If Google's latest Android version distribution is any indication, Android 8.0 Oreo has a long and fruitful reign ahead of it. The lion's share of Android users still need to upgrade from Marshmallow and Nougat to the latest mobile operating system. But when they do, Oreo is chock full of new features and upgrades to wash the taste of nougat out of their mouths—from smart icons and new emoji to a picture-in-picture mode and smarter notification and security controls.
We played around with Oreo on a Google Pixel 2 XL to find the niftiest features and hidden goodies baked into Android Oreo, both in version 8.0 and the improved 8.1 update.
1 Picture-in-Picture Mode
Oreo's flashiest feature is Picture-in-Picture or PIP Mode, which allows you to keep an app or video running in the corner of your screen as you browse other apps and tasks on your smartphone. Right now PIP only works with a couple of Google's default apps: Chrome, Duo, Google Play, Maps, and YouTube.
First you'll need to make sure PIP is enabled in settings. From the main redesigned Settings menu, choose Apps & notifications, and scroll down to Advanced. Open the extended menu and tap Special app access, and from there you'll see a Picture-in-picture option on the alphabetical list, where you can toggle PIP on and off for each app. Once enabled, you can simply go back to the home screen from a supported app and the PIP should show up in the bottom-right corner of your screen.
There is a catch, however. You can only unlock picture-in-picture for YouTube, the app you'd probably use PIP for most often, if you sign up for YouTube Red. However, I was successfully able to get PIP working for Duo video chat as well as Google Maps once I started on a trip.
2 Pin Shortcuts and Widgets
Oreo makes it easier to break out features from your favorite apps into their own Home Screen widgets. If you long-press an app on your screen, a pop-up box will appear. Tap the widgets icon in the top-right corner to see the available shortcuts. From there, drag the shortcut widget onto your home screen and you can open that icon directly to that shortcut feature.
3 Customize Autofill Passwords
Oreo users can also now link autofill settings not only with Google defaults, but pull in credentials from several supported third-party password managers. To customize this, you have to go into a somewhat odd area of your Android settings.
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In the main Settings menu, scroll all the way down to System. The first option on the next page is Languages & input, from which you'll need to open the Advanced settings at the bottom and select Autofill service. From here you can choose to autofill your passwords from Google, disable the feature altogether, or connect one of four supported password managers: Dashlane, Keeper, LastPass, or 1Password. To test out the feature, I synced with LastPass. Once you've logged into and enabled the service, your smartphone will pull all your autofill credentials directly from your password manager.
4 Check Your Battery 'Vitals'
Android 8.0 gives you a lot more control over your battery usage with deeper data and power breakdowns. Originally referred to as Vitals, Google said it has made significant improvements to Oreo's overall boot time and battery drain, as well as limiting background app data usage and alerting you to apps running in the background. On the Battery page itself, available from the main Settings menu, Oreo gives you a lot more advanced battery usage data, and lets you tap into specific apps and optimize power usage manually.
5 Set Granular Notifications
One of Oreo's most powerful improvements is in how it handles notifications. Google added notification dots (a small red dot above app icons) to show you when you have waiting notifications, but it's easy enough to switch those off with a long-press to bring up the shortcut box. From there, tap the information icon on the top right, and choose the app notifications option from the menu to open the notification settings for that particular app. From there you can toggle a variety of notification settings on and off including dots, sounds, and more. If the developer of a particular app has opted into Categories, you can get even more fine-grained control over notification settings.
On Twitter, for instance, category-based notification settings let you toggle options like "direct messages," "emergency alerts," or "related to you and your tweets" on and off. You can also access notification settings by sliding a notification to the right (see below) and tapping the cog icon, or in Apps & notifications in the main settings menu.
6 Hit the Snooze
Using that same new right-sliding feature on notifications, you can also hit a snooze button on alerts. Next to the cog is a clock icon, which opens a panel on your lock or notifications screen to snooze a notification for either 15 minutes, 30 minutes, 1 hour, or 2 hours. This feature was long overdue.
7 Adjust Night Light Intensity
Like Apple's Night Shift feature, Night Light on Android tints your screen amber to reduce the amount of blue light your eyes see before you go to bed. Night Light has been available on Pixel and other Android devices since version 7.0 Nougat, but in addition to toggling the feature on/off and setting a custom schedule, Oreo also lets you manually adjust screen intensity. To check this out, simply go into Display from the main settings menu and tap into Night Light.
8 Smart Text Selection
Google made Android's text selection smarter in Oreo by automatically highlighting the right words with a double-tap to select a specific piece of information like addresses, URLs, phone numbers, and email addresses. For an address, for instance, Smart Text Selection will not only highlight the desired information but give you a pop-up open to open it directly in Google Maps.
9 Play With Redesigned Emoji
We're still mourning the blob emoji, but the best way to get used to Google's new rounded-face emojis is to start using them. On the bright side, Android is now synced with the Unicode 10 standard and offers the same expanded emoji set as iOS 11, meaning a lot more female professionals plus new additions like dinosaurs. But most importantly, the Oreo 8.1 update fixed the egregious cheeseburger emoji from Android 8.0 that put the melted cheese underneath the burger patty. *Shudder.* The properly proportioned cheeseburger emoji now shows the cheese atop the patty and below the condiments where it belongs.
10 Play Instant App Games
While not specific to Oreo per se, Android 8.0 and 8.1 users can take advantage of Google's newly expanded Instant App Games, which allow you to play a portion of some games from within the Play Store before downloading the full app. Instant Apps are currently available for a select number of games including Clash Royale. All you need to do is open Google Play, and on the download page for the supported app click the Try Now button to play a couple levels before committing to the download.
11 Find Your Inner Octopus
As usual, Google snuck a fun surprise deep into the Android OS. From the main Settings page, scroll all the way down and choose the System option. Then scroll all the way down again to About Phone. From there you'll see a static Android version entry, in this case 8.1.0. You can't click into the page, but if you quickly tap the Android version info for a couple seconds, an Android-branded Oreo will appear on your screen. If you long-press the cookie, it will transform into a swimming Android octopus you can drag around around the screen.
So if you're on the verge of a hyper-connected breakdown, don't throw your nice new Android phone against the wall. First off, customize your notifications and cut out the noise. If that doesn't work, follow these steps to come play with your inky cephalopod buddy until you calm down. Embrace your inner squid and chill out.
12 Android Chiefs Talk Security
Google has also been rolling out a bevy of features and improvements to Android security, including Google Play Protect and more advanced threat detection and prevention features powered by machine learning. PCMag recently spoke to Android's Enterprise and Security Chiefs about all things mobile security, including security improvements under the hood in Oreo. You can watch the full video interview above.
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