Spatial audio and more coming to Pixel phones as part of exclusive Android beta

Google Pixel 6a
(Image credit: TechRadar / Stephen Lambrechts)

The first beta of Android 13 QPR2 (Quarterly Platform Release) is currently out for specific Google Pixel models, giving us a sneak peek of features and tweaks that should eventually come to more Android phones.

The phones getting the beta, according to Google’s Android Developer page, are the Pixel 4 (4a and 4a 5G), Pixel 5 (the base model and 5a), the Pixel 6 series, and the Pixel 7 series. The release notes don’t say anything about what’s in the release, but notable Android expert Mishaal Rahman broke everything down in a long Twitter thread. Everything in the beta can be split across two categories: design changes all of the listed Pixel devices will get and features that are exclusive to a few.

For starters, desktop mode on Android 13 has gotten “improved windowing options” via a new title bar that makes it easier to drag windows around on the screen, go back to a previous page, or open a toolbar. It’s pretty buggy, however, as Rahman posted a video of him dragging around a window in desktop mode only for it to crash a few seconds in.  

Widespread changes

Going into the other noteworthy changes,  Health Connect is now a preloaded app that allows you to aggregate all of your personal health data from multiple sources into a single app. 

A new “transient taskbar” will make the navigation bar on the Pixel homepage appear in browsing apps (possibly others too) whenever you swipe up from the bottom. As the name suggests, the taskbar is temporary and soon retracts down so as to not distract. Google is going back to an older design with the ringer and notification volumes now separated. For years, you couldn't adjust them individually so it's good to see this return.

Something not mentioned in the Rahman thread is apps on the home screen have extra space around them. This means will be less room on the launcher and you may have to scroll down further to find the app you want, but the new padding does make the menu look less cluttered. 

Exclusive features

Some of the more interesting features are arguably the ones exclusive to select models. The Pixel 6 Pro, for example, has an updated display driver allowing users to select a “1080p screen resolution option”, which is lower than the 1440p native resolution. This option could increase the battery life. Also, spatial audio is coming to the 6 Pro alongside the base Pixel 6 model, the Pixel 7, and the Pixel 7 Pro coinciding with the feature arriving on the Pixel Buds Pro next month.

There’s more to the beta than this, but these are the most notable highlights. It’s unknown if and when these features will launch officially but Rahman claims the beta will have a stable release sometime in March. If you want to try out the beta, you can join the Android Beta for Pixel program on Google’s website and then install it via the settings. Google states in the release notes that the beta has some performance and stability issues, so be mindful of that when trying it out.

Be sure to check out TechRadar’s best Pixel phones list for the year in case you’re still on the fence about picking one up. 

Cesar Cadenas

Cesar Cadenas has been writing about the tech industry for several years now specializing in consumer electronics, entertainment devices, Windows, and the gaming industry. But he’s also passionate about smartphones, GPUs, and cybersecurity.