Google wants you to start looking at it as a hardware company. Today, it announced new Pixel phones, a smart voice assistant-powered speaker called Google Home and a VR platform. Here are the coolest things the company announced today.
The Nexus Is Dead, Long Live the Pixel Phones
Google unveiled two brand new phones, the Pixel and Pixel XL. The Pixel line of phones look like they will be replacing the Nexus phones as the “pure Android” experience from here on out. Unlike previous Nexus phones, which were made in partnership with third-party hardware manufacturers, these phones are entirely Google-branded (even though HTC still seems to be involved with the production, according to FCC filings).
The Pixel will be the first phone to include the Google Assistant (which we’ll discuss in a bit). The company spent a great deal of time touting how it made the “hardware and software together”, which implies that it won’t be a simple software rollout to add Google Assistant to older phones.
The Pixel phones will also include unlimited photo and video backup through Google Photos. It even saves them at full resolution. That’s a pretty big deal when your phone is recording at 4K. Normally, Google limits you to 16 megapixels and 1080p video, otherwise your uploads count against your Google Drive quota. They’re also the first phones to support Daydream VR (again, we’ll come back to that). You can read a detailed breakdown of the phones’ specs over at Gizmodo.
The new Pixel phones will start at $1079, which is a huge departure from past Nexus phones. Previously, Nexus phones were solid, but at least one of the models was usually much cheaper than Apple or Samsung’s flagships. This is a clear push into a more premium market. We’ll see if Google can compete at this level.
Google Assistant Will Follow You Everywhere, Replaces Most of Google Now
Google started its event by talking about Assistant, and it was the focal point of nearly every product. A lot of Assistant’s functionality will look familiar if you’re used to Google Now and Google Now On Tap. You can search for events nearby, make reservations, send text messages and play music.
None of this is terribly new, but Assistant makes it a more unified, conversational experience. For example, you can search for a restaurant, then follow up that command by asking, “How far away is it?” and Assistant will understand that “it” refers to the restaurant. A lot of this has been promised for a while, but it’s finally arriving. You can even try it out in Allo right now.
On the phone, Assistant takes over most of the Google features you’re used to. You can hold down the home button to pull up Assistant for voice commands (previously, this would trigger Google Now On Tap), or swipe up from the home screen to get contextual suggestions based on what’s on your phone’s screen (this used to open the Google Now feed).
This is also the first time that Google’s voice assistant actually seems fun. This might seem silly, but Siri, Cortana and Alexa all tell jokes, have funny Easter eggs and seem a bit more human than Google. Even though Google’s arguably been doing smart voice commands longer than all of them, the company’s struggled to make its assistant relatable. This might actually make regular folks remember Google Assistant a bit more, which goes a long way towards getting in the habit of using it.
Google Home Is Not Coming To Australia
We first heard about Google Home at Google I/O earlier this year. Unfortunately, we now know that it is not coming to Australia – but it’s an interesting gadget regardless. In the US, it will cost $US129 ($168), launch November 4 and is available for pre-order now. This is Google’s answer to the Amazon’s Echo, the little speaker that sits in your living room, kitchen or bedroom and passively listens for voice commands. However, Google wants to take its speaker to the next level with Google Assistant.
Just say “Good morning” to Google Home and it will rattle off a ton of information to get you ready for the day, including the weather and what’s on your agenda. You can ask more targeted questions like when your next appointment is or what the weather’s like.
Google Home can also control devices in your home. For example, you can ask it to play a video from YouTube or Netflix on your Chromecast. Google will automatically find the video you ask for, connect to your Google Cast-enabled device and start playing the video. Google will also work with smart home providers like Philips Hue, Samsung SmartThings and Nest (which Google’s parent company Alphabet also owns) to control more devices in the future.
It will also learn about you over time. For example, the first time you ask for it to play music, you might have to specify that you want it to play over Spotify. However, when you ask again in the future, it will remember that you prefer Spotify, so you can just ask it to “Play that song” and it will automatically default to your favourite app.
Assistant also brings smart interpretations to your voice commands. If you ask it to “Play that Shakira song from Zootopia,” as Google demoed, it will first tell you that the song was called Try Everything, then start playing the song.
Perhaps the coolest feature of Google Home is that it will be able to intelligently determine which device you’re talking to, if you use multiple units throughout your house. Amazon Echo users are all too familiar with this problem. If you have two devices within earshot and you shout “Alexa!” you can get multiple devices trying to reply to you at once. Google Home devices will communicate with each other (as well as your phone) to determine which speaker you’re closest to and only reply from that one.
The Chromecast Ultra Brings Simple, Cheap Streaming to Your 4K TV
The Chromecast might be one of Google’s more clever ideas in recent years. Now, if you have a 4K TV, the Chromecast has your back. For $99, you can get the new Chromecast Ultra, which supports 4K video. Google says it made the device faster, but let’s be real. The only reason you’re getting this device is if you need 4K. Otherwise, just get the regular Chromecast for half the price.
Daydream Is Google’s VR Platform, Coming First to the Pixel Phones
I hope you aren’t tired of Pixel-exclusive features! Daydream is Google’s next foray into virtual reality. The company announced the Daydream View VR headset. It’s very similar to Samsung’s Gear VR, just with a bit more polish. The headset comes in a selection of coloured fabrics (red, grey and white), comes with a simple controller and retails for $119. Simply drop your phone into the headset to get an Oculus-like VR experience.
Google demoed several new experiences to give you an idea of what Daydream can do. The company showed a Harry Potter game, where players can pretend to be wizards, which might be the best use of VR yet. Google also announced VR-capable apps for YouTube and Netflix so you can watch 360 videos, or just watch movies in a virtual home theatre.
Google WiFi Is Not Coming To Australia Either
Australia continues to be left out, as the Google WiFi router will not be making its way Down Under. Google is continuing its effort to get into the home networking game in the US with this device. For $US129 ($168), it bears a striking similarity to the OnHub router the company released last year. It will let you control it remotely, selectively block certain devices from the network (to give your kids an internet time-out, for example), and reset your router.
The most head-turning feature, however, is that Google wants to make it dead simple to expand your network for large houses. Just add another Google WiFi device to your home and it will extend your network. Of course, if you’re savvy you can accomplish the same thing with any old router, but if you’d rather spend the money to let Google do it for you, the company offers a three-pack of its routers (yes, really) for $US300 ($391).