Google’s newest Pixel 3 phones are up for pre-order right now. But if you have last year’s Pixel phone, should you upgrade? There are several new features coming to the Pixel 2 that you might want to know about before spending $ 799+ on a new device.
The Pixel 3 and 3 XL will have a few exclusive features because they require specific hardware upgrades. For example, the new phones support wireless charging—and you can buy a slick-looking wireless charging stand to go with it. There’s also a second front-facing camera for capturing wider photos so you can get everyone in the group selfie.
However, Google is still a software company. While many of the coolest new features the company announced will come to the Pixel 3 first, they’ll also roll out to older Pixel phones. Some will arrive immediately, others will be a few months after the Pixel 3 drops, giving the new phones a small window of exclusivity. Either way, Google is breathing some new life into older handsets, which could play a big part in your decision to upgrade.
Call Screen Answers Annoying Phone Calls
One of the most surprising features in an event largely devoid of surprises was Call Screen. This feature lets Google Assistant answer your incoming phone calls for you and transcribe what the person on the other end of the phone is saying. You can then respond with a canned message—such as “tell me more” or “they’ll get back to you”—which Google Assistant will read out loud to the other person. You have the option of reporting a call as spam or, if the call seems interesting enough, answering it yourself.
This feature will launch with the Pixel 3. Google hasn’t announced a specific release date for users with older Pixel phones, but it should roll out some time next month.
Google Duplex Books Tables for You
Remember that demo from Google I/O where Google Assistant called stores all on its own? It seemed like something out of the future. For older Pixel owners, that future will arrive before the end of the year. Google Duplex will let Pixel 3 owners book tables at restaurants (if the restaurant doesn’t already support an online booking system like OpenTable); older Pixel phone owners getting the feature before the end of the year.
Unfortunately, there’s a catch. While Google isn’t restricting the feature to specific Pixel phones, it is restricting it to specific cities. If you live in Atlanta, New York, Phoenix, or the San Francisco Bay Area, you’ll be able to try out Duplex. If you’re outside of those cities, you’ll have to wait longer.
Night Sight Lights Up Dim Photos
Low-light photos have been a consistent problem for years, despite lofty claims from smartphone manufacturers. While some previous solutions have aimed to make the best of a dark situation, Night Sight uses Google’s favorite two words—machine learning—to guess what the colors in a picture should be, and fill in the darker parts of the image.
In a sample image, Google compared two identical shots, one taken on an iPhone XS and the other on a Pixel 3. To say the difference was night and day would be a little on the nose, but the images speak for themselves.
Night Sight doesn’t seem like a feature designed to mildly improve nighttime photos so much as a way to artificially add daylight where there is none. The difference is so stark that it might not be appropriate for all photos, but it’s a powerful tool to have in your arsenal.
Night Sight will arrive on the Pixel 3 first, with older Pixel phones following shortly afterwards.
Sort Photos of People (and Pets) You Care About
Google Photos does an uncanny job of recognizing the faces of your friends, family, and even your pets. Now, Google is rolling out a new feature that lets you create Live Albums that automatically fill with photos of the people Google recognizes. So, for example, since Google already recognizes your mother and father, you can create an album called Parents and add both their names to it. From then on, any picture you take of either of them will show up in the same album. This convenient feature is already rolling out right now for users on Android, iOS, and the web.
Change the Focus of Your Selfies, Pick Your Top Shot
The portrait mode in existing Pixel phones takes eye-catching photos with an artificial depth of field that blurs the background so your subject stands out more. In a new update, you’ll be able to adjust that background blur after you’ve already taken the photo, or even blur a different part of the photo if you prefer. This feature will be part of Google Photos and will only work on pictures taken in portrait mode.
Google also announced Top Shot, which records several photos at once when you hit the shutter button and lets you pick the best-looking one.
Naturally, the Pixel 3 will get these new features, but it will also be available for any other phone that supports portrait mode, including the Pixel 2 and Motorola’s Moto G6.
Super Res Zoom
Google also announced Super Res Zoom, which takes better zoomed-in pictures by stitching multiple burst photo images together at slightly different angles. Unlike wireless charging or the group selfie camera, there’s no obvious hardware reason why this can’t come to older Pixel phones as well, but Google hasn’t said one way or the other. (Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images)
Smart Home Gadgets Get Way More Accessible on Phones and Smart Displays
This one is less of a Pixel feature, but it’s still a welcome addition to older gadgets. Currently, Google Assistant supports voice commands to interact with your smart home devices, but it’s not quite as easy to control them without speaking out loud. A new update to the Google Home app will change all that. A single dashboard within the app will let you turn your smart lights on and off, control your thermostat, play music, or broadcast a message to your smart speakers all with a tap of a button.
A similar feature called Home View will also be coming to Google’s new Home Hub smart display. So far, all Google’s smart displays have used the exact same software and any updates are handled on Google’s end, so there’s very little reason to think this feature won’t be available on any smart display you might have already. However, even if you don’t have a smart display, the convenient new Google Home app should make controlling your smart home a lot easier.
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