Google’s Pixel and Pixel XL are arguably the best Android smartphone you can get — we certainly feel that way, having placed the XL among the best phones available right now. The Pixel offers the deepest integration of Google services, a bloatware-free software experience, and several exclusive features highlighted by the Google Assistant. There’s a lot to unpack with Google’s flagship phones, but you’ll want to take the time to get to know these features so that you get the most from your Pixel.
The Google Assistant is always there, able to answer a wide variety of questions or perform a number of different voice actions. You launch it by holding down the home button or saying, “OK Google.” To make sure you can always get in on the action, go to Google > Settings to turn on the Assistant’s always-listening capability. The Assistant is significantly more helpful than the regular Google search available in other Android phones, so you should put those powers to work.
One of my favorite perks of the Pixel is that you get free backup of all your pictures at full resolution through Google Photos. However, you have to claim it first. Open the Google Photos app, and then enable the backup and sync. You’ll find a few other tricks on this screen, such as grouping similar faces together or freeing up storage space by deleting saved photos.
Google has made plenty of noise about the Pixel’s camera prowess. (And after stacking the Pixel XL up against a Galaxy S7 and iPhone 7 Plus in a camera showdown, we’re inclined to agree.) One of the Pixel camera’s neatest tricks is called Lens Blur. When you take a picture, the camera will focus in on the subject, making it very sharp with the background blurry. It’s similar to a bokeh effect, one that’s especially good for portraits or other focused photo situations.
Yes, Google pretty much copied this feature from Apple and the 3D Touch featured in the iPhone 6s and later. However, Google did put an Android-flavored spin on the capability, which will eventually make its way to other devices that implement Android 7.1. When you press and hold on an app icon, you’ll see shortcuts that launch specific actions. However, you can also touch and hold on one of those shortcuts and drag it onto your homescreen as a widget. The shortcut will then always be at the ready.
Google Now on Tap was one of the marquee features of Android Marshmallow, but it never quite turned out to be the game changer that Google promised. However, the feature lives on in Android Nougat running on the Pixel. (You’ll find Now on Tap listed as “screen context” in the Google Assistant settings.) And it’s now more useful thanks to the predictive power of the Google Assistant.
When you have an article, email, or text conversation open, you can touch and hold the home button and then swipe up from the bottom to see what cards Google has created. I find it a great way to get more details about a topic or check a restaurant’s hours without needing to copy and paste the text into a new search.
One of the hallmark features of Android is the pulsing light for notifications. Google has turned this capability off by default on the Pixel, but you can turn it back on rather easily. To do this, head to Settings > Notifications and tap on the gear icon. Then you’re able to enable the pulse notification light setting. Next time your phone pings you, that familiar light will start flashing.
Spend less time staring at Twitter and get some actual news during your day. The Google Assistant taps into a large vault of different sources, ranging from NPR to the Associated Press as well as others devoted to specific topics such as sports. Once you’ve selected your favorites, you can ask Google to play any of those specific selections or just to play the news. The Assistant then rotates through the cycle, giving you a heads up on the day’s news. You can turn off the broadcast by saying, “Ok Google, stop.”