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Pixel 3's Call Screen and Now Playing are the best reasons to own this phone

Besides the camera, of course.

Now Playing automatically displays what song and artist are playing nearby on your lock screen.
Patrick Holland/CNET

Even before the Pixel 3 was announced, I was hyped for the phone mostly to see how Google would follow up the Pixel 2 and its brilliant camera. When I finally got my hands on the Pixel 3, it didn't disappoint. It has a fantastic camera that captures vibrant photos.

But the phone has more going for it than just photography chops. After using it for over a month as my daily driver, I've grown to love two unexpected things: Call Screen and Now Playing. Here's how they emerged as my favorite Pixel 3 features.

Call Screen is your best weapon against spam

On most phones, you have three options when you get an incoming call: Answer it, dismiss it or send an auto-reply text back.

But on the Pixel 3 you can have Google Assistant answer it for you while you monitor the conversation. It's a bit like using an answering machine on a landline to screen calls before picking up. (Think George Costanza screening calls to avoid being dumped by a girlfriend.)

Out of the 15 calls I received from numbers I didn't recognize, 14 ended up being robocalls. Sometimes the Pixel 3 warns me before I answer if it thinks a call might be spam. But if I choose to screen the call, the script below is read to the caller:

"Hi, the person you're calling is using a screening service from Google, and will get a copy of this conversation. Go ahead and say your name and why you're calling."


Here's what is read to the caller when you choose to use Call Screen.


Then, a message box appears with the caller's reply. It's here that I can determine if the call is spam or not. If I see something along the lines of "consolidate your student loans" or "you recently stayed at Marriott and can win a prize" I know it is indeed a robocall.

However, there was one time that I used Call Screen and the call turned out to not be spam. After the caller stated their name and said that they were following up on a customer service call I had made earlier, I stopped Call Screen and picked up. Success, right? Kind of.

I don't know what's more telling about our modern age: The fact that so many robots are calling me or the fact that I'm now using a robot myself to combat this problem. Next year spam will likely get worse with robocalls predicted to make up nearly half of all phone calls. Call Screen isn't the silver bullet to end these unwanted calls, but it is definitely a satisfying way to cope with them in the meantime.

If you own the Pixel 2 or original Pixel, a software update is available bringing Call Screen to your device. Google plans to bring Call Screen to other select Android devices in 2019. I hope Apple builds a similar iOS-based solution the iPhone.

Now Playing is the fastest way to identify a song

Imagine you're at a restaurant and there's a song playing that you can't identify. So you unlock your phone, open Shazam or Google Assistant and go to tap scan, only to have the song end because it you took so long.

Now Playing on the Pixel 3 takes care of this for you by automatically displaying the song and artist that are playing nearby on your lock screen. It's so satisfying to look down at your phone and see Tell Mama by Etta James listed there.

To be fair, Now Playing debuted with the Pixel 2 and uses an offline database to compare thousands of musical fingerprints to identify songs and artists. The Pixel 3 builds on the feature by allowing you to view a history of songs identified by Now Playing. Apparently I frequent places where a lot of Travis Scott is played.

Now Playing history is now available on the Pixel 2 through a software update.

Both Call Screen and Now Playing are examples of how phones can deal with mundane problems in simple and thoughtful ways. These features also illustrate Google's attempts to protect users' privacy. Data created and used by Call Screen and Now Playing is stored locally on your phone.