[Hands On] Google Phone App is Testing a Bottom Bar Redesign

[Hands On] Google Phone App is Testing a Bottom Bar Redesign

Google isn’t letting Google Phone, a customized version of the Android Open Source Project (AOSP) dialer with a few added features, stagnate. In recent months, it’s been updated with real-time spam protection, caller ID, call blocking, visual voicemail (with transcription support on some carriers), and a local directory feature that shows top search results for phone numbers that aren’t in your contact list. Just last week, Google flipped the switch on a redesigned floating, draggable “bubble” that puts buttons for muting your phone’s microphone, ending an ongoing call, and toggling speakerphone at your fingertips. Now, the search giant is testing a new Google Phone design that relegates the dialer’s in-app shortcuts to a bar at the bottom of the screen.

The new “bottom bar” UI, which hasn’t been enabled yet, swaps the Google Phone app’s current top tabs for bottom tabs with text labels (and a new tab for voicemail). In the latest version of the Google Phone app (v17), the dialer’s sections are divided among three corresponding shortcuts: speed dial, call history, and contacts. A new hidden-by-default option in the app’s overflow menu adds a shortcut to Android’s home screen that, when tapped, reveals the new Google Phone interface.

google phone

The Google App’s “bottom bar” UI retains the current design’s iconography, but adds text labels.

Enabling the bottom bar isn’t too challenging, but it requires root access. Root can’t be achieved on every Android device, but one of the most widely supported utilities is Magisk — it’s a good place to start. You’ll also a root-enabled file explorer such as MiXplorer and a basic text editing app. (Text Editor is a solid option).

By default, the Google Phone is only available for users of the Google Nexus and Pixel phones. That includes the Google Nexus 5XNexus 6P, Pixel, Pixel XL, Pixel 2, and Pixel 2 XL. Alternatively, you can install the latest version of the app via a Magisk Module.

Step 1

Look for this flag in the Google Phone’s shared preferences XML file.

Download the latest version of the Google App from the Play Store or the aforementioned Magisk Module. Open your file browser of choice, and head to /data/data/com.google.android.dialer/shared_prefs. This is the Google App’s shared preferences folder, where you’ll find an XML file containing your in-app settings. (Shared preferences is one way Android apps save configurations, options, and other data across sessions, and lots of apps use it.)

Open the dialer_phenotype_flags.xml with the text editor you downloaded earlier, and search for the nui flag. Set it from false to true and save the XML file.

Step 2

Now that you’ve modified the relevant flag, you’re ready to move onto the next step: Enabling the bottom bar. You’ll have to force close Google Phone app before the change takes effect. Head to the Android Settings menu, tap Apps, and select Phone from the list of installed applications. Hit Force Stop.

Now, launch the Google Phone app and tap the three-button menu to the right of the search bar, next to the microphone icon. Select Create New UI Shortcut, and either (1) press and hold on the icon or (2) tap Add Automatically. Head to your phone’s home screen, press the new shortcut, et violà — you’ll see the experimental Google Phone UI with the bottom bar.

About author

Kyle Wiggers
Kyle Wiggers

Kyle Wiggers is a writer, Web designer, and podcaster with an acute interest in all things tech. When not reviewing gadgets or apps, he enjoys reading the New Yorker, tinkering with computers, and playing the occasional game of Rock Me Archimedes.