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7 Android 11 features you need to use directly on any phone


Get to know Android 11 to unlock all the new features.

John Kim / CNET

Google released Android 1

1 in early September, but depending on who makes your phone, it may take a while before you see the update and enhancements. As said Google has just announced two new phones – the Pixel 4a 5G and that Pixel 5 – and both run Android 11 out of the box. Whether you’re buying a new Pixel phone or waiting for Android 11 to reach your current device, there’s a lot to be happy about.

You will find subtle tweaks in the new operating system that make a big difference in how you use your phone every day. For example, there is a new Bubbles chat feature that makes it easy to keep messages from any app. My personal favorite is the new quick control page for accessing my smart home devices with one swipe, and there’s a new screen capture tool to showcase your favorite game or to help someone troubleshoot a problem.

These are seven of my favorite features for Android 11 and how to use them.


Android 11’s quick controls are my new favorite controls.

Screenshots by Jason Cipriani / CNET

Quick controls for Android 11 are a real highlight

The first thing you should do after installing Android 11 is to press and hold the power button on your phone to bring up the new quick control screen. On Pixel, at least, this screen gives you power control options at the top and provides shortcuts to yours Google Pay Card and boarding passes. Then you will find my favorite feature in Android 11 – quick controls for smart home devices.

My phone automatically selected some devices that I have linked to Google Assistant, such as Nest thermostat in my office and mine Nest video doorbell. I can even watch a live stream from my doorbell directly on this screen without having to open the Nest app, which is slow and painful to use. It’s great.

You can add or remove smart home devices from this network by pressing the menu key and selecting Add or edit controls.

Keep saving time from listening to music.


Google Assistant is waiting for you

Instead of waiting in line, listening to the same boring music in the loop, Google takes a new feature to the assistant, and it debuts with Pixel 4a 5G and Pixel 5.

Called Hold for me, Google Assistant’s new trick displays an on-screen prompt letting you know you can do what you want to do, and your phone will alert you when someone finally answers.

For this feature to work, your phone must have vibration or sound muted, and you must have dialed a toll-free number. The call screen has one Hold for me button that you can press while in standby mode.

Tap Start, and then a screen appears reminding you not to hang up. You can not listen to music or use your phone to play a video.

When you are taken out of standby, your phone notifies you “Someone is waiting to talk to you” so you can resume the call.

I can not wait to get a Pixel 5 in my hands to test this. Normally I call the speaker and only listen to music in the background, but even then it gets annoying. If I can download a mental task like waiting for someone to answer the phone, I’m all for it.

Announcements about new messages get the spotlight

After installing Android 11, you will notice that alerts from all your messaging applications, such as Google Messages, have a special “Conversations” section in the notification area.

The change makes it easier to find the alerts you probably care about the most, but if you get a lot of messages, this section can get messy too.

Instead of letting Google sort your new alerts on its own, long press the conversation you want to follow closely and select Priority. Doing so moves new messages in that thread to the top of all your conversation alerts, activates bubbles (more on that below) and uses the contact’s avatar as a warning icon in the message bar and on the lock screen.

Being able to look at the message field and see a profile icon, instead of the standard text alert that does not provide valuable information, is a nice touch.

Message bubbles for your friends look like they will be useful

Do you remember bubbles? This feature was supposed to be part of Android 10, but Google pulled it at the last minute. It did the editing for Android 11.

Bubbles are similar to Facebook Messenger’s “chat heads” feature. When enabled, a small avatar – or Bubble – will appear on your screen and be visible no matter what app you are using. Click on the avatar and a small window will open where you can read and send new messages in that thread without fully opening the app. You can drag the bubble around the screen or drag it to the bottom of the screen to clear it.

To use Bubbles for a conversation, tap the small Bubbles icon at the bottom right of the message. If you press it, Bubbles for that thread will be activated immediately. Alternatively, you can mark a conversation as a priority to always use Bubbles for that contact.


Bubbles are practical, but will take some adjusting.

Screenshot of Jason Cipriani / CNET

You can then drag the icons of your various Bubbles chats around the screen or tap the avatar of the person you want to talk to, and the thread will open, without having to leave the app you are currently using. I’m glad this is an opt-in feature, based on each thread, instead of an all-or-nothing feature like Chat Heads, which can be messy and completely overwhelming.

To get rid of a bubble for a particular conversation, just drag the icon to the small one X displayed at the bottom of the screen.

To disable bubbles altogether, and allow all apps to trigger the potentially annoying feature, open the Settings app and search for bubbles. There will be a setting to turn off Bubbles completely.

App developers need to update their app to work with Bubbles, and right now I can confirm that the Google Messages app works. Facebook Messenger worked throughout the Android 11 beta program, but an update just days before Android 11 was launched seems to have broken or disabled the integration. If you are having trouble getting Bubbles to work, I recommend that you contact the developer and see if they plan to add support for Bubbles.


Screenshots by Jason Cipriani / CNET

Android 11 gets more advanced music controls

Android 11 has a new playback control that no longer appears as a pending message. Instead, there is a small box that appears as part of the quick settings panel. You can skip, go back, pause and change the device on which the music is playing from the new control box.

As soon as you start playing some music, the new media controls will be available. They are so much better than the old message.

android-11 screen recorder

You can finally record your screen with an official Google tool.

Jason Cipriani / CNET

A built-in screen recorder

Screenshots are a quick and easy way to capture something on your screen, but there are times when a recording is better suited for the task. For example, if you want to show off your gaming skills or mark the steps to reproduce a bug screen recording FTW!

You will find the screen capture tool in Quick settings panel after installing Android 11. If it is not visible, tap the pen icon to add it to your panel.

Press Screen recording and select if you want your microphone to record sound and if you want your pointing interactions to be highlighted in the video. To stop recording, press Screen recording notification. The video is saved on your camera roll where you can then edit and share the recording.


App suggestions on the home screen are new.

Jason Cipriani / CNET

For Pixel owners: App suggestions replace your app doll

At some point after installing Android 11, you will see a prompt asking you to enable app suggestions on the home screen. Basically, the new app suggestions will replace the app dock on your phone and leave it up to your phone to switch apps in and out of the bottom line – or dock – on your phone, based on which apps you use at certain times of the day .

The apps have a glowing edge around them, so you know your phone has added them and change frequently when you return to your home screen when you use the phone. You can long press one of the app icons to attach that suggestion to your home screen.

You can also block apps from appearing as suggestions if you do not want something like Gmail to appear because you are using a different email app.

To access app suggestions and customize how it works for you, long press on the home screen and select Home settings then Suggestions. There you can control suggestions in the app drawer and on the home screen or block apps from appearing in the list.

Google also did some important changes in how Android handles privacy settings you should know that too. If you are looking for instructions to install Android 11, we have your back.

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