What you need to know about Google’s Pixel software, and what’s in Android 7.1 Nougat

Julian Chokkattu
Digital Trends

It’s been a little over a month since Android 7.0 Nougat dropped, but there’s a new update coming soon. Android 7.1 will debut in Google’s upcoming Pixel smartphones, and it’s centered around Google Assistant, an artificially intelligent bot that acts like a personalized, enhanced version of Google Now.

Related: Hands on: Google Pixel and Pixel XL

Google announced several new products at its October 4 event in San Francisco, including the Pixel, Pixel XL, Daydream View, Chromecast Ultra, and more. Google Assistant, which debuted on the messaging app Allo in September, will soon be in two other surfaces: the Pixel smartphones and the search giant’s $130 Amazon Echo-competitor, Google Home. It’s safe to say it’s a core part of the company’s future.

But Assistant is not coming to other Android devices in the 7.1 update, at least not in the near future. In fact, Pixel smartphones have their own unique Android experience, much like how a Samsung phone has its own features compared to an LG phone.

Still, there’s a decent amount to be excited about in 7.1. Here’s everything you need to know.

When is 7.1 Nougat launching?

If you want the latest and greatest Google and Android have to offer, you can pre-order a Pixel or Pixel XL now from Google’s website and Verizon. They’ll ship with the Pixel-exclusive features and Android 7.1 towards the end of the month.

Android 7.1 Nougat launched in developer preview as part of Android Beta Program on October 20. “We’re continuing the model we used in N and earlier releases,” Google announced in a blog post. “We’re delivering the initial Developer Preview at beta quality for the Nexus lineup of devices.”

Devices enrolled in the beta will receive the Android N developer preview “automatically.” Alternatively, it’s available for manual download and installation from the Android developer website.

Unfortunately, the beta is only available for the Nexus 5X, Nexus 6P, and the Pixel C tablet. Google said support will be added for other devices “in November” followed by Android N’s final public release.

The final release will come in December to the Nexus 6, Nexus 5X, Nexus 6P, Nexus 9, Nexus Player, Pixel C, supported Android One devices, and the Pixel and Pixel XL. It’s unclear when carriers and other manufacturers will roll out the update, but don’t expect it to be any time soon. Hardly any Android devices are running Android 7.0 Nougat.

What’s coming in 7.1 Nougat?

It may seem like non-Pixel users are getting the short end of the stick — particularly with the lack of Assistant-integration. Still, there are quite a few new features you’ll be able to access in the upcoming Android version update.

image-keyboard-7002
image-keyboard-7002

Notably, App Shortcuts are back. The feature was briefly introduced during the Android Nougat beta program, but was scrapped. It mimics the 3D Touch features introduced in iOS 9 — press and hold an app icon to quickly jump into specific actions. Pixel Launcher supports the API, and more app developers will be able to for smartphones running Android 7.1. Apps can have up to five shortcuts, according to the Android Developers website.

Image Keyboard support also allows developers to allow people to send content directly from the keyboard, like stickers, emojis, GIFs, and more. It’s unclear if this will be supported in Google Keyboard.

Night mode was initially mentioned as a part of Android 7.1 as well, but it wasn’t mentioned in the Android Developers website — it’s another feature that was dropped during the beta program of Nougat. The feature, officially called Night Light, removes blue tints from your smartphones screen at night to reduce the risks associated with the exposure before bedtime.

Related: Goodbye, Google Cast! App gets rebranded as the more inclusive Google Home

A lead Pixel engineer tweeted that the devices have much improved touch latency — which is also confirmed in the changelog. This means the delay from tapping the screen to receiving a response is likely much smaller than before — a feature iOS and iPhones have particularly excelled at. For the average user, though, it may hardly be noticeable.

Fingerprint gestures are on the way as well. You’ll be able to swipe down your finger on the fingerprint sensor to pull down the notification shade, and swipe up to close it. These gestures will be opt-in.

The very nature of how Android updates and  installed are also different. Updates will install similarly to the process run in Chromebooks — they’re installed in the background automatically on a separate partition. When your device restarts, it swaps partitions so you can use the new updated version.

Daydream VR mode will also be supported in the update, as well as circular app icons, like the ones on the Pixel smartphones.

A new Android on the Pixel

Nougat on Google’s Pixel smartphones looks slightly different in comparison to other Android phones, like Google’s Nexus lineup. For starters, the notification drawer is black and the brightness slider is blue, as opposed to grey and a teal blue slider on Nexus devices. These color changes are meant to accent the Pixel with Google colors, and that includes the white, filled in navigation buttons.

google android nougat o
google android nougat o
google android nougat o
google android nougat o
google android nougat o
google android nougat o

The Settings menu also features a similar black color accent, but you’ll immediately notice something new — you can swipe left to a new tab to access Google’s support team. You can start a phone call, or a live chat to resolve any issues you have with the device. There’s also a screen share option that lets the support representative look at your phone to make things a little easier. These support features are not included in Nougat 7.1.

Pixel Launcher is also tied to the Pixel for now, and it includes a swipe up feature to access the app drawer, a new search and voice search icon, the date and weather on the home page, and a dynamic calendar date icon. The latter changes the date on the Google Calendar icon to match with the actual date. There’s also a wallpaper picker that improves the process of setting your wallpaper, along with adding more options.

Google rebuilt the camera experience for the Pixels from the ground up, and so to entice consumers to try it out, Pixel owners will be able to back up the full resolution of their photographs and videos to Google Photos for free. This was already an option in the Photos app, but it would eat up storage in your Google account.

Tying into the free back up feature, Smart Storage works in the background and automatically removes old backed up photos and videos from your device to clear up space. These are still backed up to the Photos cloud, so you don’t have to worry about losing them.

Related: The battle of the entry-level headsets: Google’s Daydream View vs. Samsung’s Gear VR

Speaking of photos and videos, the electronic image stabilization demoed at the event will be exclusive to the Pixel as well. This is a new video stabilizing method Google built into the Pixel’s cameras, and it offers smoother video playback.

According to a changelog posted by Android Police, there are several “Pro” features from the Pixel camera that aren’t included in 7.1 as well — white balance presets, exposure compensation, Automatic Exposure and Automatic Focus locking, and viewfinder grid modes. Smartburst, which takes multiple photos and selects the best one, and hardware-accelerated HDR+ image processing are also only available on the Pixel.

Google Pixel phone
Google Pixel phone

Because the Pixel smartphones are “made by Google,” they allow for tighter hardware and software integration — similar to how well iOS is integrated with the iPhone’s internals. An Android Sensor Hub processor in Google’s Pixels feature “tightly integrated sensors,” including the accelerometer, gyroscope, cell, GPS, Wi-Fi connectivity, and more.

Packaged in the box is a Quick Switch adapter, which makes transferring data from an iPhone to the Pixel easy and fast. The set up process for the Pixel also features a new look.

But the biggest Pixel feature that’s not coming to Android 7.1 is Google Assistant. It’s tightly integrated with Pixel — just press the home button to activate the AI bot. You can ask it to help you with almost everything, from ordering an Uber to playing a song on YouTube, and more. A Google Pixel lead engineer tells Digital Trends that Google is “exploring” ways to bring Assistant to other Android devices, but it may take a while or may never even see the light of day.

“Our goal is to make the Google Assistant widely available to users, and we’ll continue to launch new surfaces over the course of the next year,” a Google spokesperson tells TechCrunch.

Article originally published in October. Updated on 10-20-2016 by Kyle Wiggers: Added developer preview information from Google.