Huge Google Pixel 4 update brings host of new features, and older Pixel phones get some too

Google Pixel 4
(Image credit: Future)

Google has pushed out a new software update to its fleet of Pixel smartphones, bringing in a host of new features.

The Google Pixel 4 series is the biggest beneficiary of the new software update, getting the complete set of features and upgrades offered. 

While older handsets - the Pixel 3a, Pixel 3, Pixel 2 and original Pixel series - also get the update, the number of additions reduce the further back in Google's handset ranges you go.

The Pixel 4's slew of new perks include more Motion Sense gestures, while crash detection is expanded to the UK and Australia.

Crash detection was one of the more exciting features to launch with the Pixel 4: through the Personal Safety app, the phone uses its accelerometer and other sensors to detect whether a collision had occurred and ask the owner whether emergency services needed to be called - and if it gets no response, the phone will share location and other info with emergency responders. 

That perk was first available in the US, but will now roll out to Pixel 4 users in Australia (000) and the UK (999). 

  • Need a refresher? Check out our Google PIxel 4 review for all its current extras
  • Do all these perks sound exciting? Perhaps they'll come to other phones in Android 11
  • They'll almost certainly be in the upcoming Google Pixel 4a budget flagship

More new Pixel 4 features

The other Pixel 4 software additions are an erratic mix, as outlined in the Google Pixel team's blog post. Selfies will have better depth effects, Duo video calls get more AR effects that follow your facial expressions, and UI tweaks like improvements to adaptive brightness that make it easier to see the display in bright light. 

The Motion Sense feature can now be used to pause and resume songs via a 'tapping' aerial gesture.  

The Pixel 4’s Google Pay interactions are getting more intelligent. Now you can hold the power button to rotate through connected debit/credit cards, event tickets, boarding passes, and so on. 

This will be available to Pixel 4 users in the US, UK, Canada, Australia, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Ireland, Taiwan, and Singapore for now - though it’s unclear if this is also rolling out to older Pixel phones (we’ve asked Google for clarification). 

Plus, more of its extras are filtering down to older Pixel phones - like Live Captioning coming to the Google Pixel 2.

The breakdown of new features coming to each Pixel series of handsets (Image credit: Google)

What about older Pixels? 

Older Pixel phones aren’t left out of this one. The Pixel 4, Google Pixel 3 and Google Pixel 3a are getting smarter Google Pay features, like the ability to recognize boarding pass barcodes in screenshots and then provide the user with real-time flight updates. 

Live Caption, a key Pixel 4 feature that captions audio and video on the fly, will begin rolling out to Google Pixel 2 owners as well. 

And, finally, all Pixel phones are getting dark mode scheduling and 169 new emoji to use, including many more gender options and skin tones in couple combinations to, as Google puts it, "better reflect the world around us." Cheers, to this long-overdue addition.

David Lumb

David is now a mobile reporter at Cnet. Formerly Mobile Editor, US for TechRadar, he covered phones, tablets, and wearables. He still thinks the iPhone 4 is the best-looking smartphone ever made. He's most interested in technology, gaming and culture – and where they overlap and change our lives. His current beat explores how our on-the-go existence is affected by new gadgets, carrier coverage expansions, and corporate strategy shifts.