Android 12 is out now, and it's coming to Pixel phones first

Google Pixel 6 event
(Image credit: Google)

Shortly after Google officially unveiled its Google Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro phones, which launched with Android 12, the switch was seemingly flipped – and older Pixel phones can update to the new software now.

We’ve confirmed that the Google Pixel 5a can upgrade right now, though Google hasn’t officially announced which regions it’s rolling out to first nor has the company confirmed which older Pixels can upgrade. (We suspected that the Google Pixel 3 may be the oldest phone to get the new software, as it was the oldest to get the Android 12 beta.)

As always, the update is free, and will come to Pixel phones immediately while owners of other handsets will have to wait weeks or months for manufacturers to greenlight Android 12 updates to their devices.

Android 12: Material You and more features coming

Android 12 is launching with plenty of upgrades, but the biggest one is Material You, a user interface overhaul that lets users choose from color palettes and then makes all the icons and menus sync to those colors. 

It brings a sleek and synchronized look to Android, which had looked like a vibrant grab-bag of whatever colors Google and app developers chose to put in their icons. It's contextual to the background, too – move an icon around and it will shift colors to match the section of the phone wallpaper surrounding it.

Otherwise, Android 12 brings smarter face detection that rotates the screen to portrait or landscape depending on how you're holding the phone, a built-in remote to control smart TVs, a unified media player in Quick Settings, Car Key to unlock your smart car with your phone (for devices with UWB) and digital key sharing, a new AVIF photo format, a 'Quick Tap' feature that lets you customize a shortcut for tapping the back of your phone, and app access while downloading.

There are plenty more features, of course, but the new update looks like it will bring a lot of small but meaningful improvements to the Android ecosystem – whenever devices get the upgrade, that is. 

David Lumb

David is now a mobile reporter at Cnet. Formerly Mobile Editor, US for TechRadar, he covered phones, tablets, and wearables. He still thinks the iPhone 4 is the best-looking smartphone ever made. He's most interested in technology, gaming and culture – and where they overlap and change our lives. His current beat explores how our on-the-go existence is affected by new gadgets, carrier coverage expansions, and corporate strategy shifts.