Google introduced new versions of its Pixel smartphones that lack key hardware features of the latest devices from Apple Inc. and Samsung Electronics Co. But the internet giant is trying to make up for that with tighter software and services integration.
The upgraded phones were presented at a press conference in San Francisco. The Pixel 2 has a
5-inch screen, while the Pixel 2 XL has a 6-inch screen.
There are also new cameras that support virtual and augmented-reality experiences.
Both phones have OLED screens, like last year, but the Pixel displays don’t cover the entire front of the devices, unlike Apple’s new iPhone X and Samsung’s S8 models. That may make Google’s new phones look dated in a 2017 smartphone industry that’s already embraced all-screen designs.
Both models continue to include fingerprint scanners on the back while competitors shift to either integrating biometrics into the screens or using facial recognition to authenticate users. The Pixel phones are priced in a similar range to their rivals, starting at $649 for the small model and $849 for the bigger one.
While Google’s Android mobile operation system has been a huge hit, the company only started designing its own phones in-house in the past year or two. That leaves it way behind Apple and Samsung when it comes to sourcing important hardware components like displays and marketing and supporting the gadgets.
Last year’s Pixel phones were regarded as some of the best
Android handsets on the market, but the Alphabet Inc. unit struggled to keep up with demand and sales lagged way behind Apple and Samsung.
In lieu of cutting-edge hardware and supply-chain muscle, Google is leaning more than ever on its digital assistant software and services like Google Play Music to sell the new devices.
The highlight feature of the new phones are the upgraded camera systems. The phones both have optical image stabilisation for taking pictures, improved auto focus for objects, and cameras
optimised for augmented reality applications from third-party developers. For the camera’s software, Google is again turning to additions Apple made in previous years. The new Pixels have Portrait Mode and Motion Photos, Android-based versions of Apple’s own Portrait Mode and Live Photos. Portrait Mode blurs backgrounds when taking a picture of a person or object, while Motion Photos tack 1.5 seconds of video on either end of photos. Google’s Portrait Mode only requires a single camera lens while Apple’s compatible iPhones have dual rear cameras.
Users can squeeze the new Pixel phones to launch Google’s voice-based Assistant. Last year’s Pixels required the tap of a digital home button or a spoken command to summon the Assistant. The new models will also now be able to detect the names of songs playing in the background and will place the name of the song on the phone’s lock screen.
Users will then be able to download the track on Google Play Music, one of the company’s online music services.
Google unveils Pixel Buds
earphones, aping ‘AirPods’
Google’s new Pixel phones follow Apple Inc.’s 2016 decision to remove the headphone jack—and now the internet giant is following the iPhone formula again with wireless earbuds.
At an event in San Francisco, the Alphabet Inc. unit launched Pixel Buds, a set of earphones that connect to its latest Pixel phones over Bluetooth. Unlike Apple’s AirPods, the buds are connected by a wire that rests behind the neck. Similar to Apple’s popular earphones, the Pixel Buds cost $160, come with a carrying case that doubles as charger, and have five hours of battery. The case provides four charges over 24 hours before it has to be plugged in.
The Pixel Buds let users listen to music but also have Google’s digital voice assistant built-in. A user can tap the right headphone to invoke Google Assistant, control music playback with their voice, and get directions from the company’s Maps app.
The headset’s most show-worthy feature is a live translate mode, which lets users hand their phone off to someone speaking another language and that speech will automatically convert to the wearer’s native tongue and be played back by the Pixel Buds.
‘Computers should adapt to how people live’
Google’s latest device refresh is all about making sure it can claim a lead in that next era of computing, and keep its services front-and-center in people’s lives.
At the onset of the launch, Google Chief Executive Officer Sundar Pichai said the hardware design efforts revolve around artificial intelligence, a field where the company has an early lead.
Pichai laid out four principles for “AI-first” design, including new ways to deliver information contextually and in natural conversations, and announced advances in Google’s image-recognition and translation software.
“Computers should adapt to how people live,” he said. “We’re in a unique moment of time where we can bring a unique combination of hardware, software and AI.”
Google owns Android, the software behind most smartphones, but it has long struggled with ways to tame its many hardware partners and make them competitive with Apple’s iPhones. Apple tightly controls hardware and software, and has lured consumers with mobile payments, its voice-based Siri assistant and initial forays into augmented reality, technology that splices the digital and physical worlds. Amazon, meanwhile, has emerged as a viable contender in the smart home market with its assistant, Alexa, and a seemingly unending suite of Echo gadgets.
Google’s response has been to pitch its devices as the best way to experience Google’s services, particularly its digital assistant.
Its latest device portfolio is even more integrated with Google services than last year.