Google announced a host of new products in San Francisco on the 4th of October this year. Everyone eagerly awaited the announcement, particularly the unveiling of the company’s second flagship smartphone, the Pixel 2. However, in true Google fashion, there were a few surprises in the announcement too. As always, Felix Tech gives you a round-up of what went down in San Francisco. From the outset, Google made it clear the focus was on Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning – the idea of integrating clever software with great hardware.
Google Home Mini
Google started off proceedings with the announcement of the Google Home range. Amongst the newcomers was the Google Home Mini. You guessed it, a mini version of its original bigger brother the Google Home. Powered by an even smarter version of Google Assistant, the Google Home Mini is designed to either blend in or stand out depending on your preference. The design is based on a small pebble, made from a fabric top and a plastic bottom, and comes in three colours; coral, charcoal and chalk. The device is designed to slot neatly in any space, no matter how big or small. The magic appears in the form of four LED lights under the fabric – they light up to show the device is listening or thinking. As with all things Google Assistant, the Google Home Mini can be controlled by tapping or with your voice.
Much like its big brother, the Google Home Mini can do a huge range of things, from answering random questions like “How many teeth do puppies have?”, giving you updates on weather, traffic and sports results to personalised schedules, reminders and news. The device also works with Chromecast – allowing you to stream shows directly to your TV or music to your favourite speakers. The Google Home Mini comes in at an attractive price point of £49, making it accessible to many more people! Google Home Max
Google Home Max is Google’s first foray into the big speaker market. The speaker is the biggest in their current range and includes built-in machine learning and Google Assistant functionality. Google boasts the Max has a 20 times more powerful sound than the original Google Home. The use of machine learning has allowed the development of Smart Sound – the speaker adjusts its sound output automatically to the surroundings it is placed in using machine learning. This can include different physical environments all the way to different contexts. For example, the speaker will play more quietly in the mornings (for those who aren’t morning people) but play more loudly when there is a lot of background noise (like the dishwasher running). The design is a simple one, with two colours; chalk or charcoal and comes with a helpful magnetised foot stand – allowing for either horizontal or vertical use. At the moment, Google Home Max will only be available in the US in December for $399, but more countries are expected to be reached in 2018.
The next step in Google’s Chromebook series – a high performance version. The design looks very similar to Lenovo’s Yoga line, at 10mm thick and 1kg in weight, with multiple form factors including a laptop and a tablet. The PixelBook boasts Core i5 or i7 processors, up to 16GB of RAM and a QuadHD LCD display. Of course, it has Google Assistant built in (with a dedicated button) and an additional accessory for tablet use – the PixelBook Pen. Prices for the PixelBook start at $999 and Pixel Pen will retail for $99. The two will be available in the US, Canada and the UK on the 31st October 2017.
The announcement of Google’s second version of its own VR headset, with minor improvements including a wider field of view, new colours: coral, chalk and charcoal (notice a pattern yet?) and Chromecast compatibility. Prices start from $99.
Of course they did. Google released earphones, smart ones no less, with Google Assistant functionality (when paired with a Pixel 2). The PixelBuds come in three colours: Clearly White, Kinda Blue and Just Black. Included is a charging case that holds multiple charges, allowing users to get up to 24 hours of listening time. The PixelBuds allow you to tap to start and stop music, swipe forward and back to change volume and of course tap to access Google Assistant when paired to your phone. The idea is that you can keep your phone in your pocket as the headphones can play music, send texts, give walking directions from Google Maps, alert to new notifications and read messages. Google also showcased the ability of the headphones to act as a translator – using machine learning and Google Translate to act as a real time translator in your ear. Google’s first earphones will be available from November and will start at $159.
This was definitely a surprise for many. Google Clips is effectively a mini camera that captures the important moments for you, meaning you can be in them and not staring at a screen trying to get the perfect candid shot. The first version is designed for parents and pet owners – when you don’t time to whip out the phone to capture the moment. The camera itself is hands-free, small and compact and has a high-quality lens and shutter button. Where it comes into its own though is on the inside – the camera has built-in machine learning. It learns who and when to take photos of, focusing on movement and faces. One neat feature is Motion Photos – the camera takes burst of shots to produce a moving photo (like a GIF). The Google Clips isn’t in production yet, with Google saying it will be “coming soon” and will initially sell for $249.
Google Pixel 2 and Google Pixel 2 XL
Now for the announcement everyone was waiting for: the Pixel 2 will succeed the very successful Pixel and Pixel XL. As with its predecessor, Google announced both a smaller Pixel 2 (five inch screen) and a larger Pixel 2 XL (six inches). The materials used are similar to last year’s smartphone – a mix of glass and aluminium. The design I’m sure will be a Marmite situation: some will love it, others will hate it. Google popped in a bit of fun this year with a coloured power button just because they can. The Pixel 2 sports an HD OLED display whilst the XL has a POLED QHD+ display.
“Google’s Pixel 2 achieved a DXO camera rating of 98 – the highest of any smartphone”
The usual suspects also turned up: a fingerprint sensor (in the right place, on the back of the phone), USB-C charging and IP67 dust and water resistance. For Pixel’s second iteration, Google listened to its critics and added in two front facing stereo speakers and included an Active Edge feature to squeeze the phone and activate Google Assistant – a nod to the HTC designers behind the project I’m sure. HOWEVER, Google removed the trusty headphone jack – a sign of the times I’m afraid. The trademark feature of the Pixel and Pixel XL – a seven hour charge in 15 minutes remains in the second edition, but the newly updated Android Oreo UI brings lots of exciting new features. The new Always On display shows the time and notifications without you even having to wake up the phone. Now Playing is another feature straight on the lock screen – Google uses its machine learning capabilities to work out what song is playing in the background automatically. Exclusive to the Pixel 2 range, Google Lens, built into the camera app, allows you to take a photo of something interesting and Google will tell you what it is! Finally, the Pixel was famous for its camera and Google were keen to continue this in their second edition: the Pixel 2 achieved a DXO camera rating of 98, the highest of any smartphone camera ever. Machine learning collects double the information even though there is only one camera, allowing for amazing portrait mode photos and selfies! The Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL will be available in Australia, Canada, Germany, India, the UK and the US – retailing for £649 and £849 respectively. Later in the year the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL will be hitting stores in Singapore, Italy and Spain!
That’s the rundown of the Google Announcement, a series of products with a common theme – software that keeps on giving thanks to machine learning. They will help society become increasingly connected both at home and on the move, but is that a good thing? Is it not just a big corporation constantly listening in on our daily lives? Only the sales figures will tell how people truly feel…