Android 8.1 has officially stepped out of beta and is beginning to roll out to Nexus and Pixel devices.
The stable release follows two developer previews, which means for Android users who were part of the beta program, the new update should already look and feel pretty familiar. For everyone else, read on to learn what's new.
The update is available for the following devices: Pixel 2, Pixel 2 XL, original Pixel, original Pixel XL, Pixel C tablet, Nexus 6P, and Nexus 5X. System images for the aforementioned devices have now been posted, while the code drop for the Android Open Source Project should follow shortly.
Android 8.1: Neural Networks API
Android 8.1 isn't a major software update, keep in mind. It's more of a maintenance release, as Ars Technica puts it, that makes Android 8.0 Oreo slightly better and more efficient. Perhaps the biggest addition is Neural Networks API, or NNAPI, designed for running machine learning operations on mobile systems.
This means that phones with specialized machine learning hardware, once they have Android 8.1 installed, can take advantage of this API, which provides a base layer, higher-level machine learning framework to plug in to, such as Google's own TensorFlow Lite library.
One of the best examples is the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL, which come with the so-called Pixel Visual Core, a machine learning-powered eight-core processor that makes sure pictures looks awesome. That's oversimplifying it, though. It basically enables Google's HDR+ image processing to run five times faster and use a fraction of the energy. All Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL phones shipped with it turned off, but it will now be turned on thanks to Android 8.1.
Android 8.1: Bluetooth Battery Levels
Minor tweaks have also managed to wend their way in, such as with Bluetooth battery levels, which adds a battery indicator to the Bluetooth quick settings menu and makes it easier for users to see which of their connected devices are running low on juice.
Google also added some features to address Pixel 2 XL burn-in issues. In Android 8.1, the always-on bar now inverts to black-on-white for some apps, such as Settings or Google Maps. Also, the system buttons now dim after being in idle for a few seconds. Whether this reduces actual burn-in remains much of a debate.
Android 8.1: Emoji Updates
Finally, who could forget about emoji? There are new hamburger, cheese, and beer emoji in Android 8.1, as Tech times previously reported. Apparently, this also solves the cheeseburger conundrum that went viral back in October, in which many argued whether Google's depiction of a cheeseburger, with the cheese below the patty, was correct.