This review was written after using Android 10 for the past two months, as well as a week of the final release which is much the same as the previous betas. Android 10 is Google’s latest Android software version and is the version of Android that will be on the Pixel 4 when it launches. There aren’t many huge features packed in here as there would be with iOS. This isn’t a knock on Android however, it’s because Google trickles down features to its apps via the Play Store rather than waiting for a single large annual update. With Android 10, Google will also start pushing security updates via the Play Store as well.
So enough about what’s not new here, here’s what IS new here. While Android 10 has a bevvy of new features, only a few of them are directly relevant or even worth mentioning to new users. The first is the new gestures system, the second is the dark theme, and the last is the new privacy system.
Before that, there are a whole bunch of other interesting features Google’s advertised with Android 10. We’ve got Live Caption, a feature that’ll let your phone add captions to whatever audio is playing automatically even if there aren’t any subtitles present. It’s meant to be an accessibility feature and something that’ll improve the quality of life of Android users with hearing difficulties. Google has also announced Focus Mode, a series of features to help users improve their productivity on their phones. Aside from being highlighted on the Android 10 official release, both features have the dubious distinctions of not actually being present in the final release itself almost as if Gooogle couldn’t be bothered to complete its work before releasing the project.
And that’s an issue with Android 10 in general that I’ve noticed. A vague feeling of X is promised and even showcased in its announcement but will be fixed or delivered in the final update. Android 10 is here now, but all of its features will be delivered in a future update.
Let’s start with the new gestures system. In Android Pie, Google introduced a set of gestures that’ll allow users to navigate around their phone simply via swipes. This gestures system was panned for not being as intuitive as the three-button system and additionally for simply not being as good as what Apple did or what fellow Android OEMs like Samsung, Huawei and OnePlus were able to achieve. Google went back to the drawing board, and it accomplished exactly that. A gesture system that’s more or less what Apple offers. Dubbed as full gestural navigation, Android users now have a similar gesture system to iOS in Android 10. Users will note the bar at the bottom ad the swipes to the left and right that enable navigation back. It works pretty well in my experience. Sure some may argue it is not as nice as iOS, but it’s here, and that matters.
That said, the gesture system has two drawbacks. The first is that Google’s Android has typically worked with the hamburger menu. Apps like Gmail, Googe Keep and others have settings and features tucked away in a little sliding drawer users can pull out by just swiping inward from the left of the screen. This conflicts with the newly added back gesture which the system prioritises. Google has added back button sensitivity and a way for users to peek into hamburger menus to get them to work but it’s not really intuitive or consistent. What works 100% of the time is a diagonal swipe, which Google says is unintentional behaviour.
The second issues with gestures revolves around Android customisation. While Android is quite customisable, any users who’d like to use the full gestures would have to surrender third-party launchers as Google disables it automatically. This isn’t an issue with Huawei’s gestures, but Google hasn’t yet figured out how to make it work. It’ll fix this bug in a future release. Till then, remain happy with Pixel launcher or your OEMs own integrated gestures if you’d like to ditch buttons for a full-screen experience.
A dark theme is something Stock Android users have wanted for ages, and Google has finally added support for it to Android 10. And it works, when it works. In typical Google fashion, it doesn’t work as well as it should. First of all, it doesn’t work like you’d expect it to on all apps. If I’d switch my phones to a dark theme, I’d expect all apps which have a dark theme to become dark themed. Apps like Facebook Messenger which have a different dark theme don’t play well with Google’s dark theme even if forced. The carelessness of third party developers can be overlooked. Annoyingly enough, apps like Google’s own Messages app don’t play well with Dark Mode either. It’s a crapshoot as to which apps work with dark mode or if you’ll have to dive into their app settings to enable it. Google’s apps do have dark themes for the most part with exceptions like the Play Store, Gmail, Tasks, you’ll just have to dive into a different settings location for each individual app to enable it. Google will probably fix all these in future updates, but yet again, it should not have to be fixed in a future update. It should have been ready upon release. Third-party developers are one thing, but Google’s own apps should have been ready and showing developers and users alike how dark theme should work on day one.
Finally, on the topic of privacy. Google has been tightening up privacy on apps, and you have more granular app permissions. Something like your ‘location’ for example, you’ll be able to prevent apps from pinging your location all the time and limit them to use only when active. Some apps misbehave, however, and require you to keep the permissions on all the time to function at all like my local bus app. Hopefully, Google will find some way to enforce this on developers going forward, but this new Android feature is actually good and useful.
Android 10 – Verdict
Android 10 is everything I dislike about modern software development. It’s this close to being done and just about 90% there, but Google appears to have stopped at 90% and it shows. Between the disjointed dark theme, the broken gestures, and the outright missing features, this isn’t Google’s best work.
That said, it may not matter. By the time many users get Android 10, it’ll be run through by OEMs like Huawei, Samsung and Xiaomi. Google may even have their own Android 10.1 complete by then. These guys will apply their own gestures which won’t suck. They’ll have a dark theme for all their apps (Samsung and Huawei already do), and it’ll feel more complete overall. Perhaps Google’s refusal to properly brand this with a baked treat name was a sign that it needed more time in the oven.