So yeah, you’ve probably heard about Google’s new phones by now – that is, if you didn’t live under a rock for the past 3 days. From the October 4 press event held at Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco, Google made its intentions known to the world that apart from its monopoly of the internet search market, it now wants to be a true-blue hardware manufacturer. They announced a slew of new hardware (and software) for everyone to enjoy, and here are the highlights, in case you missed it.
Google Pixel and Pixel XL
No doubt the stars of the show, the Google Pixel and Pixel XL smartphones feature Google’s latest and greatest version of its mobile OS – Android 7.1 Nougat — a top-notch camera, quick charging, and some newfangled digital assistant, as well as the expected platform for virtual reality. The hardware was put together by HTC, but the whole process of design and manufacturing was all Google at this point.
The two new phones will take over from the Nexus brand line, and they basically look the same when compared to each other. The Pixel XL is the larger of the two with a 5.5-inch AMOLED display compared to standard Pixel’s 5-inches. They are powered by Qualcomm’s latest and fastest silicon in the market, the Snapdragon 821 and supported by 4GB RAM.
The camera is already dubbed as the best camera ever put on a smartphone so far, and with the new features on Android 7.1 that are Pixel exclusives, the phone is a legitimate contender in the flagship device market. The pricing starts at USD$649, and this is an obvious departure from the balance between features and affordability that the Nexus line had. These are clearly high-end phones, and Google plans to market them as such.
With the hardware of the Pixel phones robust as can be, it is notable that the more convincing arguments to get the phone still lie in the software area. One big part of that is the Google Assistant AI and digital voice assist platform. Google started with Google Now on Android, but Google Assistant looks leagues better than what we’ve been used to.
Google Assistant uses contextual learning and is able to recognize conversational patterns in the way you communicate to it, and so it is able to give you more targeted information. It is embedded not only into the Pixel phones, but to the Google Home as well (more on this later), so that it can give you another option as far as Amazon’s Alexa is concerned.
But the really amazing thing about Google Assistant is how conversational it is, how it is able to understand natural speech patterns, and how embedded it is into the Google experience.
Speaking of Google Home, we find this piece of new hardware from Google to be quite close to the Pixel smartphones in terms of importance. Google Home is basically Google’s answer to the Amazon Echo, and as mentioned, it also has Google Assistant embedded. The device will look right at home in your living room, and you can access it with voice commands to do things like Google searches, get information from your Google account apps and services, and even control your smart home.
Google Home is small and unobtrusive, white at the top with different color options in fabric and metal for the bottom part. There’s a touch capacitive top, which allows for manual controls, and a mute button when you don’t want Google listening in to your life. At USD$130, this could be a steal.
Google also offered a refresh of its Chromecast streaming device – calling this new iteration the Chromecast Ultra. It brings with it what you probably would expect from a streaming device in this day –4K video streaming, support for HDR, and you even get an Ethernet port so that you get enough bandwith if you want to stream in 4K resolution.
Unfortunately, you will not get the same USD$35 price tag as the previous two iterations of the Chromecast. The bump in features also doubles the price – the Chromecast Ultra will be available later in the year for USD$70.
Daydream View VR headset
One of the surprises of the event was Google presenting a gorgeously manufactured virtual reality (VR) headset – this one is called Daydream View, alluding of course to the Daydream VR platform they were launching for Android Nougat.
The new VR headset is obviously communicating with its fabric-wrapped build that it is very comfortable to wear. At the moment, it’s currently available only for the Google Pixel and Pixel XL smartphones. The concept is the same with other device-powered VR headsets – you slide on your phone, snap it on, and it’s ready to go.
The headset comes with its own VR remote and will be available later in the year – probably in time for the holidays – for around USD$79.00. Google is currently pushing a promo where you can get a coupon for a free headset if you purchase the Pixel smartphone from the Google Play Store.
Another addition into your living area – apart from Google Home – is a sleek and round new network router from the mothership called Google Wifi. As with new routers these days, Google Wifi is a smart router that includes software which tries to maintaining a decent speed for connected devices no matter how many of them there are. There’s a “Network Assist” feature which automatically helps avoid network congestion. Buy around three of these for your home and the software automatically transitions your connected device to the nearest one to ensure you have the best possible signal.
Predictably, Google made an app for the router. This gives you monitoring information and control for the devices on the network. You can actually kick your kids off the network if you want them to come to dinner, which is pretty helpful. Google Wifi, as with most of the hardware here, will be available later in the year – buy a single unit for USD$130, or a three-pack for USD$300 if you have a large house.
WHEW! There you go. Are you convinced that Google is up for the hardware part of the market? From current evidence, it looks like they’re going to give it a good try at the very least. And you have to say, those are some good looking pieces of hardware right there.