Android 11 is finally ready for release. The update to Google’s mobile operating system is rolling out right now, starting with Google’s own Pixels and devices from a few other phone-makers who’ve gotten their phones ready. The update will expand to more phones in the coming weeks and months.
If you’re lucky enough to have a phone that’s getting the new OS sooner rather than later, you’re in for a treat. There are subtle tweaks throughout Android 11 that make a big difference in how you’ll use your phone daily. For example, there’s a new Bubbles feature that makes it easy to keep messaging from any app. My personal favorite is the new quick controls page for accessing my smart home devices with a swipe, and there’s a new screen-recording tool for showing off your favorite gameplay or to help someone troubleshoot an issue.
Below you’ll find five of my favorite Android 11 features and how to use them.
Android 11 Quick Controls are a true highlight
The first thing you should do after installing Android 11 is long-press the power button on your phone to bring up the new quick controls screen. On the Pixel, at least, this screen gives you power control options along the top and provides shortcuts to your Google Pay cards and boarding passes. Then below that you’ll find my favorite feature of Android 11 — quick controls for smart home devices.
My phone automatically picked a few devices I’ve linked to Google Assistant, like the Nest thermostat in my office and my Nest video doorbell. I can even view a livestream from my doorbell directly on this screen without having to open the Nest app, which is slow and a pain to use. It’s great.
You can add or remove smart home devices from this grid by tapping the menu button and selecting add or edit controls.
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Messaging Bubbles for your friends look like they’ll be useful
Remember Bubbles? This feature was supposed to be part of Android 10, but Google pulled it at the last minute. Well, it made the cut for Android 11.
Bubbles are similar to Facebook Messenger’s “chat heads” feature. When activated, a small avatar — or Bubble — shows up on your screen and is visible no matter what app you’re using. Tap on the avatar and it will open a small window for you to read and send new messages in that thread, without fully opening the app. You can drag the Bubble around your screen, or drag it to the bottom of the screen to delete it.
In order to use Bubbles for a conversation, tap on the small Bubbles icon in the bottom-right corner of the notification. Tapping on it will immediately enable Bubbles for that thread.
Another way to activate Bubbles for specific conversations is to long-press on its notification and mark it as a priority. Doing so will not only turn on Bubbles for that thread, but it will also allow that conversation to break through Do Not Disturb ensuring you don’t miss any messages.
You can then drag the icons for your various Bubbles chats around on your screen, or tap on the avatar for the person you want to talk to, and the thread will open up all without ever leaving the app you’re currently using. I’m glad this is an opt-in feature, based on each thread, instead of an all or nothing feature like Chat Heads. It’s messy and downright overwhelming.
To get rid of a bubble for a specific conversation, just drag the icon to the small X that shows up at the bottom of your screen.
If you want to completely disable Bubbles, disallowing any and all apps from triggering the potentially annoying feature, open the Settings app and search for Bubbles. There will be a setting to turn off Bubbles altogether.
Android 11 gets fancier music controls
In Android 11, there’s a new playback control that no longer appears as a pending notification. Instead, there’s a small box that shows up as part of the quick settings panel. You can skip, go back, play-pause and switch the device the music is playing on all from the new control box.
As soon as you start playing some music, the new media controls will be available. They’re so much better than the old notification.
A built-in screen recorder
Screenshots are a quick and easy way to capture something on your screen, but there are times when a recording is better suited to the task at hand. For example, if you want to show off your gaming skills, or highlight the steps to reproduce a bug — screen recording FTW!
You can find the Screen Record tool in the Quick Settings panel after installing Android 11. If it’s not visible, tap on the pencil icon to add it to your panel.
Tap on the Screen Record icon and select whether 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 Screen Record notification. The video will be saved to your camera roll where you can then edit and share the recording.
For Pixel owners: App Suggestions replace your app dock
At some point after installing Android 11, you’ll see a prompt asking you to enable app suggestions on the home screen. Essentially, the new app suggestions will replace the app dock on your phone, leaving it up to your phone to swap apps in and out of the bottom row — or dock — on your phone, based on which apps you use at certain times of the day.
The apps have a glowing border around them, letting you know your phone added them, and frequently change when you return to your home screen as you use your phone. You can long-press on any of the app icons to pin that suggestion to your home screen.
You can also block apps from showing up as suggestions if you don’t want something like Gmail showing because you use a different email app.
To access App Suggestions and tailor how it works for you long-press on your home screen and select Home Settings then Suggestions. There you can control suggestions in the app drawer and on the home screen or block apps from showing up on the list.
Google also made some important changes to how Android handles privacy settings you should know, as well. If you’re looking for instructions to install Android 11, we have your back.
Android 11: What’s new in the public beta