Google teases unexpected new calling feature for Pixel phones

This article was modified on March 5th, update below.

Following the deployment of robust new AI tools to certain Pixel models, Google has quietly unveiled a fresh satellite communication feature, which mysteriously surfaced on Pixel devices in the past week.

Discovered by the Google News channel on Telegram and dubbed “Satellite SOS,” the characteristic is likely to enable users to place urgent service calls when they are outside the range of cellular and Wi-Fi networks.

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The exact functionality of this feature remains unclear as it is not yet accessible, but it is visible. The choice can be located in the safety and emergency settings sub-menu on a Pixel device (at least on my Pixel 8 Pro), yet clicking on it yields no result. Evidently, the feature is not fully developed yet, so Google might have unintentionally introduced it during an update, or it might be teasing the forthcoming functionality.

9To5Google managed to delve deeper into the characteristic using a rooted Pixel device, which discloses that individuals will be able to contact or message emergency services through satellite communication. Additionally, a Google Maps location will be shared, along with some information from the caller’s Google account such as their name, IMEI number, battery status, email address, emergency contact details, and phone number.

Users will be able to select which details are shared with emergency services based on the application screenshots 9to5Google obtained. Interestingly, Garmin is referenced in the settings menu, along with a recommendation to enroll in Garmin’s search and rescue insurance plan. There have been rumors that Google has been collaborating with Garmin on offering satellite communication services for Android as early as last year.

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This would mark a significant fresh characteristic for Google’s Pixel devices and for Android if it is broadly implemented. Not only for the evident safety reasons, but also because Apple introduced the very same functionality to its recent iPhones. There have been reports of lost hikers being rescued by a satellite call to first responders from their iPhone 14. These services can truly be a lifesaver and a clear, integrated marketing opportunity for a device when they operate effectively.

Apple has only committed to offering the satellite calling feature on the iPhone for free for three years. It is uncertain whether Apple will charge users for accessing it in 2026, but evidently, the company wants to retain that option. On Pixel devices, the mention of a Garmin insurance plan makes me speculate whether Google is also contemplating a paid subscription for the feature at some point in the future.

We’ll have to determine if that turns out to be true, but there is valid reason to be wary of paying a subscription for features on your device because that is precisely what companies like Samsung are alluding to.

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March 5th update: Google recently unveiled its quarterly feature drop and it seems that specific Pixel devices will receive an updated call feature. The AI-powered Call Screen app, which can answer a call on behalf of the user, now has the ability to instruct unresponsive callers to speak.

The app operates by transcribing the caller’s words into real-time text as they are prompted by the AI. Users can now press a “hello” button to encourage them to speak, or if the user is unable to answer the call immediately, the Assistant will instruct the caller to wait.

Furthermore, Google and Samsung’s innovative Circle to Search feature, which enables users to draw, circle, and scribble on items to initiate a Google search, is coming to the Pixel and Pixel 7 Pro. Samsung already made a similar move earlier this year by extending this feature and others from its Galaxy AI service, to older Samsung Galaxy devices. The trend of adding new AI features to older devices is clearly quite appreciated, particularly since they are (currently) complimentary. We’ll need to see if that changes in the future.

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