Image: Google

I remember when I first migrated away from an iPhone to an HTC Hero, which ran Android 2.1. I was so excited because I knew Android was going to be the mobile operating system that was almost as if it were designed specifically for me.

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That experience was far from good. In fact, both Android 2 and the HTC Hero were a sad and frustrating replacement for what I’d been using. The platform was slow (which, in hindsight, was mostly due to the underpowered hardware), buggy (no fault of the hardware there), and kind of ugly. But to think Google would come out of the gate with an OS as polished as one that had already had the benefit of existence for some time is so beyond the realm of the possible that it’s laughable.

It also shines a light on just how special this latest release of Android is. Up until version 11, every new release seemed like an extension or evolution of the previous. Translation? There was very little to get excited about. For years, Android has taken baby steps forward, especially with regards to the UI. And while Android was making fractional improvements over its interface, iOS was taking giant moon gravity steps to create a gorgeous interface that was as much style as substance.

For years, Android had the substance down pat. The platform has become rock solid while retaining that same level of flexibility it’s always had. Users could make Android look and feel exactly how they want. Even so, the UI had grown stale, boring even. Over the past handful of iterations, the only time I ever really got excited about the Android UI was when testing a third-party launcher and some developer/designer team had created something special. But, in the end, I always returned to the default launcher, because it was simple, efficient and performed better than most of the competition.

But Android 12 changes all of that. With Material You, Google has finally dragged the platform into the modern era with iOS … even besting Apple’s UI in some respects.

It’s all about the beta

Until yesterday, I was running the beta of Android 12 on my secondary Pixel 4, while my Pixel 5 continued with Android 11. But more and more I wanted to switch my SIM card to the 4 and use it as my daily driver. Yesterday, however, I opted to join my Pixel 5 to the Android 12 beta program, and I’m already glad I did.

Even in beta, Android 12 is that much of a game-changer. And it’s not just about how beautifully Material You alters your system theme based on your wallpaper. It’s about every little touch the developers have put into the UI. It’s the fluid animations that are all over the place (sometimes just subtle enough to make you have to pay close attention to catch them).

But there’s something else about Android 12, something you probably haven’t read about in all of the coverage, something that it’s taken me a few weeks to put my finger on and will sound like I’ve lost what’s left of my mind.

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When using Android 12, there’s a relaxing quality about it. I noticed this when switching back and forth between Android 11 and 12. When I would use Android 12, I felt a certain calmness wash over me. When I’d switch back to Android 11, that calmness would be replaced by a feeling of anxiousness. I’m pretty sure it has to do with Material You. Everything is just so smooth. The more you use Android 12, the more at ease you feel.

I know, I know … it sounds like the ravings of a particularly mad hatter, but trust me on this. Once you experience Android 12, you’ll feel it as well. After a while, you’ll feel a sense of ease when you unlock Android. And the more you use it, the more you’ll find that feeling remains.

Of course, it’s not all about that intangible feeling of ease you might experience when using Android 12. It’s also about performance and battery life. When I first installed Android 12 on my Pixel 4, one of the first things I noticed was how much it improved the battery life for the device. It was well documented that the Pixel 4 carried with it less-than-acceptable battery life. With Android 12 the improvement is not just noticeable, it’s impressive. That device has gone from getting half a day to a full day of usage from a single charge. Although it’s too early with the Pixel 5 (remember, I only installed the beta yesterday), I have noticed an increase in performance. Given that was the Achilles’ Heel of the Pixel 5 (a lesser-powered CPU), Android 12 has given it a much-needed bump in speed. That’s even more impressive, given how the platform has upped the ante with the animations.

To put it mildly, Android 12 has done a remarkable job to lift the OS out of the doldrums of too many incremental steps forward. With this giant leap ahead, Android has become something special again.

Now, I can’t wait to get my hands on a Pixel 6.

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