The first Android update of the year is here. On Monday, Jan. 4, 2021, Google started pushing out the January security patch for the Pixel 3 and all newer Pixels, after having ended support for the Pixel 2 last month.
Pixels don't have a "Download Mode" like Samsung Galaxy phones, so there's not an easy, point-and-click way to send firmware files and low-level commands from your computer. What they do have is an even more powerful tool: Fastboot Mode.
Google dropped several of the Pixel 4's more gimmicky features in favor of perfecting the basics on the Pixel 5. While you probably won't miss Motion Sense or the Assistant squeeze gesture, you'll definitely like the extra battery they packed into the space those features once occupied. Almost 50% more battery, actually.
The Pixel 5's beautifully slim and symmetric bezels don't leave much room for extra hardware like a notification LED. But with the Ambient Display feature and an inventive app, you can turn the display cutout for the front-facing camera into an animated notification indicator.
The Pixel 5 is a bit of a departure from previous Pixels. Gone are the Pixel 4's Soli-based Motion Sense gestures, the Pixel 3's dual front-facing speakers, and the glass back panel of previous generations. But perhaps the most notable omission for long-time Pixel users is the lack of a squeeze gesture to trigger the Google Assistant.
Android's status bar is ever-present. It sits at the top of almost every screen in every app, making it the most prominent part of your Pixel's theme. So it only makes sense that Google would give you a way to change the icons it uses.
The Pixel 5 is the first mainstream phone with perfectly symmetrical slim bezels. Most other "bezel-less" phones have had a disproportionately large bottom bezel, and while the iPhone's side and bottom bezels are symmetrical, there's a huge notch across most of its top bezel. The downside to the Pixel's approach is it has a pretty big display cutout for the front camera.
Google's version of Android is best described as AOSP with extra features. But while the Pixel's UI is rightfully praised for its simplicity, those "extra features" aren't as numerous as they are on other OEM skins like Samsung's One UI. Case in point, there's no real system-wide audio EQ.
Google's new Material You theming engine in Android 12 adds a personal touch to your user interface. The main colors of your wallpaper dynamically affect the colors in menus and apps, essentially putting you in control of the overall theme. But there's another new design element for app icons that's hiding in your settings.
How To: Unlock Android 12's Developer Options on Your Pixel for Powerful Hidden Tools Anyone Can Use
When you start up your new Google Pixel 6 or 6 Pro, one of the first things you should do is unlock the hidden "Developer options" menu. Don't let the word "developer" scare you because there are little-known features in this secret Android 12 menu that every Android user can enjoy.
If you save your passwords in Chrome or even just use Android's default password manager, Google has some new security tools you'll be interested in.
Google's "At A Glance" widget gives you the current weather conditions and upcoming events from your Google Calendar in a handy spot right at the top of your home screen. But on Pixel phones, this widget is permanently embedded into the launcher, so you can't just long-press it to remove it.
Things tend to get noisy when you're in a big group chat, which is why the notification sound for that thread shouldn't be your standard, attention-grabbing ringtone. But you don't want to set the default notification sound to something too subtle, otherwise you'd miss messages that actually matter.
Android's hidden Developer Options menu, sometimes called "Developer Mode," has a ton of cool settings inside of it. You can enable wireless ADB, spoof your geolocation, make the Pixel 5's screen always run at 90 Hz, or even force incompatible apps to work with dark mode.
The Pixel 5 is a great value proposition in this era of $1,500 phones. With its reasonable price tag, fully open-sourced software, and unlockable bootloader, it's also an ideal phone for rooting.
Google doesn't get enough credit for it, but they definitely make some of the best phones for rooting and modding. Heck, if you want to replace the entire operating system on a Pixel, you can do it pretty easily. It all starts with the bootloader.
Every year, Apple adds some old technology to the iPhone and gives it a catchy marketing name, then like clockwork, it becomes the next big thing. Google, on the other hand, creates some truly innovative features, doesn't really bother naming them, then lets them languish in obscurity until Apple reinvents them at a later date.
In a tradition dating back to the Nexus days, Google has always used fish-themed codenames when communicating internally about their phones. Their laptops and tablets are usually named after video game characters. These names often give us the first evidence of an upcoming device when they're used in software commits in Android's open source code.
Android updates don't have as many headlining features as they once did, but that's the point. If you keep updating software to add features and fix bugs, you'll eventually reach a point where the main focus is polish. That doesn't mean you can't get excited about a fresh coat of wax.
How To: Use Portrait Lighting in Google Photos to Add an Adjustable Key Light to Pictures You've Already Taken
Google's Pixel smartphones have earned a reputation for taking great photos without relying on top-of-the-line camera sensors. Instead, Google leans on the software side to squeeze super images out of its camera. This also enables them to roll out new features out to previous-generation devices.