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Google's December Pixel Feature Drop brings major camera upgrades and other goodies

Pixel 8 owners are getting substantially improved video quality. The Pixel Watch and Fold have some very handy additions, too.
Written by Artie Beaty, Contributing Writer
Google Pixel 8 Pro AI Wallpaper
June Wan/ZDNET

The December Google Pixel Feature Drop is here, and it's bringing some substantial holiday goodies for Pixel owners. The Pixel's camera is the highlight of the new features, but there are some pretty useful additions across the board.

Perhaps the biggest feature is Video Boost, which is exclusive to the Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro. After turning on Video Boost, you'll receive a second copy of any video you take -- a copy that's been run through AI and HDR+ to improve lighting, focus, detail, and color. 

Also: How Google's Gemini AI makes your Pixel 8 Pro faster and smarter

It's important to note that your primary copy -- the unedited one -- will be available to share right away, but the enhanced copy will take some time. Not only do you have to wait for a Wi-Fi connection for it to be uploaded, but you also have to wait for the Google servers to process it and send it back. It may even take a few days. You'll receive a Google Photos notification once the improved version is finished.

Video Boost also provides a significant upgrade to Night Sight videos, and in addition to the quality enhancement, users now have the ability to take timelapse night videos. 

On the camera front for all Pixel devices, a new "Balance light" mode will be available to even out harsh shadows, photo unblur is getting an upgrade to be better at sharpening images, and a "clean" feature is being added to remove smudges from documents scanned in the camera app. And if your laptop's built-in camera isn't quite the quality you'd like, your Pixel (6 and newer) can now be used as a webcam if it's connected via USB (provided your computer supports UVC). 

Also: Google's Smart Search now showing up on more Android phones

Exclusive to the Pixel Fold is a new mode that makes it easier to take pictures with family and friends. While you're setting up a photo on the inner screen, your subjects can see themselves on the outer screen to make sure things are perfect.

If you're fully in the Pixel ecosystem, the Pixel Watch is getting a new feature called Watch Unlock. Users who are wearing their watch can have their paired phone automatically unlock, provided the watch itself is unlocked. This is a nice addition in that it's a little faster than face unlock and a little more reliable than fingerprint. You'll have to set this feature up by heading to the Watch app on your phone, then watch preferences, and then security.

Pixel Watch has also added six new faces plus auto call screen, which will show a transcript of the call on your watch, just like it does on the Pixel screen, and gives you the option to ignore or ask for more details.

Also: How to make your Pixel phone automatically decline robocalls

If you're someone who actually uses your phone as a phone, Google Assistant can now respond better to a situation like confirming or canceling an appointment.

Finally, a new repair mode keeps your phone's photos, messages, and other content private if you ever have it in someone else's hands to fix a problem. 

Several other small features and bug fixes were included in this month's Feature Drop, and you can check out the rest of those in Google's post.

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