How to use the Android 10 Google Pixel Styles feature

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Android 10 on the Google Pixel phone includes a feature that allows you to customize the style of the UI. Learn how to use this tool that could end up being available on all Android 11 phones.

Image: Sarah Tew/CNET

Although Android 11 is on the horizon, Android 10 still has plenty of features to hold your interest. In fact, given how slowly Android rolls out, chances are good your device is still on Android 8 or 9, so everything in 10 is news to you.

That being said, I thought I’d introduce you to a feature found specifically in Google Pixel phones running Android 10 that allows you to customize the UI. This feature (or a portion of this feature) used to only be available through the Developer Options, but in Android 10 it became a part of the standard feature set.

What Styles allows you to do is apply either some predefined theme attributes to your device, or even, create a custom style.

The Styles feature will not help you become more productive or ease your daily grind. It will, however, allow you to customize your Pixel phone, to make it uniquely yours.

Let’s see how this feature works.

SEE: IT pro’s guide to the evolution and impact of 5G technology (TechRepublic download)

What you’ll need

As you’ve probably figured out by now, in order to use the Styles feature, you’ll need a Google Pixel phone. Unfortunately, this feature has yet to find its way to non-Pixel phones, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it doesn’t wind up going “global” in Android 11. 

How to use the Styles feature

Long press a blank spot on your home screen and you’ll see the usual pop-up menu, with a slight change. Instead of just Wallpapers, you’ll see Styles & Wallpapers (Figure A). Tap that entry to open the new feature.

Figure A

The new Styles & Wallpapers entry in the home screen long press menu.

In the resulting window, tap the Styles tab at the bottom of the window (Figure B).

Figure B

The Styles & Wallpapers window from my Google Pixel 4 daily driver.

In the Styles tab, you can swipe through the intro cards (the top half of the window) or you can swipe through the preconfigured styles in the bottom half (Figure C).

Figure C

The Styles tab is ready to help you customize your UI.

Each style includes selections for font, icons, colors, shapes, and wallpaper. You can also opt to retain your current wallpaper by tapping the checkbox for Keep Current Wallpaper.

If none of the preconfigured styles are appealing, swipe left until you see the Custom button (Figure D).

Figure D

The Custom style maker is but a tap away.

After tapping the Custom button, you’ll first be presented with a font selection window (Figure E).

Figure E

Selecting the font for your custom style.

Once you make your selection, tap Next and you can then select the Icon pack for your theme (Figure F).

Figure F

Choosing an Icon pack for the custom theme.

Tap Next when you’ve made your selection. In the resulting screen, select the highlight color for your theme and tap Next (Figure G).

Figure G

Applying a highlight color for your custom style.

In the next window, select an icon shape for the theme and tap Next (Figure H).

Figure H

Selecting an icon shape for the custom style.

In the final screen, you can name and apply your new style (Figure I).

Figure I

Naming and applying your new style.

And that’s all there is to using the new Styles feature on your Pixel phone running Android 10. As I said, hopefully the developers will see to it bring this new option to Android 11, so that everyone can take advantage of it. 

Enjoy that stylish new look on your Pixel phone.

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Android 11 security features and improvements you need to know

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If the Android 11 beta is an indication, Jack Wallen predicts it will be the most secure and best performing release. Developers and pro users, read about security and privacy features in Android 11.

Image: Jack Wallen

It’s been a roller coaster ride for Android security over the years. From permissions issues to malware/ransomware to compromised ROMS, you name it, and it’s happened. The developers have done a fairly remarkable job of keeping on top of the issues as they spring up, which is no easy feat. With each release of the platform, they take significant steps to improve the security of the mobile operating system.

The upcoming release of Android 11 is no exception. The developers have added new features and dealt with a few pre-existing privacy and security issues. Let’s take a look at some of the bolder choices they’ve made with the platform.

SEE: Top Android security tips (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Temporary and one-time app permissions

App permissions has been a sticky bit for security within the Android OS. Even though Android has seen vast improvements over this issue in the past few releases, there’s always room for improvement, which is exactly what the developers have done.

With Android 11, users will be able to grant certain permissions on an Only This Time, case-by-case basis. This option will appear when an app asks for permission to access: 

  • Location

  • Microphone

  • Camera

If a user grants the one-time permission, the app will have access to the feature until the app is closed. When the app is re-opened, the user will have to grant access again. This feature is similar to that found in iOS 13 and should go a long way to shore up a straggling insecurity that’s been around for some time.

Blocked permissions

Android 11 introduces a new feature that will block an app from requesting permissions if a user denies permissions twice. After denying an app permission twice, users will have to manually give the app permissions if they want the app to function properly.

Overlay permissions

Did someone say “permissions?”

One very serious concern on the Android platform is overlay attacks. An overlay attack has been widespread on Android and has one goal: Intercept credentials for accessing a target application. Overlays fake popular online services to trick the user into typing their login credentials for a site.

With Android 11, apps cannot directly take users to the authentication screen. Instead, apps can only send users to the level before granting access to the overlay. Because of this, users will have to then enable the option. Once you’ve enabled the app permission to the overlay, it’ll be possible for the app to then draw over the screen. That one extra step might prevent users from randomly giving malware permission to access their data.

Goodbye background location access

With Android 11, apps will no longer be allowed to gather information in the background. The only time an app will be able to collect information is when it’s running. This will help shore up privacy issues by placing the user in control of when an app can gather data. 

Developers have until August to ensure their apps meet this new requirement. By November, if any app doesn’t meet this requirement, it will be automatically removed from the Google Play Store.

Revoking unused app permissions

One final change to the permissions system. If you have an app that you’ve granted permissions for, and you don’t use that app for a few months (no one seems to know how many months is “a few”), the permissions will be revoked and can only be re-enabled manually.

As of the latest beta release, this feature is disabled by default and works on an app-by-app basis (Figure A). It is unknown if Google plans on enabling the feature out of the box. 

Figure A

Permission revoking in Android 11, beta 1.

Scoped Storage returns

Back in Android Q beta 2, the developers announced Scoped Storage, which added a new set of rules regarding how apps are allowed to access storage. This caused quite the stir, causing the devs to decide to put it on hold for a year so app developers could take action to ensure their software would work with the feature. That time has come, and Scoped Storage is finally set to be added to the platform.

What is Scoped Storage? Scoped Storage creates isolated sandboxes for apps, so it no longer requires additional permissions to write files. The biggest draw to Scoped Storage is that an app will not be able to access any other app’s sandbox directly–this should add a considerable level of security to the platform.

The caveats to Scoped Storage are that it might cause a slight hit to Android performance, and some legacy apps will fail to function properly. But, the gained privacy and security should make those caveats more than acceptable.

Additional security changes in Android 11 

  • Improvements to the BiometricPrompt API

  • Mobile Driver’s License support

  • Secure Storage to make it easier for apps to share data blobs

  • Expanded use of sanitizers to several security-centric components

  • Improved Call Screening

  • Introduction of the GnssAntennaInfo class for improved GPS privacy

  • Secure audio capture from USB device

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Android 11 puts some serious (and subtle) polish on the platform

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Android 11 beta has been out for a while and it offers a number of new features and improvements. Jack Wallen offers up his take on why this might be the best yet for users.

Image: Jack Wallen

Recently a pair of events occurred, almost simultaneously, that had me using the beta version of Android 11 as my daily driver. 

I decided to join the Android 11 beta program with my previous phone, a Google Pixel 3. It was still a good phone and I’d need to be testing some of the new features for the upcoming platform. The same day I did that, I was coming in from the record store with a large package between my arm and body. I grabbed the package to place it on my desk, when the corner of the paper bag caught my Google Pixel 4, sending it to the floor.

As luck would have it, the phone screen crash landed on a corner of the wooden mat I have on at my desk. Needless to say, the display shattered in a bajillion tiny fragments, rendering the phone practically unusable. 

So, I contacted Google, requested a repair RMA, and shipped the Pixel 4 off to get the screen replaced. 

That left me with my Pixel 3. Instead of doing a factory reset, I opted to leave the beta version of Android 11, which would give me plenty of time to experience what the next iteration of the platform had to offer.

I’m here to tell you–I’m impressed.

What Android 11 brings to the table is a subtle evolution of everything that made Android 10 so good. I’m not going to go through a feature-by-feature listing of everything new to Android 11. Instead, I want to talk about what makes Android 11 so good for end users and why you’ll want this new release as soon as it’s available.

SEE: IT pro’s guide to the evolution and impact of 5G technology (TechRepublic download)

It’s all about the polish

If I’m being completely honest, Android 10 has been my absolute favorite release of the platform to date. It does nearly everything right. From battery life, to ease of navigation, to simplicity of sharing and everything in between.

After using Android 10 for quite some time, I was hard-pressed to think of anything that could have improved the experience. However, after using Android 11, the Google developers have shown their skills at evolving the platform.

For instance, take the notification shade–instead of the notification shade being one constant list of alerts, everything is broken down into categories (Figure A). There’s:

  • Conversations for things like Facebook Messenger and SMS messages

  • Alerting notifications for apps and events

  • Silent notifications for things like Google News

Figure A

The new Android 11 notification categories.

What’s really nice about this new categorization system is that it allows you to clear a single category, instead of clearing either single notifications or clearing all. So, if you get a lot of notifications from apps, but don’t want to have to go through and clear them individually, tap the X associated with the Alerting Notifications category. 

Screenshots and power

The developers have stripped out the screenshot tool from the power button menu. No longer can you take a screenshot by holding down the power button. Instead, you must access the open app list by swiping up from the home button. Once you reveal your open apps, you’ll see the Screenshot button at the bottom of the display (Figure B).

Figure B

The new Screenshot feature for Android 11 is pretty slick.

The one caveat to the new Screenshot feature is that it prevents you from taking screenshots of certain elements (such as the Screenshot feature itself or the notification shade).

App suggestions 

I’ll preface this by saying I much prefer a clean home screen. I’m okay with a single row of app launcher folders at the bottom of my display, but not much more. However, if you don’t mind a few more launchers at the ready, Android 11 is bringing app suggestions to the home screen. This feature will keep an updated row of your most used apps available for quick launch. 

This feature can be enabled/disabled by long-pressing the home screen and tapping Home Settings. In the resulting window, tap Suggestions and then tap the On/Off slider to either enable or disable Suggestions On Home Screen (Figure C).

Figure C

Enable or disable the app suggestions feature for the home screen.

Once you enable the feature, it’ll take some time for the suggested apps to show up, as the AI has to learn what you use the most. 

Personally, I disabled the feature almost immediately. Why? The same app suggestions appear at the top of the app drawer, so it seems a bit redundant.

Bubbles

To anyone that has followed Android over the years, the Bubbles feature, which mimics the Facebook Messenger Chat Heads feature, has been teased for some time. It’s here and it’s pretty sweet.

Instead of having every possible message arrive as a Bubble, Android 11 allows you to not only enable Bubbles on a per-app basis. Some of the apps (such as Messages and Gmail) allow you to enable Bubbles on a per-conversation basis.

For example, take the default Android SMS client. With this app you can define if all conversation, no conversations, or selected conversations can be placed in a Bubble (Figure D).

Figure D

Defining what can Bubble in Android 11.

Of course, this feature isn’t complete yet. When you opt to go the selected conversations route, you aren’t able to yet select which conversations are placed in a Bubble. I’m guessing this option will be coming soon. Until then, keep your fingers crossed the developers leave this feature in.

Improved display

Android 11 has brought an improved display for devices that support variable refresh rates. This clearly applies to the Google Pixel 4, but the Pixel 3 doesn’t include a variable refresh rate. However, after upgrading to the Android 11 beta, I noticed an improved display on the Pixel 3. In fact, the improved display on the Pixel 3 now rivals that of my Pixel 4. 

I cannot find any reference to an Android 11 feature that has directly improved the display for devices that do not support variable refresh rates, but my eyes do not deceive me–the display is considerably improved from Android 10.  

These are just some of the obvious improvements Android 11 has made over 10–improvements that will immediately impact users. Once the final release of Android 11 is out (and I have my Pixel 4 back), I would imagine the next iteration of Google’s mobile platform will be the best yet, by a long (but subtle) shot.

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