Get started with Android 13 beta. Just a small adjustment for now

The public Android 13 beta is here, and it’s our first chance to see what’s likely to come in Google’s OS update. We’ve learned a few things about what the company will focus on improving in the next release, and a lot of it sounds like backend changes that won’t have a huge impact on day-to-day use. Android 13 should bring finer privacy controls and more themed app icons. Still, there may be some things the company hasn’t shared yet — don’t forget Google I/O in two weeks time.

Most of the updates in Android 13 Beta 1 are barely noticeable, and many of them are developer-focused. Things like more access to media files, better error reporting, and “expected audio routing” aren’t things that have an immediate impact on how you use your phone. These are all tweaks that app makers have to implement before you can see the difference, like features like upcoming themed app icons. However, there are several new features that might interest you.

Before I go any further, I must warn you that, as usual, installing any beta software runs the risk of losing data. You’ll be opting into a potentially unstable platform, which means your app may crash or stop working. If you’re pretty sure you want to try the beta and know exactly what you’re getting into, you can sign up for a supported Pixel phone on Google’s website and a notification will appear on the device. I signed up with a Pixel 4a and downloaded the 1.79GB update without any issues.

After installing the beta, the first thing I noticed was a refreshed media playback box. Compared to my Pixel 6 Pro (running Android 12), the Android 13 box is taller and uses album art as a background. In addition to the song title and artist, the new panel no longer just shows pause, previous, and next buttons, but an animated progress bar that keeps squirming as the music progresses. At least on Spotify’s cards, I also get options to shuffle and like tracks.

The new layout of this box is nice. Not only does it show more information in a more engaging way, but it also lets you drag a slider to fast-forward parts of a podcast episode without having to unlock your phone or launch an app. Having said that, I do miss the big button for skipping tracks. Also, it’s a little glitchy saying my music is playing on the Pixel 4a instead of my Nest Audio speakers, when it’s actually streaming.

Android Police also discovered a new QR code scanning shortcut in the quick settings panel that launches a dedicated viewfinder. In my brief test, this was not only super fast, as Android Police pointed out, but also easier to use. You don’t have to open the camera, point it at a code, and try to hit the tiny Chrome bar that pops up, you just point this new scanner in the direction of the symbol and it grabs instantly. A box pops up at the bottom with an “Open” button, which is larger and easier to tap, and the viewfinder closes, instead showing a picture of the code you just took. That means you no longer have to hold your phone steady to keep the code in view while using your other hand to click on tiny, tiny links.

It’s definitely a more convenient way to scan QR codes, which have become more common during the pandemic, and many businesses use them to provide contactless menus. But I will say that in very rare cases, if your target is one of several codes, this version of the scanner is trickier. Because it immediately snaps a photo when it sees the first QR code, you have to do some manipulations with it to get the one you really want.

Some of the other changes include a new Material You theme and improvements to app suggestions for the big-screen-friendly L version. You can now choose from a palette of about 12 colors automatically generated by your wallpaper to apply to the entire system.

While Android Police reports that it is now possible to access the lockscreen shortcuts to Android’s smart home device control page without unlocking the device, that’s not true to me. When I tried to turn on the living room lights with my Pixel 4a, I was still asked for a passcode. But it might be a bug, it might work for other beta users.

All in all, there are surprisingly many user-facing changes in Android 13 Beta 1, and it took me some time to dig out what we might have missed. However, I still wouldn’t recommend installing it for all but the most ardent early adopters — unless you scan dozens of QR codes every day. Right now, it’s too early to know what Android 13 will look like, but at least it’s good to see Google working on some thoughtful new features.