Installing Android 13 on Google Pixel 6a: here’s what changes with the latest Android operating system

When Android 12 was announced in 2021, its “Material You” design was the highlight. With the ability to customize the home screen and lock screen, last year’s update marked one of Android’s biggest UI design changes. So now that Android 13 is officially here, the question that came to mind was: what’s new here? The announcement looks a bit disappointing and seems to be more of an incremental update. Frankly, after installing Android 13 on the Pixel 6a, I was struggling to find out what had changed from Android 12. But there are changes – some geared towards better productivity, and it seems Google is focusing more about large screens and device-to-device connectivity. After using Android 13 for the past three days, here are my quick thoughts on this latest update.

Android 13: install it on the Google Pixel 6a

Installing Android 13 on the Google Pixel 6a was anything but simple. At first, I thought the update might take about a day to appear, since rollouts are often done in stages by companies. But when I didn’t see the update on the phone for two days, I was confused. The beauty of Pixel phones is that they are the first to receive the latest version of Android.

So I decided to install the device in the ‘beta’ program. And that’s how I got the stable version of Android 13 on my phone. I’m not alone in taking a similar roundabout approach based on experiences shared on Twitter. However, it looks like the regular stable update has also arrived on most phones and should on your Pixel 6a or other Pixel device. I disabled the beta to check if the Android 13 version I had would be removed, but that didn’t happen.

Android 13 update seen on the Pixel 6a. Android 13 on the Pixel 6a. The update should be available on your device starting today. (Image credit: Shruti Dhapola/Indian Express)

The update size was around 2GB when I saw the file appear on my phone. Make sure you have enough space on your Pixel device and are connected to Wi-Fi during setup.

Android 13: a little more “Material You”

As I noted before, the design changes aren’t as apparent, especially when you first install the update. But Android 13 marks a subtle extension of the “Material You” theme to more apps beyond those owned by Google. While themed icons were introduced in Android 12, they are now extended to third-party apps as well. So, if the personalization feature is enabled for your home screen and lock screen, you should now see other apps also following the same color theme on the home screen.

Android 13 allows third-party apps to join the Material You design color theme. But developers also need to support this. (Image credit: Shruti Dhapola/Indian Express)

You will need to enable themed icons in wallpaper settings and it is still in beta. Hopefully, with more developers adopting this, it will allow for more uniformity on the home screen. But this is limited in the sense that the app developer has to enable it. For example, I noticed that while the WhatsApp icon synced with the theme, the Facebook and Instagram icons didn’t follow suit. It still feels a bit incomplete.

Android 13: goodbye notifications from each app

This is perhaps the most discreet and useful feature on Android 13. Now, after installing each app, you will be asked if notifications should be allowed in the first place. If you find that your notification bar is full of alerts from random apps, this change should at least provide some peace of mind.

Android 13 Notifications Alert Now you can ensure that only approved apps send notifications. (Image credit: Shruti Dhapola/Indian Express)

A user can directly decide to block notifications from an app shortly after downloading, instead of going to settings etc. I don’t need to see every notification from Facebook or Instagram or Zomato or any game I just installed. For someone like me, who has access to at least five phone screens a day, this is especially useful. This ensures that I have at least one less screen to distract me.

Android 13: Clipboard is neater, privacy tweaks

Android 13 also updates the clipboard for better privacy and the interface is also neater. Now when you copy-paste text, it appears as a floating window at the bottom with a small share notification next to it. I really liked this approach. At least I can see what I just copied. Sometimes I find that the touchscreen-based copy-paste misses a few numbers or letters.
Google is also adding more privacy to the clipboard and will protect sensitive clipboard data such as bank accounts, passwords, etc. Clipboard data will also be cleared automatically after some time. I haven’t found a setting that confirms this.

Android 13's clipboard feature can be seen in this photo The clipboard on Android 13 has received a design change (Image credit: Shruti Dhapola/Indian Express)

But in the Settings app, you can also enable an option to see when an app accesses text, images, or other content you’ve copied. Apple’s iOS is already doing something familiar, so it looks like Google is catching up.

Android 13 further improves privacy when it comes to your photo library. It will let you share only selected photos with an app, instead of the entire library. Again, these restrictions are already present on iOS.

Android 13: More language settings for your apps

You can now customize a different language for third-party apps. For example, if you prefer to use Facebook in your native language, say Hindi or Malayalam or Tamil, you should ideally have this option. So while the system language of your entire device remains English, you can choose a different language for each app.

The only issue at the moment is that apps need to support this as well. The app where I could see an option to change the language setting was Google News.

Android 13: QR code reader

This one will please all of us in India given how often we have to scan payment QR codes. You can now directly access the QR code scanner as a tile in the Quick Settings menu at the top. I just swiped the menu and hit edit and could see the option to add a QR code scanner as a dedicated title.

Additionally, Google will allow third-party apps that support these tiles to be added in quick settings. I haven’t seen too many apps that have this option enabled yet. But it would be cool if apps like WhatsApp supported it.

Android 13's QR code scanner seen in quick settings Android 13 QR code scanner visible in Quick Settings menu. (Image credit: Shruti Dhapola/Indian Express)

Android 13: other big stuff I can’t access

Android 13 isn’t just about adding new features to phones. It’s also about bringing more functionality to tablets and making the software better optimized for larger screens and other form factors. There’s better productivity, multitasking on tablets, a new taskbar, better split-screen view, to name a few features. There is also better continuity between Android and Chrome phones, for example the ability to send and receive messages from the laptop on the phone. Or the ability to copy any content from the phone and paste it onto the tablet. Unfortunately, I can’t access or try any of this because a) I don’t have a Chromebook and b) I doubt a tablet still has Android 13.

Android 13: So how much are you missing…

For now, if your phone is still running Android 12, you’re not missing much. And of course, developers need to embrace some of the features introduced by Android 13 as well.

But it comes with some subtle features and tweaks, which I think make it much more productive and useful. The notifications aspect is particularly welcome as it can reduce distractions for many of us. The improved clipboard and better privacy for the photo library are also good. Google is also adding support for Spatial Audio and Bluetooth LE. The former will require headphones that support this.

What I want to test is how Android 13 improves tablets given that they are experiencing a serious revival in the Indian market with several brands releasing many affordable and mid-range tablets. Most of them are on Android 12 and we don’t know how soon Android 13 will arrive on these tablets. And that remains Android’s biggest problem.

We don’t know when most phones will get the update, including slightly premium phones. This is because testing and tweaking as well as chipset support is time consuming for most manufacturers. Some like OnePlus, Oppo, Realme, Samsung, and Vivo have announced their Android 13 timeline. But the process ends up taking at least a few months. So yes, if you have a non-Pixel device, your wait to experience this latest version of Android might be long.

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