Always On Display on Nexus 6P, Pixel with no root: here's how

With the proliferation of OLED displays on smartphones, features like Always On Display (AOD) will start to become more common. Sadly, not all smartphones might be able to join the party, even older models that do have the hardware for it. Even sadder is that such is true even for Google's own first gen Pixel phone and Nexus 6P, despite being totally capable of handling the load. The good news is that AOD is also partly a software implementation that can be enabled on such devices, provided you're running Android 8.1.

Google introduced AOD into Android Oreo code but, as of Android 8.0, it is hardcoded to only work with the Pixel 2 phones and nothing else. In the upcoming Android 8.1 release, however, the check for that is now available in a configuration that can be overwritten without having to root the phone.

That's partly thanks to the fact that Android Oreo uses the Overlay Manager Service (OMS), which, in turn, was derived from Sony's Runtime Resource Overlay (RRO) framework. We've detailed before on how that will make deep theming of Android devices possible without root, but it really goes beyond just themes. It is more technically accurate to call it "resource overlay", as it can also override variables and configurations, as is the case here.

Unfortunately, getting AOD on a Nexus 6P, Pixel, or Pixel XL isn't exactly as straightforward, though it has been made a lot easier thanks to the Substratum theme manager and the Andromeda plugin that takes advantage of the OMS in Oreo. In effect, it's like installing a theme manager, a plugin, and a "theme". First of all, you will need to be running Android 8.1 and nothing earlier. And while Substratum itself is free, the Andromeda comes as a $1.99 Google Play Store purchase.

There are some caveats even if you get AOD working properly. Unlike the Pixel 2, the screens of these devices are not optimized for an AOD scenario. Your battery life will inevitably take a hit, though it hasn't yet been measure just how much. And while the Nexus 5X is able to support the feature on the software side, its use of an LCD panel instead of OLED makes it even less suitable.