12 Best Hidden Features You Need to Try on the Google Pixel

The Google Pixel and the Google Pixel XL may be the best Android phones that were released last year, and they still stand out at the start of the new year. These phones are pure Google phones, not pure Android phones. They match the specs of other high-end Android devices but have an even better-performing camera. Their software and hardware are closely integrated in the same way the hardware and software of the iPhone are deeply cohesive. The Pixel is a truly premium phone, with features that aren’t available on other Android phones. And they also have the guarantee of speedy Android updates and ongoing support, which other phones just can’t match.

Sure, the Google Pixel and the Google Pixel XL have their problems. They have some issues with audio distortion at high volumes. There’s also a problem with lens flare and with a glitchy camera app. Plus, the “OK, Google” wake phrase doesn’t always work. And some units have microphone issues, connectivity problems with LTE band 4, and manufacturing defects that affect the screen. But in the grand scheme of things, none of those are major problems. In fact, they’re the same kinds of issues that you’d encounter on any new flagship, like Apple’s new iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus, for instance.

Whether you got your Pixel the week the device launched or acquired it more recently, you’ve probably gotten the hang of the user interface. And you’ve probably fallen in love with at least a few of its features. (We’ll admit Google Assistant is one of our favorites.) But the Google Pixel has at least a few hidden features you probably haven’t discovered yet — features that can help you do more with your new favorite device. Read on to check out our favorites.

1. See your notifications by tapping the display

Brian Rakowski, VP Product Management at Google Inc

Want to quickly check your notifications? You can do that just by tapping on the screen of your Google Pixel | Ramin Talaie/Getty Images

JR Raphael reports for Computerworld that a great new Pixel feature arrived with the Android 7.1 software update: the “ability to have your phone’s screen turn on and give you a quick glance at any pertinent info whenever you double-tap its display.” When you first tap it, the screen will only partially light up to show you the current time and pending notifications. If you tap it again, it will light up all the way. Then, you’ll be able to interact with your notifications or just move to the home screen.

To try out the feature, navigate to the Moves section of the system settings. Then, look for the “Double-tap to check phone” option. You can also choose “Lift to check phone,” which will turn on the phone’s display when you move or lift it.

2. Make the Google Pixel’s display easier on your eyes at night

Brian Rakowski, VP Product Management at Google Inc., speaks during an event

Love your Google Pixel, but don’t want it to interfere with your sleep patterns? Turn on the Night Light mode | Ramin Talaie/Getty Images

Another useful addition Raphael reports Google made with Android 7.1? A new Night Light mode, which reduces your exposure to harsh blue light in the evening, as it’s been proven to hamper the production of melatonin and to mess with your sleep. According to Google, the mode “tints your screen amber. This makes it easier to look at your screen or read in dim light, and may help you fall asleep more easily.”

To set the Night Light mode to activate and deactivate automatically based on the daylight in your location, just open the Display section of the system settings. Then, tap the option for “Night Light.” You’ll want to select “Turn on automatically,” and then choose “Sunset to sunrise.” That way, the screen will cut the blue light and take on a yellowish hue when the sun sets and go back to its usual color of light when the sun rises in the morning.

3. Change the user interface

Pichai Sundararajan, known as Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google Inc

You can customize the user interface on the Pixel or the Pixel XL with the System UI Tuner | Ramin Talaie/Getty Images

Ryan Whitwam reports for Forbes that one of the more deeply hidden features on the Google Pixel is the ability to change the user interface. This is a great feature to know about if you want to change the way the Pixel looks. As Whitwam notes, “Google’s phones (and a few others with stock interfaces) have a hidden settings menu where you can make changes to the system interface, but it’s really hidden.”

To find the feature, called the System UI Tuner, you have to long-press the settings gear icon at the top of the notification panel for about three seconds, and then release it. A notification will tell you that the UI Tuner has been enabled. You’ll then be able to find the menu near the bottom of the settings screen. Once you’ve opened the UI Tuner, you can change the icons that appear in the status bar. You can add the battery percentage to the battery icon. You also make the do-not-disturb mode easier to access. And you also get more notification options.

4. Get contextual search results and actions

Sabrina Ellis, Director of Product Management at Google Inc

Google Assistant can show you more information related to what’s on your screen | Ramin Talaie/Getty Images

Whitwam notes even though Google Now on Tap was a “pretty big flop” after it was introduced in Android Marshmallow, it still had a few useful features. One of those was its ability to offer contextual search results and actions based on the content of your screen. Google “mostly packed On Tap away,” as Whitwam reports. But this particular functionality is back thanks to Google Assistant on the Pixel.

If you want Assistant to bring more information about the topic you’re looking at, you can long-press the home button to bring up Assistant, and then scroll down. The screen search will surface quick links, news, and other information related to what you’re doing.

5. Use Wi-Fi instead of data

A pedestrian walks by a sign outside an event by Google

To save data, you can have the Pixel use Wi-Fi instead of data | Ramin Talaie/Getty Images

Data is expensive — and pretty easy to use up. But if you have a Google Pixel, you can take advantage of a hidden feature that helps you use Wi-Fi instead of data, which should help you reduce your chances of using up your data allotment and incurring the wrath of (or being charged extra fees by) your carrier. When you turn on the Wi-Fi Assistant feature, your phone will automatically search for fast and reliable free Wi-Fi networks. So when it finds one, you’ll be connected to that instead of using data. Plus, your data will be encrypted.

The feature is an easy way to save data (and money) without some of the scarier consequences of free Wi-Fi. Just find the Google section of the Pixel’s system settings. Then, select “Networking” and turn on “Wi-Fi Assistant.” Raphael notes if you’re using Google’s Project Fi as your carrier, the option should already be activated by default. That’s because a reliance on Wi-Fi is a core feature of Google’s wireless service.

6. Super-charge the Pixel’s fingerprint scanner

Members of the media examine Google's Pixel phone

You can get more out of the Google Pixel’s fingerprint scanner | Ramin Talaie/Getty Images

Another tweak Raphael recommends making to your Google Pixel or Google Pixel XL? Getting more out of the fingerprint scanner. Using the fingerprint scanner for its intended functionality — biometric authentication — is a great way to make your phone more secure. But you can also use the fingerprint scanner to control your phone with gestures. There’s a single fingerprint gesture hidden in the Pixel’s system settings.

To get more gestures, Raphael recommends installing a third-party app called Fingerprint Gestures. (That means it’s not technically a feature hidden in the Pixel itself.) But you’ll want to install it anyway, since it enables you to assign custom actions to the Pixel’s fingerprint scanner. With the app, you can use those gestures even after you’ve unlocked your phone. You can use taps to go back or go to the home screen. Taps can open recent apps or open menus, easily open various settings, or control music playback.

7. Use the Pixel’s spam-blocking tools

Members of the media examine Google's Pixel phone during an event

Tired of spam calls and texts? Enlist the Pixel’s help to block and report them | Ramin Talaie/Getty Images

We all get spam calls and texts. Fortunately, the Google Pixel makes them a lot easier to deal with — if you know what tools to use. When you get a spam call, for instance, you can fight back. Just head to the Phone app and press the clock icon to bring up your call history. Then, press and hold the spam number. You’ll be able to select “Block/report spam,” which will not only keep that number from calling you again, but will also report it to Google as spam.

Any phone number you block will be prevented from texting you. And the list of numbers that you block will be synced to any Android phone that you upgrade to in the future. You can manually make additions to the list of blocked numbers by tapping the settings icon in the upper right corner of the Phone app, tapping “Settings,” and then hitting “Call blocking.” And while you’re in the Phone settings, Raphael recommends looking at the “Caller ID & spam” option to make sure it’s activated. That way, you’ll see the name of every incoming caller, even when it isn’t in your address book. And you’ll be notified when the number has been reported as spam.

8. Capture the highest-resolution photos and videos

Members of the media examine Google's Pixel phone during an event to introduce Google hardware products

Want to take advantage of the Google Pixel’s record-breaking camera? Then make sure you’re shooting photos and videos at the highest resolution | Ramin Talaie/Getty Images

One of the Google Pixel’s best claims to fame is its record-breaking camera. But if you want to make the most of that camera (and of the free, unlimited photo and video storage that Google offers for Pixel users), you’ll want to make sure you’re always capturing photos and videos at the highest resolution. To do that, you’ll just need to change a few of the default settings in the Camera app.

Open the Camera app and tap the menu icon in the top left corner. Select “Settings,” and tap on the option for “Back camera video resolution.” Make sure it’s set to UHD 4K. Also look for the option for “Panorama resolution,” and make sure it’s set to “High.” Since you have free photo and video storage, it makes sense to use the highest resolution. It will really demonstrate the extent of the Pixel’s photographic prowess.

9. Free up space by quickly deleting duplicate photos

Google's Pixel phone

Need to quickly free up storage space on the Google Pixel? The phone actually offers a quick and painless way to do so | Ramin Talaie/Getty Images

Kristin Wong reports for Lifehacker that many Android apps come with shortcuts you can access by long-pressing their icons from the home screen. But it’s not just third-party apps that come with this useful functionality. In fact, Google Photos has what Wong characterizes as “one of the most useful shortcuts.” (Especially true when you’re always looking for ways to free up storage on your phone.)

Long-press the Photos icon and you’ll get a shortcut that promises to “free up space.” If you hit that option, then the Google Pixel will go ahead and find duplicate photos on your phone that are already saved on Google Photos. It will then ask you if you’d like to delete those photos from your phone’s local storage, since they’ve already been backed up in the cloud. Wong notes you can definitely accomplish that task on your own. But the shortcut is a fast and easy way to get the functionality when you need a quick way to free up some storage. 

10. Take a photo without hitting any buttons

Members of the media photograph a display of Google's Pixel phone

With Google Assistant, you can capture a photo without hitting any buttons | Ramin Talaie/Getty Images

Another photo-related trick every Pixel owner needs to know? You can actually take a photo with either the front-facing or the rear-facing camera without having to press any buttons. To do that, you’ll just need to familiarize yourself with Google Assistant and a few of the new voice commands you can use to get things done.

Using Google Assistant to take a photo is actually pretty easy. And the voice commands you need to accomplish the task are simple to remember. Just say, “OK Google, take a picture” to start a three-second countdown to a capture with the rear-facing camera. Or say, “OK Google, take a selfie” to get a three-second countdown until the front-facing camera captures a snapshot. You can even say, “OK Google, take a picture in fifteen seconds” if you need more time.

11. Customize Google Assistant’s daily briefing

Google's Pixel phone

Customize what you get when you ask Google Assistant to tell you about your day | Ramin Talaie/Getty Images

Google Assistant offers you a daily briefing on what’s going on in the day ahead with its “My Day” feature. You can launch the feature with the voice command, “OK Google, tell me about my day.” Then, Google Assistant will brief you on the weather, the traffic, the news, and any other information that’s relevant as you start your day. Wong reports you can customize the kind of information you get in your daily briefing by taking advantage of a hidden setting in your Google Pixel.

From within Google Assistant, navigate to Settings and then hit “My Day.” Next, you can choose the kinds of information you want to get in your briefing. You can see data on the weather, on your commute, on the meetings you have scheduled, and on the reminders you’ve set. You can also customize the news sources you want to see stories from by tapping the settings icon under “News.”

12. Turn on the Google Pixel’s notification light

Google Pixel XL

You may not know it’s there, but you can turn on the Google Pixel’s notification light | Google.com

Most of the Google Pixel’s hidden features are software features. But there’s one hardware feature that you may not even know is there: a notification light. Wong reports it’s off by default, so you may not have even noticed it yet. To turn it on, just open Settings and then hit Notifications. Then, tap the gear icon, and turn on the “pulse notification light.”

Once the light is on, you’ll see a light blink periodically next to the earpiece speaker each time you get a new notification. Wong reports that “the light is subtle and it doesn’t blink often.” But it works “as a gentle reminder that you have notifications waiting for you, especially if you have your phone set to silent or vibrate all other times.”