Forget the Camera, the Real Google Pixel Superpower Is Phone Calls

The dialer open on a Pixel 5, dark background with gridlines
Cameron Summerson

While talking on the phone might not be as cool as it once was, Google has done a lot to make the call experience less awful on Pixel devices. Experimental features like Call Screening and Assistant’s Hold for Me have fundamentally changed the way I use my phone over the last year or so. I don’t want to live without them now.

I have a young son with special needs, so as a result, I have to deal with a lot of phone calls. Insurance issues, calls with doctors, ordering medicines and other refills … you get the idea. The amount of time I’ve spent on the phone—and on hold—over the last six years simply cannot be overstated. When he was first diagnosed (with kidney failure—you can read our full story here) I would sometimes spend more than four hours a day on the phone with insurance companies.

Fortunately, those days are mostly gone. Mostly. And when I have to deal with this stuff, the Pixel 5 has my back.

Call Screen Is My Jammy-Whammy-Kabammy

A picture of the Call Screen dialog on Pixel 5
Cameron Summerson

While most people get the luxury of not answering calls from numbers they don’t recognize, I never know when it’s going to be a doctor/nurse, an insurance company, or another important call. So, I always have to answer.

Or at least I used to. Now, thanks to Pixel’s Call Screen feature, I can just let the Assistant do the dirty work of answering the call. If it’s someone I actually need to speak with, I can take over. Oh, and the best part? Most of the time if it’s a first-time caller or another unknown number, Call Screen just does its thing.

So, for instance, if someone calls me for the first time, Call Screen kicks in automatically. Most of the time, it’s a spam caller and they just hang up. I don’t even get alerted till after they hang up when the phone wants to know if it was a spam call.

But if it’s someone I do need to talk with, they simply have to say why they’re calling and stay on the line. The phone will transcribe what they say, then alert me someone is on the line. I can either hang up or pick up. It’s brilliant.

And most of the time, callers just seem to get it. The instances where the person calling me didn’t understand that it was a screen and not voicemail have been few and far between. I admit this was a concern of mine when I first started using the feature, so I’m happy that it hasn’t been an issue.

And while Call Screen keeps me from dealing with unwanted calls, there are still plenty of times I’m the one who has to make a call. That’s where my other favorite feature comes into play.

“Hold for Me” Is the Greatest Dialer Feature Since Dialer Features Existed

The Hold for Me setting screen on Pixel 5
Cameron Summerson

A few weeks ago, I called the Walgreens I always deal with to refill a couple of my son’s meds. Because he’s a kid, a few of his meds have to be specially synthesized for someone his size, so they’re done in Dallas, TX, then shipped to me. I’ve been talking with the same pharmacist for literally years.

But on this occasion, we hit a wall—insurance rejected the claim. I carry multiple insurances on my son (three, to be exact) and they were all pointing at the others saying they needed to pay first. So no one was willing to pay and I had to figure out why. I spent about 6 hours on the phone that day because this was for a medication he absolutely cannot go without.

As the Editor in Chief of the website you’re reading right now, I’m a pretty busy guy. I don’t have time to waste sitting on hold listening with awful hold music and distracting prerecorded messages. Enter “Hold for Me:” a new Google Assistant feature built into Pixel phones.

Essentially, this allows you to tell the Assistant to take over holding for you. The dialer will go silent (yay, no hold music!) and transcribe any messages that come across. Then, when a real-life human being comes on the line, it quickly tells them that you’re using a holding service provided by Google and switches the line over.

Pair this with a good set of headphones, and I was able to stay productive during the long hold sessions. While Hold for Me is an experimental feature, I’ve yet to have any issues with it—and I use it pretty often.

If you often find yourself having to make calls and spend absurd amounts of time on hold, this is a feature you’ll love. I know I do. I would go as far as saying it changed my life. And that’s not hyperbole.

Visual Voicemail Baked-In Makes Life So Much Easier

the voicemail screen on Pixel 5
You can play voicemail directly from the dialer, too. Cameron Summerson

While Call Screening and Hold for Me are my favorite (and most used) Pixel features, I can’t forget about my good buddy Visual Voicemail. This is exactly what you think it is: a way to access voicemail directly from the dialer. No more dialing “1” and entering a PIN just to hear that someone has been trying to reach you about your car’s extended warranty.

I’m a Cricket user and have been using Cricket’s Visual Voicemail app for years, but it’s clunky and often slow. With Visual Voicemail baked right into my Pixel 5’s dialer, I haven’t had to touch that old app in months (maybe longer?).

Now, when I do happen to miss a call, the caller can just leave a voicemail. I’m able to read the transcript and listen to it immediately without ever having to leave the dialer. It’s a small thing, I know, but it’s these little quality-of-life details that truly make a difference. For me, at least.

I Heart Pixel

The Sage Green Pixel 5 lying screen-down on a tree trunk

Those are just a few of my favorite (and most used) Pixel dialer features, too. I love that you can search the dialer for nearby businesses and call with one tap (you can’t do this on other phones). Or that you can have the phone announce the caller ID when someone calls. Or the option to put the phone into DND by just flipping it over. These are all great little features that add up to a pretty big difference over other phones.

I’ve long been a Pixel fan for other various reasons—excellent cameras, first-party software, quick updates, etc.—but I don’t think any of those have made such a meaningful impact on my life. I recognize that not everyone spends as much time on the phone as I do, so these might not be the game changers for you that they are for me. But if you do, then oh boy, they are.

At this point, I can’t imagine using any other phone as my main phone. I’m forever thankful to Google for considering that some people still use their phone as, you know, a phone, and spending time focusing on making the dialer better.

Because the time spent there will save me and many others countless hours of our own.

Cameron Summerson Cameron Summerson
Cameron Summerson is the Editor in Chief of Review Geek and serves as an Editorial Advisor for How-to Geek and LifeSavvy. He’s been covering technology for nearly a decade and has written over 4,000 articles and hundreds of product reviews in that time. He’s been published in print magazines and quoted as a smartphone expert in the New York Times. Read Full Bio »

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