You’re probably wondering what it brings to the table. Here is everything you need to know about the latest Android release.
What is Android 13?
The first developer preview for Android 13 arrived in early February, granting us an early look at Google’s next major release. Since then, the company has dropped either a developer preview or beta every month, with the final release arriving in August. With this update, Android 13 is rolling out to recent Pixel phones, with models older than the Pixel 4 and 4a cut-off date.
Since the stable release came both to Pixel phones and the Android Open Source Project (AOSP), we can expect other manufacturers to jump on the bandwagon sooner rather than later. We created a resource for you to check when your phone is expected to get Android 13.
It was expected that Android 13 would launch earlier than other recent Android releases as the first developer preview came out in February, and in the end, things really panned out like this. For a time, it appeared as though Google might delay Android 13 until September, but with the August 15 launch out of the way now, this is indeed one of the earliest Android launches in recent times.
All the Android 13 features you need to know about
With Android 13 rolling out to Pixel phones left and right, we want to give you an in-depth overview of what’s new. Here’s everything we found.
All Android versions used to come with delicious, sweets-based codenames. Remember Android 4.4 KitKat or Android 9 Pie? While Google doesn’t use these codenames for marketing purposes anymore, its developers still use them internally. For Android 13, this name is confirmed to be Tiramisu, following up on the not-publicly used Snow Cone for Android 12, Red Velvet Cake for Android 11, and Android 10’s Quince Tart.
More Material You color schemes and ‘cinematic’ wallpapers
Android 13 gives us a selection of new palettes for extracting colors from the wallpaper. In addition to the existing so-called “tonal spot” colors, Google gives users and Android manufacturers access to three other methods:
- Vibrant: Differs ever so slightly in supplementary accents.
- Expressive: Offers a wider range of colors that apparently extend to colors not seen in the background.
- Spritz: A desaturated, nearly monochromatic theme.
We have the details and samples on this in our exclusive coverage, and you can get your hands on these themes in the form of 16 new color extraction options in your wallpaper picker on your Pixel running Android 13.
Android 12 vs. Android 13. Note the scrollable wallpaper colors section.
Android 13 DP2 has also offered us a first glimpse at so-called “cinematic” wallpapers. Right now, this only seems to be an API for developers to hook into. However, based on what we know, it seems likely that this could enable custom live wallpapers based on images from your photos library—much like cinematic images in Google Photos. As far as we spotted, this hasn’t made its way past experiments just yet.
Alongside the launch of Android 13 DP1 in February, we learned Material You themes are coming to devices from Samsung, OnePlus, Oppo, and more. Seems like as good a time as any to get some new color choices.
Improved launcher search for Pixel phones
Android 13 introduced a revamped search experience on the homescreen. A new launcher-based interface lets you search for on-device actions, Play Store and YouTube results, and Google right from the search bar on your launcher.
There are minor differences in how this search works depending on whether you swipe up from the bottom or tap the search bar at the bottom, but it’s more powerful and feels more integrated than what we had in Android 12. You can even pin recent launcher searches to your homescreen, which can be handy.
Android has historically been better at managing and displaying notifications than iOS. Still, there’s one thing we appreciate in Apple’s ecosystem. Applications need to explicitly ask you for permission before they’re allowed to send notifications.
Android 13 finally follows suit and will not allow apps to send you notifications when you install them unless you give them permission explicitly. Note that as you upgrade from Android 12, this only affects newly installed apps, so it doesn’t break existing functionality.
Like most other permission prompts, it will pop up when an app first runs and requests the POST_NOTIFICATIONS permission. Your options will be binary, with you being able to either allow or deny notifications altogether. You can’t select specific channels only in Android 13, but maybe that’s something for a future Android release.
QR code scanner
We exclusively covered that Android 13 could get a QR code scanning quick settings tile, including some kind of lock screen functionality. Then, in Android 13 DP1, we got our first glimpse at the QR scanner quick settings toggle in the notification shade, though it was grayed out and inaccessible.
In Beta 1, this has finally changed, and we can confirm that this is indeed a QR code scanner that works as expected. Since this is a quick toggle, lock screen functionality is given, too. The feature has made its way to the stable release of Android 13 without any significant changes, and it’s faster than relying on Google Lens or the camera app.
Per-app language settings for apps
As we exclusively covered even before the launch of the developer preview, Android 13 introduced an option that allows you to set your preferred language on a per-app basis. This might not sound too significant if you’re someone who can confidently use any and all features of an app in English, living in the U.S.
This isn’t how things are for many people, though, with millions of humans living bilingual or multilingual lives. Android phones force a much more monolingual life on people, though, with the language selected for the system usually also applied to all apps.
First two images: Per-app language settings on Android 13 DP2. Last two: Missing per-app language settings on A13 Beta 1 and stable.
The per-app language feature first went live in the Android 13 betas but has since been watered down for the stable release. Instead of forcing other supported languages on any app on your phone, developers need to add a bit of code to specify that their app supports per-app languages.
That means it will take a while until all apps on your phone will be eligible for this feature. Right now, only a handful of apps have added support for these per-app language settings, but we hope that it will soon be available in virtually all multilingual apps.
Android 13 will warn you when apps cause excessive battery drain, specifically in the background. The alerts show up as silent notifications, giving you the option to kill the app with a simple tap. If you want the app to keep running, swipe away the notification instead. Once you’ve done that, an overview of apps running in the background is shown in the quick toggles section of the notification shade, staying out of the way but informing those who want to know more about what’s happening on their phone.
Further, Android 12 introduced new draconic battery-saving measures that make it even harder for apps to run in the background, summarized under the so-called PhantomProcessKiller. While this helps keep rogue developers in check, it also leads to unintended consequences for apps that absolutely need to run multiple heavy processes in the background, like the Linux terminal emulator Termux. Android 13 might introduce a toggle in developer options that allows power users to turn off this measure for edge cases like Termux, though we still need to confirm this on the stable version.
Google is also developing a new feature called “TARE,” short for “The Android Resource Economy.” It’s supposed to monitor how apps run in the background and which tasks they perform, awarding and taking credits from apps to limit their ability to schedule unlimited jobs for the future. Since this is still in active development, we’ll likely have to wait until Google gives us proper documentation to understand exactly how it works, and it did not make the cut for Android 13.
Ultra-wideband, or UWB for short, is an exciting technology enabling a whole slew of new applications. It turns your phone into a car key, helps you find lost gadgets that also support UWB, and augments features initially made possible by NFC and Bluetooth.
The Pixel 6 Pro has a UWB antenna on board, but it doesn’t use it to its full potential just yet. Android 13 adds a generic hardware abstraction layer that will give all Android devices a shared foundation for how UWB works, making it easier for manufacturers and app developers to implement these futuristic features in their products.
For the Pixel 6 Pro, a few UWB features will make their way into the Android 12 January security patch, but the full system-wide abstraction layer should only come in Android 13.
Support for Bluetooth Low-Energy Audio
Android 13 is the first version of Android to introduce fully-fleshed-out support for Bluetooth Low-Energy Audio. The standard is meant as a replacement or at least an alternative for regular Bluetooth audio streaming, and it brings a whole slew of improvements to the table: lower energy consumption at almost the same audio quality, multi-stream support to send signals to both of your earbuds at the same time (or to multiple headphones/speakers at once), and full support for the features introduced in Google’s Bluetooth hearing aid protocol.
Devices will need to be equipped with the appropriate hardware to provide you with Bluetooth LE Audio streaming, but this will only be a question of time as new phones, tablets, headphones, and speakers are released.
The return of Assistant gestures
Gesture navigation may be the future of interacting with your phone. Still, many people prefer the three-button navigation of old, whether for accessibility reasons or just because they’re used to it. Those who do can now optionally enjoy using Assistant via a long-press on the Home button again.
A new toggle in the navigation settings allows you to select your preference, so you don’t need to press and hold the Power button anymore. Similarly, Google is bringing back the swipe-up-from-the-corner gesture for Assistant when you use gesture navigation. This can also be set up from the same place in System Settings.
New media player and output picker
Android 10 introduced an output picker for audio and other media, allowing you to choose how you’d like to listen to something: on your phone, your wireless headphones, or your Bluetooth speakers. Android 13 has an all-new look for this feature, with a total redesign for both selecting the destination for your audio and the media player.
It looks even better than we expected, using the album cover of your currently playing media as the background. Google also introduced a snazzy new squiggly animation that grooves along with you and your music.
Spatial Audio for the Pixel 6
Android 13 Beta 1 has a spatializer effect in tow, which could manifest as Google’s version of the iPhone’s spatial audio feature. Right now, this still seems under active development and isn’t user-facing, so it isn’t clear if the feature made it into the final release of Android 13. Still, for anyone who loves to enjoy their audio content the best way possible on their Pixel 6, this could be good news.
Android 12’s new Material You design and the interface changes coming in tow need more fine-tuning. Those who dislike the overblown lock screen clock, in particular when they don’t have notifications, are in for a pleasant change in Android 13. Google has introduced a toggle for disabling the huge clock, labeled as “Double-line clock.” This isn’t exclusive to Android 13, though. The option has already made its way into Android 12L, which was under development parallelly.
While we still don’t know much about the state of mobile gaming on Android 13, Esper’s Mishaal Rahman has found an interesting tidbit of information regarding devices that will launch with Android 13. According to his findings in the AOSP code, a new API will allow games to temporarily boost the CPU speed while they’re loading, making it possible to launch titles more quickly than before.
It looks like some current Pixel phones could also get updated to take advantage of this API, but this isn’t a given for most phones that are currently available. We haven’t heard much more about this after the official launch of Android 13.
Android 13 introduces a new photo picker that offers a more streamlined experience when you want to add images to your messages. Instead of using the full-blown document picker, apps that you use to send or upload photos can use this to preserve your privacy and only give you relevant results.
So far, only a few services support it, and it will likely take some time until it becomes the norm, given how few devices run Android 13 at the moment. For what it’s worth, Google is bringing the photos picker to older Android versions via a backport, so it might be adopted a little quicker.
Third-party Material You icons
We’ve complained extensively about how Material You limits its app icon theming to Google’s services and nothing else. It clashes with the rest of your homescreen, resulting in an unfinished look that’s pushed some AP writers back to third-party launchers and icon packs.
With Android 13, Google will bring dynamic icon themes to all apps, assuming developers choose to support it. In the time leading up to the stable release, we’ve already seen a few third-party apps introduce support for it, like Bitwarden, Inware, Pocket, Sync for Reddit, and Vivino.
Quick Settings Placement API
Developers have had the option to add tiles to Android’s quick settings menu for years now, but with this year’s update, getting people to know and use these becomes easier.
The Quick Settings Placement API allows apps to advertise their tiles with a pop-up notification, making the existence of these tools and shortcuts a lot more obvious to the average smartphone owner. While there’s always the risk of abuse with prompts like these, it seems like a great way for devs to make better use of an underutilized part of Android.
Android has long been improving clipboard management, and the latest release takes things up another notch. When you copy text in Android 13, you will see a small floating panel that allows you to view and change the contents of your clipboard. This makes it easy to tweak URLs or addresses before sharing them. The clipboard additionally auto-clears after a certain time as a privacy measure, which is good if you copy your email addresses, phone numbers, or login credentials.
Although it’s not live in any of the pre-releases, the stable version will also include a Nearby Share shortcut within the clipboard. We have yet to confirm this, though.
Android 13’s Easter egg is a little disappointing in how similar it looks to Android 12’s design, though it’s hard to be mad when your display is covered with emoji.
Predictive back gestures
Google is preparing a tweak to the back gesture that will make it obvious that you are about to exit the app in question to the homescreen. It’s a small change that requires a shockingly large amount of work behind the scenes, and as such, the feature remains experimental in stable Android 13.
To get a glimpse at how it works and what it looks like, you need to activate predictive back gestures in the developer options. Even then, only a handful of apps work with this as it requires tweaks from app developers themselves. The only app we’ve spotted working with it so far is Google News.
Google will only make this tweak a part of the default experience in Android 14. Maybe the company has even more interesting changes planned for gesture navigation with this release, as this homescreen transition could be used to transition between other screens of apps.
Extended treble compatibility for the beta
While you will not need it now that Android 13 is stable, the Android 13 beta was officially compatible with all devices that are compatible with Treble. This makes it easier for developers to get ready for the new release when they don’t own a Pixel device, even though some important features don’t work on these builds, like phone audio.
Small changes in Android 13
There are a handful of small changes in the new OS version that are worth rounding up.
- Flashlight: The quick tap shortcut initially added to Pixels in Android 12 is getting support for turning the flashlight on and off.
- Privacy: Last year’s update brought about some significant privacy improvements, and Android 13 is keeping the momentum rolling with 7-day views in the Privacy dashboard.
- Haptics: Silent mode disabled nearly all haptic feedback in DP2. A controversial change and one that has been undone in Beta 1. There are also a handful of new vibration settings, though, right now, they don’t seem to do much.
- Big screen changes: Android 13 Beta 1 has also introduced the familiar row of intelligent app suggestions for the drawer on big screen devices, along with a new app drawer shortcut.
- Smart home controls: It brings back the option to control your smart home devices without unlocking your screen first.
- Display and font settings: Google has pushed its display and font size options together under one menu, and the screen saver picker has an all-new look.
- Screen recording: Android’s touch indicators when recording have returned after they went missing in 12L.
- Split-screen: A split-screen feature from 12L lets you pull up two apps at once in multiple windows from notifications.
- Hidden features: There’s a whole slew of hidden features, including an automatic dark mode and a new placement for the app drawer’s search box, helping round out a substantial release.
- exFAT support: It’s literally years in the making, but if you’ve been dying for exFAT support on Android, this latest upgrade will finally make it a reality.
- Navigation bar: While Google isn’t changing its gestures system, it did add some thickness to the bar along the bottom of the display. It looks a lot like iOS.
- Media file permissions: Google’s introducing some changes to how it handles media file permissions, along with a warning that will prevent users from handing over more data to older apps than they otherwise would.
Things that didn’t pan out for Android 13
These features may not be coming to your Android phone in the near future.
One thing that hasn’t quite made it to the stable release is tap-to-transfer. It’s supposed to be similar to Android Beam, which allowed you to tap two phones to send links, files, and more to each other. In Android 13, this feature was supposed to focus on sharing media, so you could tap a smart speaker that would then play media you have on your phone.
This feature might still make it to Android 13 after its release via Play Services or a Pixel Feature Drop, but don’t hold your breath. It might as well be delayed for Android 14. We don’t know which technology it will be using, but NFC and UWB seem like the obvious candidates.
Better multi-user support
It’s clear Google focused on tablets again lately, even after the official launch of Android 12L. In Android 13 previews, a ton of changes to how multi-user profiles work were spotted, but it doesn’t look like they’re making the cut. From a redesigned profile picker screen for tablets to colorful new icons for your avatar, there would have been plenty to love here. “Hub mode” sounded like it would make it easy to share apps between profiles, while guest accounts were supposed to get a list of accessible apps ready from the jump. And then there was a new “kids mode” on the way that brings back an old-school nav bar.
We’ll have to wait to see what all this adds up to, but it’s too many puzzle pieces not to be part of a larger picture that might be preparations for Android 14.
Get Android 13 for your phone
Android 13 is available now, so you won’t have to wait too long until it reaches your Pixel phone. Even if you don’t have Pixel, manufacturers have become better at keeping up with Google’s releases, so be sure to check when your phone will get Android 13.