Google's December Feature Drop could be one of the most important for the Pixel lineup to date. Not only will Pixel owners be treated to a range of new features for their Android 14 devices, but the minds inside the Googleplex have debuted the AI that could change what it means to be a smartphone forevermore: Gemini AI.
Gemini is a multimodal AI designed from the ground up to intuitively handle language, code, images, video, and voice for a richer, better, and more contextually aware experience.
Gemini is a welcome addition to the Pixel platform, and while it doesn't feature too heavily in December's feature drop, the wider implications of how this tech could be applied in the future sets the stage for devices like the Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro to become the smartest smartphones we've seen to date.
Let's dive into what we can expect from Google's December Feature Drop as it rolls out to all Pixel devices from now and over the coming weeks.
December Feature Drop: What Pixel owners can expect
Devices impacted by Google's December Feature drop range from the Pixel 8 Pro, Pixel Fold, and Pixel Tablet right the way through to the Pixel 5a (5G). The updates below will be rolling out right now, and become available to download over the coming weeks depending on your device and carrier.
Make sure your Pixel device is up to date with the Android version by heading to System > System Update, and make sure to update your on-device apps by heading to the Play Store, tapping your profile image, and selecting Manage apps & device.
Let's explore the contents of the December Feature Drop starting with the exclusive features heading to particular Pixel devices.
December Feature Drop: Exclusive features
Unsurprisingly, the Pixel 8 Pro nabs the bulk of the December Feature Drop's exclusive features thanks to its Tensor G3-backed Gemini AI capabilities. Coming exclusively to the Pixel 8 Pro are the following new features:
- Summarize in Recorder: Gemini's powerful language processing capabilities allow it to quickly summarize voice recordings into brief snippets of text, allowing users to quickly decipher the contents of longer recordings without having to scan through things manually.
- Smart Reply in Gboard: This particular feature is limited to the Developer preview, but showcases Gemini's ability to contextually understand messages and how to accurately respond to them. Smart Reply is an upgrade to Gboard's predictive messaging feature, though instead of offering a word-by-word suggestion Smart Reply allows you to accurately respond to an incoming message in full with a single tap.
- Video Boost with Night Sight: One of the more impressive computational features of the Pixel 8 Pro is its AI-powered Video Boost enhancement. Revealed earlier in the year, Video Boost makes use of cloud computing to adjust a video's stability, lighting, color, and sharpness automatically. Adding Night Sight into the mix ensures that even low-light conditions receive the same treatment and ensures the best results no matter the conditions.
The next exclusive Pixel feature arriving in December's update is for both the Pixel 8 Pro and standard Pixel 8 devices.
- Night Sight in Time Lapse: Pixel 8/8 Pro owners can now take longer videos at night with Night Sight in Timelapse now allowing for a five-minute 1080p, or 20-minute 4K recording. Both of which result in 10-second timelapse videos boosted with Google's Night Sight enhancing tech.
The Google Pixel Fold also snags an exclusive feature with this round of updates that Shutterbug subjects will find incredibly useful when it comes to looking your best on camera.
- Dual Screen Preview for Pixel Fold: The Pixel Camera app on Google's Pixel Fold will now allow the foldable's outer screen to act as a preview window to the photo being lined up on the inner display. Letting your snapshot subjects get a better look at themselves in advance of you capturing an image.
The Pixel Watch will also receive a long-awaited feature first showcased in 2022:
- Watch Unlock: Why bother with passcodes or face unlock when your phone can tell it's you who's holding it because of the watch on your wrist? That's the basic premise behind Watch Unlock, which senses the proximity of your Pixel Watch to allow near-instant unlocking of your device as you grab it.
The Pixel Tablet isn't without love, gaining the Clear Calling feature and the ability to listen with Spatial Audio (with head tracking) as found in other Pixel devices, bringing it more up to speed with the rest of Google's lineup.
December Feature Drop: New features
There are a ton of upgrades heading to the Pixel platform in this December Feature Drop, including improvements to Photo Unblur and Portrait Light, better Passkey support in Google Password Manager, Direct My Call and Hold For Me support for non-toll-free numbers, and the Weather and Clock widget now combined in an all-in-one package.
However, that's far from all, with the following features also making an appearance:
- Contextual replies in Call Screen: While Pixel devices can already screen calls for you, Google has expanded the feature to allow you to follow up the call screening process with contextual replies that let you respond to callers without ever having to answer the phone!
- Repair Mode: If you've ever been worried about the safety of your data or accounts when sending your device in for repair, then this is a feature you'll cherish. Repair mode safely stores away all of your data and information while your phone is out of your hands with technicians limited to performing necessary tests only, without the ability to interact with your stored pictures or messages.
- Device as a webcam: Connecting your Pixel device (not including the Pixel Tablet) to a PC or laptop via a USB cable now allows it to act as a high-definition webcam.
- Clean: The new Clean feature lets you remove stains, creases, and smudges from scanned documents within the Pixel Camera app allowing you a clean and pristine copy of any document you need scanning.
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Rael Hornby, potentially influenced by far too many LucasArts titles at an early age, once thought he’d grow up to be a mighty pirate. However, after several interventions with close friends and family members, you’re now much more likely to see his name attached to the bylines of tech articles. While not maintaining a double life as an aspiring writer by day and indie game dev by night, you’ll find him sat in a corner somewhere muttering to himself about microtransactions or hunting down promising indie games on Twitter.