The camera is arguably one of the Pixel range’s best ongoing features. Not just because it can take great pictures, but because Google generally favours using software to improve picture quality rather than relying on a new set of lenses every year.
It also means that the Google Pixel 5's best camera features can roll out to older Pixel devices, which is what’s just happened with the release of version 8.1 of the Google Camera app.
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Version 8.0 of Google Camera was a complete redesign that was initially exclusive to the Pixel 5. That included a reorganization of its features in the bottom bar, and other major features like Audio Zoom and one-tap zoom adjustments. While it was possible for some people to manually install the 8.0 APK on older devices, compatibility issues meant those features were not available. Assuming you were willing to reset your phone to get the update in the first place.
Now, version 8.1 is starting to appear in the Google Play Store for owners of the Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL. However 9to5Google has just discovered it’s compatible with all current Pixel phones, up to and including the Pixel 2 range. In other words it sounds like the only Pixel owners who won’t get the update are those rocking the original Pixel or Pixel XL.
It’s a little bit odd, considering the Pixel 2 hit its three year anniversary last month, and technically isn’t entitled to any more support from Google. That said Google has confirmed the final update won’t arrive until December, so it seems the Camera app is also getting one last hurrah before the end of the phone’s operational lifespan.
Unfortunately not all of the Pixel 5’s camera features are going to work with older devices. 9to5Google reported that cinematic pan won’t be hitting anything older than a Pixel 4, and it’s likely that other features won’t be available on older devices either. That said, considering Google’s reliance on software-centric photography, the update should be something of a boost to your pictures, old phone or not.
Of course nobody is going to have a complete list of what does and doesn’t work until the update has finished rolling out to every kind of compatible Pixel. And sideloading is apparently no longer possible for those of you who aren’t patient enough for Google Play to catch up.