You probably haven’t been on the phone with someone who’s using a serger sewing machine. I have, and I’m here to tell you it sounds like talking to someone who’s in the middle of a raging tornado as it tears through a bus depot. That is, until Google’s Clear Calling feature kicks in. When that happens, the tornado dissipates into a mild windstorm, making it possible to carry on with your conversation. It’s the sort of helpful background feature that Google’s Pixel phones can be so good at delivering. It’s just a shame that most of them won’t get it.
When Google announced the Pixel 7 and 7 Pro, it talked up a feature that would be coming after launch. Dubbed Clear Calling, it’s designed to reduce background noise on the line when you’re talking to someone who’s in a noisy environment, like a cafe or a busy street. It arrived with December’s feature drop, and not too long after that, I put it to the test on a call with my sister.
I don’t know exactly what a serger is, but it seems to be a heavy-duty version of your garden-variety sewing machine. It’s a bit of a stress test for Clear Calling because if you were in a cafe as loud as a serger, you’d probably leave. But the feature worked well enough to carry on talking through it.
There’s a lot of stopping and starting with a serger, apparently. Each time the machine revved up again, there was a brief moment when I heard it at full volume before it quieted down to a background whirring as my sister kept talking — like hearing noise cancellation kick in on a pair of headphones. The effect was similar when we tested it while she stood next to her washing machine as it filled. The dip in volume is pronounced enough that I asked her if the water sound was fluctuating, but she confirmed it was at a constant level; the Pixel 7 Pro was just doing its thing whenever she started talking.
This is all good news for Pixel 7 and 7 Pro owners. If you’ve got a Pixel 6, not so much. Google spokesperson Matthew Flegal told me that it “requires the capabilities of the Google Tensor G2 processor,” so it would not come to the Pixel 6 with its first-gen Tensor. Which, like, sure. I guess. But it stinks that Google pitches Pixels with this image of phones that keep improving throughout the life of the device, and yet here is a smart new feature that’s not coming to last year’s flagship phone.
When Google’s at its best, it delivers things like Clear Calling. They just arrive on your phone one day and work in the background with very little user input (you have to turn Clear Calling on once, but that’s it). Take Face Unblur: it’s a feature that launched with the Pixel 6 and uses image data from two camera sensors to keep faces sharp even when your subject is moving. There’s nothing you need to do to use it; it just works in the background when the conditions call for it, and the results are good (Photo Unblur, a newer, related feature, isn’t quite as impressive).
There’s a strong argument for buying a phone that gets better over time, especially with genuinely useful new features like Clear Calling. But a phone that’s only going to get substantial improvements for a year and then get left behind in favor of the newer, fancier model isn’t quite as compelling. Hear that, Google?