Google has done a lot in the more recent versions of Android to give users a way to customize notifications, but nothing even comes close to Oreo’s new Notification Channels. These new settings let you take notifications to a whole new level.
What are Notification Channels, Anyway?
In a nutshell, Notification Channels provide developers a way to group certain types of notifications together within their apps, and then let users set custom importance levels for those notification groups.
Each different group has four levels of notification “importance:”
- Urgent: Makes a sound and pops on the screen.
- High: Makes a sound and places a notification in the bar.
- Medium: No sound, but a notification is still placed in the bar.
- Low: No sound or visual interruption—a silent notification.
Beyond the importance level, you can also toggle things like Notification Dots, choose whether or not to blink the light, dictate how much content from the specific notification type is shown on the lock screen, and allow the notifications to override Do Not Disturb mode.
The notification groups are decided by the developer, and this is something that must be coded into the app for Oreo—if the app doesn’t support it, then there’s no way to force it. Naturally, Google has updated the majority of its apps to work with Notification Channels.
For example, Google Allo has six different notification groups that can be customized. Google Calendar, by contrast, only has one. This makes sense, as Allo is a chat-based client that generates a lot more notifications of varying types, where Calendar really only has one main notification.
Notification Channels are also dynamic, so new channels are automatically created as needed when the app supports it. For example, Android System creates a new channel for every app that displays over other apps, so that you can control each one individually. This is also why disabling the “is displaying over other apps” feature can be a pain to get rid of.
By tweaking these notification settings, you can easily control what happens when that type of notification comes in. Let’s use the Android Screenshot notification as an example here. This is, at least in my opinion, the most useless of all Android notifications because you pretty much know when you’ve taken a screenshot. I don’t want the notification cluttering up my status bar, and I hate having to swipe it away when taking screenshots in succession.
With Oreo’s new tools, I can tell the System UI that this type of notification is of the lowest importance. That means it won’t make a sound or display a visual interruption. Instead, it simply generates a silent notification that I can dismiss at a later point. I love it.
How to Use Notification Channels
With that little explanation out of the way, let’s talk about how you can access these options for yourself.
As noted above, these new options won’t be available for every app right out of the box, so if you’re trying to follow along with a different app than I’m using in my example and don’t see half of what I’m talking about, then the app probably isn’t supported. If available, you’ll know pretty much immediately—here’s a comparison of an app that supports notification channels (Messages, on the left), and one that doesn’t (Facebook Messenger, on the right). As you can see, there isn’t a Categories option display in Facebook Messenger, indicating the app hasn’t yet been updated to support the function.
Since it has so many options to pick from, let’s use Google Allo as the guinea pig here. To access all of its notification settings, give the notification bar a tug, and then tap the gear icon to jump into the Settings menu.
Select the “Apps & Notifications” setting, and then select the “App Info” entry.
Find your app and tap on it. You’ll be presented with a slew of options in this menu, but tap the first one: “App notifications.”
You’ll find all of the channel options under the “Categories” section. You can customize (or toggle) each entry here individually. This example shows a variety of options, including Chat Suggestions, Contact Update, Messages, and more. There’s also an option for Uncategorized notifications, which is the default action for any notification that doesn’t fall into the other categories.
To customize a notification category, just tap its entry. The first option in the “Notification Category” menu lets you dictate the importance level that we talked about earlier. You can also set the default sound here, as well as toggle vibration.
The “Advanced” section covers all the extra stuff, like notification dots and light control. If there are more settings available in the app, you’ll find a note at the bottom of of the menu that says as much.
How to Customize a Specific Notification
You don’t have to dig into the “Settings” menu to customize an app’s notifications, though. Instead, you can customize each type of notification after one is generated.
Let’s use the screenshot tool as an example here. After you’ve taken a screenshot and the notification is generated, pull the notification shade down, and then slide the notification to the right slightly to expose its options. Make sure not to slide too quickly, or you’ll just dismiss the notification instead.
Tap the gear icon to show which app generated the notification, as well as how many other categories the app has. Tap the “All Categories” option.
This throws you directly into the app’s notification options in the Settings menu. If you watch closely, the system even shows you which option to tap by briefly highlighting it in gray, just as if you were tapping it yourself.
Go ahead and tap that option, and then customize the notification as needed. Personally, I set the Screenshots importance level to low. No sound, no visual interruption. But again, that’s just one example.
If I said Notification Channels are a straightforward and user-friendly feature, I’d be lying. There’s no question that this is a tool for power users, and one that will likely just confuse less tech-savvy Android owners. Fortunately, it’s also pretty well hidden, so most users who don’t need to know about this feature likely won’t stumble across it accidentally.