Google is constantly at work perfecting the latest version of Android, but you might not know that you can help test it out. Before any new version of Android is released, whether it’s a full new major “sweet treat” version (such as the new Android O beta) or a simple maintenance release, you can sign up to test it weeks or months before it’s available for public download. All you need is a Google account and the right phone.
And Google makes it easy to sign up, as long as you have one of the newer “pure Android” handsets. Currently, the list is pretty short, but if you own a Nexus 5X, Nexus 6P, or one of the Pixel phones, you’re all set. (Additionally, you can install the beta on the short-lived Nexus Player set-top box, and the Pixel C tablet.)
Those phones should be good for the rest of this year, as Google has vowed that Nexus level devices will “receive major updates for at least two years.” For example, the 2014 Nexus 6 and Nexus 9 only recently dropped off the list, so last year’s Huawei and LG Nexus devices should be good at least through the remainder of 2017.
If you have the right hardware, head over to Google’s Android Beta Program website. You’ll need to log in with your Google account, and once you do, you’ll be taken to a page that explains what the program is all about. The usual beta disclaimers apply, and Google warns that the updates “may contain errors and defects that can affect normal functioning of your device.” So before you enroll you’re phone, it’s a good idea to back up your data first, just in case.
In the middle of the page, you’ll see a list of your eligible devices, with an Enroll button next to it. Tap it and you’ll see be taken to a disclaimer screen. Check the agree box, select Join beta, and in a couple seconds you’ll be in.
If a new beta isn’t available, it will be business as usual on your phone. Security updates will be installed as normal, as well as any official releases, and you won’t know anything has changed. Once a beta does land, you’ll get a notification about it just like you normally would (although it will indicate that it’s a beta update), or you can check in the usual place: Scroll down to the About phone tab in Settings, and select System updates. It will install over-the-air normally, with a restart, and whenever a new one releases, you’ll go through the same process. And when the version you’re testing releases publically, you’ll be able to install that version on your phone, too.
If you’ve flashed your device and just want to install the files yourself without registering for the program, you can grab them from Google Developers site. Just scroll down to the Latest section, find the version you’re looking for, and follow the link to get to the Public Beta Images page. Then, locate your device and download the appropriate file. (Here are the Android O beta downloads.)
With betas, Google is looking for feedback, so if you spot something that needs fixing, you can contact Google directly by heading to the Settings app, tapping About, and then Send feedback about this device. Additionally, Google hosts an Android Beta Program Google+ community, where you can share feedback with other users.
Finally, if you’re having serious problems with a particular beta, you can always downgrade to the most recent stable version. Simply select Unenroll device on the same Android Beta Program page where you registered your device, and Google will deliver the latest general release to your phone. However, as Google warns, it “will wipe all data on the device,” so once again, you’ll want to back up your data before downgrading.
Editor’s note: This article originally published in February 2017, but has been updated to reflect the Android O beta release.
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