The Google Pixel series of phones hasn’t really caught the imagination or attracted the sort of sales in the same way that its big-name Android rivals have, but Google actually introduced Android features first on its Pixel lineup. Here are a few of the most important Pixel exclusives that make it more tempting to buy one—besides the obvious advantage of getting access to new Android software before anyone else.
The Pixel call-screening feature leverages the smarts of Google Assistant, which will respond to incoming calls on your behalf, if you want it to. When a call gets screened, the caller hears a prompt from Google Assistant that asks who’s calling and why. That information is then relayed to you in a transcript, if the caller doesn’t hang up.
To enable the feature, open the Google Phone app, tap the three dots up in the top right corner, then choose Settings and Spam and Call Screen. You need to turn on See caller and spam ID, and then you can tap Call Screen to configure the feature further. At the time of writing, the feature has only been rolled out to the U.S., Canada, and Japan.
If you can never quite decide which apps deserve a spot on your home screen, you can get your Google Pixel to pick some of them for you. Long press on a blank area of your home screen, then choose Home settings and Suggestions, and enable Suggestions on Home screen (you can also get suggestions in the main apps drawer too, if you want).
The suggestions always appear on the bottom row of the home screen, just above the search box, though you can replace one or more of the slots with a static shortcut by dragging the icon down. Google says that the suggestions are “based on your recently used apps, most-used apps and routines,” so that’s why you’re seeing what you’re seeing.
Another Pixel exclusive that you don’t get on other Android handsets is the ability to automatically jump into Do Not Disturb or Android Auto driving mode when your handset detects that you’re moving. This works with the Pixel 3 and later (on the Pixel 2, Do Not Disturb is the only option). It’s not a huge feature, but it’s pretty convenient nevertheless.
On a Pixel 3 and later, from Settings, choose Connected devices, Connection preferences, and Driving mode, then tap Behavior (the options you see after that depend on your phone and your car). On the Pixel 2, from the main Android Settings screen choose Sound, Do Not Disturb and Turn on automatically, then pick Add rule and select Driving.
One of the neat editing tricks offered by Google Photos is the ability to change up the sky in your photos, but not everyone gets access to all the features. Strictly speaking, this isn’t a Pixel exclusive, but it is, sort of. You either need a Pixel phone or an active Google One subscription on a non-Pixel device to get access to these sky filters in Google Photos.
With an image open in Google Photos, tap Adjust then Sky to make your choice. Radiant really brings the colors out a lot brighter, for example, while Ember gives more of a warmer glow. The rest of the picture gets modified too, to better reflect the style of sky you’ve chosen, and you can tweak the strength of the effect with the dial at the bottom.
Pixel phones have other neat photography features, too. The Google Camera will offer you an extreme Night Sight mode intended for taking shots of the night sky—leveraging the on-board AI processing—once it detects the conditions are suitable. In June 2021, a new time lapse option was added, enabling Pixel owners to make their own stellar movies.
You need a Pixel 4 or later for this, but if your phone supports the feature then you’ll see an Enable Time Lapse for Astrophotography option in the Advanced section of the Google Camera app settings—tap the arrow then the cog icon from the shutter screen to find them. When the conditions are right, you’ll be able to capture a short clip as well as a still image.
The Pixels come with a Now Playing feature that works like a Shazam clone that’s always on and always listening. In other words, if you want to know what a particular song is, you don’t have to quickly grab your phone, open an app, and enable the listening mode. Most of the time the song title and artist will already be displayed on your Pixel lock screen.
To customize how Now Playing works, open the main Android Settings screen, then choose Sound and vibration, Advanced, and Now playing. You can choose whether or not song IDs show up on the log screen, and dig into the Now Playing History as well—a list of all the tunes that your Pixel phone has picked up in the background recently.
Google has promised that this feature will eventually roll out to “select” Android phones that aren’t Pixels, but for now you need a Pixel 2 or later to enable it. If you open the main Settings page on your Android device, then choose Sound and vibration, you’ll see the Live Caption option—tap it to enable the feature and configure its various settings.
Essentially, Live Caption adds real-time subtitles to any video or audio playing on your device, which is very handy for those with hearing difficulties, or if you’re in a quiet place and can’t turn up the volume. You can even ask for labels like laughter, applause and music, and in our experience the AI is very impressive (albeit not flawless, yet).