It wasn’t too long ago that Google released its Pixel 4a mid-range smartphone. As we covered in our Pixel 4a review, the phone may not necessarily come with the highest-end or most powerful hardware, but it is one of the best smartphones you can buy for the price.
App badge counts are useful to know if you have a notification on an app that you have yet to attend, but we know that some of you prefer having a cleaner interface. But what if you don’t want to sacrifice the utility of app badge counters but still want to maintain a clean and minimalist home screen? Notification dots are your friend.
These dots above an app’s icon will let you know you have notifications from that app without necessarily being too obvious or distracting, perfect for those 1,000 or so emails you’ve yet to attend to. These can be enabled by long pressing on your home screen > Home settings > Notification dots > On.
If you need to quickly see an upcoming calendar event, flight, or traffic information but don’t want to launch an app just to get that information, this is where Android’s At a Glance feature comes in. It shows you that information at the top of your home screen so you can glance at it and get back to whatever you were doing.
To turn it on, long-press the home screen > Home settings > At a Glance and select the information that you want to have displayed.
Depending on how you set up your phone, sometimes a new app you downloaded might be sent to your App Drawer, meaning that you might forget about it or it can be harder to find. To add new apps directly and immediately to your home screen, long press the home screen > Home settings > Add icon to Home screen and toggle it on.
Having your phone automatically rotate can be useful sometimes, but other times it can be rather annoying when it might rotate when you don’t want it to. You can disable the home screen rotation feature by long pressing the Home screen > Home settings > Allow Home screen rotation and toggle it off.
One of the new features of Android 11 comes in the form of suggested apps. These apps are basically apps that Android thinks you use the most and thus will want it front and center. For example, if you use Gmail often, it would make sense for it to be placed on your home screen instead of you having to dive through the app drawer every time you want to use it.
Long press the Home screen > Home settings > Suggestions > Suggestions on Home screen and toggle it on. Apps that are suggested will feature a colored outline.
Following the previous tip, if there is a suggested app that you think makes sense and you want to keep it on your dock, simply long-press on the app and tap the pin icon. This will pin it to your dock and turns it into a standard app shortcut. You can remove this anytime you want by holding onto the app and dragging it out of the dock.
One of the awesome features that Android has long had is widgets. These are essentially little information hubs where you can get info on the weather, your music library, news, and so on. This can be customized according to what you need and what you think is relevant, which means that no Android home screen will be the same. Each app has its own widget and style, so start exploring to see what you can do.
Quick settings is a useful way of launching certain features or making adjustments without having to go through layers of menus. This can be accessed by dragging down from the top of your Pixel 4a’s screen. There will be a set of settings/features that are there by default, but you can change their order and add or remove items by expanding on quick settings and tapping the pencil icon.
Note that the order of your layout is important because the first three icons will be what you see when you drag down the first time, and the first nine icons will be what you see when you expand on it.
There are apps out there that help you scan and identify QR codes, but if you’d rather not clutter your device with such apps, did you know your Pixel 4a’s camera actually has a hidden QR code scanner? All you need to do is launch the camera app, point it at a QR code, and you should see a small popup link above your camera’s shutter button. Tap on that to launch the website that is associated with the QR code.
Similar to QR codes, there are apps out there that help you scan documents using your phone, but if you don’t want to download an app that you might just use once or twice, your Pixel 4a’s camera is actually capable of doing that job. Just place the document you want scanned in the camera’s viewfinder and it should detect that it is a document. Tap the Scan document button that pops up, and your Pixel 4a’s camera will not only take the photo, but will crop it, straighten it out, and automatically adjust the contrast to make it clearer and more legible.
If you’ve ever wanted to know the angle of something, like a slope, you can actually use the Pixel 4a’s camera to determine that. Launch your camera app, go to its Settings, and toggle on Framing hints. Now when you point your phone’s camera at something, hold still for a couple of seconds, and a horizontal line will appear and show you the measurement. Start tilting your phone to line up that line with the object, like a slope, and it should give you a rough idea of the angle of the slope.
One of the main things that most smartphone cameras tend to struggle with are photos taken in low light conditions. To address this issue, Google introduced Night Sight, which has since been updated and improved with the Pixel 4a. This comes with features like being capable of longer exposure times and an improved algorithm that should hopefully result in better-looking photos taken at night.
A lot of smartphone camera apps come with the ability to manually adjust the settings, such as exposure. In the Pixel 4a, Google has expanded on that with new shortcuts where users can adjust the brightness of the photo (similar to how exposure works), and also a Shadows feature that will attempt to make the darker areas in a photo brighter.
If you take photos primarily to share them to social media or messaging apps, you can enable the Social share feature by going to your camera’s settings, look for Social share, and toggle it on. This means that whenever you take a photo, the preview thumbnail of the photo will show an upward-facing arrow that when you tap on it, will bring up a list of social networking or messaging apps that you can quickly share your photo to.
Like most operating systems, Android has the ability for users to enable or disable notifications from apps. There might be some apps that you do want notifications from, but what if that app is suddenly sending you a bunch of notifications that you decide that you do not want anymore?
Go to your Settings > Apps & notifications > Notifications and you should see apps that have sent you notifications recently and the past 7 days. You can then tap the toggle next to them to turn that notification off.
If you don’t want people to see the notifications you receive on your lock screen, you can choose not to have them displayed. Go to your Settings > Apps & notifications > Notifications > Notifications on lockscreen and select Don’t show notifications. You will still receive your notifications, but it will no longer show up on your lock screen.
If you still want notifications on your lockscreen but maybe want to hide its contents from prying eyes, go to your Settings > Apps & notifications > Notifications > Sensitive notifications and toggle it off. What happens when this feature is turned on is that you will no longer be able to see a preview of those notifications, like a preview of a text message or an email. You will still be notified about those incoming messages or emails, but you will have to open the app in order to see it in its entirety.
If you find yourself only having one hand free to use your phone but you want to see your notifications, you can actually enable a feature that lets you swipe down on the fingerprint sensor (located on the back of the phone) to pull down the notification window. This is admittedly more ergonomic and could be useful to have enabled. Go to Settings > Apps & notifications > Swipe fingerprint for notifications and turn it on.
If you think that you might be out the entire day and might not have access to a power outlet, then it’s obvious that you’re going to need to be a bit more conservative with your Pixel 4a’s battery, but that’s where Battery Saver mode comes in handy. It basically restricts certain background processes to prevent it from draining more battery than it should and puts your phone into dark mode.
Users can set a schedule if they prefer, or they can enable it manually and even choose when they want to turn it off once it hits 90% battery charged. You can find this in Settings > Battery > Battery Saver
If the icon at the top right corner of your screen is a bit too small and ambiguous when it comes to determining exactly how much battery you have left, you can enable battery percentage by going to Settings > Battery > Battery percentage and tap the toggle to turn it on.
As you use your phone, its battery goes down, but in the more recent versions of Android, Google has introduced an Adaptive Battery feature. What this does is that it extends the battery of your phone by being smart about it. This is based on your usage patterns, when you tend to use your phone the most, and so on. Based on that, it will make decisions on when to conserve battery life. Turn it on by going to Settings > Battery > Adaptive Battery.
The front of our phones come with ambient light sensors. This is used to detect how much light there is in the room and based on that, it can adjust your phone’s brightness manually. This is useful, although sometimes it might not work as well as intended, or maybe you prefer turning it off and manually adjusting your brightness.
If you’d like to get rid of adaptive brightness, go to your phone’s Settings > Display > Adaptive brightness and turn it off. Do note that by turning it off and setting it at a fixed brightness could have an impact on battery life.
Speaking of adaptive displays, not only can users turn on or off adaptive brightness, but you can also automatically adjust the colors of your display. This means that users can choose between a slightly flatter color profile, which might be preferred by some especially when it comes to photo editing, or a boosted color profile that will make images look more saturated and richer.
Alternatively, you can even turn on adaptive colors which will switch between either color profile automatically. Go to Settings > Display > Colors and choose between Natural, Boosted, or Adaptive.
If you are finding it a bit hard to see the text on your phone’s screen, you can actually boost the font size by going to Settings > Display > Font and then choose between the different sizes. Note that font size and display size are different, which we will go into details below.
When we say display size, we don’t mean the resolution of the phone, although it does feel like the same thing. Unlike font size which more or less maintains the UI elements but only adjusts the size of text, display size kind of does both. It will increase certain UI elements like making chat bubbles bigger or smaller, while also adjusting the font size to accommodate it.
Depending on your preference, you might prefer to change the overall display size instead of just the font size. This can be adjusted in Settings > Display > Display size.
This is actually a pretty awesome feature of Android. Say for example you’re outside and want to watch a video but don’t want to disturb others around you. Live captions will automatically add captions to the video you’re watching so that even with the volume completely down, you can still get an idea of what’s being said in the video.
Your mileage may vary depending on the video you’re watching, but it could still come in handy all the same. You can enable this feature by going to Settings > Sound > Live Caption and turn it on. For now only English is supported, but we expect more languages will be supported in the future.