Google's Pixel Feature Drop: Digital car keys, Recorder improvements, and more

Pixel owners are privy to quarterly feature drops that add new capabilities to their Android phones. Here's what Google's included.
Written by Jason Cipriani, Contributing Writer

The Pixel 6 Pro is big, but no bigger than the iPhone 13 Pro Max.

Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

If you have one of Google's Pixel phones, it's time for your next Feature Drop. For those who are new to Pixel phones, Google releases an update for its Pixel phones every quarter that include a series of new features. These Feature Drops are something I've grown to look forward to, and I suspect other Pixel owners do as well. 

On Monday, Google announced the latest feature drop is for currently supported Pixel phones. That is, the Pixel 3a through Pixel 5a (5G). The latest Pixel devices, the 6 and 6 Pro, will get the update next week. 

In addition to the December security patches, the latest update includes several new features -- some of which are already available in the US, but Google is expanding their availability to other countries. 

A new feature coming to the Pixel 4a (5G) or newer allows you to double-tap the back of your phone and instantly open the Snapchat camera and post to your account. And at some point in December, Google will roll out a Pixel Face Snapchat lens. 

The Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro are gaining the ability to function as a digital car key for 2020–2022 BMW vehicles. When set up, you can tap your phone on the car handle to lock or unlock it, or even start the car by placing your phone on the key reader inside the car. 

The Pixel 6 Pro is equipped with an ultra-wideband radio. Starting with the next update, it will finally be enabled. Right now, Google states that UWB will allow 6 Pro owners to quickly share files, but hopefully we'll also see some AirTags-like accessories that make finding a lost device simple and very accurate. 

A new accessibility feature that's rolling out in beta will make it easier to hear conversations in loud environments. From the animated image posted by Google, you point your phone's camera at the person you want to hear better, select the person in an app and put your phone down. 

The Now Playing feature displays the song that's currently playing nearby, such as in a coffee shop or even in your car on the radio. The latest update makes it possible to tap on the note icon next to the song's name to save it as a favorite track for quick access to recall it later. For those who have Google's Pixel Buds A, you're gaining improved bass controls. 

There are also new wallpapers for the Pixel that celebrate International Day of Persons with Disabilities

Google is also expanding car crash detection to Taiwan, Italy, and Spain. The Recorder app is gaining new languages -- specifically, Japanese, French, and German. 

All told, December's Pixel Feature Drop includes some helpful and impressive updates to the Pixel's core experience. 

If you have a Pixel phone, have you noticed any of the updates yet? If so, let us know what you think about them in the comments below.

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