Almost nothing is set up perfectly out of the box. Even buying a Kindle, which arrives already signed in on your account, requires dialing in your preferred margins, font sizes, etc. The first few hours with a new gadget can actually be crucial because if you don’t see something as “wrong” immediately and change it, you might just live with the way it is rather than discover a better way to do things. As an outright expert in setting up phones, here are the settings I’d adjust on day one for my own Google Pixel 6a.
Enable notification history on your Pixel
I do not understand how or why this invaluable feature isn’t enabled by default, but absolutely the first thing you have to do is enable notification history. It’s not just great for tracking down a notification you might have accidentally dismissed; it’s fantastic for finding out if a specific app is bothering you with notifications that disappear on their own. Hear a trill from the other side of the room but can’t catch the app’s icon before it disappears? With notification history enabled, now you can easily check to see what it was.
The final image above is just an example of what it looks like once the feature is enabled and working, it won’t retroactively populate with notifications after turning it on.
- Pull down your notification shade.
- Tap Manage in the bottom left corner of the notification shade (you may have to scroll down to it). This will open the Notifications section in Settings. You can also get here from Settings -> Notifications if you prefer.
- Tap “notification history” (the second option in the list).
- Tap the big obvious “use notification history” toggle to enable the feature. You can then back out or navigate home.
The feature doesn’t work retroactively, so you can’t enable it after you want to track down a notification that’s been bothering you. Hence I urge you to enable it as soon as you have your phone. But keep in mind that it only stores 24 hours of notification history. Odds are you won’t need anything further back than that, but there are third-party apps that can plug that gap if you think you will.
Google, if you’re listening, please make this feature either enabled by default or give it a toggle that customers can enable directly during the setup process. It’s super useful, but the first time you need it, it’s basically guaranteed to be disabled, which is sort of dumb.
Set up the car crash detection and Personal Safety features
If you aren’t familiar with car crash detection, it’s a pretty self-explanatory feature: Your Pixel 6a can detect if you’re in a car crash using your location data, motion sensors, and ambient audio. When it thinks you’ve been in a car crash, it will try to get your attention and ask if you need help, with varying options. If you don’t respond (or ask for help), then it will call emergency services. The feature works, it has saved lives, and you should probably have it turned on.
While I think the Pixel setup app is supposed to be able to set this up for you as part of a later follow-up setup process, I still always find myself having to enable it on Pixel devices after the fact, so the trigger for setting up the feature may not always be reliable. Either way, you can set it up manually, and I urge you to double-check.
- Open the Personal Safety app (just called “Safety” in the app drawer).
- Select the Google account you’d like to have it tied to — if you have more than one on your phone, you probably want it to use your personal account — and continue. You can also opt not to have it associated with an account at all if you prefer.
- Follow the on-screen instructions to add emergency contacts and medical information as you prefer.
- Once you’re in the Personal Safety app, tap the settings cog icon at the top right. This will take you to the “safety & emergency” section in Settings.
- Tap “car crash detection.”
- There’s a big, obvious slider here. You may need to tap that to enable the feature, but if it was partially enabled in some other way before, it may only require updating permissions for it to work, and this screen will also tell you if that is the case.
- Grant the Personal Safety app the required permissions it needs — it needs both “precise” location and “allow all the time” location for the feature to work correctly, so it can direct emergency services to your location well and so it can operate in the background without the app open.
While in the app, I also recommend you review the other Personal Safety features. If (like me) you like going on hikes or walking around town at night, you can set up the Safety Check feature that lets the phone check in with you at a pre-set time to see if you made it back alright, and it will alert emergency contacts if you didn’t, with options to notify them or not at the beginning once you’ve scheduled a check. This requires granting the Maps app your location access, but the app can walk you through the process easily — just tap “safety check,” and it will prompt you.
“Emergency sharing,” a related feature, grants a contact access to your status and location for a pre-set period of time, and you can play with it as well, if you’d like.
There’s also an Emergency SOS feature you can enable that lets you press the power button five times quickly to call emergency services on a countdown timer. I tend to trigger it accidentally, so I prefer to keep that feature turned off, but you might find it handy.
Enable Automatic call screening on your Pixel 6a
In this case, I do understand why Google doesn’t have this feature enabled by default; not everyone will want to have their calls screened. But I think the automatic spam call screening feature is reason in itself to buy a Pixel, and I strongly urge you to give it a shot. Just imagine: A life without spam calls.
This setting actually disappeared on my Pixel 6a for some reason, but the steps should be the same as they are on a Pixel 6, shown above.
- Open the built-in Phone app.
- Tap the three-dot menu at the top right.
- Tap Settings.
- Tap Spam and Call Screen.
- Tap Call Screen
- Under the “unknown call settings,” you can choose which types of calls you’d like to be filtered. At a minimum, I recommend enabling it for the “spam” and “possibly faked numbers” sections, but you can also turn it on for private/hidden calls or “first-time callers.” For each type of call, you can either set it to ring as normal, screen and automatically decline, or silently decline. Set them to screen and automatically decline.
- When you have the settings to your liking, back out or navigate home.
There are other options here, like the ability to save Call Screen audio for later review and to configure either a masculine- or feminine-sounding voice to answer. In the Phone’s app’s settings pane just a few taps back, you can also enable Hold for Me and Direct My Call — I’d urge you to turn on both as they can be useful, too.
If you’ve had to wait for telephone-based support in the last couple of years, you know that companies can’t seem to adequately manage their support anymore, with wait times sometimes breaking multiple hours. Hold for Me lets Google sit on the line for you, alerting you if and when someone actually does answer. I’ve used it a few times when placing calls during the workday, and it is fantastic at saving you time. Direct My call is simpler and just turns telephone option menus into buttons you can tap more easily than triggering the dial pad during the call and trying to remember all of them.
Opt out of binding arbitration
This isn’t strictly speaking a setting, but it’s something you should do right away because there are zero drawbacks and a whole lot of potential benefits when it comes to your ability to exercise your rights.
By default, when you set up a Google device, you agree to a set of terms for its use. One of those terms is giving up your normally applicable right to settle certain legal claims regarding the product in the “normal” way with a lawsuit, instead accepting Google’s preference to have these claims settled through a different legal mechanism called arbitration. A lot of this is a gray area subject to the interpretation of a judge or attorney, but you’re fundamentally giving up your normal legal rights to resolve a dispute in favor of avenues that Google prefers — and what’s good for Google probably isn’t what’s best for you. Thankfully, you don’t have to do it, so long as you notify Google that you’d like to opt out of its binding arbitration agreement within 30 days of activating the device.
We have a longer walkthrough of how to opt out of Google’s binding arbitration agreement, but the short version is:
The Pixel 6a wasn’t an option in the form when I wrote this, hence it saying “Pixel 6” above, but as of launch day it is.
- Navigate to Google’s device arbitration opt-out form (either on your Pixel or another device.)
- Select the Google device, presumably a Pixel 6a, you’d like the change to apply to from the drop-down list. (Right now the Pixel 6a isn’t an option, but I have to assume it will be added soon.)
- Find the serial number for your Pixel 6a in Settings -> “about phone” -> “model & hardware” -> “serial number.” You can long-press the item in settings to copy it to your clipboard, making this a very easy process to do fully on-device.
- Type or paste the serial number for your Pixel 6a into the form and hit Submit.
You can only do this if you’re in the US (and the terms of the original binding arbitration agreement only apply if you’re in the US,) but there’s no harm in doing it. And if there is an issue with the Google Pixel 6a down the line, you’ve retained rights that could be valuable.
Enabled themed icons
I’m always surprised at how polarizing this opinion is, but I find Material You to be beautiful. Having a theme that is dynamically and perfectly tuned to match my wallpaper across apps, widgets, and the system is rad as hell. But one of the best parts of Material You on a Pixel isn’t even enabled by default: Themed icons.
The reason is pretty obvious, as the feature can make your phone a little inconsistent until more apps adopt it. The mix of themed and non-themed icons clearly isn’t ideal, but I’d rather take what I can get (and call out all the bad apps in screenshots) than turn a blind eye to a great feature and accept a garish field of different designs and colors.
If you want to dip your color-matched toes in, enabling themed icons in the Pixel 6a’s built-in launcher is simple:
- Long-press any empty spot on the built-in Pixel 6a launcher.
- Tap “wallpaper & style.” (You can also navigate to this menu via Settings -> “wallpaper & style,” if you prefer.)
- Scroll down to “themed icons” and tap the toggle switch on the right side of the option to enable it.
- Navigate back or home, and enjoy color-matched Material You-themed icons for apps that support them.
You can’t go wrong with any Pixel model
I’ve got more general advice, too, like extending the display sleep time to a couple of minutes and choosing a better display calibration, but these are the best Pixel-specific tweaks I recommend making as soon as you’ve got your Google Pixel 6a. If you’re still debating about which Pixel you should buy, check out our Google Pixel 6a vs. Google Pixel 6 vs. Google Pixel 6 Pro explainer.