Sony isn't making the most compelling Android phones these days, but it does at least try to put out good software. It's one of the most developer-friendly OEMs and it was even the first to release the N preview on non-Nexus hardware. Now, Sony has the distinction of being the first to do something else. The latest version of the Xperia Home beta has a Google Now pane just like the Google Now Launcher—no other OEM has done this on its custom launcher.

To give this a shot, you need to have a recent Xperia phone (exact models not listed). It's an open beta that anyone can join by visiting this link from the phone. A toast message will appear at the bottom of the screen to confirm your participation in the beta. The updated home screen should install on your device shortly thereafter. This seems like a weird way to do things, but okay. If you want to leave the beta, you'll have to use this link from the phone.

Here's everything Sony says it has changed in the new version.

  • After listening to Beta feedback, search bar in application tray is now transparent.
  • Added notification badge support for Facebook & Facebook messenger.
  • Fixed legacy support for notification badges on Kitkat and Lollipop for Xperia Messaging, Telephony & Email.
  • It is now possible to add Google Now on the -1 pane (enabled from Home Settings).
  • Bug fixes and tweaks

The big news here is obviously Google Now on the home screen. Sony's launcher defaults to using the center panel as the "main" one, just like stock Android used to do back in the day. Turning on Google Now in the launcher settings will move your main screen to the left side, then you can swipe left once to access Google Now. It looks and works exactly like it does in the Google Now Launcher.

Google hasn't made any tools for Google Now publicly available, which is why no third-party launchers have a Google Now panel. It's not clear if Sony just got something special from Google, or maybe all OEMs have the option of doing this and none of them have bothered yet. Whatever the situation, Sony is the only company to add Google Now support in this way. It's worth checking out if you've got an Xperia.