Whether you want to enhance your old photos or screen calls more easily, these features should help.
Lisa EadiciccoSenior Editor
Lisa Eadicicco is a senior editor for CNET covering mobile devices. She has been writing about technology for almost a decade. Prior to joining CNET, Lisa served as a senior tech correspondent at Insider covering Apple and the broader consumer tech industry. She was also previously a tech columnist for Time Magazine and got her start as a staff writer for Laptop Mag and Tom's Guide.
Google's Pixel phones are known for their quality cameras and distinctive designs, but it's the software that really sets them apart from other Android phones.
That's particularly true for the new Pixel 8 and 8 Pro, which have new AI-powered tools that let you change the expressions of people in group photos and manipulate objects in pictures. If you're a new Pixel owner, it can be difficult to know where to start.
You may not need Google's newest Pixels to use these features; several of them work on older devices, too. Keep in mind that some of these features might require a software update or an update to Google's apps and services.
Google also updates its Pixel devices with new features over time, so there's a chance we'll see more additions arrive in the coming months.
Whether you're interested in touching up old photos or having Google Assistant screen your calls, these tips will help you get the most out of your device.
The Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro come with a feature called Best Take, which makes it possible to alter a person's expression in a photo. This feature only works when snapping several versions of the same photo in a row. If you happen to close your eyes in the best photo, for example, you'll be able to swap your face out with another version from a different photo in the bunch. To use it, open a compatible photo in the Google Photos app, tap the Edit button and select Tools. From there, you should see an option called Best Take.
Take better close-up photos with the macro focus
If you have a Pixel 7 Pro, Pixel 8 or Pixel 8 Pro, you can capture close-up photos in macro mode. Unlike most camera features, you don't have to enable a specific setting or switch to a certain mode to get it to work. If you have one of the phones mentioned above, just open the Camera app and hold your phone close to the subject you'd like to photograph. You should see a yellow flower icon appear when macro mode is on. Tapping that flower icon will turn macro mode off.
Move or resize objects in a photo
Another new photo editing trick on the Pixel 8 and 8 Pro is Magic Editor. As the name implies, this tool lets you resize or move individual objects, people and pets in a photo. Just open the Google Photos app, choose the photo you'd like to edit and press the Edit button to get started. From there, tap the colorful photo icon in the left corner to launch Magic Editor. Once you're in this mode, tap and hold on a person or object in a photo to select it. Then, you can pinch-to-zoom to resize it, or drag it to another area of the photo. Hit the arrow on the bottom right corner of the screen when you're finished and wait for your edits to be processed.
Turn a photo into a cinematic wallpaper
If you have a Pixel 6 or newer, you can turn any photo from your library into a cinematic wallpaper. Google applies a 3D effect to the image that emphasizes the subject in the foreground. In my experience, this feature works best on photos clearly focused on one or two people. To try it out, open your Pixel phone's settings menu and tap the Wallpaper & style option. Press Change wallpaper, choose the My photos option and tap the image you'd like to set as your new wallpaper. Tap the icon that looks like three stars and then toggle the switch next to Create cinematic wallpaper setting.
Add captions to videos with Live Caption
Did you know that your Pixel phone can automatically caption videos, podcasts, phone calls and more? Press the volume button and tap the Live Caption icon, which looks like a tiny box of text, to enable this feature. Live Caption works in English on the Pixel 2 and higher, so it should be available on any Pixel phone that's launched in the last several years. The captions are stored and processed locally and never leave your device, according to Google.
You can also tweak certain settings, such as hiding profanity and adding labels to sounds like laughter and applause. Open the Settings and choose Live Caption to customize these options.
It's also important to note that Live Caption can drain additional battery, so you might want to only turn it on when you need it.
You don't always need to press the shutter button to take a photo. You can simply raise your palm to the camera to start a photo countdown timer for three or 10 seconds if you have a Pixel 6 or newer. This can be particularly useful for group photos.
Just open the Google camera app and tap the settings button near the top of the screen to get started. From there, choose to have the timer set to three or 10 seconds. Now the timer should automatically start whenever the camera recognizes your palm.
See the Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro Up Close and Personal
If you're anything like me, you have thousands of photos from the last decade stored on your phone or in a cloud service. Those photos likely don't look nearly as sharp and crisp as the ones taken by today's smartphones. Google has something that might help, although it's only available on the Pixel 7 and Pixel Fold series. These devices have Google's new Tensor G2 processor, which unlocks a new feature called Photo Unblur.
As the name implies, Photo Unlur sharpens photos that are out of focus to make the subject look clearer. To use it, just open the Google Photos app on your compatible Pixel phone, choose the photo you want to edit, tap the Edit button and select Tools. Then, tap Unblur.
Take better photos of the stars
Google's Pixel phones come with a feature that's specifically designed to help you snap photos of the night sky. It works on the Pixel 3 and higher, but you'll need to adjust your zoom settings to at least 1x if you're using the Pixel 4A 5G and later.
Google says the feature works best when taking photos away from city lights at least 45 to 90 minutes after sunset. You'll also need a tripod or some other steady surface rather than your hands to get the best results.
Just open the camera app, prop up your phone, make sure it's steady and tap Night Sight to get started. After a few seconds, you should see a message that says "Astrophotography on." Press the capture button and leave your phone alone until it's finished taking the photo.
You can translate screenshots with text written in languages such as Spanish, German, French, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Italian and more with Google's Lens feature. Open the Google Photos app and select the screenshot you would like to translate. Then tap the Lens icon, which looks like a camera, and choose the Translate option. Google's support page says this feature should work on Android devices in general, not just Pixels.
Watch this: Review: We Tested the Google Pixel 8 and Its AI Features
Switch to the selfie camera without pressing any buttons
You don't have to tap any buttons to switch between the Pixel's selfie camera and main camera. Simply open the Pixel's camera app and twist your phone twice to flip between the cameras. If you're not sure what I mean by "twist," Google has a helpful animation to show you.
If you're still having trouble, check your Pixel's settings to make sure this feature is enabled. Open the settings app, choose System and select Flip camera for selfie.
No one likes waiting on hold. If you have a Pixel 3 or later, you can have Google wait on hold and notify you when a representative becomes available. This feature, called Hold for Me, only works in English for devices in the US, Australia and Canada.
To have Google wait on hold, you'll have to do two things: Activate the feature, and then turn on Hold for Me during the phone call. For the first step, open the Pixel Phone app and tap the three dots in the top right corner. Then, tap Settings, and Hold for Me. Tap the switch next to Hold for Me to make sure this feature is turned on.
Just be aware that Hold for Me may not work in every situation, and you can't play music or other audio while it's active. You'll also want to make sure your phone isn't in silent or vibrate mode. When you're on a call and have been placed on hold, tap the Hold for Me button and press Start.
See how long you might have to wait on hold
Google can also estimate the amount of time you might have to wait on hold when dialing businesses in the US. It's available on the Pixel 3A and later and works in English. Just open the Phone app, dial the number and you'll be presented with an estimate of how long you may be placed on hold. The estimate may vary depending on the time of day.
Have Google show automated phone menus on screen
There are times when you might not want to listen to every single option in an automated menu when calling a business. If you have a Pixel 3A or later, you'll be able to see these menu options on screen so that you don't have to remember them all. The Pixel 7 and 7 Pro can also show certain menu options before they're spoken on the phone call, Google says. I tested this by calling CVS and Allstate and, sure enough, Google was able to transcribe the spoken menu options in real-time.
Open an app or take a screenshot by tapping the back of your phone
Add a handy shortcut to your Pixel phone with Google's Quick Tap feature. This allows you to open an app, take a screenshot, play or pause media, or show notifications just by tapping twice on the back of your phone. It only works on more recent Google phones like the Pixel 4A 5G and later.
To turn on Quick Tap and customize its actions, open the settings menu and choose System. Then, select Gestures and Quick Tap. From here, turn Quick Tap on and select which action you'd like to perform when tapping the back of your device.
Sick of robocalls? Google can hopefully help with its Call Screen feature, which works on all Pixel phones. When this feature is turned on, Google Assistant can answer an unknown call and ask who's calling and why. It will automatically hang up if it's a spam call, but you can see how the caller responded and decide to answer if it's a real caller.
Google doesn't screen calls from phone numbers that are saved in your contacts, and your Pixel won't automatically screen calls when you're using headphones or are connected to Bluetooth.
To set up automatic call screening, open the phone app and tap the three dots in the top right corner. Select Settings and choose Spam and Call Screen. Make sure the switch next to See caller and spam ID is toggled on, and then press Call Screen.
From here, you can choose how Google screens incoming calls. For example, you can set it to screen spam calls, possibly faked numbers, first-time callers, and private or hidden callers. Just tap one of these categories and choose the Automatically screen. Decline Robocalls option.