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These are the 5 best new features of Android 11

There’s a lot to learn about Google’s new Android 11 beta, but we highlights here some of the most useful tools and tweaks so far

Android 11 has a lot of good things.

Google released the first public beta version of Android 11 this week and it comes with many hidden features for developers to take advantage of, but regular users aren’t left out either. You can install the first beta version right now as long as you have one of supported devices. I signed up to participate in the beta program on a Pixel 4 XL and have been reviewing the update. 

We’re big fans of the new Quick Controls page that is easy to access and incredibly useful, along with revamped media controls, while app hints and Bubble calls will take time to get used to.

While we’re sure Google has more surprises for Android 11 in coming days, until then here’s are five features we’ve tested and know you’ll love when it launches later this year. 

Android 11's quick controls are great.

Android 11’s quick controls are great.

Android 11: Quick controls are great

The first thing you should do after installing Android 11, either in public beta or when it is officially released, is to long press the power button on your phone to bring up the new Quick Controls screen. On my Pixel, at least, this screen provides power control options on top, provides shortcuts to your Google Pay cards and boarding passes, and then underneath that you’ll find my favorite Android 11 feature: controls fast for smart home devices.

My phone automatically selected some devices that I’ve linked to Google Assistant, like the Nest and my Nest video doorbell. I can even watch a live stream from my doorbell directly on this screen, without having to open the Nest app (which is slow and difficult to use). It’s great.

You can add or remove devices from your smart home by tapping the menu button and selecting add or edit controls. 

Bubbles: Bubbles to message your friends

Do you remember the bubbles? This feature was supposed to be part of Android 10, but Google removed it at the last minute. Well, they are back with Android 11.

The bubbles are similar to Facebook Messenger’s “chat heads” feature. When activated, a small avatar, or Bubble, appears on your screen no matter what application you are using. Tap the avatar and a small window will open for you to read and send new messages in that thread, without fully opening the application. You can drag the bubble around your screen or drag it to the bottom of the screen to remove it.

In the first public beta, the only app that seems to work with Bubbles right now is Facebook Messenger. Even then, it doesn’t fully work. We hope Google fixes the issues before the full release of Android 11.

To use Bubbles in a conversation, there will be a small Bubbles icon in the lower right corner of the notification. Touching it will immediately enable bubbles for that thread.

Another way to activate Bubbles for specific conversations is to long-press a notification and mark it as a priority. Doing so will not only activate Bubbles for that thread, but will also allow that conversation to interrupt Do Not Disturb ensuring that you don’t miss any messages. 

App suggestions are also new to Android 11.

App suggestions are also new to Android 11.

New app suggestions are great

Right after installing the public beta of Android 11 and unlocking my Pixel 4 XL, I received an option to enable app hints on the home screen. Unsure of what exactly that was, I reluctantly agreed. Turns out it’s pretty cool.

Previously, Android made suggestions in the app drawer that it believed you would want to use, depending on the time of day and other mysterious factors. In Android 11, there is now a row of app hints at the bottom of the home screen where the main app-base would normally be displayed.

Apps have a shiny border around them and change frequently when you return to the home screen while using your phone. You can tap and hold any of the app icons to pin that suggestion on your home screen.

You can also block apps from appearing as suggestions if you don’t want something like Gmail to appear even if you use a different email app.

To access App Tips and customize how it works for you, touch and hold the Home screen, and select Startup Settings, then Tips. There you can control the suggestions in the app drawer and on the home screen or block the apps from appearing in the list. 

The new media controls are very cute.

Android 11 improves its multimedia controls

In the announcement of the public beta for Android 11, Google showed a new music control interface that looked amazing. Rather than making the playback controls more like a pending notification, they are placed in the Quick Settings panel at the top of the screen. And when you interact with them, there is a new option to control where the music plays.

For example, if you have Google’s new Pixel Buds 2 and a Nest Hub, you can quickly switch between the two devices with a few taps.

If you install the beta version of Android 11, you will not be able to find the function when you start playing music, but do not be discouraged, it is there, but it is hidden.

You’ll need to enable Developer Options on your phone by opening the Settings app and going to About phone . Scroll to the bottom of the screen where you will find Build Number . Press it until a small notification appears saying something like “Congratulations! You are now a developer.”

Next, you’ll have to go to Developer Options in Settings> System. Once there, look for media resume, turn it on, and then restart your phone.

The next time you start playing music, you’re going to see the new multimedia controls. 

Finally you can record your screen with an official Google tool.

Finally! A way to record your screen

Screenshots are a quick and easy way to capture something on the screen, but there are times when a recording is better suited to the task at hand. For example, if you want to show your gaming skills, or highlight the steps to play an error screen recording.

You can find the Screen Record tool in the Quick Settings panel after installing Android 11. If it’s not visible, tap the pencil icon to add it to your panel. 

Tap the Record Screen icon and select if you want your microphone to record audio and if you want your touch interactions to be highlighted in the video. To stop recording, tap the Record screen notification. The video will be saved on the camera roll, where you can edit and share the recording.

We will continue to test Android 11 and see what other things are hidden or added during the rest of the beta process. In the meantime, if you can’t wait for Android 11 to launch later this year, you can install it right now

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