The first things to do with your new Pixel phone

Before you do anything else with your new Pixel or Pixel XL, do these.

pixel box
Derek Walter

Pixel Perfect

It’s finally here.

The new Google Pixel is in your hands and ready to deliver on the promise of Google-designed smartphone bliss. There’s a lot to unpack, even if you’ve already been down the Nexus road before. Google has taken the integration of Android and hardware to a new level, and there are a lot of little features hiding just underneath the surface

I’ve explored nearly every corner of the software in my Pixel XL (the “very silver” model is quite nice!), and recommend you do these 10 things first. It’ll make your experience more enjoyable and rewarding, so you can show off to everyone else just how great your new phone is.

pixel photo backup

Get your free Google Photos backup

One of the perks of the Pixel is that you get unlimited backup of all your pictures and video at full resolution (even videos in 4K!) to the rather excellent Google Photos service. 

However, you have to go claim it. To do this, go to Photos > Settings > Back up sync. Turn this on and ensure that your Google account is selected as the backup location. From here you can also choose if your photos or videos are backed up with through cellular data or only via Wi-Fi. Then start snapping away with the Pixel’s excellent camera.

pixel app shortcuts

Get to know the app shortcuts

OK, cue the “Google copied Apple” complaints. Comparisons to 3D Touch aside, the application shortcuts are pretty cool. Just touch and hold on an app icon and you’ll have one or more options to jump you right to a particular part of the app.

And in true Android form, there’s more functionality than what you get with iOS. Touch and hold one of the shortcuts, and you can drag it onto the home screen. That will put a new button that lets you leap right into that action. This only works with a small group of apps for now, but the API is available to developers and support is starting to roll out already.

pixel moves

Pick your moves

There’s a neat little trick built into the phone’s fingerprint sensor, known as the Pixel Imprint (because we must brand all the things!). When you swipe down, it pulls down your notification shade. Swipe back up to send them away.

But you have to turn it on. Go to Settings > Moves to do that and also see two other choices for custom moves: Jump to Camera and Flip Camera. 

Jump to Camera lets you launch the camera with a double tap on the power button, while the Flip Camera trick lets you switch in and out of selfie mode by double twisting the phone when the camera is open.

opinion rewards

Google Opinion Rewards

Don’t forget about the little things. The Google Opinion Rewards app is an easy way to rack up Play Store money so you can spend it on apps, games, movies, TV shows, or books.

If you’re setting up your Pixel fresh, you’ll want to make sure you go and get this. The app uses your location, web search history, and other data Google collects to offer you surveys about companies, places you visit, or other random questions. The reward is monetary credits to your Play Store account. Sure, there’s the whole loss of privacy thing, but given how much Google knows about you anyway, you may as well cash in to upgrade your cards in Clash Royale.

allo and duo

Get going with Allo and Duo

Duo and Allo don’t offer quite the integrated experience as iMessage and FaceTime, but it at least closes the gap.

Allo has some neat tricks with the Google Assistant (similar, but not identical, to the Google Assistant available from the home button on your Pixel) and has some surpringly accurate autoresponse suggestions. Duo does video calling well, especially if you’ve had to use the somewhat glitchy Skype.

Very few people I know have gone all-in with Allo as their main messaging app, but Duo may help you stay in touch with those on iOS who can’t Facetime you.

pixel xl live wallpapers

Check out those Live Wallpapers

Android has had Live Wallpapers for ages. Most of them aren't really worth it - they're battery hogs, or they're too visually distracting to be effective wallpapers.

But the Pixel XL ships with a fantastic set of Live Wallpapers. Just hold down on an empty space on your home screen, choose Wallpapers, and then look at the Live earth and Live data categories. There are 3D landscapes from Google Earth, abstract shapes that are based on your calendar activity and the weather, and a real-time globe with accurate day/night cycle and clouds. There's even "Horizon," a rendered sky where the sun rises as your battery charges and sets as it drains.

edit the quick settings

Edit the quick settings

If you don’t like where the flashlight or autorotate button are located in the quick settings, you can move them around. Just swipe down twice (or swipe with two fingers) and touch the pencil icon.

You can then drag and drop the tiles wherever you’d like. Google has even created an API for third-party developers to implement their own links here as well, so keep an eye on this area as you install new apps over time. For example, Shazam has an "auto Shazam" quick settings button.

system ui tuner

Enable the System UI Tuner

If you want to take customization to the next level, then enable the System UI Tuner. Do this by touching and holding on the cog that appears at the top of the Quick Settings menu (swipe down from the top edge of your phone). You’ll get a notification that it’s been enabled and then System UI Tuner will appear near the bottom of your Settings menu.

From here you can turn on or off buttons from the quick settings menu. This is also how you enable the battery to always display the percentage: Touch Battery and select Always show percentage. It’s odd that this feature is still hidden, but now you know what to do.

customize google

Customize the Google Assistant

The Google Assistant is the star feature of the Pixel, and you’ll want to explore all that it can do. You still get to the customization section the same way as you would with Google Now by launching the Google app and going to the settings.

You’ll want to spend some time here to learn all the different features. At first glance you may want to tell Google which news sources to hear from and whether to start a shopping list for you in Google Keep (this is quite useful). You can even give Google your name, spelling it out so that it’s pronounced correctly. Much of how Google Now worked in the past is still here, but improved machine learning capabilities promise to take things to a new level.

verizon pixel apps

Delete (or use) the preinstalled apps

The fact that there isn’t a bucket of non-removeable bloatware is reason enough to go with a Pixel over other Android phones.

That’s right, if you buy the Pixel from Verizon it’ll only include My Verizon, Verizon Messages, and Go90. I tried and was able to uninstall any of them. (If you buy the phone from Google, there's no bloatware at all.)

However, I do recommend keeping the My Verizon app. It’s pretty decent at giving you updated account details, letting you pay your bill, and finding out how much data you have left for the month.