Yesterday, at its Launch Night In event, Google debuted several pieces of consumer tech, including the Pixel 5 and 4a 5G smartphones, a new Chromecast device, and the Nest Audio smart speaker. In addition to the hardware, we also learned about the new updated "Google TV" app, as well as some exciting updates for existing applications. Here's everything that was everything at this year's event.
As expected, the headliner of this year's event was the Pixel 5. Google's newest smartphone picks up where the Pixel 4 left off—as an incredibly sophisticated smartphone with one of the top-performing camera systems on the market—then makes an interesting pivot.
Instead of following the standard flagship playbook of amassing as much base power as possible—a move that typically carries a significant cost—the Pixel 5 offers a more focused approach, one that eschews power for the sake of power and focuses on key features.
What features are we talking about? Well, if you know anything about the Pixel smartphones, you know their cameras are universally celebrated as some of the best on the market. According to Google, that won't change with the Pixel 5. This year's model features two lenses on the back—a 12.2MP main shooter and a 16MP ultrawide—as well as an 8MP lens on the front. As with years past, you can expect incredible things from the Pixel 5's image software, including the impressive-looking "Portrait Light" mode, along with updates to existing features like "Night Sight" and general video-recording performance.
As far as the other on-paper specs go, the Pixel 5 won't draw many gasps. That's because, on paper, it doesn't look wildly overpowered, nor does it have all of the "latest-and-greatest" internals. For example, the Pixel 5's processor is a very fast—but not the fastest—Snapdragon 765G chip. Its screen is an edge-to-edge 6" OLED display with 2340 x 1080 resolution and a 90 Hz refresh rate. Those are all good stats, but not as good—at least from a marketer's perspective—as some of the other specs available. That's not an oversight; it's the point.
Google didn't put the fastest processor in the world in the Pixel 5 because it doesn't think you need that. It doesn't think you need a 7" smartphone with a 4K screen and million-hertz refresh rate. What it thinks you need (and want) is a smartphone with a big, bright screen that has no silly notches or obnoxious bezel width; one that always gives you clear, color-rich content that's super smooth and never lags during streams. That's what the Pixel 5 promises and—because it's Google—likely delivers.
The Pixel 5's other notable highlights include an integrated 5G modem, 8GB of RAM, reverse wireless charging, IPX8 water resistance, and, it has to be said, that price. One of the big benefits of not just throwing as much raw power as possible into the Pixel 5 is that it won't decimate your wallet—something that not all flagship devices can claim. The bottom line is, assuming it's as good as advertised, the Pixel 5 is going to be the most inexpensive premium smartphone you can buy, and it's not going to be even close.
Pixel 4a 5G
There was another big phone reveal at this year's event: the Pixel 4a 5G. Despite the implications of its name (i.e., that it's just the Pixel 4a with 5G capabilities), the Pixel 4a 5G showed off plenty of distinct features that set it apart from the Pixel 4a. Yes, the most obvious of those features is the new integrated modem with 5G support, but it also has a bigger 6.2" OLED panel, a faster processor, beefier battery, and, from the looks of it, a better camera setup that appears to be the same cutting-edge system shown off in the Pixel 5.
We haven't seen or tested the Pixel 4a 5G yet, so we can't say for certain, but everything we saw at the live event suggests that the Pixel 4a 5G is very much its own phone, with a unique set of capabilities and highlights that should put it in the top tier of all mid-range-priced phones.
Google also announced a new version of Chromecast that ports over several features of the popular Chromecast Ultra (4K HDR support, Dolby Vision, etc.), as well as some new highlights, including the newly launched Google TV, which is replacing—by way of consolidation—several other applications, including aspects of Google Play.
Oddly enough, one of the most exciting features of the new Chromecast is the inclusion of a remote control. It's kind of strange to think that all the time we've had Chromecast, we never got a remote, but speaking as someone who owns a Chromecast Ultra and one time spent ten minutes digging through his sofa for a remote that wasn't there (and did not yet exist), I can tell you: this is awesome news.
From what we saw, the remote doesn't appear to be anything out of this world. Just a simple, straightforward IR clicker with a clean design and dedicated buttons for popular apps like Netflix and YouTube. And that is exactly what all of us wanted. Thank you, Google.
Apart from the remote, the other big Chromecast news is that it no longer will require a phone or similar smart device to "cast" content onto your TV. Instead, the new Chromecast will run its own dedicated operating system (the aforementioned Google TV OS) that's controlled via the included remote. However, if you want, you can still stream from compatible mobile devices.
The last big announcement was an all-new smart speaker: the Nest Audio. From what we saw, it looks very much like a Google speaker product: sleek, stylish, and covered in mesh fabric. It's a speaker, so we can't vouch for how well it sounds just by seeing it—though, to be fair, Google has put out some excellent-sounding smart speakers thus far. According to Google, this one should be 75 percent louder than its predecessor, the Google Home, and has 50 percent more bass. Again, we'll have to test it before we can verify those claims, but as someone who owns and can vouch for the high quality of the Google Home, I'm excited.
The Nest Thermostat is the first smart thermostat from Nest since Google took over, and appears to be a sleeker, more streamlined version of its pre-Google predecessors—with a lower price point, to boot. The new model abandons the rotating dial of the past and replaces it with an interactive touch strip. Its face is now an attractive mirrored finish that comes in the same color options as the just-announced Nest Audio speakers (matchy-matchy).
Performance-wise, the Nest Thermostat appears to embrace the same streamlined approach championed by its design: smart, straightforward, and effective. The UI closely resembles the experience of a traditional thermostat, with some added smart-home benefits, such as remote and voice control, automated hazard warnings, and energy-saving motion sensors—to name a few.
Google’s other “new” product is the relaunch of its Google Wifi wireless system. The original Google Wifi was released to positive reviews in 2016. It was effectively replaced by the Nest Wifi in 2019, although, technically, the two are separate product lines that have some crossover features. That’s important to remember because this new Google Wifi isn’t intended as the next generation of Nest Wifi. Instead, it’s a slight upgrade of the original Google Wifi (the one from 2016) with a much friendlier price tag.
If you’re wondering about the differences between Nest Wifi and Google Wifi, the big ones are coverage (the Nest Wifi should give you more coverage than the Google Wifi router), voice-controlled smart-speaker functionality (Nest Wifi has it; Google Wifi does not), and Ethernet ports (Google Wifi yes, Nest Wifi no). If the whole Nest-WiFi-Google-Wifi thing is a little confusing, that’s OK. The good news is that they’re fully compatible with each other and both systems work really well. And now, with this significantly lower price tag, the new Google Wifi is even more appealing.
And that does it for the Launch Night In event rundown. What did you think of the show? Any new products or services catch your eye? Let us know down in the Comments section.