With the handful of new smartphones, voice assistants and accessories announced by Google yesterday, it makes sense to collect a few opinions before diving in and buying whatever your favourite search engine company announces. Sure, some products might look good on stage, but how do they hold up when you get your hands on them? There are surely a few reasons you'd want to drop $79 for a tiny Google Home, but could the $US399 ($512) Google Home Max be the voice assistant speaker for you? What about the Pixel 2 XL over its smaller companion, the Pixel 2? Should you even consider importing a Google Clips camera to record your mundane existence? Well, unsurprisingly, a lot of people already have thoughts on the subject. Below are the early reviews for the major new products and features announced this week:
Image credit: Ramin Talaie/Getty
The Pixel 2 Sure is a... Phone
Google's new Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL smartphones have been hotly anticipated, especially after the recent debut of Apple's iPhone 8 and the reveal of the upcoming iPhone X. While the new Android smartphones are Google's latest and greatest Android devices, some are disappointed with the design, especially when it comes to the smaller Pixel 2. Ron Amadeo from Ars Technica notes the differences between the two are partially the result of their different manufacturers:
The Pixel 2 XL, which is made by LG, looks handsome. Thanks to the front-facing speakers, the bezels are a bit bigger than its closest cousin, the LG V30. But the 2 XL still looks like a modern slim-bezel smartphone. The display has curved corners, just like the iPhone X, Galaxy S8, and LG V30, and it fits in well with the rest of the high-end crowd.
The smaller Pixel 2, which is made by HTC, looks like a bit of a mess from the front. The top and bottom bezels are gigantic -- and honestly pretty ugly.
He isn't wrong. The Pixel 2 does look a little tired next to its larger counterpart, but both smartphones feature the same specs otherwise, making your choice come down to what size screen you'd like to use. Both have an amazing camera, though both are also missing a key port, or headphone jack, according to Engadget's Devindra Hardawar:
With the Pixel 2 and its larger companion, in particular, we've gained very little by losing the headphone jack. Sure, they're much more water and dust resistant than the last models. But the Pixel 2's IP67 certification is something several Android phones have offered for years -- and they didn't need to lose the port to achieve it. Typically when we move away from legacy hardware, we're headed to something better. But in the case of the 3.5mm headphone port, the tech world seems to have forgotten that.
Oh, and Google's answer to the missing headphone jack? A pair of its new Bluetooth headphones, along with a $25 USB-C to 3.5mm adaptor.
Google Pixel Buds are Android's AirPods
The $249 Google Pixel Buds are the company's wireless earbuds, and the closest thing Android devices have to a pair of AirPods. While the headphones don't look too out of the ordinary, the truly interesting feature is its real-time Google Translate functionality, letting users speak in one language and have their words translated and and repeated by their Google Pixel phone (sorry, it's a Pixel-exclusive feature). But whether this headline-grabbing new feature is actually good or not is up for debate. According to The Verge's Dieter Bohn, Google has a bit of work to do before it becomes a reality:
Since the Google Translate app can translate between 40 different languages -- that's 1600 combinations -- so can Pixel Buds. There's another pop culture reference to evoke here (the Babel Fish from Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy), but translating with Pixel Buds is not that seamless.
I'm a little dubious that this is any more convenient than just passing your phone back and forth and doing everything there, but it worked really well in the demo: a fairly natural voice in my ear translated what the other person said. It's not quite in real time, but it's very fast.
That real-time translation service might prove invaluable one day, but as of now it seems like more of a party trick than a reliable tool for communicating in a different language.
Google Pixel Buds for $159 can translate 40 languages in real-time in your ear. The Babel Fish is here. pic.twitter.com/zxMJ2L3mv4
— Dean Takahashi (@deantak) October 4, 2017
Google Home is Cheaper, Louder, and Covered in Cloth
Google Home has a few new family members. The $79 Google Home Mini is the company's cheaper version of the Google Home voice assistant, though it packs the same features into a smaller body. It's also pretty cute, and will probably take the top spot in terms of sales according to The Next Web's Napier Lopez:
Still, I wouldn't be surprised if the Mini quickly becomes the most popular way for people to use Google Assistant outside their phones. It's cheap, looks good, and Google is including one with a purchase of the Pixel 2.
As for the Google Home Max, $US399 ($512) for a new speaker is a high price to pay, especially since Google isn't exactly known for making speakers. That said, the initial impression of the device's sound quality have been mostly positive. Business Insider's Matt Weinberger noted that it gets pretty booming, potentially making it worth the hefty price tag:
And, more than anything, I can tell you it is loud. Overall sound quality is good to great, but Google definitely made bass and volume major priorities for this device.
Still, $US399 ($512)? Come on.
Google's Home Max is $399. That's $100 more than a Sonos Play 3. Ahem, yeah. pic.twitter.com/sjNS4q2TRc
— Tom Warren (@tomwarren) October 4, 2017
And that's without factoring in the cost of a mail forwarding service, since no Australian release has been announced.
Pixelbook is Way Too Pricey
The appeal in a Chromebook usually starts at its price point. Google has other ideas for the Chrome OS-powered notebooks, however, and revealed its $US999 ($1283) Pixelbook, the sequel to its even more expensive Pixel Chromebook. To take advantage of Google Assistant's more impressive search features, like smart image search, you'll also need to buy the $US99 ($127) Pixel Pen. Ars Technica pointed out the high price point doesn't give you access to high-quality apps available on other similarly priced devices:
You can't really use the Pixelbook for the kind of things that typically justify a $1000+ price tag, like gaming, photo processing, development, or video. Chrome OS defenders can come up with some janky web or Android apps that roughly emulate some of these use cases, but none of them are the kind of industry-defining programs you get on other platforms.
For around the same price you can buy a decent MacBook Air, an iPad Pro (including an Apple Pencil), or a laptop like Microsoft's Surface Pro, all featuring fully functional apps from a variety of developers. Google's Pixelbook needs to bring more high-end apps to its Chrome OS platform before it can convince anyone a new way to search is worth a grand. No Australian pricing or release date has been announced either, so you're going to have to be really keen to go through the trouble of importing it.
Don't understand the logic of Google Pixelbook pricing. Give us the extra RAM separately, without bundling it with SSD? Already expensive. pic.twitter.com/I9UmOh2HnX
— Zeynep Tufekci (@zeynep) October 5, 2017
Google Clips is a Weird Lifelogging Camera
Google Clips is a new clip-on camera designed to capture moments you miss when you're not snapping pictures with your smartphone. It's tiny, records seven seconds of video at a time, and lets you upload or edit the footage to create stills, GIFs and normal video files. Everything gets uploaded to Google Photos, though you have the option to pick and choose what stays and what leaves the device. Techcrunch's Darrel Etherington did note the peculiar omission of audio recording, which makes it difficult to discern who this is for besides parents of infants or dog owners who want computer-generated content for their Instagram page:
It doesn't grab audio, but it does have smart recognition features on board. It also doesn't use any kind of network connection, so it's not broadcasting the stuff it captures anywhere. You can connect to your phone to check what you've got.
It's $US249 ($320), which is a pretty high price for what's ostensibly a lifelogging camera. While the smart recognition features mean it can identify the faces of people and animals, its usefulness remains to be seen. I wouldn't bet on it catching on, though. Who wants a camera strapped to their body, anyway? Especially one, as The Verge's Ben Popper noted, from a company that makes money by selling data about you:
Many have responded to this device by calling it creepy and invasive. This is a similar reaction to the one that tanked Google Glass. People don't like the idea of an always-on camera watching them, doubly so if it's powered by artificial intelligence and created by a company that makes its money by collecting your personal data and allowing advertisers to target you.
Australian pricing and availability have not been announced.
The announcements are clear indicators that Google isn't playing around when it comes to improving its user experience -- and expanding its presence -- both in your home and on your phone. Improvements to its machine learning algorithm; cheaper voice assistants for more smart home functionality throughout the home; and a sequel to its Pixel smartphones that improves on both the camera and display; all make being embedded in Google's ecosystem a more rewarding and functional experience.
That, plus its accessories such as the Pixel Buds and Google Clips, put the company in direct competition with other giants such as Apple and Amazon. With appealing products at a variety of price points, their gambit furthering their reach into your daily life is dependent on how well all the pieces work together, which remains to be seen (though come on, you'll probably get that cute-as-a-button Google Home Mini).