Canadian Pixel owners can now beta test Call Screen

Canadian users were among 'most vocal' about Call Screen

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Google’s fancy Call Screen feature is coming to Canada, and some Pixel users will get to beta test it.

Call Screen uses Google Assistant to answer incoming calls and transcribe them. Billed as a way to combat spam, the feature is remarkably easy to use if you have a supported phone.

All you have to do is receive a call. Along with the typical ‘Answer’ and ‘Decline’ buttons, there will be a new ‘Screen call’ option. Tapping that initiates the process — which Call Screen’s product manager, Paul Dunlop, says works with anyone. “We don’t recommend you screen your mom, but you could,” Dunlop said.

From there, Assistant answers the phone with a standard introduction explaining that it’s a screening service from Gooogle, and inquires why the person is calling. You’ll even see a live transcript on your screen so you can decide if you want to answer or not. Users can also mark calls as spam, send follow-up questions to get additional information and more. Dunlop says the team is working on an option to let the caller know they’ve contacted the wrong number, which should come to phones sometime in the next month.

If you report a call as spam, that information is shared to a database with all other Pixel devices, which helps the service recognize spam and deal with it effectively.

Call Screen happens entirely on your phone

Google says all this happens on-device, so you don’t have to worry about the tech giant getting a copy of your phone call. Plus, it’s faster and uses less battery. Dunlop noted that making everything happen on device required a lot of effort from the team.

Speech recognition and transcription, which typically happens in the cloud, uses a lot of CPU power and needs multiple gigabytes of storage to work with. Paring that down to work with the limited resources available on mobile wasn’t easy, but the benefits are clear. Along with reduced battery and improved speed, this means Call Screen doesn’t need a Wi-Fi or data connection to work.

Dunlop noted that running Call Screen through a cloud service would improve the accuracy of transcription, but there are other ways to do that. Pixel owners can check the call logs in their phone app and rate them, which helps the Call Screen team improve transcription services.

Additionally, Call Screen doesn’t rely on any special hardware in Pixel smartphones, which means it can work on devices from other Android manufacturers. Dunlop said the feature may come to non-Pixel phones in the future.

How to opt into the Call Screen beta

Select Canadian Pixel users will receive emails starting Thursday, March 14th with instructions on how to opt into the beta. Additionally, Pixel users can opt into the beta through this website. The feature will work on Pixel, Pixel XL, Pixel 2 and 2 XL and Pixel 3 and 3 XL devices.

Dunlop says the feature should work as well as it does in the U.S., and that there are no real differences between the Canadian and U.S. version. The Call Screen team will officially roll the feature out once it makes sure its “right” for Canadians, says Dunlop.

Currently, Call Screen is only available in English. Support for French, and other languages, is in the works but there’s no timeline regarding a release date for new languages yet.

You can learn more about the Call Screen feature and how it works here.