Why Android 11 is Google's best mobile OS ever

Jack Wallen lists key features in Android 11 that show Google added serious polish to this latest mobile OS release.

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Image: César Salza/CNET en Español

Recently events occurred, almost simultaneously, that caused me to use the beta version of Android 11 as my daily driver. I decided to join the Android 11 beta program with my previous phone, a Google Pixel 3; it was still a good phone, and I needed to test some of the new features for the upcoming platform. The same day I did that, I was coming in from the record store with a large package between my arm and body. I grabbed the package to place it on my desk, when the corner of the paper bag caught my Google Pixel 4, sending it to the floor.

As luck would have it, the phone screen crash landed on a corner of the wooden mat I have on my desk. The display shattered in a bajillion tiny fragments, rendering the phone practically unusable. So, I contacted Google, requested a repair RMA, and shipped the Pixel 4 off to get the screen replaced. 

That left me with my Pixel 3. Instead of doing a factory reset, I opted to leave the beta version of Android 11, which would give me plenty of time to experience what that iteration of the platform had to offer. I'm here to tell you--I was impressed.

Well, Android 11 has finally been released to the public, and my opinion hasn't changed: Google's latest release could easily be the best yet. Also, check out my list of Android 11's best features and Android 11's security improvements.

SEE: Hiring kit: Android developer (TechRepublic Premium)

Android 11: It's all about the polish

If I'm being completely honest, Android 10 has been my absolute favorite release of the platform to date. It does nearly everything right. From battery life, to ease of navigation, to simplicity of sharing and everything in between.

After using Android 10 for quite some time, I was hard-pressed to think of anything that could have improved the experience; however, after using Android 11, the Google developers have shown their skills at evolving the platform.

For instance, take the notification shade--instead of the notification shade being one constant list of alerts, everything is broken down into categories (Figure A). There are:

  • Conversations for things like Facebook Messenger and SMS messages

  • Alerting Notifications for apps and events

  • Silent Notifications for things like Google News

Figure A

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The new Android 11 notification categories.

What's really nice about this new system is that it allows you to clear a single category instead of clearing either single notifications or clearing all. If you get a lot of app notifications and don't want to have to clear them individually, tap the X associated with the Alerting Notifications category. 

Android 11: Screenshots and power

The developers have stripped out the screenshot tool from the power button menu. You can no longer take a screenshot by holding down the power button; instead, you must access the open app list by swiping up from the home button. Once you reveal your open apps, you'll see the Screenshot button at the bottom of the display (Figure B).

Figure B

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The new Screenshot feature for Android 11 is pretty slick.

The caveat to the new Screenshot feature is that it prevents you from taking screenshots of certain elements such as the Screenshot feature itself or the notification shade.

Android 11: App suggestions 

I much prefer a clean home screen. I'm okay with a single row of app launcher folders at the bottom of my display but not much more. But if you don't mind a few more launchers at the ready, Android 11 brings app suggestions to the home screen. This feature keeps an updated row of your most used apps available for quick launch. 

This feature can be enabled/disabled by long-pressing the home screen and tapping Home Settings. In the resulting window, tap Suggestions and then tap the On/Off slider to either enable or disable Suggestions On Home Screen (Figure C).

Figure C

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Enable or disable the app suggestions feature for the home screen.

Once you enable the feature, it'll take some time for the suggested apps to show up, as the AI has to learn what you use the most. 

I disabled the feature almost immediately. Why? The same app suggestions appear at the top of the app drawer, so it seems redundant.

Android 11: Bubbles

To anyone who has followed Android over the years, the Bubbles feature, which mimics the Facebook Messenger Chat Heads feature, has been teased for some time. It's here, and it's pretty sweet.

Instead of having every possible message arrive as a bubble, Android 11 allows you to not only enable Bubbles on a per-app basis, some apps (such as Messages and Gmail) allow you to enable Bubbles on a per-conversation basis.

For example, take the default Android SMS client. With this app you can define if all conversations, no conversations, or selected conversations can be placed in a Bubble (Figure D).

Figure D

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Defining what can Bubble in Android 11.

Android 11's improved display

Android 11 has an improved display for devices that support variable refresh rates. This clearly applies to the Google Pixel 4, but the Pixel 3 doesn't include a variable refresh rate; however, after upgrading to the Android 11 beta, I noticed an improved display on the Pixel 3. In fact, the improved display on the Pixel 3 now rivals that of my Pixel 4. Now that I have the official release of Android 11 installed on my Pixel 4, I cannot say I've noticed an improvement in the display. That would have been a big ask, considering how amazing the Pixel 4 display was with Android 10.

I cannot find any reference to an Android 11 feature that has improved the display for devices that do not support variable refresh rates, but my eyes do not deceive me--the display is considerably improved from Android 10.

Check out Android 11

These are just some of the obvious improvements Android 11 has made over Android 10--improvements that will immediately impact users. Now that Android 11 is out, you can find out for yourself if you think the latest is truly the greatest.

Editor's note: This article was updated to reflect the release of Android 11.

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By Jack Wallen

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic, The New Stack, and Linux New Media. He's covered a variety of topics for over twenty years and is an avid promoter of open source. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen....