After weeks of waiting and speculating, Google finally made good on its promise of something big coming out of California. And not just one—several big announcements that span a wide variety of new technologies. But is Google really in it to win it, or is the company just piggybacking on already introduced tech and staking its claim?
Google Phones It In
Inarguably, the highlight was the introduction of a new line of smartphones, the Pixel and the Pixel XL. What do these HTC-built and Google-designed 5" 1080p and 5'5" Quad HD Panel phones offer that’s different from the middle of the herd? They start with the newest and latest Snapdragon 821 processor and a customized version of Android (Android 7.1 Nougat), and will be able to run the newest virtual reality software—say, what? That’s right, with Google’s announcement of Daydream (read on), the successor to Google’s cheapie cardboard VR experiment, Google is all in on next-generation experiences.
Google really wants to horn in on Apple’s iPhone experience, as well, touting the brilliance of its camera system. It has 12.3MP resolution, 1.55-micron pixels, and an f/2.0 aperture. Google also claims a speedy capture time on its camera, but until we get our hands on one for review, we can only sit back and raise a skeptical eyebrow. As for style points, Google scores with rounded edges for a better grip, 2.5D Corning® Gorilla® Glass 4 on the front display and back glass, which will also house the Pixel Imprint and fingerprint sensor, all surrounded by aluminum housing.
Google also touted a very complex gyroscope feature in the phone that will aid in stabilizing video, which may or may not be a deal-breaker, but we were saddened to learn that there is no optical image stabilization when taking stills. Again, real-world testing will tell the tale in the end, but Google is confident this phone is the best you’ll find.
Google also paraded the new Google Assistant, which is built into the Pixel. Pressing the home button or saying a key word activates the assistant, which can be used to find old photos or search for them by date or event. It can also play music by selecting the app it thinks is best, whether that be Pandora, iHeart Radio, or Spotify. Similarly, it also uses Google Now, another in a long line of digital assistants that started with Siri and moved on to Cortana and Alexa, and can provide relevant information for any search.
Pixel users will also get the latest OTA updates for Android—according to Google. For those of us who struggle with slow updates to our Android devices, we can only hope that because this is a Google product, we’ll truly see updates as they happen. Another smartphone luxury that Google adds to the Pixel is fast charging, claiming that you can receive seven hours of power from only fifteen minutes of charging. Just in case that doesn’t seal the deal, Google takes a page from Amazon’s Kindle and offers a Mayday-type 24/7 support line that ensures that the representative helping you with problems will see exactly what is on your phone when it bugs out—if it bugs out.
Daydreaming and Thinking of You
Back to Daydream. Google also showed the $79 Daydream View headset, which integrates the Pixel into a virtual reality experience. The Daydream View is also packed with its own set of cool features, the best of which is a motion controller that Google claims is so precise you can draw with it. It stores inside the headset when not being used, so 1) you don’t lose it, and 2) you’re constantly reminded that Google one-upped other smartphone headset manufacturers. Advantage: Google. It does sport a goofy fabric design, and looks a little like wearing a sweater over your eyes, but it’s built for simplicity and comfort, and the design shows that. Right now it’s only available for Daydream-enabled phones—and guess what? That means the Pixel and Pixel XL.
4K Chromecast is Here
Google hasn’t forsaken its core verticals, however, and that’s obvious with the introduction of the Google Chromecast Ultra. Yes. It’s all that the Chromecast was and more. With the convenience of Google’s Chromecast comes the need for sharper, better video, and the Chromecast Ultra not only delivers streaming media in 4K, but also has support for HDR and Dolby Vision. Chromecast Ultra also claims to load videos 1.8 times faster than other Chromecast devices and includes major Wi-Fi improvements to support streams from full HD to Ultra HD. And thankfully, it adds an Ethernet port for those who aren’t getting the most out of their Wi-Fi.
Surround Yourself with Wi-Fi
Speaking of Wi-Fi, Google has jumped into the mesh networking fray (see an excellent article about the Luma mesh network system) with the Google Wifi. Yes, Google even tried to patent the word Wi-Fi. Close enough. Mesh networking works like this: you use one centralized router and companion nodes to spread the signal throughout your home. Because the nodes work wirelessly, there’s no need for line-of-sight placement. Google Wifi works very similarly to Luma and eero, the first two companies that jumped into the mesh (or “whole home Wi-Fi”) arena. Like those two systems, Google’s comes with a host of features that is centered around simplicity and security. The ability to pause the Internet, check on all connected devices, and keep hackers and line creepers out of your home network are all included. The only difference is going to be price, which is sure to be the determining factor in purchase, since all of these systems are eero-ily similar.
Google Makes an Echo
And not to be outdone by its competitors, Google also introduced the Google Home system, which is a very similar experience to Amazon’s Echo. It performs similar tasks—controlling devices like thermostats, lights, and more (including Philips Hue, Nest, Samsung SmartThings, and IFTTT support), and also plays music and gathers information from the Internet, because typing into a keyboard is so 2014. With Google Home, you can control devices around the house or play and control music on your speakers that have Chromecast Audio plugged in or Chromecast built in. At launch, you can see videos from YouTube, and but support for popular apps like Netflix and Google Photos are promised in future updates.
So, did Google promise the ghost of technology future, or is it just riding the coattails of technology past? Are we seeing innovation or imitation? Only time will tell—or you will. Please leave comments about whether you were overwhelmed, underwhelmed, or just plain whelmed by Google’s press conference, in the Comments section, below.
I'm glad that they are taking VR seriously. I believe this new technology will have a big impact once it hits the mainstream. As for the Pixel vs the iphone and the Galaxy... Fat chance Google. Good Luck, I'm rooting for you, but, I wouldn't waste my money