Google's new Pixel 'Feature Drops' help amazing software make up for lackluster hardware

Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL
Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL (Image credit: Android Central)

There are several reasons why buyers choose Google's Pixel phone each year — not that a large number of people are choosing them, though. It's usually not the hardware, nor is it because the local carrier store is pimping them as you walk in the door. For most people, the reason is, aside from its camera, fast and consistent updates.

Android has always had a problem when it comes to platform updates and always will. Platform updates are the bump to a new version that has all the goodies we see on stage every year at Google's annual developer conference and tend to be a mixed bag of essential behind the scenes patches and base-layer enhancements mixed in with one or two showcase features that make us all want them the minute the presentation is over.

Though the average time it takes a manufacturer to push platform updates is going down, it takes time for updated code to move through Google and then through component makers and phone builders, so it's inevitably going to take a while.

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Some companies like OnePlus manage to squeeze out beta versions of a new platform within weeks, and even Samsung has made huge strides in this area. Waiting a year to see that new version is a thing of the past if you've bought a high-end model. But still, the Pixel means you'll probably see those updates on your phone the same day you see them on a stage year after year.

Pixel 4 call screen

Source: Google (Image credit: Source: Google)

Now, with the scheme Google is calling the Feature Drop, you don't have to wait a year. Features will come in blocks bundled in with the monthly Android Security Bulletin (though the drops will arrive on a quarterly basis), and if you bought a Pixel because you want those fast and juicy updates you just found Android heaven.

Your phone should get better over time. Your Pixel automatically updates regularly with fixes and improvements. Now, your Pixel will also get bigger updates in new Pixel feature drops.

The first Feature Drop brought some of the Pixel 4 features like Live Caption and Flip to Silence to older Pixel phones along with a set of "real" new features like photo editing after the fact, a better Duo camera that follows your face, and actual real Robocall screening. This is on top of the regular security patches that the Pixel 4 was always going to receive.

Some of these features will come with new app updates but still require new code in place on the phone itself. The kind of code changes that would usually require a full-scale Android update that other phone manufacturers need a lot of time to make happen. And yes, smart third-party developers will figure out how to move these features or duplicate them on other phones. But if you have a Pixel, they will just happen.

That is why most people bought a Pixel, and why the Feature Drop is one of the best ideas to come from Google in a long while.

Jerry Hildenbrand
Senior Editor — Google Ecosystem

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.

  • Remember folks, it's not bloatware if it comes from Google.
  • The features they added are useful for me. I'm sorry they are not for you.
  • So is it still a feature drop when other phones had it years ago?
    I do think the features are useful though...
  • No! These features do not make up for lacklustre hardware because you can't use them when your phone's battery has died, again.
  • Yeah there are a lot of hardware issues that you can't skate around and that is one of them, it's a killer for that phone.
  • "Feature drops" have been a thing on other Android phones for years e.g. sofware features from newer Galaxy devices making it to older Galaxy devices like Note 5 features going to Note 4. This is Android Central though lying and making this seems special to stroke Google's dick is par for the course.
  • Those were called full factory system updates, which the Pixel also gets when needed.
  • Hey Jerry, I realize the Android 11 beta will primarily be to work out bugs. But, will the feature updates make the beta's less desirable, for non developers?
  • Yessir! The reason I've always bought Google's phones since the Nexus one is that they always get better as they age. Now they get better even more often.
  • Being a die-hard Samsung fan on cyber monday I picked up the pixal3a XL. I wanted to see just how good the camera is. Well, in my estimatemation yes it's certainly all what people rave about. The still & portrait shots are unbeatable. I was pleasantly surprised. Yes folks, the cameras are excellent. Even what I paid for it, 4oo.oo with tax! You won't find a better camera....
  • Unless you get a Nikon B500 with 40x optical zoom for $225, AND another phone with better hardware, for less 😉
  • Lol look I'm a android fan boy k admit, but is this article basically saying people buy pixels because of 'app updates' that come to them? Come on. We have had app updates for years from lots of manufacturers and third parties alike. People buy the pixel for camera. Until Google can make a better well rounded phone that is all we buy it for. And yes I bought and returned a pixel 4xl. Serious question though, how much does Google pay for these articles?
  • Feature dropping things other phones have had for years. Better late than never? Does NOT make up for lackluster hardware. Unless they come up with a feature drop that magically overcomes a small battery, I'll keep my Note 9.
  • If this "proves" software is more important than hardware, why is the the Pixel 4 slower than phones from last year? If anything, it only proves Google is not as good at software as others.