If you missed the livestream for Google’s big hardware blowout, well, you didn’t miss any surprises. Between the previews of new devices at Google I/O in May and the onslaught of leaks over the past few weeks, Tuesday’s announcements felt somewhat anti-climactic, especially since the rumored merging of Android and Chrome OS never surfaced.
But don’t let the lack of drama fool you: Google unveiled a wealth of slick-looking devices in San Francisco, and seemingly retired the beloved Nexus line. There was also an underlying element of tension, as Google quietly but effectively stepped on the toes of its staunch hardware partners.
Let’s dig in.
While Google’s event was ostensibly all about new hardware, the true story was the intersection of hardware and software, as Google device head Rick Osterloh strived to point out. The new devices leaned heavily on Google’s nascent Google Assistant, which is basically a supercharged, context-aware, and conversational version of Google Now that’s “key to our vision for building an individual Google for speaking to you,” according to CEO Sundar Pichai.
Google Assistant can do everything from answering basic questions to helping you identify which restaurants you might like near a movie you have tickets for, then help you book reservations and let your buddies know what’s up. It’ll even remember which services you like to use most and open music and other media in those, sidestepping rival apps.
Because Assistant’s tied to your Google account, it’ll follow you around from device to device, helping organize your life. Check out our Google Assistant coverage from Google I/O if you want to brush up on the broad strokes.
For most people, their phone is their most personal computing device, and Assistant aims to stay near and dear to you on Google’s new Pixel and Pixel XL—a pair of unabashedly premium phones that toss the Nexus ethos out the windows and take direct aim at the likes of Apple and Samsung.
The 5-inch Pixel and 5.5-inch Pixel XL keep some of the Nexus perks, such as first dibs on Android updates and a fingerprint reader. But where Nexus devices were designed to showcase Android features and often sported affordable price tags, the Pixel deploys a bevy of premium features to stand out from the smartphone crowd. Google boasts that the Pixel’s camera received the highest-ever rating from DXOMark, outshooting even Apple’s vaunted iPhone 7 (though the iPhone 7 Plus and its dual lenses were a glaring omission from Google’s slides). To drive the point home, Google’s offering unlimited cloud storage for every photo and video taken on your Pixel, up to full 4K resolution. Oh, and Pixel owners receive 24/7 access to customer support straight from Google.
Hot damn. For a full list of the Google Pixel’s speeds, feeds, and amusingly named color options, check out Greenbot’s Pixel phone coverage. It’s available for preorder now, and will hit Verizon stores on October 20.
Daydream VR headset
The Pixels are also the first phones certified for Google’s new Daydream VR platform, a supercharged version of mobile virtual reality baked into Android 7.0. Now they have a headset to put those capabilities to good use, as Google unveiled its own Daydream View headset.
Other companies will be able to make Daydream headsets and phones, but Google’s version stands out from the crowd thanks to its fabric-clad design—inspired by “what people actually wear,” not gadgets, according to Google VR head Clay Bavor—and relentless focus on simplicity. Slotting the Pixel (or any future Daydream phones) into the Daydream View is easy-peasy, and the two devices communicate wirelessly to transport you to digital worlds. More than 50 Daydream VR apps are expected by the end of the year, including an experience based around J.K. Rowling’s “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” with hundreds more coming down the pipeline.
The Daydream View will cost $80 and come with a bundled made-for-VR controller when it launches in November, or you can pick one up for free if you preorder a Pixel between now and October 19. Looks like Google’s taking aim at Samsung’s $100 Gear VR, too. For full details, hit up our Daydream VR report.
Google’s Chromecast won over the masses thanks to its intoxicating blend of simplicity, affordability, and near-ubiquitous support from streaming media services. Now there’s a pricier $70 version dubbed Chromecast Ultra that supports the 4K resolutions and Dolby’s version of high-dynamic range video on swankier modern TVs.
Be aware that many streaming services are only just rolling out 4K content, however, and HDR is off to an even slower start. Read TechHive’s Chromecast Ultra write-up for the lowdown on exactly which services will play nice out of the gate with Google’s 4K streaming disc, when it launches in November.
Move over, Echo. Google’s ready to battle Amazon for control of your smart home.
Google’s smart speaker largely mirrors its rival, but swaps out Amazon’s Alexa for—you guessed it—Google Assistant. The Echo’s two-year lead and open door approach to third-party hardware integration may appeal more to smart home buffs, but Google Home’s virtual assistant ties more closely into services that people already use in their everyday lives, and it sports some nifty, deep ties into the Chromecast ecosystem as well. This looks to be a fierce battle indeed, and TechHive’s Google Home coverage breaks down the battle lines and advantages of each.
The $129 Google Home is accepting preorders now, with a ship date of November 4.
Google’s dabbling more deeply into routers, too. After revealing its radical router/smart hub OnHub mash-up last year, the company’s back with Google Wifi, a tiny Echo Dot-like router designed to work as part of a team of devices, blanketing your house in Wi-Fi much like the Eero and Luma mesh routers.
Like OnHub, Google Wifi focuses on simplicity. Dead spots in your house? Add another unit to seamlessly extend your network. “Network Assist” software wrangles data to keep rolling as smoothly as possible, management’s handled via a dedicated phone app, and Google comes with family controls baked right in. Handy. Under the hood, Google Wifi supports AC1200 wireless speeds, 2.4GHz and 5GHz networks, beamforming, Bluetooth Smart technology, and more.
Google’s Wifi will ship singly or in multi-packs, just like Eero. A single router will cost you $129; a three pack, which Google says can cover 3,000 to 4,500 ft., will set you back $299. That’s significantly cheaper than a $400 Eero three pack. Expect preorders to open in November and Wifi to ship in December.
Spread your wings
But Google devices won’t be the only ones to house Google Assistant. The company also announced a program dubbed Actions by Google that will allow software developers to hook Assistant support into their services, and an Embedded Google Assistant SDK coming in 2017 that will let hardware makers bake the conversational companion right into their devices. Catch up on all the Assistant ascending details here.
Today's Best Tech Deals
Picked by PCWorld's Editors