The world’s most popular mobile operating system has a new version upgrade—Android 14—which promises enhancements to privacy, security, and performance. Google, the company that manages the OS, has also made it a point to improve the experience for larger screens, like tablets and folding smartphones. Android 14 is rolling out today to supported devices. Here, we break down the features that have caught our eye.
If you’re wondering, Google officially dropped the alphabetical Android dessert names with Android 10, but the versions are still codenamed internally with the same system. Last year’s Android 13 was Tiramisu, so this year’s U letter dessert is called Upside Down Cake. Let’s dig in.
Updated October 2023: We added news of the Android 14 release and some new features, including more customization and better hearing aid support.
How to Download and Install Android 14
If you have a Google Pixel phone (Pixel 4A 5G and newer) you can download Android 14 now. Simply go to Settings > System > System update and tap Check for update.
Google’s Pixel phones are always the first to get the new Android version. If you have a device from another manufacturer like Samsung, Asus, HMD (Nokia phones), iQOO, Lenovo, Motorola, Nothing, OnePlus, Oppo, Realme, Sony, Tecno, Vivo, or Xiaomi, you can expect to get the update later this year. If you can’t wait, it’s worth noting that some of these devices are eligible for the Android 14 beta program (Google has a list of manufacturers here). We don’t recommend installing the Android 14 beta on your main phone, because bugs and issues are inevitable. Make sure to back up your Android phone first or you may lose something precious.
Updates will likely pop up automatically, but you can always check whether you have the latest version by going to Settings > System > System update and tapping Check for update. Want to get off the beta and go back to Android 13? Go to Google’s Android Beta page, scroll down to find your device, and hit Opt out. This will wipe all locally saved data, so make sure you back up your device. You’ll get an update prompt so you can go back to the older version.
If you don’t have a Pixel or a device in the beta program, keep an eye on your manufacturer’s website, forums, or social media to learn when you can expect to see Android 14.
Top Android 14 Features
We are highlighting our favorite features and improvements in Android 14, and from what we’ve seen, it’s largely looking like a small upgrade over its predecessor. You can learn more directly at Google’s developer site.
You have long been able to customize your home screen, but with Android 14, you get more tools to customize your lock screen. There’s a lock screen picker, lock screen templates, a monochromatic theme, and support for Ultra HDR images. You can also create parallax effect wallpapers using your own photos, cartoon-style wallpapers with your favorite emoji, and even generative AI wallpapers based on text prompts.
Improved Battery Life
There is no headline feature here, but Google has put some serious effort into improving Android’s efficiency to reduce power drain. Changes to how the operating system handles background tasks, downloads, and uploads, alongside a few other tweaks, should enable Android owners to squeeze a little more life from their phone batteries. It also looks as though the option to check “screen time since last full charge” in the battery settings menu (removed in Android 12) is back.
Larger Fonts and Smarter Scaling
Switching to a larger font in Android 13 was limited to 130 percent on Google’s Pixel phones, but Android 14 allows you to scale fonts up to 200 percent. To prevent wonky layouts, the system uses nonlinear scaling, which means any words that are already scaled up (such as headings) won’t grow larger, making the text more readable for folks with vision impairment.
Android 14 enables you to turn on camera flashes and screen flashes for incoming notifications. This has been available on other Android smartphones (like Samsung devices) and iPhones for years, but it hasn’t been baked into the operating system itself. You can turn on one or the other, or both, and choose the color your display will flash. Primarily designed to help people with hearing loss, it can come in handy for anyone who doesn’t want their phone to make a noise or buzz with every incoming notification.
Better Hearing Aid Support
More good news for folks with hearing loss, as Android 14 will stop lumping hearing aids in with other Bluetooth devices. There is a new dedicated page for hearing devices, and you can choose which sounds should go to your hearing aids and what should come through the device’s speakers. And to help prevent hearing damage, Android 14 will warn you when you have been listening to loud music for too long with a pop-up notification.
Better Support for Large Screens
The first thing Google announced in the initial developer preview was help for developers trying to build apps that adapt gracefully to different screen sizes. With more tools and design advice available for developers, we can expect apps that work well across smartphones, folding phones, and tablets. This would mirror what Apple has done to make its app ecosystem transition seamlessly from iPhone to iPad to MacBook.
Restricting Photo and Video Access
If you are uncomfortable with the all-or-nothing nature of granting an app access to your photos and videos, you will be pleased to learn that Android 14 adds an option to select the specific photos and videos it is allowed to access. Apple introduced a similar feature in iOS 14.
Since malware tends to target older versions of Android to avoid security enhancements in newer versions, Android 14 won’t let you install older apps from Android 5.1 and earlier. There are a few other behind-the-scenes tweaks to improve security, but perhaps most notable is improved support for authentication with passkeys enabling biometric login instead of using passwords for more apps.
There’s another security and convenience enhancement in Android 14 for the humble PIN. You can now turn off the animations that appear when you enter your PIN to make it harder for other folks to spy your digits. If your PIN is six characters or longer, you can also get rid of the OK button at the end and just have it unlock when you input the final number.
Keeping track of what apps and games are doing with your data is much tougher than it should be. You might grant apps access to some data based on their policy when you install, but what if they are acquired by another company or change their policy for some other reason and decide to sell your data to advertisers or other third-parties? Android 14 will send you a monthly warning when apps have changed their data sharing habits.
Whether you prefer the temperature in Celsius or Fahrenheit, Monday or Sunday as the start of your week, or specific calendars or numerals, you can set these systemwide in Android 14 and they will persist through backup and restore. There is also improved support for gendered languages like French, and better language customization based on region.
Predictive Back Gestures
Google has added a prominent back arrow that matches your wallpaper or theme for clearer gesture navigation. Coupled with predictive back gestures, which afford you a glimpse of the screen that a swipe-back gesture will take you to, it should be easier for folks to understand how to navigate and where they will land. It is not currently obvious where a back swipe will take you in Android; sometimes it is the home screen, sometimes a previous screen, or an app.
You might use one app for your smart scales, another for running, and yet another to track your sleep. Google’s Health Connect app offers a way to centralize your health and fitness data and share it across different apps and services, though it is still in beta. The app comes preinstalled on all Android 14 devices and will update automatically.
Improved Share Options
The share menu in Android has long been inconsistent across different Android devices and apps. Google is now allowing apps to add custom actions to system share sheets, and more app data is being used to determine the ranking of your potential share targets. This should allow for a more consistent and useful sharing menu that features the apps and contacts you actually want to share with.