Thumbs up for Google’s new smartphones
Tech giant unveils bargain mobiles and a revamped home system at annual developer conference
GOOGLE kicked off its annual I/O developer conference at its Mountain View home this week by launching a pair of new hardware devices, as well as a range of new features in its software.
The headline-grabbers were a pair of new Pixel smartphones, and the most exceptional things about them were their price.
The Google Pixel 3a and the Pixel 3a XL will cost £399 and £469 – that’s about half what you would pay for a Pixel 3.
To reduce the price, obviously Google has had to make some compromises, but the choices it has made seem to be the right ones – for a start, it has prioritised the camera, which is the same as you’ll find in the more expensive Pixel 3.
It’ll do the celebrated Night Shift mode, which captures great images in very low light, and also features the Portrait mode which produces great blurred backgrounds.
Battery life is also good, with 30 hours of use promised when the “adaptive battery” technology Google has created is enabled, and you can get seven hours out of just a 15 minute charge.
On the downside, there is only one camera on the front, as opposed to two on the Pixel 3, and the bodies of the phone are made from plastic.
have slower processors, and lack facial recognition, under-screen fingerprint sensors and wireless charging.
You can buy these phones now, and they’re available in three colours – black, white and purple.
The other hardware device launched was a new version of the Google Home Hub, which also comes sporting a new name – Nest.
Google bought the smart home thermostat and smoke alarm company a few years ago, and has now brought it into its main Google business.
And to mark that, it has rebranded its smart home kit with the new name – so what was the Google Home Hub is now the Google Nest Hub, and also comes with a new price – down from £199 to £119. In fact, you can get one for free if you order a Pixel 3a or 3a XL on the Google Store now.
The new Google Nest Hub Max (£219) brings a few things you don’t get on the regular Nest Hub – firstly, it has a bigger screen – 10in over 7in. It also has much better and louder audio, with a 3in woofer built in to the back.
The biggest new hardware feature is a camera, which will inevitably bring concerns about privacy. Google clearly understands this, so was at pains to point out how much the user is in control of the camera – there’s a switch on the back that will physically disconnect both the camera and the mic if you want to be sure it’s really off. It also acts as a security camera, detecting movement and informing you if there’s someone in your house.
On the software front, Google announced a raft of new initiatives and features, including a preview of its next operating system for mobile, Android Q.
Not surprisingly, privacy and security are front of centre in Q, with those settings simplified and made more obvious.
A new “Focus Mode’ plays to those wishing to limit distractions – you can turn off access to apps of your choice for a time window.
And a new “Incognito mode” is coming to the suite of Google’s main apps after featuring in Chrome – it allows you to use apps without tracking your activity – Maps, YouTube, News, Search and others will be getting this mode soon.
There are also updates coming to Google Lens – you will soon be able to use your
phone’s camera to see previews of food on menus, just by pointing your camera at it. Point your camera at a restaurant bill, too, and it will calculate the tip, and split the total for you so you don’t have to do the maths yourselves.
Updates and features seemed to spring up everywhere; my favourites were the simplest ones. Like stopping an alarm from the Google Assistant just by saying “stop”. And holding your hand up to the Google Next Hub Max to pause music.
The coolest feature, though, is coming to Google Maps. In walking directions, you’ll be able to see AR arrows that show you the way when holding your camera up in front of you.
Google CEO Sundar Pichai delivers his keynote address Google’s I/O developer conference
The Google Nest Hub Max
The Google Pixel 3a is about half the price of the Pixel 3