4 fantastic features in Google's Android Phone app

These features can save you time and frustration -- but first you have to realize that they're there.

Google Android Phone App
JR Raphael

With all the stuff our smartphones can do these days, it's easy to forget that they're also still phones -- y'know, things we use when we want to speak to other humans. (A crazy notion, I realize.)

And while voice-call features aren't usually the most attention-grabbing elements of a modern mobile device, Google's Phone app has some genuinely useful tools for making life easier when it comes to good old-fashioned verbal communication.

If you've got a Pixel or Nexus device, take a few minutes to make sure you're taking advantage of the following possibilities.

(Note that these features are part of Google's own Phone app, which appears on its Nexus and Pixel devices as well as on its partner-made Android One phones. If you have a different phone, this specific info probably doesn't apply to you. Some of these features may also not be available in all countries. Capisce? Capisce.)

1. Integrated business search

That search bar at the top of the Phone app isn't just for finding your contacts. Once you activate the app's Nearby Places feature, you can also use it to look up and call businesses in your general area.

First, tap the three-dot menu icon in the upper-right corner of the Phone app, then select "Settings" followed by "Nearby Places." On the next screen, make sure the toggle next to "Nearby Places" is activated -- and if you want your results to include places from your recent search history, too, make sure the toggle next to "Personalized search results" is activated as well.

Google Android Phone App: Nearby Places jr

The next time you type a few letters in the Phone app's search bar, you should see results for local businesses along with any relevant contacts. Tap the name of the business to call it, or tap the icon to its left to pull up a card with additional info like the company's phone number, address (with the option to launch navigation), and a one-tap link to its website.

2. Caller ID and spam-call warnings

The Google Phone app can instantly pull up info on any unknown calls coming into your line -- and in a particularly cool twist, it can also warn you if the number is known for spammy activity.

When you get a call from a number that's been flagged, you'll see the words "Suspected Spam Caller" on the incoming call screen. The alert will also show up in your call history (under the app's second tab, with the clock icon above it).

Google Android Phone App: Caller ID Spam jr

To make sure you're taking advantage of the spam warning system, head back into the Phone app's settings and select Caller ID & Spam, then confirm that the toggle for that feature is activated.

Hasta la vista, robo-calls and telemarketers.

3. A simple and universal call-blocking tool

Ready to say so-long to someone forever? With the Google Phone app and Android 7.0 or higher, you can block specific numbers with a couple quick taps -- and your list of banned digits will always stay synced with your Google account and thus will automatically be present on any other phones you use in the future.

The easiest way to block a number is to find it in your call history within the Phone app. Tap or long-press on its line, then tap the "Block/report spam" option that appears. (Reporting a number as spam has no immediate effect on your phone, but it does help Google get better at identifying spam calls for everyone -- so use that power wisely, compadre.)

If you want to review your list of blocked numbers or manually add a number, go back to the Phone app's settings and select "Call Blocking."

Google Android Phone App: Blocked Numbers jr

(Bonus tip: You can also block numbers and manage your blocked list in Google's Messages app, if you use that for texting.)

4. A friendlier way to avoid someone's calls

Maybe you've got a "pal" who calls a little too often but doesn't quite warrant the full-on blocking treatment. No problem: Tap the people icon within the Phone app's top bar (the third tab, between your call history and voicemail). Next, find the problematic person in the list or use the "Add new contact" icon in the lower-right corner to add them into your contacts if they aren't already there.

Tap the person's name, then tap the three-dot menu icon in the upper-right corner of the info card that appears. Finally, tap the option labeled "Route to voicemail" and breathe a sigh of relief.

Google Android Phone App: Route to Voicemail jr

The next time your buddy calls, the most you'll hear is a single after-the-fact voicemail ding. And they'll be none the wiser to your gentle partial-banning action; they'll still hear the standard four-ish rings on their end, and it'll just seem like you didn't pick up.

Ahh...the sound of sanity.

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