It’s been a while since Google was purely a search company. And at yesterday’s Made by Google Event in San Francisco, the company made further forays into hardware with a Wi-Fi router, wireless speaker and a VR headset, along with an upgrade to the Chromecast. Google has also killed the Nexus smartphone line-up, which offered great tech at affordable prices. Instead, we now have the Pixel phones, which deliver greater tech at not so affordable prices. The company also talked about Google Assistant, a virtual sidekick that acts as your “personal Google”.
Here’s a roundup of what you can expect from Google in the coming months.
Pixel and Pixel XL
There has been lot of chatter lately about how amazing the cameras on the ill-fated Note 7 and iPhone 7 are. Well, Google wants you to know right off the bat that it has packed an even better sensor into the Pixel phones — the camera earned an overall DxOMark Mobile score of 89, which is the highest ever for a smartphone. So expect brilliant low-light images and the faster focusing than the competition.
The Pixel phones come in two sizes: five and 5.5 inches. Both are powered by the latest Snapdragon 821 processor, which puts them ahead of the Note 7 and the upcoming LG V20, which both sport the 820 processor. Though in real-world use, you will not notice the difference, apart from slightly more efficient battery use. The smaller Pixel comes with a 1080p AMOLED screen, while the 5.5-inch XL version has a quad HD screen. You can pick up the device in 32GB or 128GB. If you’re into VR, you’ll be better off with the latter, since the Pixel phones do not come with expandable storage.
The devices sport a seamless glass-aluminium body, rear fingerprint sensor and impressive quick-charge tech — you can get up to seven hours of battery life with just 15 minutes of charging. You can pick between two amusingly-named colours: Quite Black and Very Silver. There is a Really Blue option, but that will be sold only in the US. Aesthetically, the phones look like something Apple would have doled out. But ultimately, you will have to decide if they look boring or exciting.
The Pixel line-up starts at $649 (Dh2,383) for the 5-inch 32GB model, going all the way up to $869 for the XL with 128GB. To make the premium pricing more palatable, Google has thrown in unlimited storage for photos and videos. It’s already available on pre-order in the US, while the rest of the world can expect to get hold of the Pixel phones next month.
If you thought Siri was smarter on the new iPhone 7, wait till you take Google Assistant for a spin. It too uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to recognise everything from photos to phrases in 100 languages. And of course, you can chat about life and other stuff with Google Assistant, or tap into it for reminders, calendar events, checking on your travel itinerary, pulling up information about what’s nearby, and multiple other things you earlier did on Google Search. The company claims the virtual assistant is competent at both direct and conversational interactions — the first one is where you ask a question and the assistant instantly comes back with an answer. Meanwhile, conversation is where you have an extended back and forth with Google Assistant — for example, while booking Uber cabs, where you would specify the type of car, the destination or when it should arrive.
Google adds that the Pixel phones are the first with Google Assistant baked in, but the plan is to integrate it into speakers, TVs and other devices.
Google has been dabbling in mobile VR for a few years now, and Google Cardboard headsets can be bought for just a few dirhams. Or you could whip one up for free using the reference design. Google is taking its VR game a notch higher with the Daydream platform, which will also nibble at desktop-grade offerings from Oculus and HTC. And unlike the mostly plastic Samsung Gear VR headset, the Daydream VR comes in a selection of coloured fabrics — Google apparently spent time with fashion designers for this one. The headset is also glasses friendly, and claims to have a highly-accurate head-tracking sensor. You also get a wireless controller, which can be stored in the Daydream’s frame. The rest remains the same — drop in the phone in the front slot, strap on the headset, and step into a virtual world.
At launch, Daydream VR will come with an exclusive Harry Potter game. Google has also announced that around 50 partners will support Daydream VR, including Netflix. And of course, its own apps such as YouTube, Play Movies, Photos and Street View will be VR-compatible. Currently the headset will work only with Pixel phones, but Google is open to other manufacturers jumping on the bandwagon. Daydream VR will cost you $79 and will be available in crimson, grey or white colour options from next month.
Amazon had a surprise hit with its Echo speakers and the Alexa voice assistant. Though it will now be up against Google and its take on what a smart wireless speaker should do. Google Home, which looks a bit like a water jug, comes baked in with Google Assistant, so you can talk to it, ask questions or set appointments that are automatically synced to Google Calendar and your phone. You can also create a mesh network of these speakers, placing one in each room of your house, and get them to play the same track around the house. Google claims the sound quality will amaze, despite the device having just one active speaker and two passive radiators.
Another interesting feature is that you can hook it up wirelessly with a Chromecast or any Google Cast-enabled device — so for example, you can tell Google Home to pull out your favourite videos off YouTube and then play them to the TV via the plugged-in Chromecast. Speaking of which, you can stream music from YouTube or third-party services. Google says the list of supported partners will only grow in the coming months. And to get you started, at least in the US, the company is throwing in six months of free access to YouTube Red.
The smart speaker is priced at $129 and will start shipping from November 4. You can also buy additional colourful panels to customise the bottom half of it.
The third version of Chromecast is here, and this time Google has made it 1.8 times faster than the previous one. That extra processing speed is put to good use for rendering HDR content and Dolby Vision. And yes, Chromecast now supports 4K content, though you will need a good broadband connection to pipe in streams at that resolution. You’ll also need a 4K TV. This means the Ultra remains a niche device for now. Google will continue selling the cheaper version that should suffice most cases.
Visually, the Ultra retains the hockey puck look of the previous model, but comes with a subtle “G” logo imprinted on it. It is priced at $69 and will be available next month.
Google Wi-Fi router
Last year, Google had tested the waters with the OnHub router. And this year, it is plunging into the home networking market with the Google WiFi router. The neat thing about it – apart from looking good and unlike standard routers with pokey antennas – is that you can seamlessly add more of them to form a mesh network and cover the entire house. In fact, Google wants you to do just that — it will sell a pack of three routers for $299 while buying just one will cost you $129. The routers can be controlled via a smartphone app, where you can also manage users or restrict access. The Google Wi-Fi router will start shipping in December.