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Google’s latest Pixel feature drop adds even more battery optimizations and Adaptive Sound

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Coming to the Pixel 3 and newer

The Pixel 5 (top) and the Pixel 4A 5G (bottom) Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

Google’s latest Pixel feature drop, where the company brings a slew of new software tricks to its smartphone lineup, is being announced today. Alongside some brand-new functionality like Adaptive Sound, which “improves the sound quality of your phone speaker based on your surroundings,” the December drop is also bringing many of the latest software features from the Pixel 5, 4A 5G, and 4A to older devices; Google says the Pixel 3 and newer will be included.

That means features like Hold for Me, where the Google Assistant waits for a real person to hop on the customer support line instead of making you do it, and others like Extreme Battery Saver mode and screen sharing on Duo calls will soon hit older devices.

Extreme Battery Saver seemed like an over-correction from the company after last year’s Pixel 4 and 4 XL got average (at best) battery life; this year’s Pixels all have great endurance, and most people will never need to consider using it. But Extreme Battery Saver, which “only runs the essentials so your battery lasts as long as possible,” definitely makes more sense on those Pixel 4, 3A, and 3 devices as their batteries continue to age.

The helpful Hold for Me feature from the 2020 Pixel lineup is coming to older models.
Image: Google

Several Pixel phones receiving this feature drop will be getting a new feature to preserve the battery’s long-term health: Adaptive Charging. Similar to the implementations we’ve seen from other smartphone makers, Google says Adaptive Charging “helps preserve battery health over time by dynamically controlling how quickly a Pixel device charges” when plugged in overnight. This is coming to Pixels 4 and newer.

And the company’s first 5G-capable phones, the Pixel 5 and 4A 5G, will now default to using 4G for simple tasks like web browsing and texting, but they will flip on the 5G connection for streaming movies or watching large files. That sounds familiar to the system Apple has in place for the iPhone 12 series, though Google notes this “Adaptive Connectivity” feature isn't available on all carriers or for all apps. Like in Apple’s case, you’ll be able to turn it off if you prefer full 5G speeds at all times when there’s a signal. (Google also says the GPS accuracy on the Pixel 5 and 4A 5G is improved after this update.)

The Pixel phones are first to get new suggestions in Google Photos to enhance sky photos.
GIF: Google

Pixel owners will also find new suggestions in Google Photos, including “Dynamic, which enhances brightness, contrast and color, and a set of sky suggestions, which help you create stunning sunset and sunrise images in just one tap.” For now, it sounds like those options are Pixel-exclusive.

Adaptive sound uses your Pixel’s microphone to tune the speaker quality for whatever room you’re in.
Image: Google

As for that interesting Adaptive Sound trick, which seems like an attempt to improve the Pixel 5’s mediocre speaker output, it “uses the microphone to assess the acoustics near you, then adjusts the sound equalizer settings in certain apps.” So the phone will tune audio differently in your bathroom compared to the bedroom. Consider me skeptical that this will fix one of the Pixel 5’s few hardware downsides, but we’ll see. Google notes that “all microphone data” recorded for speaker optimization is deleted shortly after being recorded, and the company says this feature always runs locally on your device and doesn’t send any audio to the cloud. Adaptive Sound is only coming to the Pixel 5 and 4A 5G.

And last, the home screen on Pixel phones is getting more customizable with this update. You’ll be able to choose “new icons, grid views, and app shapes” as seen below.

The home screen on Pixels is getting more customizable.
Image: Google

All of this, plus smaller stuff like the option to export the Pixel’s “Now Playing” automatic music recognition to a YouTube Music playlist, will roll out as part of the December feature drop beginning today.

Correction December 7th, 2:40PM ET: The article original stated that the Pixel 3A and newer would receive the new Adaptive Charging feature. Google’s table on this page clarifies that it’s only coming to the Pixel 4 and newer.