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Pixel 'feature drop' bringing a ton of upgrades to Google's phones

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Pixel owners are about to get a few gifts courtesy of Google, just in time for the holidays. Google announced its plan today (Dec. 9) to roll out "bigger updates" in the form of Pixel feature drops, starting this month.

The first drop will add automatic call screening, several quality-of-life enhancements for Duo video chat and the ability to retroactively add dramatic blur to old portraits, among other goodies.

The improvements to Call Screen, which were previewed last month thanks to some hints in code, will allow the Google Assistant on the Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL to automatically filter calls for you. Should the assistant detect an actual human on the other end, it'll ring your phone, and you'll be able to pick up the conversation from there. If not, the assistant dismisses the call without pestering you.

Duo, Google's video chat client, will also see several major upgrades with this inaugural feature drop. You'll be able to activate background blur within video chats on the Pixel 2, 3 and 4.

(Image credit: Google)

On the Pixel 4 in particular, the phone's wide-angle front-facing camera will now intelligently shift its zoom and focus to keep you centered. If another person enters the frame, it'll zoom back out to include them as well.

(Image credit: Google)

A new predictive voice model should help you hear complete words and phrases, even when your correspondent's connection gets inconsistent.

Speaking of blurry backgrounds, Google Photos will now allow you to go back and add adjustable shallow depth-of-field bokeh effect to old images, even if they weren't initially captured in Portrait Mode.

Unfortunately, it seems most of these new features are only coming to the Pixel 4. Still, owners of older Pixel handsets won't be left our of the lurch entirely. Google's new Recorder app, which enables live transcription, has already arrived on older Pixels, whereas Live Caption — which can communicate anything happening on your phone's screen in text — will make it to the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3a in the near future. And the new Focus Mode, that offers a brief respite from attention-siphoning apps, is rolling out to all Pixel handsets that have Digital Wellbeing. 

Google says you can even expect some performance enhancements on every Pixel phone, thanks to a new intelligent memory management model that "proactively compresses cached applications so that users can run multiple applications at the same time."

The first feature drop will hit your Pixel over the coming weeks. Interestingly, our in-house Pixel 4 still hasn't seen the November security patch, let alone the December one that just came out a few days ago, so hopefully Google can do a better job of getting these helpful enhancements out to users' handsets in a more timely manner.