Google’s Pixel lineup comes with a plethora of impressive functions, but some are easier to find and activate than others. The coolest bonus features are hiding just beneath the surface. This list examines the most intriguing.
Whether you’ve just received a new Pixel for Christmas or simply want to learn more about your phone, these features are guaranteed to enhance your user experience.
Note for this tutorial we used a Pixel 4a running the latest Android 11 version.
1. Know What’s Playing
Your Google Pixel comes with a Shazam-like feature baked in. It’s called “Now Playing,” and you can activate it by going to “Settings -> Display -> Lock screen -> Now Playing.” Next, toggle on the “Show songs on lock screen” feature. From here, you can also add a Now Playing shortcut to your home screen for easy access to your listening history.
Now whenever music is playing nearby, the Pixel will be able to pick up and identify the sound waves, then show you which track is playing on your lockscreen. Pretty handy!
2. Add Captions to Any Audio
Another useful tool on your Pixel is that it can add live captions to any audio that is playing on your phone. To activate this option, go to “Settings -> Accessibility -> Live Caption.” Toggle on the “Live Caption” option.
To test this out, open a YouTube video on your device and press play. You should start seeing the captions appear underneath. You can resize or reposition the caption box on the screen according to your needs. Note that at this moment, the feature works only for English language audio, but Google says more languages will be added in the near future.
Under Live Caption, you’ll find additional options – for example, Caption calls. This service provides live captions when you’re on the phone with someone. It’s enabled by default, although your Pixel will ask you if you want captions every time you get a call unless you instruct it otherwise. If you don’t want this, you can turn the feature off from here.
3. Silence Notifications When You Place Your Phone Down
Need to focus on something and don’t want any distractions? The Pixel offers an easy solution to get some peace and quiet. Activate the “Flip to Shhh” option to trigger a Do Not Disturb mode, which silences notifications and other distractions whenever your phone is face down on a flat surface.
To do so, go to “Settings -> System -> Gestures.” Next, look for and tap on the “Flip to Shh” option. Toggle on the option to activate Do Not Disturb mode. Google says you’ll feel a very subtle vibration when the mode turns on.
Do Not Disturb is part of Google’s Digital Wellbeing, so if you need more help with minimizing distractions while you work, you can take a look at the other options that are part of the package by visiting “Settings -> Digital Wellbeing & parental controls.”
4. View Notifications Using Your Fingerprint
If you often use your phone one-handed, you’re going to like this trick. It allows you to view notifications without having to swipe your finger from the top of the display. Instead, you can swipe on your fingerprint sensor at the back of the phone, which is much more comfortable when you don’t have both hands free.
First, turn the feature on. You can do this by going to “Settings -> System -> Gestures -> Swipe Fingerprint for Notifications.” Enable the feature from there.
To view your notifications, swipe down on the sensor. Alternatively, if you wish to close them, swipe up.
5. Take Advantage of the Built-in VPN
Connecting to unsecured Wi-Fi networks is quite a dangerous affair, but Pixel owners have a set of tools in place that can protect them from such unpleasantness.
The phone includes a feature that enables auto-connection to public Wi-Fi hotspots, which when activated simultaneously pairs with a VPN managed by Google. To find it, go to “Settings -> Network & Internet -> Wi-Fi -> Wi-Fi preferences.” Enable “Connect to open networks” to automatically connect to high-quality public networks.
Once you do so, Google sends the Wi-Fi assistant over to notify you that in order to protect your privacy on public Wi-Fi, your data will be transmitted through a secure VPN, courtesy of Google. Tap on the “Got it” button to finally turn the feature on.
The option is on all Pixel and Nexus devices running Android 5.1 and above. According to Google, it’s currently available in select countries, including the U.S., Canada, Denmark, Faroe Islands, Finland, Iceland, Mexico, Norway, Sweden and the UK.
For those with Google Fi, the Wi-Fi assistant is also available in Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Switzerland.
6. Create Custom Themes and More
Google allows Pixel users to customize their device in various ways. For example, you can easily make custom themes. To get started, head to “Settings -> Display -> Styles & wallpapers” or long-press on the home screen and tap on “Styles & wallpapers” from the menu that appears.
Here you can select from the numerous styles available or create your own by tapping on the Custom button. Pick your fonts and select which type of icon pack you’d like to have, then finish by selecting the highlight color and shape of icons.
Another cool thing you can do is use a “Come Alive” wallpaper. These are interactive wallpapers that move subtly and respond to your movements via the Motion Sense feature. You can apply one from “Styles & wallpapers -> Wallpapers.” Find the Come Alive section and pick your favorite from what’s available. You’ll need a newer Pixel to be able to use this feature.
7. Be Prepared in Case of Emergency
Newer Pixel models come with an app called Safety pre-installed. This service lets you set an emergency contact who will be allowed access to your phone without having to unlock it. You can also add vital information in the app, such as any allergies you may be suffering from, medications you are on or whether you’re an organ donor.
You can also enable automatic crash detection, a feature which alerts emergency responders, as well as your contacts, that you’ve been in an accident. Right now the option only works for owners of the Pixel 3 (and above) who live in the U.S., U.K., and Australia.
If you’re looking for some additional apps to install on your Pixel, you may want to consult our list of the best Android file managers to help you organize everything or check out the best weather apps that deliver comprehensive forecasts at your fingertips.