Exclusive: Early Android Q build has a System-wide Dark Theme, Permission Revamp, hints at a “Desktop Mode,” and more

Ahead of schedule, we’ve got Android Q on the Google Pixel 3 XL. What we have isn’t going to be the same software build that Google will release as the first Android Q Developer Preview, but it’s still our first look at what Google has worked on behind-the-scenes. The early Android Q leaked build we have obtained was built just this week with the February 2019 security patches, and it’s up-to-date with Google’s AOSP internal master. That means it has a ton of new Android platform features that you won’t find anywhere publicly, but there are no Google Pixel software customizations nor are there pre-installed Google Play apps or services so I don’t have any new information to share on those fronts. Still, there’s a lot to digest here, so we’ve flashed the build on the Pixel 3 XL to find out what’s new—both on the surface-level and under-the-hood. This article will focus on all the surface-level changes we’ve found in Android Q.

We now have a video overview of all the changes we found in this early Android Q preview build. Check it out below, but continue reading because this article goes into more detail!

System-wide Dark Theme is finally here

On January 6th, Android Police spotted a comment on the Chromium Gerrit which hinted that dark mode would be coming to Android Q. The Googler’s comment was made on October 31st, 2018, so there wasn’t any way to tell whether Google had abandoned the feature or continued working on it. However, the Android Q build that we obtained has a fully functional system-wide dark mode in Display settings, so we’re confident that Google is still working on the feature. Most of the screenshots you’ll see in this article are with the dark theme enabled, in fact.

To enable the dark theme, you just have to tap on the “Set Dark mode” option in Display settings. You can set the dark theme to always be enabled or automatically be enabled depending on the time of day. Once enabled, the Settings, Launcher, Launcher settings, and Files app all gain a dark gray tinge. The volume panel, Quick Settings panel, and notifications all turn black. Even third-party notifications like download notifications from Google Chrome are themed black. The Google Phone appGoogle ContactsMessagesGoogle NewsGoogle Play Games, YouTube, and more already have native dark themes, but we don’t know how these Google apps will interact with Android Q’s dark theme toggle.

What we do know is that Google has a Developer option called “override force-dark” which “overrides the force-dark feature to be always-on.” This seems to enable dark mode for apps that don’t have a built-in dark mode option. I tested this on the AOSP dialer, messages, and email app, as shown below. I also tested it on Kiwi Browser, a fork of Chromium by XDA Senior Member arnaud42, and Google Chrome beta and can confirm that it themed parts of these apps dark. It also works on third-party apps like Facebook, though Facebook is notably broken in parts with white text on white background.

This is by far one of the most requested features from users because dark themes are known to save battery life on smartphones with OLED displays, so we’re glad to see Google finally implement a built-in dark mode. You’ll no longer need Substratum to get a dark theme as you did on Android Oreo and Android Pie.

Permissions Revamp

If you thought Android P was for privacy, wait until you see what Google is planning for Android Q. There’s a huge permissions revamp in the Settings app that allows you to get an overview of permission access by apps and restrict certain permissions like location only while the app is in use. The permission page for each app is also revamped, and you can quickly see which apps have been allowed or denied access to a certain permission (like the microphone.) The app info screen has also been revamped, giving you quick access to open the app, uninstall the app, or force stop the app.

The updated permissions dialog seen in the fifth screenshot from the left is also used for any permission request, such as storage access in Google Chrome. Lastly, you can see when an app is actively using location permissions by pulling down the status bar and tapping on the top-right hand location icon that appears. If you do, a dialog pops up telling you which apps are accessing your device’s location. If no apps are accessing location, then you won’t see a location icon in the status bar.

Samsung DeX-like Desktop Mode?

I don’t have a lot to show here, but I found a very interesting new Developer Option called “force desktop mode.” Its description reads “force experimental desktop mode on secondary displays.” This sounds to me like it’s going to be a Samsung DeX or EMUI Easy Projection-type feature, but I wasn’t able to actually test it since nothing happened when I plugged in my USB Type-C to HDMI adapter. Also, for some reason, I was unable to connect to Wi-Fi so I couldn’t test whether this experimental desktop mode works via the cast option.

Developer Options

There’s a ton of new Developer Options in Android Q. As I mentioned before, there’s a new “force desktop mode” option that I couldn’t get working. Support for enabling freeform windows seems to be back, and once the option is enabled you’ll be able to launch freeform multi-windows by long-pressing on an app icon in the recent apps overview. Freeform multi-windows are possible to get working on Android Pie, but that Android version changed the way it’s accessed.

I found a new “Game Update Package Preferences” which asks you to select a graphics driver. I don’t have enough information about what this does yet, but once I do I’ll post an update. There are a lot of new feature flags, only some of which actually work. One of them enables a shortcut to a built-in screen recorder provided by the SystemUI. This screen recorder can be accessed by long-pressing on the screenshot button in the power menu, but the UI is currently unfinished. (The power menu also has a new shortcut to launch the emergency dialer.) Another feature flag allows for the current wallpaper to be shown on the Always on Display. This is a feature on the Google Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL, but it’s now being made available in AOSP for any device with an Always on Display feature to take advantage of.

Speaking of the Always on Display, the setting has been moved to Display –> Lock screen display. The battery icon in the Always on Display also seems to have shifted from the center of the screen to the top-right.

Accessibility

Two new settings have been added to the Accessibility page: Time to take action and Time to read. The time to take action lets you choose “how long to show messages that ask you to take action, but are only visible temporarily.” On the other hand, the time to read feature lets you choose “how much time you want to read and take action on messages that automatically go away.” The latter seems related to the heads-up notifications introduced with Android 5.0 Lollipop while the former may refer to snackbars. The images shown in the feature description are clearly just placeholders.

Miscellaneous Findings in Android Q

Lastly, here are a few more things we found in this early leaked build:


That’s all I’ve found from my brief time using this Android Q build on the Google Pixel 3 XL. This build didn’t have any Google Pixel customizations nor did it have any pre-installed Google apps, so there’s bound to be a lot more for me to discover. I’ll be digging through the SystemUI and framework to learn more about the new Android Q platform and will follow-up with another article on my findings. Stay tuned.

Update 1: Added more details on the dark theme with respect to notifications and third-party apps. Added a bit about the updated permissions dialog. Also added information on the app installation screen.

Update 2: Added details on the location icon being shown in the status bar when your location is being used.

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