Get to know: Ambient Mode on Android

Google Assistant Ambient Mode is not a feature many of us know or have heard about. Yet, it exists.

Google quietly rolled out the feature late last year after demonstrating it 2 months earlier at IFA 2019 (hopefully, the 2020 Special Edition IFA springs up such).

Since then, it has been available on very few devices, excluding Google’s own Pixel lineup of devices.

So, what is Ambient Mode on Android?

It is hard to say, in a nutshell, what Ambient Mode on Android is.

Google itself describes it briefly as a “proactive Google Assistant”.

Google goes further to say that Ambient Mode is a move from an app-based way of doing things to an intent-based way of doing things.

That is an interesting way to look at it because it almost paints a complete picture of what one can expect from Ambient Mode.

My way of looking at Ambient Mode has been this: think of it like a screensaver. Only that, in this case, it is a screensaver that you didn’t fully set up, you have no absolute control over and only works under certain circumstances. Huh?

How it works

You see, Ambient Mode just kicks in once a device that has the feature is plugged in for juicing up. This, in effect, allows there to be a need for the Always-on Display feature found on most high-end devices.

It becomes something like a “docking mode” of some sort. As long as the phone is charging, the display stays “on” (in an economical way, using as little resources as possible) displaying several things that one may have been prompted to include while setting it up (yes, there is a little bit of that).

If you used Daydream (not to be confused with another feature on Android – since discontinued – going by the same name but centred around virtual reality), a feature that “let your Android device display useful and delightful information when idle or docked” which Google has since discontinued, then Ambient Mode is like that with little to no customization options but outputting the work of the Google Assistant.

Android Daydream back in the day


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Since it is a Google Assistant feature, Ambient Mode just shows what the Google Assistant would ordinarily show like calendar appointments from, well, Calendar, and traffic alerts from Maps. Google Assistant has figured out that an item you ordered has since shipped? It will show up when the device is on Ambient Mode, too. You can also pick which one of your albums on Google Photos should be featured – turning your phone or tablet into a digital photo frame as it charges. It is also a handy way to see what notifications one has.

My favourite is when Ambient Mode allows me quick access to my smart lights. Need to turn off that bedroom light? No need to bother unlocking the device then finding the Google Home app. Just one click on the Ambient Mode screen as the device charges overnight on the nightstand and the lights are out. A swift switch. Heck, if you are having trouble falling sleep another tap will have the Google Assistant changing your mood with a night tune. What more could you ask?

Not all Android devices are made equal

If all that you have read up to this point just sounds so good and you can’t wait to start using Ambient Mode on your device, then this is where I deliver the bad news: your device is probably not supported and that is why you have never heard about Ambient Mode.

You see, on devices where Ambient Mode is supported, you get a prompt as soon as you are done setting up the device (if it is new) or as soon as the feature is made available. From the prompt, you’ll be guided on-screen on how to go about activating Ambient Mode.

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In case you got the prompt and didn’t proceed further, you can always go back and enable Ambient Mode in a few easy steps.

Anyone with an Android device that has Google apps and services can try the above procedure. Where Ambient Mode isn’t supported, it will be unavailable in the Personalization section.

Ambient Mode is available only on devices running Android 8.1 Oreo and later versions.

When it launched, the feature was available, according to Google, on smartphones from Sony, Nokia, Transsion and Xiaomi. Some new Lenovo tablets, like the ones that showcased the feature at IFA 2019, also had the feature. I do not know if the situation has changed but a quick sampling of the devices in my possession that aren’t from either Transsion or Xiaomi (since I do not have any Sony or Nokia devices lying around) is that it still isn’t accessible.


While what is the subject of this article is the Google Assistant Ambient Mode, there is no shortage of “ambient modes” out there.

On Android TV and Chromecast devices, for instance, when they are idle/not being used, the photo slides that play which can be left to what the system chooses – random photos – or customized to one’s own photos on Google Photos or other supported services, that is Ambient Mode for Chromecast at work. Yes, there is such a thing.

Even outside the Android ecosystem, there is still Ambient Mode as can be seen in Samsung’s QLED televisions.

Have something that you believe I need to have a look at? Hit me up: echenze [at]