour was Google News, but after some modifications following the stable release of Android 13, the app no longer does so for me. The system settings app currently displays this behaviour on the most recent version of Android, 13 QPR1 Beta.
The Pixel Launcher’s new search experience
Compared to Android 12, the Pixel Launcher has not seen major cosmetic changes. But it makes yet another change to how search functions. In contrast to the search bar in the app drawer, which was focused on local results such apps, contacts, settings, and in-app information, touching the search bar on the home screen of Android 12 would immediately take you to the Google app for search. The two search experiences are once more unified by Android 13 yet they are still marginally distinct. Following the stable release to Android 13, the new search experience hasn’t even been made available to everyone yet. Therefore, it is currently simply plain unclear.
Find the small but significant difference between the home screen search on the left and the app drawer search on the right in two pairings.
When the new experience does appear on your phone, clicking the search bar on the home screen triggers the appearance of an interface with a Material You style that displays a row of suggested apps at the top and a list of recently-used Google search phrases below it. The UI populates with app and online search results as soon as you start typing. Only selecting a suggestion or result or pressing the keyboard’s search key will launch the Google app. I appreciate what Google has done since it results in a more seamless transition between the home screen and the search experience. Compared to simply using the search bar as a widget that, when tapped, launches the Google app, it feels considerably more sophisticated. However, this search experience only allows you to access web results and apps; no other on-device search is supported.
When you slide up from the home screen to access the app drawer, a slightly different search appears. The interface initially seems like the one you get from the search bar on the home screen, with app suggestions at the top and a list of Google search ideas below it. However, once you start typing, it more closely resembles the experience you get from the search bar on the home screen. If you want to see more, you can scroll down to the “From this device” section. Results like in-app shortcuts, settings toggles and shortcuts, and possibilities to search for phrases within apps are displayed here (Search on YouTube, Search on Google Maps, etc.).
However, there are several regressions when compared to iOS 12 and Android 12. You may no longer simply press enter or search to open the first app shown when you wish to search for and then open an app using the keyboard, for instance. Instead, you must tap the icon for it up top. Otherwise, you’ll wind up searching for whatever phrase you typed on Google. If you frequently do this, be prepared for a lot of searches for “mes” or “gma” when you merely wanted to access Messages or Gmail to appear in your search history. This “enter equals open app” behaviour in the app drawer creates extra friction and requires you to extend your thumb all the way to the top of the screen once more in order to open an app, thus I would have preferred for Google to keep it. Inexplicably absent in Android 13 is contact search as well.
I don’t really see why Google felt the need to even differentiate how these two search experiences—on the home screen and in the app drawer—work. The less tech-savvy will just be perplexed by anything like this and question why they can sometimes find their Bluetooth toggle with search and other times not. Even I, who daily live and breathe Android, frequently need to take a second look because of this arbitrary functionality variation between two interfaces that are visually identical in every way. Google, you almost got this right with Android 12, but Android 13 has just made things worse.
Android 13: Privacy
On Android, privacy is a tricky topic. After all, Google is an advertising business that relies on the information users provide to it. However, the business is still working to increase process transparency and make it more difficult for malicious software and bad actors to obtain data that isn’t required. Google probably won’t go as far as Apple did with the “Ask app not to track” prompt that lost Facebook billions in ad revenue, but Android 13 does provide a few little tweaks here and there.
For starters, Android 13 introduces a new media files permission that gives apps even more control over how they can access your files. The method makes it such that apps must request access to audio, video, and image files separately, further protecting your privacy. Apps will of course need to support this new approach, but Google will likely make sure that it doesn’t take long before it becomes required.
Speaking of modifications to media handling, Android 13 now offers a photo picker UI similar to that of iOS. This can be utilised by apps that don’t require access to all of your files to make it simple to choose an image or video that you wish to share, say, in a chat or send to a photo editor. However, the tried-and-true document picker still works quite well. This is merely a better, more specific interface for media files that chat apps and other services of a similar nature should adopt. Here, it will likely take some time before most apps make the conversion (if they do at all) without Google providing incentives or modifying its policies.
Android 13: Features
We’ve covered the main point: Android 13 isn’t the most feature-packed update. Nevertheless, there are a few updates worth exploring, such as permissions enhancements, a revolutionary upgrade for multilingual users, and some tricks with split-screen and big-screen displays.
Google updates its notification system at least a little bit each year. Although this year is no different, the organisation is luckily undertaking significantly less work. Apps can no longer notify you as soon as you launch them for the first time with Android 13. Instead, a dialogue box will appear asking if you agree to let them break up your focus anytime they feel like it.
The prior approach to a less disruptive phone felt a little more complicated, thus this adjustment feels long overdue. You would either need to go to the app’s permissions overview in system settings or wait for the app to send you a notification before disabling it by long-pressing the notification. The new dialogue does, however, add an extra step to the setup procedures for the majority of apps, so there is that drawback.
Interestingly, Apple has already been providing something similar for a while, and the scheduled notification summary that you can configure in settings helps to make things a little more precise. This limits the number of times per day that you can receive notifications from apps that you don’t want to disrupt your life. Google should definitely emulate this, in my opinion.
Per-app language options
Android 13 has now made it possible to choose your preferred language for each app, catching up to iOS once more. This completely changes the game for multilingual folks like me. I can now stop using apps that are poorly translated into English because I can use them quite well in German. I also like to utilise a few services, including banks and transit apps, in my native tongue.
Google made it quite easy to change your app’s preferred language. To access an app’s unique language options, tap and hold its icon on your home screen and select the small I button in the pop-up menu. You may now see a list of apps that support several languages in a new part of the system settings, which you can use instead to customise your phone to your preferences.
The per-app language settings could be applied to any and all apps in previous test versions of Android 13, but that changed in more recent betas that were closer to the launch. It’s unfortunate that only apps that have explicitly stated support for several languages now have the option to switch to a language other than the one used by the system. When I was using Beta 2, changing the language did cause a few problems, but the options are much more limited now. In fact, I currently only have nine apps that can do that, and two of them are unstable Chrome versions.
I can only hope that developers will incorporate this comparatively small modification into their applications as quickly as possible, allowing for language changes, but we all know how slowly Android app development can be. Instead of waiting for the majority of apps that would function just fine to add a short XML file to declare support, Google could have simply enabled the option on apps with no way to opt out, forcing a few app developers to fix any difficulties.
Split-screen regressions and big-screen improvements
While Google improved big-screen devices like tablets and foldables with Android 12L and later 13, it also made split-screen layouts on normal phones more challenging to use. To initiate split-screen mode on Android 13, you must still go to the Recents screen and tap and hold the app icon above the preview. To start split-screen mode with, Android 13 only allows you to select additional apps from the Recents screen. You can no longer access every app on your phone from the interface.
This makes using two apps at once even more challenging and more challenging to access than it has ever been because you must first prepare the pair of apps you wish to utilise in split-screen mode in your Recents overview. It almost seems as though Google purposefully discourages you from even attempting to use split-screen mode on Pixel devices.
For this, some manufacturers provide more tasteful options. Samsung is one of the good examples in this case with a sophisticated proprietary solution, but there are other companies who produce better products by adhering more closely to the Google aesthetic. For instance, Oppo allows you to rapidly switch to split-screen mode by swiping three fingers down from the top of the screen. I wish Google would add a straightforward method like this.
On tablets and other large-screen devices, things are easier to understand. To enter split-screen mode like this right away, just drag an app from the taskbar onto the left or right side of the programme that is now active.
Speaking about large-screen gadgets, Android 12L has already made the most of the enhancements. A new shortcut that appears on tablets to access the app drawer directly from the task bar is one of the few remaining features that Android 13 adds.
We were aware of some significant battery drain issues on the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro after the stable Android 13 release. Following the upgrade on their phones, many consumers have complained about an increase in idle drain. Such issues are typical of a major release, and we can only hope that Google will resolve them soon. It’s unfortunate that the problem didn’t surface during beta testing because it would have been the ideal time to address it.
Android 13 now includes exFAT support for individuals who still use microSIM cards or frequently utilise USB-C sticks with their phones. The long-used file format is an upgrade over the dated FAT32 format, which has a 4GB maximum file size restriction. In this day and age where 4K video is available, this results in a far better experience.
A quick settings toggle QR code reader is also new in Android 13. You must open the notification shade to access your quick settings toggles and find the new “Scan QR code” option before you can bring it up. It feels a little bit quicker than using Google Lens, thus it has advantages. Additionally, it is especially useful in the post-Covid-19 era, when QR codes are far more prevalent than they ever were.
In addition, Google created a visual clipboard editor that enables you to easily alter the content that has already been copied to your clipboard. When you mistakenly choose too much or too little, it’s a helpful change, and it disappears when you don’t need it.
In no particular sequence, here are a couple additional nice changes: You can now rapidly access the flashlight with Quick Tap, close any background-running apps immediately from a new entry in the notification shade, and launch the Assistant once again by long-pressing the home button or swiping from the bottom corners. You can now limit the network bandwidth used by your system as a whole.
Android 13: Google Pixel 7 features
The Pixel 7 and 7 Pro are the first Google devices to ship with Android 13. The software contributes to the fact that the handsets are currently among the top Android phones. As with every Pixel introduction, Google made a few features specific to the most recent phone generation, and the Pixel 7 and 7 Pro are no exception. The two phones each offer the following specific software choices in brief:
Expanded Morning Weather Forecast: The At a Glance widget in the Pixel Launcher’s top right corner provides a more thorough assessment of the morning weather for the current date.
Transcripts of voice messages that are automatically generated are available in the Google Messages app.
Voice commands and voice typing: The Pixel 7 processes voice input more quickly and lets you dictate emoji. Even if “Hey Google” or “Okay Google” are not used before the command “Silence,” you can still silence your phone when it rings by simply speaking that word.
Improvements to the bedtime mode: When you plug in the Pixel 7 between a set, programmable time period in the evening, such as from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m., bedtime mode will automatically activate. You can use it to detect coughs and snores while it’s plugged in while you sleep.
You can use a new tool in the Google Photos app on the Pixel 7 and 7 Pro to unblur photographs that are just a little out of focus. It performs admirably.
A few US toll-free numbers now feature a visual menu you may travel through to connect to the appropriate support person without having to listen to the announcements made by the automated system on the other end, an upgrade to Direct My Call.
Check out what’s new in software on the Pixel 7 and 7 Pro for a thorough examination of each of them with more context and explanations.
It was obvious that Google couldn’t stay up with this speed with the following major version release when we dubbed Android 12 your phone’s biggest update in years. But even if it were required, it wouldn’t be a good idea. The Android 13 release has the fewest visual changes we’ve seen in a while because it’s mostly focused on making Android 12’s significant enhancements the new standard. Instead, Android 13 concentrates on making quick adjustments and little quality-of-life improvements, which is basically all Android needs right now.
It’s obvious that Google will prioritise more improvements in the future with Android 13’s subsequent beta phase now under way for the first quarterly platform release, and Android 14 now looming in the distance. We can only hope that as the Android platform matures, this pattern of subtle modifications that don’t substantially alter the look and feel of Android phones will continue.
Going all the way back to the Pixel 4, Google Pixel smartphones were the first to receive Android 13. The Pixel 3 and 3a are currently deprecated, therefore they will always run Android 12. Your phone could or might not already have it because certain phone makers take a little longer to update. If past experience is any guide, all of Samsung’s fantastic high-end phones will most likely be among the first devices to receive Android 13.
When he covered Google I/O, New York Times business correspondent Daisuke Wakabayashi noticed the theme that Android 13 only makes tiny, useful updates. It appears that Google’s days as a major player in the future have passed. The business is currently operating as a wholly iterative, profit-driven enterprise. Therefore, it makes sense that the corporation reduced the size of its moonshot and future-oriented Area 120 staff.
The unique Pixel 7 features in Android 13 are also a sign of Google’s approach changing again. First-party hardware has been selected by the firm as its greatest option for the future, since ad revenue and efficiency are declining and a lucrative search agreement with Apple may come under regulatory investigation. The corporation intends to solidify its position in the smartphone market and beyond by using hardware that it controls directly and its software know-how.
The ideal illustration of this new, careful strategy that considers the larger ecosystem of Google devices is Android 13.
What’s to like?
- Refinements to the Material made with care You create a solid foundation for Android 13 that will last for many years.
- Android 13 is even more secure than its predecessors thanks to new permission dialogues and more precise file access for apps.
- Finally, Android can compete with iOS’ long-standing multilingual feature thanks to per-app language options.
What’s not to like?
- When it comes to cosmetic upgrades, Android 13 may seem a little underwhelming in comparison to the significant upgrade that Android 12 was.
- For the Pixel Launcher search, Android 13 brings some needless confusion and regressions.