Modern smartphones are far more than their components. Cutting-edge hardware is only half the equation, with good software equally as important to a good user experience. For this reason, it’s worth paying attention to Android 14, the latest major software platform for many of the most popular phones around the world.
Unlike Apple’s iPhone ecosystem that runs on a single version of its software – currently iOS 17 – Android is a little more complicated. This is mainly because many different phone manufacturers use Android software, while only iPhones can use iOS. Although Apple is currently the best-selling phone manufacturer, more phones use Android than any other operating system.
Further complicating things is that just about every brand then has its own version of the software. Samsung has One UI, Oppo runs ColorOS, and so on, with each adding device-specific features to the Android 14 recipe.
Not every Android 14-compatible device gets access at the same time, either. The software update officially launched in October 2023 to coincide with the Google Pixel 8 launch. Among its main additions were features aimed at expanding customisation, privacy, and accessibility. Samsung followed soon after, rolling out One UI 6, to its flagship phones, while plenty of other handsets are yet to receive the update.
Regardless of whether your device has the update, here are some of the major features worth using.
Android 14 features to look out for
More ways to personalise your phone
Even though aesthetic features may seem frivolous, we spend that much time on our phones, so we may as well make them look nice. Android 14 streamlines the process of swapping wallpapers and choosing what you see on your phone.
One of the most helpful additions is the ability to set custom lock screen shortcuts, letting you immediately access handy controls without unlocking your phone. It ties in with some of the Google Home updates coming soon so you can control other smart devices right from your lock screen. You’re no longer bound to the default lock screen widgets – just add your own.
Not just for function, the lock screen customisation also extends to looks. Android 14 gives further control over the clock size, font, and colour. In the future, when you check the time, only to quickly forget and then check it again, it’ll look just how you like it. That even now includes a monochrome theme to add a minimalist vibe.
Android 14 introduces Ultra HDR support, a new image format that looks good on both HDR and non-HDR (or SDR) displays. There’s a fascinating in-depth explanation of Ultra HDR on Android Police. As for the short answer: images captured in the format will look nice regardless of the display they’re viewed on.
Building on the Google Pixel 8’s AI kick, wallpapers can made on the latest phones using generative AI. Via text-to-image diffusion models, you can tweak your phone’s wallpaper however you see fit.
Security and privacy
With the sheer amount of data we keep on our phones, you want to be sure it’s as secure as possible. Android 14 adds additional security measures to help protect your privacy and make informed decisions when sharing data.
From the outset, the latest Android update introduces a distinctly Apple-flavoured data security feature. You now receive pop-ups when apps request permission to access data. Here, you can deny apps access to your camera, microphone, and location, or allow temporary access. These pop-ups also explain why an app requests access, so you can better decide whether to grant permission or not.
It adds to the Privacy Dashboard that shows which apps have recently accessed sensitive data. No longer want an app to use your phone’s camera? Simply switch it off via the dashboard.
Adding to the increased privacy settings in Android 14, your health data also gets a new home. Health Connect, the central hub for all your health metrics, now lives within Android 14’s settings. A one-stop-shop for all things health and fitness, it stores your data and manages which apps get access. No matter your preference of workout app, you can use Health Connect to securely share data of your choosing. Plus, it’s all encrypted and stored locally, so no one can read it – even in the event of a hack or a cloud breach.
Often, some of the most substantial upgrades with new operating systems focus on accessibility. Android 14 adds several features aimed at helping people who have low vision or are hard of hearing.
For low-vision users, the default magnifier is better, enabling pinch gestures to zoom in and out as needed. Additionally, the new Magnifier Settings panel lets you change the magnifier’s size and how much of the screen it magnifies. Via the accessibility settings, you can also set the magnifier to stay on between apps instead of it automatically switching off.
Android 14 makes it easier to adjust font size via a new Quick Settings tile. It also uses what’s called “nonlinear font scaling” to help keep font at a manageable size without distorting text layout.
Hearing aid connectivity also improves with Android 14. Accessibility settings now house a dedicated hearing aid setup section, while you can map controls to a shortcut for quick access. To help people who miss notification sounds, flash notifications are a recently added option. Enabled via the Accessibility and Notifications settings, your phone will flash upon receiving notifications, making them easier to notice.
Android 14 features coming soon
Several other features are also coming in future Android 14 updates. When the feature lands, you’ll be able to use your phone as a webcam via a USB cable with any computer – including Macs.
Supporting the expanded webcam functionality, an auto-framing feature will also come soon. Like Apple’s Centre Stage, it will automatically keep video callers in shot, panning and zooming to follow the subject.
Expect to see more smart home controls available soon too. With compatible devices, you’ll be able to access Google Home controls directly from your phone’s lock screen or quick settings menu. It’s designed to reduce the number of menus you need to navigate, letting you turn on smart lights or adjust temperature control even without unlocking your phone.