It’s about time Google added fine-grained volume control to Android

I like to listen to podcasts and audiobooks before going to sleep because it helps me sleep better. Ideally, you want just the right amount of volume when listening to an audiobook or podcast in a quiet environment – something that will remain comfortable to listen to for an extended period of time. A little louder, and it becomes a distraction and causes listening fatigue, and a little quieter, and everything becomes unintelligible. I’m quite sensitive to volume changes and loudness, so I always spend some time fiddling with the volume slider to find a comfortable level. However, thanks to the way Android handles media volume and volume control, finding the sweet spot is an eternal struggle. It’s always a little too loud or too soft no matter how carefully you try to adjust the volume slider. This problem is more apparent with in-ear headphones – both wired and wireless – than with over-ear headphones.

This has remained a struggle on almost every Android phone I’ve used over the years. On the iQOO 7 Legend, for example, even the lowest volume level is too loud to listen to sleep sounds or podcasts before going to bed. Plus, each volume step has a big jump, so you’re always caught between a volume that’s a little too loud or a little too low. If you only want a modest increase or decrease from the current level, that is almost impossible. Mine Xiaomi Mi 10i 5G Running Pixel Experience based on Android 12L is better with lower volume levels, but after the third or fourth click I run into the same situation where each volume jump gets really huge.

Thanks to the way Android handles media volume, finding the right volume spot is an eternal struggle.

The volume issue is further complicated by Android’s “absolute volume” control, which unifies the volume of the connected Bluetooth headphones and the media volume of the phone. This is a big win for convenience, as it takes the pain out of independently adjusting the physical volume control on your Bluetooth headphones and the media volume on the phone, meaning changing the volume on your phone will increase the volume on the Bluetooth. device and vice versa.

However, this convenience comes at a price: the loss of finer control over volume levels.

I don’t know exactly when Google linked the Bluetooth and phone media volume. I remember that in previous Android versions I could adjust the internal volume of my Sennheiser HD 4.50 headphones independently of the phone’s media volume. This provided greater flexibility and precise control over the overall volume output. I could set the phone’s media volume to 5 and then use the physical controls on the headphones to adjust the internal volume until I found the right spot.

The problem is that while Android gives you an option to disable absolute volume control, which will unpair Bluetooth and phone volumes, I’ve had mixed results with this option. While it works with my Sennheiser headphones and OPPO Enco M31 neckband, it doesn’t do anything for true wireless earphones. It’s only really useful if your Bluetooth headphones have their own volume control.

Absolute volume switch highlighted in Android Developer Settigs

There used to be a very effective solution to this problem in the form of the Precise Volume app. The app hooks up to your phone’s audio system to override the Android volume limit of 15 steps and add 100 volume steps. However, it hasn’t been updated in a long time (since 2017 actually), and it no longer works on devices running Android 9 Pie and above.

Before you say it, yes, I tried the one too build.prop method to increase volume steps from 15 to 30. In my case it didn’t work though, adding empty steps instead of dividing the total volume evenly over 30 steps. Not only that, this option is not viable for much of the Android community as required root access

Google must take inspiration from Samsung and LG

A simple solution would be to just add more tangible steps to the media volume.

So, what can Google do to give Android users more control over the volume output? A simple solution would be to just add more tangible steps to the media volume. As mentioned above, Android currently offers 15 volume steps. In comparison, my Sony Walkman MP3 player had 32 steps. Samsung offers an app called Sound Assistant, which allows Galaxy smartphone users to add 150 volume steps. Meanwhile, the LG V30 and V40 offered 75 steps when you turned on the dedicated DAC. If Google doesn’t want to go as far as Samsung and LG, even 30 steps would be more than enough. Android can continue to use 15 steps by default, while power users get an option to enable additional steps for finer control over the volume level.

Another option that Google might consider adding is a master volume slider that would limit overall system-wide volume output. For example, you can set the main slider to 60% to reduce the overall intensity/loudness for each volume step. Yet another option is to let Android media apps add their own volume slider that works independently of the system media volume. That way you can play with both sliders to fine-tune the final volume.

I am of course not the first to raise this issue. It is a age-old problem that many android users have been dealing with for years and has yet to grab Google’s attention. It’s one that I know mainly annoys some users, and it’s been a problem in my own use for a long time too.

While we all know that Android has come a long way since its inception, it’s important that such refinements and changes in quality of life are not overlooked. It’s a mature operating system at the moment, but issues like this hold it back.

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