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Android 12 release date, features, which phones will get it and how to download the beta

Android 12
An example of how Android 12 looks on smartphones (Image credit: Google)

At Google IO 2021 the tech giant announced Android 12, and it's touting a refreshed UI and much more. You won't be able to actually download the finished Android 12 update straight away, though, as the final release will most likely arrive towards the end of the year. 

Some users can download Android 12 beta 2 now, including anyone who owns a Pixel 3 or newer, plus owners of the Xiaomi Mi 11, OnePlus 9 and more. You'll find a full list below, while for instructions head to our how to get the Android 12 beta on your phone guide.

As for the finished version, expect the Google Pixel 6 to come with Android 12 on it in September or October.

That will probably be the first device to ship with the update, and while Android 12 will probably come to other Pixel phones quickly, if you've got another Android phone you'll likely have to wait a bit longer, as each company has to tailor Android 12 to their phone before it runs.

Android 12 is the 2021 update for Google's Android operating system, building on 2020's Android 11, which some phones still don't have. But this is more than just an iterative update - Google describes it as the biggest design change in Android's history.

We've listed all the official Android 12 features that have been showcased at Google IO, and we'll update this article as soon as we learn more – and continue updating it as Android 12 rolls out to phones and the subsequent beta releases.

Cut to the chase

  • What is it? The next big Android update
  • When is it out? Probably September
  • What's the biggest feature? Refreshed, unified UI
  • How much will it cost? It's free!

Android 12 release date

Android 12 was announced at Google IO 2021, and is out in beta for select devices now, including phones from Oppo, Nokia, OnePlus, Xiaomi, ZTE, Asus, TCL and iQOO - as well of course as plenty of Pixels. You can find the full list in the section below.

The final finished version of Android 12 will likely land in September or October based on past releases of the OS, though most likely only on a small number of handsets to begin with, such as the Google Pixel 5 and Google Pixel 4a, along with the upcoming Google Pixel 6, assuming such a phone launches.

It will be up to device manufacturers to bring Android 12 to your phone, and that often takes months to do, so don’t be surprised if your specific handset doesn’t get Android 12 until 2022.

Android 12 compatibility

Android 12 will likely roll out to the majority of phones that came out in the last year or two, though some may be waiting a long time for it. It's guaranteed to hit every modern Pixel handset though, probably from the Pixel 3 onwards, given that those models support the beta.

Speaking of the beta, we can look at the list of compatible phones for that to get some clues as to which might be first in line for the finished Android 12. They are as follows:

We expect all of these would get the final Android 12 release, and likely quite quickly (with the Pixel phones getting it on day one). Major recent handsets like the Samsung Galaxy S21 range are sure to as well though, and even most lower end and less popular phones probably will, if they're recent.

In terms of the beta though it's worth noting that all of the phones listed above other than the Pixel phones are running a developer preview, which is really only intended for developers, and is likely to be a lot less stable than the public beta running on Pixel phones, so we’d think twice about downloading it. Even in the public beta though you can expect bugs.

Android 12

(Image credit: Google)

Android 12: Refreshed UI

Google has announced a new Material Design language for Android 12, called Material You, which is a rethink of the whole UI across the operating system.

The current beta brings more rounded buttons, more varied colors, smoother motion and animations, and much more.

The company calls it color extraction, where you can pick a wallpaper and the system will automatically apply the dominant, complimentary and best looking colors from it to the rest of the UI, including the notification shade, the lock screen, and volume controls.

So everything is much more unified this time, something which Google was keen to highlight. Before, the color scheme and even the fonts would look mismatched, but here, everything has been redesigned to look as unified as possible in Android 12.

This customizable theme is also coming to Google's web apps by the end of the year.

Widgets see a redesign too, looking much more rounded this time. Due to iOS 14 showcasing widgets last year, it only made sense for Android 12 to see a redesign in this area too, where its appearance will match the color extraction you've picked.

The Quick Settings panel has also had an overhaul, with Google Pay and smart home controls added to it.

Android 12: privacy and security

Google have made it a point this year of making sure that privacy is at the center of Android 12. The company repeated the point of privacy being at the forefront this year, and that includes Android 12.

The Android Private Compute Core is the engine behind Android 12's privacy features, making sure that the apps and the phone are following the privacy settings enabled by you.

To start with, the new privacy dashboard gives you an overall view of apps using the phone's location, camera, contacts, and much more.

However, a nice touch here is a simple overview in the form of a pie chart, of what has been accessed by the apps over the last 24 hours. 

The notification center also has a quick access to disable any features of the phone that an app is using. For example, if Facebook is using the microphone while you're using another app, this part of notification center will show you explicitly that Facebook is using the microphone. Pressing this will disable the use of it to Facebook, and other apps if you wish.

Adding to this, Android 12 will also ask you for permission from an app to use a feature of the phone. You can select to allow it while running the app, only once, or not at all.

You can also opt to only provide an approximate location to some apps, such as weather apps which don't need to know exactly where you are.

And with features like Live Caption, Now Playing and Smart Reply, all of the audio and language processing happens on your device, so the data isn't sent elsewhere.

There's also locked folders, available across apps, which allow you to lock a specific folder with a fingerprint.

And there's the ability to unlock a Chromebook using your phone. Similar to the Apple Watch unlock feature for an Apple Mac, it will be a matter of having your Android 12 smartphone near to a Chromebook, and it will bring you to the home screen.

Finally, when using an app such as the camera, there will be a subtle UI hint that certain features of the camera are being used, similar to how it shows in Apple's iOS 14.

Android 12 other features

Android 12

(Image credit: Google)

When held down, the power button will now bring up Google Assistant, a much easier method of summoning the service for a query when needed.

A new built-in remote is also now standard in Android 12, so if you have a TV that runs on Android, or just a Chromecast, you can use your phone to browse through your favorite shows.

Alongside this, a new feature called Car Key enables you to unlock your compatible smart car with your phone. This will allow you to unlock, lock and even start the engine from your smartphone.

It uses UWB (ultra-wideband) technology, meaning that you can walk up to your car and it'll unlock, without you even having to take your phone out. 

You'll also be able to share digital access to your vehicle with others – allowing you to lend your car to a friend without giving them a physical key and allowing them access for a period of time.

In a slight nod to its competitor, Google is also touting better support for third-party app stores.

Google's password manager is also being redeveloped, with a cross-platform integration across your Google apps and devices.

Android 12

(Image credit: Google)

And photo modes will support a new format – AVIF, which promises similar compression to JPEG but at better quality, as seen in the examples the Android team gave (above) in an online developer session. Note the difference in cloud detail.

Android 12 also promises to make your device faster and more responsive. Google claims that it reduces the CPU time needed for core system services by up to 22% and reduces the use of big cores by the system server by up to 15%, all of which should also mean improved battery life.

Android 12 beta screenshots

(Image credit: Google)

Google has also confirmed that it will be prepping Android 12 to be more accommodating of third party app stores and installers like the Amazon App Store, APKUpdater and Samsung Galaxy Apps, to name a few.

Currently, third party app stores require direct user permissions to manage and update apps on their platform, but it looks like this change will allow third party stores to directly manage and update apps.

The process might not necessarily be a cakewalk for third party app store developers, however. They will first need to opt in to allow the feature to be used, and a specific “update packages without user action” permission will also need to be held by the store. As such, some vetting may take place on Google's behalf first.