10 Useful, Hidden Features On Google's Pixel Phone

Google's new Pixel phone comes with some impressive features. Its camera takes remarkable, detailed photos. It comes with Google Assistant, a virtual assistant tool that's actually useful. The Pixel comes with some less obvious features worth exploring, too.

Free Up Space Through a Quick Shortcut

Some apps come with shortcuts. When you long press their icons from the home screen, you'll get a list of quick actions for that app. Long press the Twitter icon, for example, and you have the option to search, write a new tweet, or send a message.

Google Photos includes one of the most useful shortcuts, though. Long press the Photos icon, and you'll see a shortcut to "free up space." Hit that option and the app will find duplicate photos from your phone that are already saved on Google Photos. It will ask if you'd like to delete those photos since they have already been backed up.

Obviously, you can do this from the app itself, but this is a quick way to get there when you need some extra phone storage. 

Customise Your Daily Briefing

"My Day" is one of the most fun, useful features in Google Assistant. Launch the app with the voice command, "OK Google, tell me about my day," and you'll get a briefing of the weather, traffic, news, and more. Best of all, you can customise what kind of information you want to include in the briefing.

From within Assistant, navigate to Settings > My Day and you can pick and choose what info you want: Weather, commute, meetings, and reminders. You can also customise your news sources by hitting the settings icon under News.

Get New Wallpaper Every Day

Pixel's live wallpapers not only look beautiful, some of them serve a practical purpose. Its horizon wallpaper, for example, shows a sunrise as your phone charges. When the battery fades, the sun goes down. You can also see a view of earth with real-time clouds, based on your location. (If you don't have the Pixel, Google has an app for them for other Android devices)

Google also includes a daily wallpapers feature that swap out your wallpaper image every 24 hours. To access these, head to Settings > Display > Wallpapers. If you choose Cityscapes, for example, you'll see an option to turn on a daily wallpaper. Tap the box to set it up.

Turn on the Notification Light

Pixel's notification light is turned off by default so you might not even know it's there. To turn it on, head to Settings > Notifications then hit the gear icon and turn on "pulse notification light." Whenever you get a new notification, a light will now blink periodically next to the earpiece speaker.

The light is subtle and it doesn't blink often, though. You may want to turn it on as a gentle reminder that you have notifications waiting for you, especially if you have your phone set to silent or vibrate all other times.

Play Trivia With Assistant

OK, this isn't the most useful feature, but hey, it's kind of fun. If you ask Google Assistant to "play Lucky Trivia," it will launch a quick game of trivia with five questions. You can play alone or with multiple contestants. It asks a series of random questions like the one above, and you respond by voice. The questions are pretty easy, but if you have kids, this might be a fun feature for them.

Access Split Screen Mode

For apps that support it (and even on many that don't), you can use split screen on the Pixel phone, too. To access split screen mode, open the apps you want to split. From within one of the apps, hold down the square menu button and your phone's screen will split in half. From there, you can choose which second app you want in the bottom half of your screen.

When you're in split screen mode, the square button aptly turns into two rectangle icons. To swap out the bottom screen app, hit this split screen icon. To exit split screen, hold down on the icon.

Avoid and Block Spam Calls

Whenever I get an unknown call, I immediately Google the number to see where it's coming from. It could be UPS calling me about a package or it could be some spammer wasting my time. You probably do the same song and dance. Pixel makes it easier to screen calls with its Caller ID & Spam feature.

Turn on this feature from within the dialer Settings. This way, when you get a call, you'll get as much info as possible about the caller. You can also block these numbers from Google Dialer.

Automatically (and Securely) Connect to Open Wi-Fi Networks

Google's Wi-Fi assistant comes in handy when you want to save on data. It automatically connects to open Wi-Fi networks when they're available. It only connects to high-quality networks and secures your data via a VPN. When you're connected, a key icon appears in your status bar.

This feature is disabled by default. To turn it on, head to Settings > Wi-Fi, then hit the gear icon and turn on "use open Wi-Fi automatically."

Enable Night Light

Less blue light before bed is a good thing. Pixel's Night Light feature turns your screen tint from blue to red at night, kind of like f.lux can, but without the need to root your phone. Theoretically, less blue night at light helps you sleep better.

Access Night Light from Settings > Display > Night Light. You can set it to turn off and on automatically from sunset to sunrise, or you can schedule it for specific times of the day.

Get Information Related to What's Currently on Screen

Google Assistant will tell you all the interesting things it can do when you have the app open, much like Google Now On Tap used to on older devices. You can also use it from within other apps, though. Depending on what's on your screen, Assistant can offer extra information. If you're reading an article, for example, launch Assistant by saying "OK Google," and you can swipe up on Assistant to see suggestions for further reading or more information on a specific topic.

Pixel already comes with a surplus of practical settings, so it's easy to glaze over some of the more obscure features it comes with. Best of all, some of these features will come to Nexus, too, with Android 7.1.1.

Illustration by: Sam Woolley

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Comments

    Is Night Light a standard feature of Nougat or a Pixel only feature?

    Currently use Twilight but I'm sure a built in version would use less battery and give less "Screen Overlay" errors...

      It's a standard feature of Nougat 7.1 onwards.

      (though some have managed to unlock it in 7.0 too)

    Aside from the features relying on Assistant, all of these are already on most devices. Even then, My Day is only available if the device language is set to English (US). Devices sold here will default to English (Australia) so it won't appear by default.

    For those without a Pixel, here's how to get some of the above:

    #1 - Launcher shortcuts are available on the Pixel launcher which can be downloaded from Play. If that's not available, then the Google Now Launcher also does shortcuts (on Nougat at least)
    #3 - as mentioned in the article, the Wallpapers app is available from Play for devices running JB or above
    #6 - split screen is available to any device running Nougat. And this functionality has been available via Touchwiz on Samsung devices for a couple of years now.
    #7 - this is a feature of Google Phone (i.e. the app), not the Pixel, since v4. Any recent Nexus device (on Nougat) will have this available via Play and any other device running AOSP (also Nougat) should be able to sideload it if not available from Play.
    #8 - notifying about open WiFi has been available since early JB days and is usually enabled by default. Especially if users leave the relevant pre-checked option enabled during initial device setup.
    #9 - this is a standard feature on 7.1.x . Admittedly up until recently no other device had above 7.0, but now most recent Nexuses have bumped up, as has AOSP (and ROMs based on it such as CM). Even for those stuck on 7.0 there are ways to unlock this functionality. And btw it's not a hidden feature, on the Pixel at least it's enabled by default.
    #10 - as the article says, this functionality is just a borrow from Google on Tap which has been around since L

    However, there are a couple of features unique to a Pixel (and not that easily found) such as:

    1. 24/7 call centre and live-chat support. This is in a tab in settings rather than having an app on the homescreen/drawer
    2. Swipe down on the fingerprint reader to open notifications

    Having a Pixel XL myself, the assistant is one of the most useless wastes of valuable memory possible. 90% of it doesn't work, and what does is mostly always wrong.

    It's a bit of a shame this article is so heavily weighted to a feature that isn't suitable for this country.

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