All the news from Google’s October event
Google revealed all sorts of hardware at its Pixel 2 launch, but software was quietly the star of the show. BRAD CHACOS reports
Google’s annual hardware event on 4 October didn’t disappoint. The Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL were revealed, as expected, but that was just the tip of the iceberg. The tech giant also expanded the Google Home line-up with not one, but two new smart speakers of various sizes, tweaked its Daydream VR headset, and finally rolled out the Pixelbook – a sleek (and more versatile) successor to its swanky high-end Chromebook Pixel. Plus, a Babel Fish-like rival to Apple’s AirPod earbuds even appeared.
Funnily enough, though, the software on these devices almost outshone the hardware itself. Over
the following pages, we reveal everything Google announced earlier this month.
Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL
The Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL aren’t as exotic as Apple’s iPhone X, but they appear poised to make one of the best Android phones around even better. Beyond the expected spec bumps, Google’s new phones add in a clone of the nifty Edge Sense feature found in HTC’s U11, and the water resistance sorely missing from the first iteration. Google augmented the Pixel’s already-great camera by fusing optical image stabilization with electronic image stabilization, which should result in remarkably steady video. And of course, it’s the flagship for Android 8 Oreo.
For further information see our hands-on reviews of the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL on pages 11 and 20.
The heir to yesteryear’s premium Chromebook Pixel laptops, the Pixelbook blends sleek aluminium design and powerful internal hardware with Google’s far-reaching ecosystem. USB-C fast charging and a 360-degree flip-back screen distinguish the Pixelbook from its predecessors, but the software feels
like the biggest difference. Previous Chromebook Pixels were limited to Chrome OS’s browser alone. We were expecting the Pixelbook to support Google’s newfound ability to run Android apps on Chromebooks—the surprise is how the Pixelbook bakes in Google Assistant. The big question is will anybody pay between £999 to £1,699 for a Chromebook, even if it is a slick piece of kit? You’ll also need to spend an extra £99 for the Pixel pen.
Google Home Mini
One of the worst-kept secrets in recent memory was made official, as Google revealed a smaller, cheaper Google Home Mini. The £49 smart speaker is basically a retort to the sublime Echo Dot, based around Google’s conversational Assistant rather than Amazon’s Alexa. All Google Home products provide deep synergies with Nest’s new hardware, too.
Google Home Max
Google also went big with the $399 (£TBA) Google Home Max, a larger version of the Google Home that takes on Sonos with powerful audio and AI. Google says the speaker’s volume is 20 times more powerful than what the standard Google Home achieves, but as with the Pixelbook, the software is the secret weapon.
Google’s new Smart Sound tech scans the Home Max’s surroundings to optimize audio output. It’ll tweak calibrations based on whether the speaker is jammed into a corner or left on an open counter. Over time, it’ll learn to adjust to your home automatically – lowering music volume in the morning or raising it when it hears your dishwasher running, for example. It will also tailor personal playlists for each member of your house as it comes to recognize your individual voices and music tastes.
A year after launching the £99 Daydream View VR headset, Google has given it a minor refresh with new colours and better lenses for improved image quality. But continuing the theme of the day, the software’s the truly interesting thing. Google is investing in premium content to improve Daydream VR’s entertainment and virtual tourism chops, with VR apps from IMAX, Discovery’s continent-spanning TRVLR series, ‘Austin City Limits Backstage’ concerts, a confessional series by The Daily Show’s Trevor Noah, and more on the way.
Google’s wireless Pixel Buds appear to be an Apple AirPod competitor at first blush, but once again software makes it something more. The earbuds come with Google Assistant baked in, but it’s Google Translate that makes these wild. According to our colleagues at PCWorld: “It’s when you try to hold a
conversation with someone in a foreign language that the Google Pixel Buds magic takes hold. If you tap the ear bud and say something, the Pixel 2 phone will translate your words, playing them back through a speaker to your recipient. Whatever the other person says will be translated and then played back through your earbuds, eliminating any distractions from the speaker’s voice or ambient noise. Up to 40 languages are supported.”
They are expensive, though, at £159.
This came out of left field. Google Clips is a tiny, hands-free camera that taps into Google’s machine learning acumen to know when to automatically take a picture. “Clips looks for stable, clear shots of people you know,” Google explains. “You can help the camera learn who is important to you so when grandma comes in town, you’ll capture the grand entrance.”
The pictures and short videos captured by the camera syncs wirelessly with a Google Clips app on your phone, and those images can be organized in Google Photos or any other gallery app. Google will give you unlimited Clips storage space if you use its Photos app, though.
The $249 (£TBC) Google Clips “is coming soon” to the US, according to Google, which adds that it works best with the Pixel, Samsung’s Galaxy S7 and S8, or the iPhone 6 and up.