Google’s new Pixel phones come with some great new features. Google’s new smart Assistant, unlimited cloud storage for photos and video, and more are all rolled in. With a little clever tweaking though, you can get most of the big, best features on your phone right now before the Pixel even comes out.
Install Google Assistant on Your Current Phone
Google Assistant is the headlining feature of the new Pixel phones. You can also use it on the upcoming Google Home speaker and Google’s new messaging app Allo. It really shines on a phone where it can scan what you’re reading to find contextually-relevant information, give you a daily briefing on your way to work, and take down reminders or find things around you. So, it’s a little weird Google locked it to a single phone. Fortunately, if you’re comfortable with the rooting your phone or flashing .zips, you can get it on any phone running Marshmallow or higher.
We’ve put together an in-depth guide here that walks you through the steps. The technique involves tricking your device into identifying as a Pixel XL instead of whichever model you have. Fortunately, this shouldn’t affect day-to-day usage of your device. It’s unclear if Google will continue to allow this workaround for long, but for now you can enjoy Assistant without having to get a whole new phone.
At $650, the Pixel is a relatively expensive phone. To soothe that wound in your wallet, Google’s throwing in free, unlimited, full-size photo storage for life for any photos you take with your Pixel, unlike the resolution-clipped unlimited storage you can already get with Google Photos. That’s a pretty huge deal, since most photo backup services have some pretty big caveats.
If you don’t mind making a couple sacrifices, though, you can roll your own nearly unlimited photo storage. Here are some of the most popular cloud services, and how you can put them to use, no new phone required:
Amazon Prime Photos: If you’re a Prime subscriber, you already have unlimited photo backup—at their original resolution, no less—through Prime Photos. You also get 5GB of storage space for videos or other documents, which isn’t a lot but it may be handy if you don’t take many videos. Amazon’s brand new Family Vault even lets you share that unlimited storage space with up to five other people.
Between these three, you can probably backup just about anything. Upload all your full resolution photos to Amazon, use Flickr for any video that’s higher than 1080p, and use Google Photos for your day-to-day lower resolution stuff. Your library will be a little disjointed, but you won’t need to spend $650 on a phone just to back up everything you need.
You can also use IFTTT to make it easier to manage multiple backup locations. IFTTT’s Android channel can automatically upload photos you take to any cloud backup location. If you want to get more complex, you can use Tasker and IFTTT together to upload to a different service based on which folder you store pictures in. You can also build your own NAS storage to backup as many photos and videos as you have hard drive space for, instead of relying on another company to do it for you. Google’s unlimited backup might be convenient, but it’s far from your only option.
The camera on the Pixel is pretty impressive. Unfortunately, there’s no app to change the hardware on your phone. Before you spend a ton of money on a new phone with a better camera, learn how to use the one you have first, and unlock its best features. You can download the Google Camera app to get some of its coolest features like HDR or smart burst mode. While it’s not compatible with every device, you can find APKs to install from APK Mirror here.
If you just want even more control over your photos or Google Camera doesn’t work on your device, check out Camera ZOOM FX, one of our favorite camera alternatives for Android. It comes with a ton of advanced features like RAW support, burst shot modes, and a ton of photo presets. It also has all of the tools to help you be a better photographer, and learn how to compose and take better photos, no matter what camera you have—and sometimes that’s what’s important. You can even tweak the ISO, exposure, shutters speed, and focus distance to get the perfect shot.
Use Gestures and Quick Links to Make Your Home Screen More Useful
In Android 7.1, starting with the Pixel, you’ll be able to long-press a shortcut on the home screen to find quick links to features within the app itself. For example, if you hold down the Google Maps icon, you can quickly navigate to home or work. This will eventually roll out to everyone, but if you have our favorite home screen replacement Nova Launcher Prime ($4.99), you don’t have to wait. With it, you can assign a shortcut to any icon on your home screen. We’ll demonstrate by adding a navigation shortcut to Google Maps:
If there’s not one already, add a Maps shortcut to your home screen.
Long-press the app icon and tap Edit in the pop-up menu.
Tap the “Swipe action” drop-down.
Tap the Shortcuts tab along the top of the screen.
Scroll down and tap Directions.
Enter a destination address, like your home. Give it a name like “Navigate Home.”
Now, swipe up on the Maps icon on your home screen. This should immediately launch the Navigation feature of Google Maps with your home address already entered. This isn’t quite the same as Android 7.1's new feature, since you can only have one shortcut at a time. On the other hand, you get to customize it, instead of settling for whatever the developers decide to give you.
Download Allo and Duo, Google’s New Messaging Apps
If you visit the Pixel’s store page, Google will tell you about apps like Allo and Duo, but they’re far from Pixel exclusives. Allo, Google’s intelligent messaging app, and Duo, its dead-simple 1-to-1 video chat app, are already on the Play Store. While Allo still needs some refinement, having Assistant built-in makes it a compelling alternative to other chat apps (once they get a desktop client and SMS support, that is). Meanwhile, Duo is like a cross-platform Facetime, bringing easy video calls to both Android and iPhone users. Best of all, there’s no need to buy a new phone just to try these out.
We’re not sure why Google decided to wait until version 7.1 to bring back the reboot option to the Android power menu, but it’s finally back. If you want it without waiting, however, you can get it with Material Power Menu. This app can work with or without root to give you a handy menu that lets you turn your phone off, reboot it, or even boot into recovery or the bootloader.
Without root, you can launch the app from a shortcut on your home screen, which is still pretty convenient. It will launch a simple screen with several power options available. If all you want is an easy way to reboot your phone, this is all you’ll need. However, if you have root and Xposed, it will also automatically activate whenever you hold down your power button. It’s a little thing, but if you constantly need to restart your phone, it can make a huge difference.