The best tips and tricks to get the most out of your Pixel phone

The first true Google phone has a lot of powerful features, but for some of them you'll need to know where to look.

white pixel xl
Derek Walter

The ultimate Google phone

Even if you’re a longtime devotee of Android, there’s nothing out there quite like the Pixel. It’s the most advanced and thoughtful synthesis of Android with smartphone hardware, and enhances how Google’s services can be the driving force for the way you use a smartphone.

There’s a lot going on here, with many tricks, hidden tools, and features that you may not have known your Pixel was even capable of. So read on for more, and check back from time to time as we’ll keep this story updated with additional tips.

pixel folders

Folders in the dock / favorites

It's already a nice perk that the Pixel Launcher gives you room for five apps in the dock. But if you want even MORE crammed in there, any of those apps can be converted to a folder. Just drag another app on top of an existing one in the dock, the same way you ususally make a folder.

With the right combination of folders you may never need to swipe to another screen. Some people prefer to just have all their individual apps spread out, but it's nice to know the option is here if you want it.

google assistant combination

Google Assistant is your short term memory

I'm terrible at remembering my hotel room number when I travel. Other important little factoids like a lock combination, name of who you're meeting for lunch, and other details can now be kept in the Google Assistant.

In this example, I told it a fictioal bike lock combination. When asked for it again, Google told me. So use this when your brain is running low on RAM and you want Google to step in.

pixel photos

Get lucky with photos

Google likes to use the "I'm feeling lucky" button in search results as a way to offer you something unexpected.

The implementation with Google Photos is pretty neat. When you launch this app shortcut (long-press the Photos icon), you'll get a search result from your photo album that'll bring up a past adventure or group of related photos. Often it's from a vacation or batch of pictures from something like a concert. 

It's a fun way to see memories, and it's a nice thing to do on your phone when bored instead of yet again glancing at Twitter.

pixel news

Customize news and your daily digest

Newshounds will love this one. You can ask the Google Assistant to "Listen to news" or get more specific with a topic like "US election news" (if you dare) and get relevant broadcasts.

It's worth taking the time to customize what you want. From Google Assistant > Settings you're able to choose from a different list of broadcasts to have at the ready. If you're a fan of something like NPR, it's incredibly cool to get the hourly, five-minute update whenever you want throughout the day.

If you just tell Assistant "good morning" or "tell me about my day" you'll get your weather, commute traffic, calendar events, and reminders. Then the assistant will play news broadcasts according to your preferences. You can adjust which of these things you want to hear by tapping the overflow menu (three dots) in the upper right of the Assistant, and then choosing Settings, and then My Day.

pulse light

Turn on the light

If you're a longtime Android fan like me, you might have some nostalgia for that blinking notification light. I still find it a convenient way to serve as a reminder there's something waiting on your phone, even though I wear an Android Wear watch. 

On the Pixel it's off by default, and you may not find it necessary since the screen uses an ambient notification to briefly preview the message. Go to Settings > Notifications, then touch the gear icon up top. From here you can turn on the pulse notification light setting and choose how much content appears on the lock screen. If you'd rather not have the contents of text conversations or other material appear, then you can prevent that from showing up.

lens blur

Check out lens blur

The Pixel comes with a pretty great camera. One of the neat tricks is lens blur, which is ideal for close-up shots of objects, people, or in this case, creepy coffee table decorations.

You access it in the camera app by swiping in from the left and then choosing the Lens Blur option from the menu. The camera will then walk you through a shot, telling you to slowly raise your phone above the subject. Give it a try next time you want to make a portrait or another photo with one focused subject stand out while blurring the background.

pixel storage

Get smart about storage

There's no SD card option with the Pixel, so you're stuck with the storage included in the model you buy. Whether you get the 32GB or 128GB version, you'll want to keep an eye on the space as it fills up.

The Pixel's software has a one-stop shop for managing storage. Head to Settings > Storage and then select Free up space from the overflow menu at the top. This takes you to a place to remove content from three key categories: photos/videos, downloads, and apps. Photos can especially suck up space, but since you're getting free full-resolution backup to Google Photos you shouldn't hesitate to delete them from your phone. 

pixel phone

See who's calling and avoid spam calls

Google's phone app is even better on the Pixel.

Be sure from the settings you enable Caller ID & Spam as well as Nearby places to put Google's all-knowing capabilities to work. 

When you dial a number, Google might tell you exactly who you're calling by matching the number to its database. That's why the screenshot says "Comcast" even though I manually typed in the number. Incoming calls from businesses and other publicly listed numbers might give you a name, too. And of course, you might be warned about incoming spam calls.

Also, you can use the dialer as a search tool. Just type what you're looking for and the app will search nearby and offer places that are likely to match what you're after. 

google assistant fedex

Information is still on tap, and your screen provides context

Recently I was having a text conversation with a colleague, who shared a FedEx tracking number with me. I launched the Google Assistant and swiped up on the screen to reveal what it had found, and behold there was a link to track the package.

The Google Assistant supercharges what was once known as Google Now on Tap, a feature that never felt as useful as promised. But Google's smarts with this area appear even better, so you ought to try the Assistant out more often to see what it uncovers.

Just long-press on the home button (or say "OK Google") and swipe up. If there's something on the screen Google recognizes, it will give you context about it.

Note that voice questions will use what is on your screen to provide context, too. If you're reading an article about Guardians of the Galaxy, and say "what's the cast?" Google will be smart enough to know you want the cast of Guardians of the Galaxy.

visual disturbances

Block visual disturbances, like notification pop-ups

The Pixel might and a Chromecast might be all you need to make a presentation. But even if you put your phone in do not disturb mode, pop-up notifications might still silently show up on screen. That's not ideal if you're chatting to a group of business partners. They don't need to see the text from your main squeeze thanking you for dinner.

To eliminate any type of message, go to Settings > Do not disturb > Block visual disturbances. Then you can select either Block when screen is on or Block when screen is off. This gives you more control over when you see an on-screen notification.

mobile friendly browsing

Mobile-friendly reading in Chrome

One of the first links I opened in Chrome on the day I first got my Pixel included a surprise. Some articles offer a "make page mobile-friendly" button at the bottom. Touching it would then reformat the page.

Yes, this is like years behind Safari's capability on iOS, and frankly I never thought Google would do it given the company's reliance on web ad revenue. But it's here and works great. To make this pop up on other Android devices you have to set a chrome flag to make it more aggressive. It would seem that Google has this flag set on the Pixel, so you see it often.

google wifi

Connect securely and automatically to open Wi-Fi hotspots

Google's Wi-Fi assistant will connect you automatically to high-quality open Wi-Fi networks and keep your connection more secure.

This power first appeared just for Project Fi customers, where Google has probably learned quite a bit about automatically connecting to various networks and checking out their security. It's not enabled by default, so you have to go turn it on in the settings under Google > Networking > Wi-Fi assistant. Google will automatically route your data through a VPN to help keep it secure—you'll know you're on it when you see the little key icon up in the status bar.