Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends
It’s been a little over two months since Android 7.0 Nougat dropped, but a new update’s landed already: Android 7.1.1. It’s rolling out to Google’s Pixel and Nexus smartphones, in tow with improved performance, new emojis, and plenty of other sweet surprises.
The update follows Google’s October 4 event in San Francisco, at which the search giant announced a bevy of new devices including the Pixel, Pixel XL, Daydream View, Chromecast Ultra, and more. The Google Assistant, which debuted on the messaging app Allo in September, has since migrated to the search giant’s other products, namely the Pixel smartphones and the $130 Amazon Echo-competitor, Google Home.
But Assistant is not coming to other Android devices in the 7.1.1 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 is a decent amount to be excited about in 7.1.1 Here’s everything you need to know.
When is 7.1.1 Nougat launching?
If you want the latest and greatest Google and Android have to offer, you’ve got two options. One is ordering a Pixel or Pixel XL from Google’s website or Verizon. The other involves buying a supported Nexus device: the Nexus 6, Nexus 5X, Nexus 6P, and Nexus 9. All receive the update to Android 7.1.1 beginning December 5.
Android Nougat’s also rolling out to the Nexus Player, the set-top reference hardware for Google’s Android TV platform.
Devices eligible for the Android 7.1.1 update will receive an over-the-air update “automatically,” Google said.
Android 7.1.1 Nougat initially launched in developer preview as part of the Android Beta Program. “We’re continuing the model we used in N and earlier releases,” Google said in a blog post announcing the release. “We’re delivering the initial Developer Preview at beta quality for the Nexus lineup of devices.” The program will continue, but Google has yet to announce details of the next Android Nougat release.
Phones and tablets enrolled in the Android Beta Program will receive the final version Android 7.1.1 alongside non-Beta users.
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 in the Android 7.1.1 update.
Notably, App Shortcuts are back. The feature, briefly introduced during the Android Nougat beta program, was briefly scrapped, but it’s returned in fully functional form. App Shortcuts mimic the 3D Touch features introduced in iOS 9 — press and hold an app icon and you’ll get a list of specific actions. The Pixel Launcher, the default home screen on Pixel smartphones, supports the feature, and third-party app developers will be able tap in on smartphones running Android 7.1.1. Apps can have up to five shortcuts, according to the Android Developers website.
In other news, a restart setting has joined Android’s power menu. Now, when you press and hold the power button on the Nexus 5X or Nexus 6P, you will have the option of power cycling the phone instead of switching it off.
A new Moves menu in Android’s Settings menu includes a number of actions that can be initiated by gesture. You can launch the camera by pressing the power button twice, switch in and out of selfie mode by double-twisting your wrist when you are in the app, and lift your phone to quickly check your notifications.
Image Keyboard, another new feature, lets you choose and send content like stickers, emojis, GIFs, and pictures from your messaging app of choice. It’s supported within Google’s Allo, Hangouts, and Messenger, apps for now, with third-party support “on the way.”
Android 7.1.1 includes a brand-new camera app. Among the features are white balance presets, exposure compensation, Automatic Exposure and Automatic Focus locking, and viewfinder grid modes. Another, Smart Burst, takes multiple photos and selects the best one.
Smart Storage automatically removes old backed-up photos and videos from your device to clear up space. They’re backed up to Photos, Google’s picture-centric cloud storage service.
Among the emoji, speaking of, are 100 additions approved by theUnicode Emoji Subcommittee, the industry consortium that oversees the approval of new keyboard characters.
“Earlier this year, we announced a proposal to promote gender equality by adding new emoji that reflect the pivotal roles women play in the world, and represent a wider range of professions for both women and men,” Google wrote in a blog post. “We included gender counterparts for emoji that previously only had male or female representation.”
The new emoji collection comprises 11 new professions available in both genders and various skin tones and ethnicities, and new female and male versions of 33 existing emoji.
A lead Pixel engineer tweeted that the devices have improved touch latency — which is also confirmed in the changelog. In plain English, that means the time it takes for your smartphone screen to respond to your finger should be much less. That’ll have the effect of improving responsiveness.
The method by which Android updates are installed is new, too. Phones will upgrade much like Chromebooks: updates will install in the background automatically, on a separate partition. When the device restarts, it’ll swaps partitions with the updated version — effectively performing the upgrade right under your nose.
Also in tow with Android 7.1.1 is Daydream VR, Google’s virtual reality platform. Circular app icons like the ones on the Pixel smartphones make an appearance, too.
A new Android on the Pixel
Perhaps biggest Pixel feature that is not coming to Android 7.1.1 is Google Assistant. It is 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 told TechCrunch.
Android 7.1.1 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 — including the white, filled-in navigation buttons.
The Settings menu also features a similar black color accent, but you will 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 is also a screen-share option that lets the support representative look at your phone to make things a little easier.
The Pixel Launcher is also tied to the Pixel for now, and includes a swipe 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.
Google rebuilt the camera experience for the Pixels from the ground up. To entice consumers to try it out, the search giant’s providing a free benefit to owners: full-resolution photo and video backup to the Photos cloud. This was already an option in the Photos app, but would eat up storage in your Google account.
Electronic image stabilization, which offers smoother video playback, remains a camera feature exclusive to Pixel smartphones, too.
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.
Part of that integration manifests in a night mode. Initially mentioned as a part of Android 7.1 but omitted from the Android Developers website, it is another feature that was dropped during the beta program of Nougat. Officially called Night Light, it removes blue tints from your smartphones screen at night to reduce the risks associated with the exposure before bedtime. Google said that it is tied to graphics hardware, meaning devices without explicit support — including Nexus devices — will not be seeing it anytime soon.
Fingerprint gestures are on the way as well. You will be able to swipe down your finger on the sensor to pull down the notification shade, and swipe up to close it. These gestures will be opt-in.
Article originally published in October 2016. Updated on 12-6-2016 by Kyle Wiggers: Updated to reflect the official release of Android 7.1.1 Nougat.