From Artificial Intelligence to Call Screening to getting contact details of the restaurant mentioned in an SMS via Lens, what’s on offer is a brand new experience
Remember the good old days of land lines, when your secretary screened your calls first instead of, as now, every third call on your mobile being from a pesky telemarketer? Or, when your wife SMS’d you to make a reservation at a restaurant, you had to first find the number and then make a call?
Well, help is at hand thanks to the new Pixel 3. Call Screening, right now available only in the US, allows your Google Assistant to answer a call from an unknown number, ask what the call is about and flash it on your screen in real time so you can decide whether you want to take the call.
Google Lens was a great hit in even the earlier version of the Pixel—so you could, for instance, take a picture of a book and get to know its price and some details of the author. The new Pixel has integrated it better into the phone. So, go to your Assistant settings and activate “use screen content” on it. When you get an SMS or a WhatsApp message or are on Twitter, just long-press the home button and click on “what’s on my screen?”, the phone will offer you suggestions based on this—in response to “let’s have lunch at Turquoise Cottage tomorrow”, it will give you the web address, the Twitter handle and a phone number to call.
In other words, buying a phone is no longer just about comparing the storage or the RAM or the megapixels on the camera—most phones offer the same at each price point—it is about the Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the Machine Learning (ML) embedded in the phone.
The Pixel’s camera, always a big draw, for instance, still has just one rear camera while other manufacturers are looking at increasing the number because Google believes its AI will help generate a better picture without the need for more cameras. The Top Shot feature, for instance, shoots a burst of pictures, the AI helps figure out which is the best and prompts you to save that. Remember how, when your son is blowing out his birthday candles, you mostly get a picture just before or just after? Top Shot will shoot the before and the after also, along with the one blowing the candle, and then prompt you to save the best one.
Indeed, the Night Sight feature, to be rolled out in a few weeks, will use AI to get you photographs in a dark room that, often enough, even the eye cannot see. The phone will take a burst of high-definition pictures and the AI will stitch them together to create a well-lit image. While several features, such as Call Screening will over time be available on other phones since these will be part of newer versions of each OS, the camera properties will not be available since they are essentially powered by an extra chip—Pixel Visual Core—that is aimed at enhancing image processing facilities.
A Photobooth and a Playground are there for fun. The Photobooth automatically takes pictures of you as your expressions change and Playground allows you to introduce Marvel characters—or various others—in the background to give you a picture with your favourite character; some even take on the expression you have.
What is more interesting is Group Selfie that, thanks to a second camera in front—a wide-angle one—allows you to get a wider breadth to allow more people in the picture; just tap on the screen to activate the wide-angle. The Pixel 3 looks much more high-end than the earlier version and the colours are a lot warmer. Most reviews talk of the ugly “notch” on the phone, part of Google’s attempt to provide more viewing space on the phone. Ideally, the entire screen should be used for viewing but every phone/PC has black edges—bezels, in jargon—where you can’t view anything. The Pixel 3 has got a larger viewing space by reducing the bezels, but since this would cover the speakers and the cameras, there is a “notch” or a place on the screen where the picture will not be visible; a bit like a wide and flat “U”. Fortunately, by going into “developer” mode, you can remove the notch, though the viewing space reduces accordingly.
In these days of everyone telling you too much time on the phone is bad, Google has a Digital Wellbeing feature that tells you how much time you’ve spent on each app, where you can put timers to decide how long an app should be used every day; movie apps can also become black & white after the app time is exceeded. A Do Not Disturb option can be activated by simply putting your phone face down on the table; once you flip it, the usual notifications can be heard.
Other features that are appealing are Smart Compose on Gmail and Smart Reply on SMS where auto-replies are created based on your usual replies—so it gets better with more usage—but these are not really specific to the Pixel, these are part of the OS, though the latest OS comes to the Pixel range of phones first. Real Time Translate, useful to have a conversation with someone in another language, is also not Pixel-specific.
A very useful cable makes replicating your existing phone onto the Pixel 3 less painful since the apps and the passwords get transferred automatically.
Estimated street price: Rs 71,000 onwards