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Google's Call Screen feature can tell spam callers to get lost. Here's how

Google Call Screen uses Google Assistant to answer incoming calls, talk to the caller, and provide a transcript of what the caller's saying.

google-call-screen

Google Call Screen is easy to use. 

Jason Cipriani/CNET

Robocalls are annoying. You have to second-guess each and every call from a number that's not in your contacts, and you know that accepting a scammer's call will only lead to more robocalls. But answering your phone needn't be so stressful.

Enter an Android feature called Google Call Screen. Instead of taking the call yourself, you can have Google Assistant answer it for you, talk to the person on the other end and provide you with a real-time transcript. You then can decide if you want to take over or end the call. 

Though Call Screen debuted on Google's own Pixel phone line, Google told me it's also available on some Motorola and Nokia devices. The company doesn't have a list of phones with the feature, but Motorola in early 2019 announced i Moto G7 and Moto One lineup would get it (it's unclear which Nokia phones have Call Screen). You'll know if your phone has access to Call Screen if you see the options outlined below. 

When the Pixel 4 launched in Oct. 2019, Google announced Call Screen would automatically screen your calls without you having to do a thing. It's a pretty cool feature and should be available on every phone. Yes, even the iPhone

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Screen incoming calls with a tap. 

Screenshots by Jason Cipriani/CNET

Screen an incoming call with just a tap

Every time your Pixel phone rings, you'll see the standard incoming call interface, but with a new Screen call button. You don't need to enable the feature, it's on by default. Tap on the button to immediately answer the call and have Google Assistant begin speaking to the caller. The beginning script for the call is always the same. 

Google Assistant tells the caller that you're using a screening service, one that will provide you with a transcript of the call, and asks the person to state the reason for the call.

Once the caller begins talking, a transcript of the response will show up on your phone's screen in real-time. The transcript is presented as a text message conversation, complete with prefilled options along the bottom of your screen. If you want to ask the caller for more information or say you can't answer the phone right now, just tap on one of the options and Google Assistant will continue talking on your behalf.

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In addition to reading the responses, you can choose to listen to the caller by holding the phone to your ear or by pressing the volume button on the side of your phone to activate the speakerphone.

If the call is a robot or spam, you can report it as such and Google Assistant will end the call. If it's someone you want to talk to, press the green answer button and start talking.

The entire experience is incredibly well done, impressive and straightforward.

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All Pixel phones can automatically screen calls for you. 

Screenshots by Jason Cipriani/CNET

You don't have to do anything for suspected spam calls

On Thursday, Google started rolling out a new automatic call screening feature to all Pixel phones. Previously only available on the Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL, it will stop suspected robocalls and spam calls from ever reaching your phone. 

Google doesn't have a timeline for the rollout, so if you don't have the option to turn it on just yet, keep checking.

To enable automatic call screening in the Settings of the Phone app. Open the Phone app, tap the three-dot icon in the top right corner and go to Settings > Spam and Call Screen > Call Screen

Go through each option in the Unknown Call Settings section, telling your phone which types of callers to let through, and which to have Google Assistant automatically screen.

Did you know you can change the Google Assistant voice that answers your calls? 

Screenshots by Jason Cipriani/CNET

Another former Pixel 4-only feature that's now rolling out to all Pixel phones is the option to save the audio recording of a screened call. If you enable the feature, your phone will keep only the audio from the person who called. It won't keep your audio or the audio from Google Assistant should you decide to answer.

If you don't have these options, make sure your Pixel doesn't have any pending software updates and that the Phone app is up to date in the Play Store. 

Fine-tune your settings

If you don't have the new automatic call screening feature yet or have a non-Pixel phone, you can still adjust how Call Screen will work. To view Call Screen's settings, open the Phone app and tap the three-dot icon in the top-right corner followed by Settings > Call Screen

You'll be able to change the Google Assistant voice that answers your calls, as well as see a demo of how the feature works.

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The transcript view is one of my favorite Google Call Screen features. 

Jason Cipriani/CNET

Privacy first and foremost

Call Screen uses Google Assistant to monitor the call. Just as Assistant transcribes your requests, it also transcribes incoming calls. At no time during the call is any information sent to Google's servers -- it's all handled on your phone.

Each time you tell Google Assistant to do something like send a message or play music, Google stores a recording of the audio in your Google account.

At launch, there was no way to view previous transcripts, but toward the end of 2018 Google added the ability to view Call Screen transcripts. You can read more about where to find your Call Screen transcripts here.

If you're new to Android, be sure to change these five Android phone settings. Recently upgraded to Android 10? Get used to the new Android 10 gesture navigation, and then check out these Android 10 privacy settings you need to know about

Originally published year before last. Updated with new information.