You probably haven’t been on the phone with someone who uses a serger sewing machine. I have, and I’m here to tell you it sounds like talking to someone who is in the middle of a raging tornado hurtling through a bus depot. That is, until Google’s Clear Calling feature kicks in. When that happens, the tornado dissipates into a mild windstorm, making it possible to continue your conversation. It’s the sort of useful background feature that Google’s Pixel phones are so good at delivering. It’s just a pity that most won’t get it.
When Google announced the Pixel 7 and 7 Pro, it talked about a post-launch feature. Dubbed Clear Calling, it is designed to reduce background noise on the line when you talk to someone who is in a noisy environment such as a cafe or busy street. It arrived with the December feature drop, and not long after that I tested it while talking to my sister.
I’m not exactly sure what a serger is, but it appears to be a heavy-duty version of your garden sewing machine. It’s a bit of a stress test for Clear Calling, because if you sat in a cafe that was as loud as a serger, you’d probably leave. But the feature worked well enough to keep talking through it.
There is apparently a lot of stopping and starting with a serger. Each time the machine started up again, there was a brief moment when I heard it at full volume before it quieted down to a humming noise in the background as my sister continued to talk – like hearing noise canceling on headphones. The effect was similar when we tested it standing next to her washing machine as it filled up. The drop in volume is so pronounced that I asked her if the water noise fluctuated, but she confirmed it was at a constant level; the Pixel 7 Pro just did its thing whenever she started talking.
This is all good news for Pixel 7 and 7 Pro owners. If you have a Pixel 6, not so much. Google spokesperson Matthew Flegal told me it “requires the capabilities of the Google Tensor G2 processor,” so it wouldn’t be coming to the Pixel 6 with its first-gen Tensor. which, like, certainly. I think so. But it stinks that Google is posting Pixels with this image of phones continuing to improve throughout the life of the device, and yet here’s a smart new feature that isn’t coming to last year’s flagship phone.
When Google is at its best, it delivers things like Clear Calling. They just arrive on your phone one day and run in the background with very little user input (you have to enable Clear Calling once, but that’s it). Take Face Unblur: it’s a feature that launched with the Pixel 6 and uses image data from two camera sensors to keep faces sharp even when your subject is moving. You don’t have to do anything to use it; it just runs in the background when the circumstances call for it, and the results are good (Photo Unblur, a newer, related feature, isn’t quite as impressive).
There’s a strong case for buying a phone that gets better over time, especially with really useful new features like Clear Calling. But a phone that’s only going to see substantial improvements for a year and then lag in favor of the newer, fancier model isn’t all that appealing. Do you hear that, Google?