Google enters the hardware business

Google Inc. isn’t known for its elaborate product launches, but on Tuesday the search icon proved it can stand toe to toe with Apple Inc., staging a press event that began with a sketch from a beloved TV show (in the above case, Silicon Valley) before seguing into a slew of product and service announcements that will see the Menlo Park, Calif.-based tech giant directly competing with the Amazon Echo, Samsung Gear VR, and even the iPhone 7. In fact, not only has Google designed its first smartphone, it’s developed a virtual assistant to go with it. Read on.


“Need a new phone?”

“Like, new new? Like, doesn’t have a hardware version new?” asks Google’s introduction to the Pixel. Coming in two sizes – five inches and 5.5 inches – the company’s first in-house smartphone features a Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 quad core processor, 4 GB of RAM, 32 or 128 GB of storage, and, the company was quick to note, a 3.5-mm headphone jack. It also comes in three colours: Ditching its competitors’ excessively ornate language, Google has elected to simply call them Quite Black, Very Silver and Really Blue.


“OK Google…”

There was very little typing during the keynote. Instead, developers such as Brian Rakowski, leader of Pixel’s software product management team, used the company’s new Google Assistant to complete tasks such as planning a night out. In front of his audience’s eyes, Rakowski used voice commands to look for concerts taking place nearby this weekend, ask his wife if she would like to go, research the restaurant she suggested, and make reservations when it turned out to be a reasonable distance away.


A camera that gives the iPhone 7 a run for its money

Rakowski also took great pleasure in emphasizing the Pixel camera’s 89 DxoMark score, its highest-ever for a mobile phone. (Though for the record, the organization rated the iPhone 7’s camera an 86.) The 12.3 MP, 2.0-aperture camera features high dynamic range (HDR) imaging which automatically adjusts to a subject’s surrounding light, a lens blur feature, and what Google calls “Smartburst,” which takes multiple shots in a row and automatically saves the sharpest one.


Free, unlimited cloud storage for Pixel users

Though the true usefulness of this feature will ultimately depend on your access to WiFi or service provider’s data plan, photos taken and 4K videos filmed with a Pixel camera are automatically stored at full resolution in the cloud, with Google providing free, unlimited space for Pixel users.


Google Duo

During her section of the presentation, product management director Sabrina Ellis demonstrated Google Duo, a new video calling app that comes preloaded on Pixel and allows users to contact friends and family across Android and iOS. It also includes what Google calls the “Knock Knock” feature, shown here, which gives the person called a preview of the caller – in this case, Ellis’s son.


Got 15 minutes?

We’ll believe it when we see it, but Ellis also casually mentioned that charging the Pixel for 15 minutes would give it up to seven hours of power.


Ready to make the switch?

Not yet convinced Google is after Apple? Check out how easy they’ve made it to switch from one OS to another. With a single cord, iPhone users can transfer their existing contacts, photos, videos, music, texts, calendar events, and even iMessages to their new phone – and it comes with every Pixel.


Dress your phone in style

Unsurprisingly, given the company’s penchant for dressing up its logo, Google has gone the extra mile in the casing department, with a series of commissioned sets, cases designed with Google Earth and Google Trends, and even cases with matching live wallpaper.


VR ready

It wouldn’t be a modern Android product without VR support, but with the Pixel, Google has teamed up with partners including Netflix, Warner Brothers, the New York Times, and MLB, in addition to curating more than 150 tours in Street View, to ensure viewers have something to see. The Pixel will also support Play Movies, allowing viewers to watch shows and films on their own personal theatre, and 360-degree photos.


Fits like a Daydream

For the Daydream, Google’s answer to Samsung’s Gear VR, developers asked each other what was missing from the current generation of headsets and realized the answer was surprisingly simple: Make them comfortable to wear. And so in building the Daydream, the developers worked with clothing designers first and programmers second. They made sure it fits over eyeglasses as well.

The latest Chromecast

Evolving in lockstep with HD video standards, the Chromecast Ultra can be used to stream up to 4K Ultra HD video on a compatible TV. It also includes an optional built-in ethernet adapter, allowing for more reliable streaming if a wired connection is available, and support for Google Home, up next.

Google @ home

We’ll be honest – Superbowl commercial aside, we never understood the appeal of Amazon’s Echo, and we don’t understand the appeal of Google Home either. But if the idea of a voice-activated smart speaker that you can ask to play “that song from Zootopia,” as VP of product management Mario Queiroz demonstrated, or use to look up an oral recipe for carpet cleaner appeals to you, it’s an attractive enough device, and includes a touchpad for those moments when it doesn’t understand what you’re saying. Unfortunately, it’s not coming to Canada this year.


Google WiFi

Nor, tragically, is Google WiFi, the company’s take on the Eero, a multi-access point wireless system built on the premise that installing three hotspots in a single home will result in a more reliable Internet connection than installing only one. (Though in case you’re wondering, the Eero isn’t available in Canada either.)

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Eric Emin Wood
Eric Emin Wood
Former IT World Canada associate editor turned consultant with public relations firm Porter Novelli. When not writing for the tech industry enjoys photography, movies, travelling, the Oxford comma, and will talk your ear off about animation if you give him an opening.

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