The Pixel 2 is a solid upgrade when compared to the 2016 model, but we've reached a point where the latest generation of a smartphone is never leaps and bounds better than the last. It's hard to justify dropping nearly a grand on a phone when it doesn't improve your situation much — especially when a few software tweaks will give you most of the upgrade for free.
Aside from a slightly improved camera and the Pixel 2 XL's nearly bezel-less display, the biggest changes to this year's Pixels aren't hardware related. An updated launcher, a few new camera modes, and a name that tune feature that automatically identifies any songs playing are the biggest changes. So below, we'll show you how to replicate each of these features on your first-gen Pixel or Pixel XL.
The Pixel 2 has its search bar built right into the dock at the bottom of the home screen. Depending on which launcher you use, there are a few different ways to get this feature on the 2016 Pixel models.
First, if you're using Nova Launcher, the team at TeslaCoil hasn't updated their home screen app with an official method for replicating this search-bar-in-the-dock style. But because of Nova's flexibility and customization options, you can manually recreate the look and feel nonetheless. To see how it's done, just check out the following guide:
If you're using Action Launcher, developer Chris Lacy has made it incredibly simple to get the Pixel 2's new search bar. Just head to the Quickbar menu in Action's settings, jack up the "Corner size" to 100%, then set the Style to "Search box (dock)."
Finally, if you're still using the stock launcher that came with your first-gen Pixel, you can update your home screen by sideloading a simple APK. For all intents and purposes, this is the Pixel 2's new launcher, so it's the cleanest method for you stock fans out there.
The next little touch that Google added to the Pixel 2 is a home screen widget called "At a glance" that shows your next calendar event in addition to the current weather. If you used the official Pixel 2 launcher update shown above, you'll already have this feature — but for custom launcher users, we recommend Another Widget, which recreates the new look almost perfectly.
In my opinion, the most interesting new Pixel 2 feature is something called Now Playing. It uses a low-power core in the new Pixel models to listen for any songs playing around you at all times, then displays the song's name directly on your lock screen without any interaction. Since many might find that a little creepy, Google made sure that the song-matching takes place strictly on your device and never shares recordings on the cloud.
Without the on-device song matching and the specialized low-power core, this can't be perfectly recreated on a first-gen Pixel. However, a new feature in Shazam comes really close. "Auto Shazam," as it's called, will identify songs automatically without completely destroying your battery. To read more about it, hit up the following link:
HTC did it first with Zoe, Apple made it popular with Live Photos, and now, Google's in on the trend. The Pixel 2's Motion Photos feature will capture a few seconds of video to accompany every still photo you take, then it will let you view either the static image or the video from the Google Photos app.
The easiest way to recreate this is with one of the many apps that emulate Apple's Live Photos. The best options out there are Motion Stills and Camera MX — the latter was made by Google, while the former is closer to the Pixel 2's new feature. See how they both work here:
For a more official option, you can try sideloading this APK, which is a leaked version of the Pixel 2's official camera app, and it comes with a working Motion Photos mode. However, it has a few minor bugs, and it installs as an update to your existing camera app, so one of the above options might be better if you need a reliable camera app.
Update 10/19: Google is rolling out an update to the Google Camera app (version 5.1) that shipped with the first-gen Pixels. This update will install on top of the sideloaded version linked out above, but it removes the Motion Photos functionality. In other words, if you're using the leaked Pixel 2 camera app linked out above, don't update your Camera app on the Play Store unless you're fine with losing Motion Photos. If you've already updated to Google Camera v5.1, uninstall updates in Settings –> Apps, then you'll be able to sideload the leaked version.
This one's a Pixel 2 XL "feature" because the smaller model has a traditional screen. But the larger Pixel 2, as you may have noticed, has rounded display corners. You can recreate this effect on first-gen Pixels with a simple software tweak, and it looks great thanks to the true blacks of the Pixel's AMOLED screen. The app that does it is called Cornerfly, but you can read all about it at the following link.
We all know that Google is targeting iPhone users with its Pixel lineup, and a new Pixel 2 camera feature called Portrait Mode is further evidence of this. Just like the iPhone's eponymous feature, it blurs the background of your pictures to put more focus on the subject.
As I mentioned earlier, there's a leaked version of the Pixel 2's camera app that you can sideload as an update to the first-gen Pixel's camera app, but unfortunately, Portrait Mode isn't working on that version. That's no biggie, though, because you can use the "Lens Blur" feature in your existing camera app (or the leaked update) to recreate this feature by simply moving your phone while you take a picture. For more details, check out the following guide:
Much like Samsung's Beauty Mode, the Pixel 2 has a new camera setting called Face Retouching that will automatically smooth your face in selfies. It's a little weird, honestly, because the blur it applies makes it look like you don't have any pores. But hey, different strokes for different folks, right?
This is another feature you can get by sideloading the leaked Pixel 2 camera app as an update. But again, it has a few bugs, and it overwrites your existing camera app, so you may be weary of that.
If you don't want to risk screwing up your main camera app, Google's Snapseed app is your best bet. Its selfie features are using many of the same algorithms from the Pixel 2's Face Retouching feature, and it even lets you take things a step further with options to tweak your smile, pupils, and even change the direction you're facing. To see how all of these features work, check out this next link — but don't forget to share your thoughts on any of these tweaks in the comment section below.