Google events don’t typically elicit the same amount of fanfare as Apple’s do, but the announcements are just as enticing for both enthusiasts and anyone who likes shiny new things. This year, in an event held in New York City, the company revealed its new Pixel phones, a redux of the Pixel tablet (now with Chrome OS), a smart display, and a host of other devices it didn’t even bother mentioning (though we’ll tell you about them).
You can replay the event on YouTube, or get our rundown of the key facts below:
There are two new Pixel phones
The third-generation Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL were announced after months of rumour-mongering and uncorroborated hardware leaks.
Both devices have a larger screen-to-body ratio than their predecessors, in addition to a glass front and back side and an edge-to-edge display. The Pixel 3 sports a 5.5-inch OLED display (bigger than last year’s), while the Pixel 3 XL comes equipped with a 6.3-inch OLED display (and a notch that’s increased somewhat in size).
The Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL run on almost identical hardware. Both devices run on a Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor with 4GB of memory. They’re both available with 64 or 128GB of storage. There is no microSD card slot, nor is there a headphone jack, but the Pixels now have wireless Qi charging and they’re IP68-rated for water resistance.
The Pixel 3 also comes with a 2915mAh battery (not much more significant from last year’s), while the Pixel 3 XL’s battery is 3430mAh (smaller than last year’s).
Both the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL share camera hardware, too. The front-facing camera is a dual 8-megapixel camera with varying apertures to help facilitate moody portrait photos. The main camera is a 12.2-megapixel camera with Optical Image Stabilisation (OIS) and is capable of a few neat tricks, which we’ll cover later on when we get to Google’s machine learning announcements. (If you want to jump ahead, scroll down to the end.)
There’s a new Chromebook — Er, tablet?
It’s hard to tell whether the Pixel Slate is meant to be a Chromebook or a tablet, but all you need to know is that it’s capable of playing the part of either device.
The Pixel Slate is a tablet device with Chrome OS brains — it snaps into a sold-separately Pixel Slate Keyboard ($US199 ($281)) with built-in trackpad, or you can carry it out on its own to watch video on the 12.3-inch Molecular Display screen, take a group video call with the wide-angle front-facing camera, or draw on it with the sold-separately Pixelbook Pen ($US99 ($140)).
The Pixel Slate also boasts dual front-facing speakers, a fingerprint sensor, and two USB-C ports, though the latter is necessary because there is no headphone jack. The Pixel Slate goes on sale in the US soon and will be available with Intel Core m3, i5 or Celeron processors, along with 4GB, 8GB or 16GB of memory. It’s available in up to 256GB of storage and starts at $US599 ($846).
Unfortunately, no Australian pricing or release date has yet been announced.
And a new Google Home Hub
Lenovo and JBL aren’t the only companies making smart displays with the Google Assistant. The company announced its version, the Google Home Hub, which it pegs as “the best photo frame”. Its 7-inch display is a tad smaller than some third-party offerings, and it doesn’t have a camera for Duo video calls. The device is modelled to match the existing family of Google Home devices.
The Google Home Hub is meant to sit in a common area or your bedroom. It features an Ambient EQ mode, which dims the screensaver depending on the time of day so that it’s never blaring in your face. And since it is a hub, it comes with a home screen of sorts called Home View, which offers smart home status controls for all.
Happily, this device is currently available for pre-order in Australia. It costs $219 and comes readily available in four colours: Chalk, charcoal, aqua and sand.
There are some new accessories, too
After Google finished spilling the details on the Pixel 3, Pixel Slate and Google Home Hub, it refreshed its online store to include all that, and more.
There’s a new pair of Pixel USB-C earbuds, which aren’t the upgrade we were looking for to last year’s Pixel Buds, though they only cost $45 and offer push-button access to the Google Assistant.
There’s also the Google Pixel Stand, which is made for the Pixel 3 now that it supports wireless charging.
Not to mention, the company quietly released a new version of the Chromecast dongle with support for multi-room audio in sync with other Google smart devices.
Machine learning is built into everything
Last — but certainly not least, as Google has undoubtedly built much of its empire on machine learning — between all the talk of specifications and what the hardware can do, Google managed to slip through a few enhancements to its Assistant. And since the Google Assistant spans across several product categories, here’s a quick taste of what’s coming.
The Pixel 3 camera has several new machine learning tricks up its sleeve, including Top Shot, which takes a burst set of images and then compares the batch to pick out the best shot using machine learning.
There’s also Super Res Zoom, which takes a burst set of pictures so that it can more accurately zoom into a photo rather than relying solely on optical zoom, and a feature called Night Sight, which does what it sounds like: Helps illuminate an otherwise dark situation. The algorithm helps it figure out the proper exposure for the scene, and then fills in the blanks where necessary.
And for the selfie-inclined, the Pixel 3's photo booth mode will take a photo when you smile, no tap on the screen needed.
The Google Home Hub employs machine learning precisely so that it can proclaim to be the best digital photo album ever.
It introduces a new Google Photos feature called Live Albums, where you select the people you want to appear in slideshows, and then Google will handle the rest. It uses facial recognition technology to grab photos of the people it knows for a shared album that you can stream through the Home Hub. The album updates with each relevant file uploaded from your camera roll.
There’s also a feature called Recent Highlights, which shows the best recent photos from your Google Photos account. And because there’s a machine behind it all that has adequately absorbed what receipts look like, you don’t have to worry about yesterday’s grocery bill showing up in the stream.
Even the dialler on the Pixel 3 has machine learning built into it. In what’s referred to as Google’s official debut of Duplex, the phone will be able to screen your calls and tell spammers to go away without you having to endure the emotional labour of talking to anyone.
Of all the announcements at Google’s hardware event, one thing is sure: Google events aren’t primarily about the hardware that it puts forth, but what machine learning can do with that hardware. And for many consumers out there, the ability to condense everyday tasks into a few taps or a voice command is worth every cent.