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If you've ever wondered what it would take to use your smartphone less, Google might have the answer. This week, Google unveiled a beta of it highly publicized Digital Wellbeing tool in Android 9, which will help users better manage their time on smartphones.

Many of us have been in the position of realizing we spend way too much time entranced by screens, both large and miniature. In recent years, more and more tech companies are coming to the same realization, putting them in the awkward position of pushing the usage of their products while acknowledging the need for some time away from them.

Android 9's Digital Wellbeing tool addresses many of the concerns voiced by their users, doctors, and social scientists, who have all questioned the immediate and long-term effects of intense and extended smartphone usage.

The app is available this week with Android 9 on Google's Pixel, Pixel XL, Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL devices..

SEE: Android 9 Pie has arrived and here's how it will make apps better

When you open the dashboard (which you access by opening Settings and then scrolling down to Digital Wellbeing), you will see statistics on smartphone usage, including how much time you spent on your phone, a daily graphic on how much you use certain apps, and figures on how many times you unlocked your phone and number of notifications received.

The dashboard is only one part of Google's plan to help their users. It included a timer you can set for apps and a Do Not Disturb feature that hides your visual and auditory notifications. The Wind Down tool allows you to activate the Do Not Disturb feature before you go to bed every night, disconnecting you from your smartphone so you can get a good night's sleep.

"We all love our phones -- the cameras capture the memories we make, they find us the best route to work each day, and they answer the questions we have throughout the day," said Google's Director of Product Management Sabrina Ellis.

"But many of us can probably use a little bit of help disconnecting from our devices from time to time so we can focus on the other things in our lives."

Google has made time management a hallmark of their messaging over the last few years, and the release of their 'Wellbeing' app is another step toward helping their users prioritize tasks and live healthy lives beyond their smartphones. They announced the features at I/O in May, and much of what is found in the current beta version of the Digital Wellbeing features are amalgamations of features already available on most Android phones.

Users have long been able to gray their screen or turn on Do Not Disturb settings, but the new features bring all of these acts into one central screen and makes it easier to turn on settings that limit smartphone usage.

Google's Digital Wellbeing efforts also extend to parents, who can set limits on Android devices for their children as they ease into greater device usage. You can even schedule internet "breaks" for kids and block inappropriate content.

On their Digital Wellbeing webpage, Google says they're "dedicated to building technology that is truly helpful for everyone."

"We're creating tools and features that help people better understand their tech usage, focus on what matters most, disconnect when needed, and create healthy habits for the whole family. We're committed to giving everyone the tools they need to develop their own sense of digital wellbeing. So that life, not the technology in it, stays front and center."

Apple, Facebook and Instagram are all working on similar features that give users a concrete breakdown of how and how often they use apps, allowing people to make their own decisions on how they need to adjust their smartphone usage.

The Center for Human Technology says that while the amount of time spent on smartphones is a concern, it's how that time is being spent that underpins the negative feelings people may have after using these websites.

"Snapchat turns conversations into streaks, redefining how our children measure friendship. Instagram glorifies the picture-perfect life, eroding our self worth. Facebook segregates us into echo chambers, fragmenting our communities. YouTube autoplays the next video within seconds, even if it eats into our sleep," the center wrote.

You can sign up to be a beta tester of the features through the sign up page in the Google Play Store.

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Takeaways

  1. Google's Digital Wellbeing features allow users to access a dashboard giving them detailed figures on how often they use certain apps and for how long.
  2. Users can also set limits on how long they can use an app and turn on a Do Not Disturb feature during meetings or before bed that silences and hides all notifications.

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Jonathan Greig is a Contributing Writer for Download.com. He's a freelance journalist based in New York City. He recently returned to the United States after reporting from South Africa, Jordan, and Cambodia since 2013.