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Have a Google Pixel phone? You’re about to get these new features

The Google Pixel 8 and Google Pixel 7 being held next to each other.
Joe Maring / Digital Trends

One of the great things about Google’s Pixel phones is how often the company sweetens the pot with its Pixel Feature Drops. While they’re not always the most exciting updates, every so often, we get some pleasant surprises; this month’s Feature Drop fits into that latter category with some new goodies that will be of particular interest to owners of phones in the recent Google Pixel 7 and Google Pixel 8 lineups (and of course the Google Pixel Fold).

That doesn’t mean older Pixel phones are entirely left out of the party, though. There’s at least one helpful enhancement here for the Pixel 6 and even some smaller improvements that go back to the Pixel 5a. Let’s dig into everything that’s new.

New features coming to Pixel phones

A person holding the Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra using the Circle to Search feature.
Circle to Search Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

At the top of the list is Circle to Search by Google. While this made its debut a few weeks ago on Samsung’s new Galaxy S24 lineup, it was apparent from the name that it wouldn’t be a Samsung-exclusive feature for very long.

So, we weren’t too surprised when it landed on the Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro in Google’s late January Pixel Feature Drop, and now the Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro are being invited to play along, too. Sadly, there’s no word whether it’s coming to the Pixel Fold yet, but considering it packs in the same Tensor G2 chip as the Pixel 7, it would be surprising if it’s not next in line.

Google says Circle to Search is “coming soon” to those models, so it may not be available as soon as the Feature Drop lands, but it’s good to hear it won’t be for the Pixel 8 only. Google also notes it will be available on “other compatible non-Pixel devices,” so it could eventually spread beyond Google and Samsung.

This feature drop also brings support for 10-bit HDR video recording and Ultra HDR photos to all Tensor G2- and G3-equipped Pixel models, with the ability to share 10-bit HDR videos directly to Instagram Reels and post Ultra HDR photos on Instagram.

Google Pixel Call Screening.

The Feature Drop also brings a small but useful tweak to Call Screen to help deal with callers who are confused by Google Assistant. A new “hello” chip will let you prompt the caller to speak, and you’ll also be able to direct Google Assistant to tell the caller to wait a bit longer if you’re unable to answer the call right away. This “Next Gen Call Screen” will be available on the Pixel 6 and later models, including the Pixel Fold, but only in English in the U.S.

The Pixel Watch is getting updates, too

Two Google Pixel Watches showing Pace Training and Heart Zone Training.

There’s more to this latest Feature Drop than just Pixel phones. The original Pixel Watch is also gaining three new training and workout modes exclusive to last year’s Pixel Watch 2, including Pace Training, Heart Zone Training, and the ability to start and stop certain workouts automatically.

Google is also adding the Fitbit Relax app to the Pixel Watch and Pixel Watch 2. Considering how many other Fitbit features Google’s smartwatch included, the lack of the breathing and mindfulness app was an odd omission that disappointed many Fitbit fans and caused some to hesitate to switch over.

Google Pixel Watch showing Fitbit Relax.

Google’s latest Feature Drop also adds one more bonus for all Wear OS 3 smartwatches with the inclusion of public transit directions. Google announced this last week at Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2024, along with support for passes from Google Wallet on your phone — such as event tickets, boarding passes, and loyalty cards. While the new Wallet passes aren’t mentioned in this Feature Drop, at least the long-awaited transit directions are already rolling out.

Other Pixel updates coming soon

Google Pixel Tablet showing partial screen sharing feature.

The March Pixel Feature Drop also adds App Screen Sharing to all supported Pixel devices, including the Google Pixel Tablet, Pixel Fold, and even the older Pixel 5a. This lets you share only a specific app when casting, recording, or presenting in a video call rather than displaying your entire screen.

The same devices will also get an improved Google FastPair experience by letting you quickly re-add any Bluetooth devices previously used with your Google Account, even if they were never paired with the current device. This will also be coming to all supported Pixel devices.

Google Pixel Fast Pair with recent devices.

Lastly, Google is bringing handwritten annotations to Google Docs, using a stylus or your finger, on all Android tablets and phones running Android 8 or newer, plus a redesigned Gboard Voice Toolbar that gets the keyboard out of the way when voice input is active. This will be available on all Android tablets using Gboard 13.9 or later.

Google’s March Pixel Feature Drop began rolling out internationally today and will start rolling out in the U.S. next Monday, March 11.

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