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Android 8.1 Oreo is here: What's new, what's changed, and what's awesome

Everything you need to master the latest major release of Android.

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Android 8.1 Oreo features

Pixel Visual Core

Android 8.1 is more of a maintenance release than a feature one, and most users won’t notice many things that are different. But it does bring one big change to the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL: It unlocks Pixel Visual Core, Google’s first custom-designed coprocessor dedicated to image processing.

For whatever reason, the chip was dormant in 8.0, but now developers can tap its benefits. All we know for sure is that Visual Core improves the speed and power efficiency of shooting in HDR+ mode. Most users probably won’t notice an immediate change, but the Pixel Visual Core could lead to bigger changes in the future.

Automatic dark and light theme

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Android 8.1 (left) includes a dark mode. Well, kinda.

When Android Oreo launched, one of the things it was missing was a dark theme, a feature that has been teased in developer previews for years. However, while there isn’t a switch to turn the interface dark, Pixel 2 users discovered that they could “trick” Android into displaying a dark background on the app drawer and notification shade by picking a dark wallpaper. In Android 8.1, all users can now enjoy the pseudo dark theme.

New cheeseburger emoji

After a days-long kerfuffle, Google has admitted to the world that its cheeseburger emoji is wrong. In previous versions of Android, the cheese rested on the bottom bun in an affront to hamburger lovers everywhere. In Android 8.1, order has been restored, and the emoji has been redesigned to put the cheese on top of the burger.

Ambient display

Google’s ambient display in Android 8.0 introduced a minimal look that might be too minimal for some users. The new ambient display in 8.1 now includes the date above any prior notification icons, and an alarm, if one is set, to match the one that shipped with the Pixel 2.

Redesigned power menu

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The power menu in Android 8.1 (right) is much less obtrusive than it was in Android 8.0.

When you press the power button to shut down or restart your device in Android 8.1, the options will no longer take over your entire screen. Instead, a small window will appear on the right side of the screen. It’s a minor change, but it speaks to how light and unobtrusive Android is getting.

Android Go

Android Go is a stripped-drown version of the full Android release designed specifically for devices with 512MB to 1GB of memory. It’s meant to boost the speed and reliability of entry-level devices, as well as provide security and reliability that’s often missing in low-end phones.

In addition to a leaner and faster OS, Google has also built a set of optimized apps that are smaller than their full Android counterparts. Users will still be able to download full versions of any apps available in the Play Store, but pre-loaded Google apps—including the Google app, Google Assistant, YouTube, Google Maps, Gmail, Gboard, Google Play, Chrome, and the new Files app—will be optimized to run faster with less memory. Google says developers are building “Go” versions of many popular third-party apps, too.

While Android Go is built into Android 8.1, it will take several months before the first devices to use the new OS arrive. 

See the Android Developers Blog for more information about the latest changes to Oreo. 

Android 8 Oreo tips

Get notification dots to appear on your Nexus 5X or 6p

If you own a Nexus 6P or 5X, you probably aren’t seeing notification dots on your phone. That’s because the feature requires the Pixel Launcher. But don’t worry, it’s an easy fix. Head over to APKMirror and download the Google-signed Pixel Launcher APK for Android 8. Install it on your phone and head over to Settings app. Go to Apps & notifications, tap Default apps, then Home app, and select Pixel Launcher as your default. As long as you keep it as the default, you’ll get to enjoy notification dots on your apps.

Choose which apps display notification dots

You can opt to disable all app dots in the Notification settings, but if you want more control over which app gets to display the blue dot, each app has its own toggle. To tweak the settings for each app, go to Settings, then Apps & notifications, App info, and finally App notifications. Inside you’ll see an Allow notification dot toggle.

Enable or disable Picture-in-Picture for individual apps

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Android O gives users control over the PiP settings.

Picture-in-picture is a very new Android feature, and as such, it only works with a couple apps, namely YouTube and Chrome. However, Google hasn’t limited the feature to video apps, and you’ll soon be able to have all sorts of apps floating around your home screen. To see which ones can be used, open Apps & notifications in Settings and select Special app access. Inside there will be a Picture-in-picture option. Tap it and you’ll be able to see all the apps available to use Picture-in-picture, each with their own toggle to enable or disable the feature.

Show battery percentage in the status bar

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You can finally put the battery percentage in the status bar in Android O.

Nearly every Android phone includes the option to display the battery percentage next to the icon in the status bar—except it wasn’t a stock feature until now. In Android Oreo, you’ll find a toggle inside the new Battery tab in Settings. Flip it on and you’ll always know exactly how much juice you have left.

Choose your autofill provider

Once password managers start updating their apps with support for Android Oreo’s Autofill, you’re going to have to pick one as your default. Just like with keyboards, you can find the option in the Languages & input tab in Settings. Tap Autofill service and you’ll get a list of any apps that support autofill (including Google’s own service), and you’ll be able to select the one you want.

Adjust Night Light

Night Light was one of our favorite new features in Android Nougat, but Google didn’t allow any control over it. That’s changed in Android 8. Head over to the Display tab in the Settings app and you’ll find a new intensity slider below the Night Light toggle. The higher you turn it up the less blue light is emitted, and the yellower your screen will appear. (Note: Night Light only works on Pixel phones.)

Limit background activities on older apps

Apps that haven’t been upgraded to take advantage of the new Oreo APIs won’t get to take automatic advantage of the new limit on background activities, but there is a way to force it. Head over to the Settings app and tap App info inside the Apps & notifications menu. Find the app you want, select it, and you’ll see a Background activity toggle. Flip it blue and Oreo will limit what it can do when you’re not using it. For other hidden tips and tricks, check out our article here.

Reveal the Android Octopus

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The Easter egg in Android Oreo isn’t a cat... it’s an octopus. Eight legs, get it?

Just like in prior Android releases, Google has hid a fun easter egg in Oreo. Go to Settings and scroll all the way down to the System tap. Tap it, then About phone. Tap on Android version a bunch of times and you’ll see a giant Android O symbol pop up on your screen. Long-press on the center until you feel a vibration (it might take a couple attempts) and an animated octopus will appear on the screen that you can stretch and drag around.

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