Google first ‘Pixel feature drop’ enhances Photos, Call Screen, Duo, RAM

Drop it like its hot.

Credit: Michael Simon/IDG

When the Pixel phone landed in 2016, the promise was that the handset would be continuously updated, not just with regular Android security and version updates, but with new features like Apple does with the iPhone. Over the years, Google has obliged by regularly bringing newer Pixel features to older phones, but it’s stopped short of delivering big feature-packed updates. That’s changing with the first ever “Pixel feature drop.”

According to a blog post, the updates are already rolling out and involve two steps: a system update and app updates via the Play Store. It’s unclear whether the update is part of the December security update that began rolling out last week (and has yet to hit the Pixel 4) or a newer Android 10.1 update, but it should reach all Pixel phones “in the coming weeks.”

Here are the new features coming as part of the feature drop:

  • Google Photos: Portrait Blur will let you create blurred-background portrait shots on regular photos.
  • Call Screen (Pixel 4, U.S. only): Google Assistant will now automatically screen unknown callers and filter out detected robocalls.
  • Google Duo (Pixel 4, U.S. only): Auto-framing will keep your face centered during video calls and adjust accordingly if someone else joins. Audio will also be enhanced during bad connections as a machine learning model predicts the likely next sound.
  • Google Duo (Pixel 2, 3, 4): You can blur the background during video calls.

Also coming to the Pixel 2, 3, and 3a:

  • The Recorder app is now available on older generations of Pixel.
  • Pixel 3 and 3a users will get Live Caption. 
  • Focus mode is rolling out to help you stay productive and minimize distractions by easily pausing apps.
  • You’ll be able to flip your phone to silence it on the Pixel 2 and 2 XL.
  • If you use a Pixel 4 in the UK, Canada, Ireland, Singapore and Australia, you’ll soon get the new Google Assistant, though it will still only work in English.

Additionally, Google says all Pixel devices will also receive an update to its memory management in the feature drop, a long-standing issues with Pixel phones. Google says phones will now “proactively compresses cached applications so that users can run multiple applications at the same time—like games, streaming content and more.”

It sounds like this is the start of a new update cycle for the Pixel, as Google looks to further differentiate its own phones from the rest off the Android landscape. In fact, it’s unclear whether these features will eventually be rolling out to all Android phones at all, so for now you’ll need a Pixel phone to take advantage of them.

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Michael Simon

Michael Simon

PC World (US online)
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