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Thinking about buying the Google Pixel smartphone? Beware that the Pixel conceals a secret: artificial intelligence (AI). While Google advertised a lot of ground-breaking features, it also stuffed in a few unadvertised secrets. So what lurks inside of the Pixel?

In short, you get pocket-AI, cloud storage, and more. But let’s start with what Google advertised in its first promotional video:

According to Google’s marketing department, the Pixel comes with the world’s best smartphone camera, a 3.5″ audio jack, and the mysterious Google Assistant.

Artificial Intelligence Comes to Smartphones

AI drives the Pixel’s uniqueness. Before 2016, AI and smartphones remained separate from one another. But thanks to Google’s acquisition of three AI firms and Motorola’s ATAP division, the road seems paved toward pocket AI. With the Pixel, civilization hurtles toward a future in which AI fits in your pocket. And that learning machine listens to everything you do.

Modern AI, such as that found in the Pixel, relies on a technology known as known as machine learning 4 Machine Learning Algorithms That Shape Your Life 4 Machine Learning Algorithms That Shape Your Life You may not realize it but machine learning is already all around you, and it can exert a surprising degree of influence over your life. Don't believe me? You might be surprised. Read More . Google’s machine learning techniques relate to their acquisition of the AI research firm, DeepMind. DeepMind developed AlphaGo — the AI that beat Go champion Lee Sedol Google's AI Breakthrough: What It Means & How It Affects You Google's AI Breakthrough: What It Means & How It Affects You Read More . And that means a technology capable of outsmarting a human may now inhabit your pocket. But how has Google adapted AI to fit inside of the Pixel?

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Google Assistant

The Pixel’s upgraded personal assistant, Google Assistant, is smart. Like AlphaGo, it learns from observing human behavior. Based on how you use the Pixel, the assistant recommends actions. For example, using telemetry data, it calculates when you leave for work, forecasting traffic and suggesting alternate routes. Other times, Assistant peeks at your photo roll and suggests stitching together bursts of pictures, creating a stabilized image. Sometimes it even automatically applies stylish filters to photos.

Here’s an example of an automatically applied filter:

cubby photograph pixel

Check out this automatically-created animated GIF:

google assistant automatically created animated gif

Assistant’s self-learning abilities include (at least) five categories. If enabled, Assistant displays related notifications (Google refers to these as Cards) whenever it senses that the user needs them. These kinds of cards include:

  1. Weather — Detects your region and forecasts weather for the day.
  2. Work Commute — Detects driving conditions, alternative routes, and determines an estimated time of arrival.
  3. Next Meeting — Assistant can also hook into your calendar and sense upcoming meetings.
  4. Reminders — If you ever set a reminder using Assistant, Google creates a virtual card, which displays itself at a specified time or place.
  5. News — Based on your particular news interests, such as sports or technology, Assistant pulls up relevant cards whenever it detects you need them.

google pixel assistant options

Ignore the marketing. Assistant will come to all Google products. The reasons range from the practical to the frightening. For the most part, Google wants Assistant to offer conversational capabilities. And training a neural net requires tremendous amounts of raw data and user telemetry.

It Knows What You’re Talking About

Another Google Assistant feature worth mentioning: contextual processing. Older personal assistants work great for asking a single question. But they’re terrible for continuing a dialog. Assistant closes the gap between a conversant AI and one-shot assistants by adding context to issues.

For example, if I ask Assistant for directions to the supermarket and then correct myself by saying “I meant to the nearest bank,” Assistant places that question within the context of the conversation. It then intuits that the user wants to issue a navigation correction. The process feels seamless and without the stutter of the previous generation of personal assistants.

To date, only a few Google products include Assistant. That’s the Pixel, Allo, and Google Home. A few other apps, such as the Photo app, include Assistant as a feature. However, it’s unclear as to the extent of its integration.

Free Cloud Storage and Smart Storage

Google furnishes the Pixel with free and unlimited cloud storage for photo backups. Combined with Smart Storage, you can take an unlimited number of photographs without running out of space. It works like this: based on how you’ve configured your Pixel, your phone might delete images every 30, 60, or 90 days — but only if your photos have been backed up. Plugging your phone into a power source triggers the backup process.

Configuring Smart Storage

To configure Smart Storage, navigate to Settings and the choose Storage. In the Storage menu, you can toggle both the backup frequency and whether or not a backup occurs. Unfortunately, Google does not integrate (nor does it permit integration) with a third-party cloud storage solution like OneDrive.

google pixel smart storage

Because Smart Storage links into Google Photos, that means you get unlimited photo backups Get Free Unlimited Photo Storage & More with Google Photos Get Free Unlimited Photo Storage & More with Google Photos If you aren't using these hidden Google Photos features, you're really missing out. (Hint: There's free and unlimited photo storage!) Read More . Unlike other smartphones, the Pixel comes with full resolution quality. The unlimited storage that comes with other services usually means the photos are compressed (what’s compression? How Does File Compression Work? How Does File Compression Work? File compression is at the core of how the modern web works, one could argue, because it allows us to share files that would otherwise take too long to transfer. But how does it work? Read More ) and of diminished quality.

Facial Recognition

One of the creepiest features in Google Pixel is its photo app. Once you snap a picture of friends, Google uploads your photos to the cloud, and its AI applies a facial recognition algorithm Face Recognition: How It Works and Who's Watching? Face Recognition: How It Works and Who's Watching? How much is your face worth? Read More . Each and every person in your album can receive a tag (or name). You can search your database for all pictures of a specified individual.

google facial recognition pixel

But that also means Google keeps a catalog of not just your identity, but the identities of your friends (and random strangers who blundered into a shot). The potential consequences remain unknown — but the risk of abuse chills even the staunchest of technology advocates.

Concierge Service

If getting access to a machine assistant wasn’t enough, Google also borrowed a feature from the Amazon Fire Phone: direct access to a human assistant. If your Pixel ever malfunctions — or you just need some advice — a human operator can help with just the touch of a button.

google pixel support service

Hidden Pixel Features

In addition to AI, the Pixel throws in a few hidden features, which the users needs to enable or discover. These include gesture support, a red screen-tinting feature, and a hidden notification red-green-blue (RGB) LED light.

Night Mode (AKA Night Light)

The Lighting Research Center’s study on light exposure found that red light reduces insomnia Get a Good Night's Sleep by Filtering Your Phone's Blue Light Get a Good Night's Sleep by Filtering Your Phone's Blue Light Your phone's screen is keeping you awake. Don't let it. These apps will help you rest well. Read More . Fortunately, Android 7.0 added the ability to automatically redden display color at night. Unfortunately, Google chose to remove this feature in Android 7.1.1 — except for Pixel users. It’s silly that Google pulls useful features from Android, but it helps differentiate their product from their (now) competitors.

Keep in mind that Night Mode requires activation. Turning it on is a simple process.

First, go to Settings and select Display. Then go to Night Light and turn it on. You can also configure the hours in which the display tints amber. However, the default settings should match your body’s natural circadian rhythms.

google pixel night light

The Hidden RGB LED Light

Among its unadvertised features, the Pixel throws in a secret LED for notifications. Users can enable this feature, which saves on both battery life and screen lifespan. To permit it, the user must navigate to Settings > Notifications and click on the gear icon in the upper-right side of the screen. Then enable the Pulse notification light. From then on, whenever users receive a notification, the LED blinks.

pixel xl notifications led

I haven’t figured out any of the reasons why the light flashes different colors. It seems that redder light indicates important notifications.

Gesture or Motion Activated Features

Google co-opted motion and gesture controls from Motorola — they refer to it as Move. The gesture controls allow the user to launch certain apps or features by physically moving the phone. Move includes, as of 2016, five different actions: fingerprint scanner gestures, jump-to-camera, twist-for-selfie, lift-to-check-phone, and double-tap to wake.

Fingerprint Scanner Notifications Control

Another feature most users won’t know about hides inside of the fingerprint scanner: the scanner doubles as a notifications toggle. Sliding one’s finger down over the scanner displays the notifications tray. A single swipe up dismisses the tray.

Here’s a video of how to enable the feature:

Jump-to-Camera

LG’s flagship smartphones can launch its camera by double-clicking on its power button. The Pixel borrows this feature. This can help you quickly get to your camera app so that you never miss a shot.

Twist-for-Selfie

Like the Moto X, the Pixel can switch between cameras with ease. It works like this: after opening the Camera app, make a double-twist motion while holding the Pixel to launch the selfie camera. The Pixel then switches from the rear-facing camera to the front-facing camera.

Lift-to-Check-Phone and Double-Tap to Wake

Ambient Display turns the screen on temporarily to show notifications. On an AMOLED panel, this saves battery life and helps with screen burn-in Save Your Screen: How to Prevent Burn-in on AMOLED Screens Save Your Screen: How to Prevent Burn-in on AMOLED Screens Does your device's screen suffer from burn-in? Do you just want to keep your screen healthy for a long time? Then you'll want to read this article. Read More .

Newer Android devices usually include Ambient Display by default. However, the Pixel adds two additional features. Lift-to-check-phone allows the Pixel to switch its screen on whenever it senses that someone has picked the phone up. Double-tap to wake spares the physical power button by waking the device by double-tapping on the screen.

Here’s a video demonstrating the new features:

Google Daydream View

Another interesting feature is its virtual reality (VR) platform: Daydream View. It’s a mostly-cloth headset with a remote that allows you to get lost in a virtual world using the Daydream View app. Here’s a breakdown and explanation of the Daydream View in action:

“Improved” Aesthetic Design

To distinguish between conventional Android devices and a Pixel, Google added some distinct visual flourishes.

Wallpaper Picker

The Pixel’s AI-driven software can choose wallpaper designs for its user, along with custom system sounds. Here’s a video demonstrating the wallpaper picker in action:

Color Theming

Early leaks indicated that the Pixel was finally adding a dark theme. Unfortunately, these rumors turned out to be bunk. What we got was ridiculously underwhelming. Google turned the System User Interface blue, instead of cyan. Here’s a comparison between what you get in stock Android and what you get in a Pixel:

google pixel vs android

Unfortunately, blue AMOLED subpixels degenerate at a faster rate than other colors. I don’t know why Google decided to use blue icons for the settings menu. Even so, the differences are minimal at best.

Why Did Google Put Special Features in the Pixel?

No one knows for sure. It seems that Google wants to move to where the real money lies: flagship smartphones. And no company makes more money per smartphone than Apple. Unfortunately, Apple’s model revolves around proprietary standards. Unlike Apple, Google doesn’t sell 19 dongles Apple Is Forced to Make USB-C Dongles Cheaper Apple Is Forced to Make USB-C Dongles Cheaper Apple has cut the price of its USB-C adapters. Because it turns out people still use USB-A and HDMI, and don't want to pay top dollar to use their own peripherals. Read More .

However, it has moved its Night Light technology out of Android’s open source ecosystem. Given this baby-step away from open standards, should you trust Google by putting its learning machine in your pocket?

Have you discovered any hidden features in the Pixel? If not, what exclusive features have you hooked? Please let us know in the comments!

Image Credit: Oleg1969 via Shutterstock.com | Cryteria via Wikimedia Commons

  1. David
    January 10, 2017 at 6:04 pm

    Most of the features discussed in this article are available on non Pixel phone with Android 7.1.
    At least my Nexus 6P has most of them.

  2. Shaharyar Nawaz
    January 10, 2017 at 2:49 pm

    Please search for the hidden game on the Pixel. It lets you keep cats ^-^

    • Kannon Yamada
      January 17, 2017 at 3:21 pm

      Thanks! It seems to have been disabled on my phone unfortunately. :-(

  3. tuxedo
    January 10, 2017 at 2:01 pm

    These are not exactly hidden. I use most of them on Nexus 5X. Still, nothing beats original (Google) Moto X wave to wake gesture. One could wake lock-screen to see the time and notifications without touching the phone.

    • Kannon Yamada
      January 14, 2017 at 1:06 pm

      According to what I've read, there are differences in the way the Pixel implements these features. Assistant is supposed to be a fairly different experience on the Pixel. On a Nexus, the service is supposed to still be known as Google Now.

      Even so, I doubt Google will keep much a divide between GN and GA. They need to collect data from both user pools in order to improve the capabilities of their Assistant service.

  4. ale elatey
    January 10, 2017 at 6:40 am

    Not well known that the Pixel supports split screen. Tap and hold the square application button to choose the split application. The application button becomes split too. Tap and hold again to return to one application

    • Kannon Yamada
      January 15, 2017 at 7:05 pm

      Thanks for the suggestion Ale!

  5. Justin Brightbill
    January 9, 2017 at 10:42 pm

    Google pixel must have known I wasn't using its full potential because it pointed me to this article.

    Spooky.

    • Kannon Y
      January 10, 2017 at 12:06 am

      :-)

      If I had to guess, I'd say it's just Google routing traffic toward articles talking about the Pixel.

  6. Justin Brightbill
    January 9, 2017 at 10:42 pm

    Google Assistant must have known I wasn't using its full potential because it pointed me to this article. Spooky.

  7. JP
    January 9, 2017 at 8:50 pm

    Just got the google pixel because my previous phone a samsung s7 got stolen.
    Main motivation was because I read a write up and was told in the shop that the pixel could be recharged to 7 hours usage in 15 minutes and had a long battery life.
    That turns out to be completely untrue and the battery life is on the good side of average.
    As a phone the samsung s7 with sd card and waterproofing is a way better phone.
    The AI thing is completely pointless and the google assist which is useful for hands free dialling doesnt really work. I think if you need AI to run your life something is wrong.
    However as the main purpose as a phone it makes the best calls which is a big plus as you can actually hear the other person speaking.

    • Kannon Y
      January 10, 2017 at 12:05 am

      Wow, they really oversold the battery endurance of this thing. It's among the best phones out there for battery life, but that's contingent on a lot of factors that aren't comparable in reviews. For example, a lot of times the carrier itself makes a difference in battery life. For example, if you have Verizon and are near a tower, the battery life is going to appear to be great. But if you have T-Mobile and a weak signal, the battery life is going to be atrocious.

      In theory, the new antenna in the Pixel will lead to better battery life, all factors the same. But the metal unibody is going to have a potentially deleterious impact on reception, which could translate into worse signal strength.

      Regarding the AI, it is constantly learning from you. The more you use it, the better it understands your unique voice. Also, you have to enable many of the AI features (instructions in this article). You may need to enable "always on" in the Google app to get the full benefit of its assistant (and spying) capabilities.

    • ashley rothery
      January 10, 2017 at 1:17 pm

      Let your phone die then charge it after 15min turn it on and you'll be around 60/70% think that's how they got away with saying it... ?
      It is a good battery though never really die unless I hammer it though.

      • Shannon
        January 11, 2017 at 4:55 am

        Yes I was told by a Google operator that the 60% is roughly 7 hours of battery life. However to get to 100% it needs to charge a good hour and a half. My phone, as long as I keep the screen brightness down, lasts around 24 hours with out a re-charge and I use it for 4 jobs, listening to music, using IG all day long, etc. I love my pixel!

  8. Chris Olsen
    January 9, 2017 at 6:43 pm

    On the drop down notification menu tap and hold the gear icon for about 10 seconds. When released a prompt will ask if you want to to turn on "system UI tuner". This will show up at the bottom of your setting allowing you to make small changes to the UI such as show the battery percentage.

    • Kannon Yamada
      January 17, 2017 at 3:11 pm

      That was a great tip! Thank you!

  9. Doc
    January 9, 2017 at 4:39 pm

    It's too bad that some of the "hidden features" don't include a removable battery, and an SD card slot with "adoptable storage."

    • Kannon Yamada
      January 9, 2017 at 5:38 pm

      :-)

      What sucks is LG brought the removable battery back and their phones sold terribly. And it was a GREAT phone. They're now headed toward their first loss ever (something like 30 million in operating losses). It's really sad.

      • likefunbutnot
        January 9, 2017 at 8:58 pm

        I don't think the battery and SD card are going away on the G6, even if they ditch the camera lens and headphone amp. It's really the major feature of the LG flagships at the moment, though I will 100% agree that they're the only currently acceptable brand of smartphone at the moment because of it.

        (And also the "can be completely disassembled with just a screwdriver, which is another awesome hidden feature on LG products.)

        In any case, I think that it's somewhat irresponsible for Google to ship exclusive features on its devices. That just encourages OEMs to develop alternatives and further fragment Android. That's just not what Android needs as an ecosystem.

        • Kannon Yamada
          January 17, 2017 at 3:10 pm

          The latest G6 leaks indicate a heat pipe for the battery -- I'm not sure what kind of TIM they plan on using, but it doesn't sound like the G6 will offer a replaceable battery. Although if the heat pipe extends the battery's life, it might be a bit of a wash.

          Pretty much every LG device I've disassembled has been extremely easy to work on. I hope that philosophy continues onto the G6.

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