How to set up the Now Playing feature on a Google Pixel
All Pixels except the 2016 original (running Android 10 or later) can use the Now Playing feature to detect nearby music and identify the songs and artists right on your lock screen. It even stores that info so you can check it later, without any input on your part. Now Playing is a handy way to identify catchy music at a party, check song lyrics, or remind yourself what you were listening to yesterday. It's also easy to turn on, but certain features only work on newer Pixels. Here's how to set up the Now Playing feature on a Google Pixel and what to do with it once it's set up.
How to set up Now Playing on your Pixel
- Open your Settings.
- Go to Sound & Vibration.
- Tap Now Playing.
- Toggle Identify songs playing nearby on.
- On this Settings page, you can also turn Notifications on and off, enable the Show search button on lock screen tool, or check your Now Playing history. Note: Pixel 2s and 3s won't have the search button option.
Just like that, you've turned on Now Playing! Anytime your Pixel hears and identifies music, the song title and artist will appear directly below the lock icon on your Pixel Lock Screen. Or, if your phone is on at the time, it'll appear in your Notification Pane if you swipe down from the top of the screen.
From your lock screen, if you tap the lock icon and enter your passcode, it'll give more details on the album name, genre, lyrics, and release date. From there, you may also choose to check your Now Playing history and see your latest listened-to songs identified by the service.
If you want to access your Now Playing data more easily, from the Now Playing History screen, tap the three-dot icon in the top-right of the display and select Add to Home Screen. From the following pop-up, you can add a 1x1 icon to your Home that'll make this screen much easier to find.
How Now Playing works and why it works better on newer Pixels
Now that you know how to set up Now Playing, you may want to know how it works and whether Google is collecting your musical data.
In its default form, Now Playing listens to a song and compares it against an on-device library of music; the processing "happens on your phone and is private to you," according to Google. But if a more obscure song isn't in Google's library, it won't be able to recognize it. That's most likely what's happening if you're listening to a song and nothing appears on your lock screen.
In our tests, it worked best when the music played at higher volumes, having trouble identifying anything at softer levels. Also, our Pixel 3a would sometimes misidentify them — such as registering the Horizon Forbidden West video game soundtrack as Scripture Lullabies.
If you own a Pixel 4 or newer, it uses federated analytics to improve Google's database "so it will recognize what's playing more often," but doesn't send your song data to Google unless you enable shared usage and diagnostics. Outside of that, Now Playing will identify faster on newer phones like the Pixel 6 due to the faster on-device processing and may do a better job capturing songs at lower volumes with newer microphone tech.
Also, on the Pixel 4, 5, or 6 series, you can turn on "Show search button on lock screen," which puts a tiny musical note icon on your lock screen. Tap it, and you'll send a brief recording to Google's cloud servers so it can test the song against its primary database. This ensures it'll be more likely to identify a more niche melody that your smaller on-device library lacks.
Unfortunately, Now Playing has yet to arrive on non-Pixel phones. So among the other best Android phones, your best bet is to use an app like Shazam to manually check the name of whatever song is playing nearby.
The best Pixel for your listening needs
Ohh, that's what that song is!
Thanks to its Google Tensor chip, the Pixel 6 is the fastest Pixel and maybe the fastest Android phone overall for AI tools like Now Playing. This affordable phone has a smooth 90Hz screen backed by strong performance, cool cameras, stylish Android 12 software, and other perks that make it worth buying.
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Michael spent years freelancing on every tech topic under the sun before settling down on the real exciting stuff: virtual reality, fitness wearables, gaming, and how tech intersects with our world. He's a semi-reformed Apple-to-Android user who loves running, D&D, and Star Wars. Find him on Twitter at @Michael_L_Hicks.