Three years ago, we saw the first real hardware effort on the part of Google in the form of the 2013 Chromebook Pixel. It was crazy expensive, but it was never meant to be a commercial success. The Chromebook Pixel was meant to show what could happen if Google got serious about its own hardware, and man, did it generate serious hype.
Three years later, we're seeing that idea come into fruition. Earlier today, Google held it's much anticipated #madebygoogle event, and they debuted some of the most compelling pieces of hardware I've seen to date.
Let's start off with their successor to the long running line of Nexus devices, the
Google finally announced it's much leaked Pixel Phone. It's built by HTC, but you wouldn't know it, as the only branding on the back is the Google G logo, to indicate that it's a Google built phone. What makes this different is that on older Nexus devices, alongside the Nexus logo, you'd see the hardware manufacturer's logo right next to it, so you'd know that LG, Huawei, or Samsung had built it for Google. With the Pixel, it's straight Google.
Hardware wise, it looks fine. Strikingly similar to the iPhone in many regards, but fine nonetheless. Unlike the Nexus 5X and 6P from last year, which had differing internal specs, the Pixel has the exact same specifications no matter which size you go for. The only difference between the 5" and 5.5" models is the size of the battery, which come in at 2,770mAh and 3,450mAh respectively.
The Pixel phones are interesting for a couple of reasons. First is that they're offering Pixel users exclusive features, like unlimited storage at full resolution on Google Photos. No other phone has that, but that's probably because Google is saying that this is the highest rated camera on any phone - ever.
Pixel's camera is looking promising though. 12mp. 1.55 micron pixels (huge) and instant shutter. Super high rating by dxoMark. OIS. Leggo— Marques Brownlee (@MKBHD) October 4, 2016
One thing to note is that Google also announced that they have no plans for future Nexus devices. While materially, it's hard to see what differentiates the Pixel line from the previous Nexus line, it makes sense. Pixel may not offer any crazy new hardware, but it's the software that allows it to stand out from the crowd, and that's what Google is banking on. Hardware has plateaued over the last few years, but software is the real value, and is still going strong.
Speaking of software being the real value, the Pixel is also the first device out with the successor to Google Now and Google Now on Tap - Google Assistant. What's surprsing to me is that it's basically the same Assistant that's found in Allo, but without any of the extraneous chat capabilities, which to me, makes it far more useful and compelling. I'm not sure what Google was thinking with Allo, but it seems like it's more or less a dead product now.
Google Assistant & Google Home
This was probably the one part of today's event that got me the most excited. Amazon was the first to really nail a home voice controlled assistant, but Google's Home to me seems far more useful, since it's tied directly to my Google account and services that I use.
Home as a piece of hardware is extremely beautiful, and that's something that you can thank Rick Osterloh (former President of Motorola, now head of Google's hardware division) for. He's brought some of the best hardware design to the table in this event, and accompanied it with really compelling software.
Google's Home runs Google's Assistant software. If you've ever seen or used an Amazon Alexa, you'll already be familiar with it. However, Home seems to be better an recognizing contextual information. For instance, on stage, they demoed it by saying, play that Shakira song from Zootopia, and it immediately knew what Rishi Chandra was talking about. That's something that even the Echo can't do yet.
Home is also a Chromecast receiver, meaning that you can yell it to play something on YouTube, and have it play on your TV immediately. That'd be really useful if you're doing something with your hands, and want to show someone something, but can't, because you know, you're hands are occupied.
The Google Cast ecosystem slide is a fun reminder that Apple had a huge advantage with AirPlay and totally blew it.— nilay patel (@reckless) October 4, 2016
Assistant on the other hand, is a different beast entirely. It's basically taking the already powerful Google Now system, and super charging it. If you've used it inside Allo, you already know how it works, but now, instead of getting Now on Tap whenever you long press the home button, you get Assistant. It's equal parts Google Now, and equal parts Siri, but infinitely more useful and powerful. You've got a chat system that you can type into, and it's also voice controlled. The best part is that it's open to third party apps, so things like Wikipedia and Open Table can plug right into it to give you instant results.
Daydream View VR
It's a VR headset made my Google, using the Daydream platform that was announced back in may during #io16. It's built by Google, and it looks really premium, and oddly very comfy to wear. The first phone to support this will be, surprise surprise, the Pixel Phone.
The Chromecast Ultra is like every other Chromecast, but the Chrome browser logo has been replaced with the Google G logo, and it now supports 4K, which is cool. Again, not much here has changed all that mushc.
There's not much to say about this, other than it's Google's successor to the wildly popular and useful OnHub platform. It's more than a simple rebranding too. Here, watch their introduction video to see what it can do.
I only have three issues with the Pixel. The first is that for it's price, which is matched dollar-for-dollar with the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, it's not water proof/resistant. On cheaper priced Nexus devices, that would be okay, but for a new flagship in 2016, that's completely unacceptable, especially if Google wants to compete against Apple and Samsung. The second is the price, which is going to turn so many people away. Google at one point used to have incredibly affordable hardware, but no longer it seems. The starting prices of the Pixel line are a solid $200 more expensive than last years Nexus 5X and 6P were. Companies like OnePlus have proven that you can have amazing hardware at an affordable price, but it seems like Google doesn't seem to agree. Third is that if Google wants to price the Pixel phones the same as the iPhone, then they need to guarantee 3-4 years worth of updates like Apple does. Currently, a Nexus device is only guaranteed 2 years of support and even then, that might not actually happen. The Nexus 5 is eft running Android 6.0, and who knows what will happen to the Nexus 5X and 6P now that the Pixel line has taken over.
While the Pixel phone looks great on paper (despite its obvious flaws listed above), the real standouts were Google WiFi, Home, and Assistant. Google is betting big on AI. They're whole move is for them to make the same hardware as everyone else, but do AI better than anyone else. And it's totally going to work.
The Pixel is the start of Google's grand reunification under one hardware and software brand. No more side hussles and confusing product names. Google is going all in on their biggest asset and brand value - their name. And it's about damn time. With the Pixel, and the massive marketing push behind it, Google is betting that it can be on par with both Samsung and Apple, and with it's Assistant constantly learning about you and improving upon it's AI, Google is going to win where others seem to be flailing around. And now just on your phone, but inside your home too.
Looking forward to Prominent Apple Blogger sputter and spew about how Google has no taste and AI is a dead end until Apple does it.— koush (@koush) October 4, 2016
To put this into perspective, imagine that your LG, or Sony, or Huawei, or Samsung. Your brand, especially in Samsung's case, has literally just exploded. Your OS vendor is now making it's own hardware, with it's own integrated payments, VR, and Assistant systems, all the while you're betting that your proprietary offerings will be what saves you. Even with WiFi and Assistant, Google is not only targeting Apple, but it's also seriously undercutting both Amazon and Eero.
If this wasn't Google dropping a mic, then I don't know what is. Either way, I'm seriously stoked.
Here are the Canadian prices for everything listed above:
Daydream View VR - $99
Google WiFi Single/3-Pack - $170/$395 (Estimated)
Google Home - $170 (Estimated)
Pixel/Pixel XL 32/128 GB - $1,028/$1,158 & $1,178/$1,308 outright (contract pricing unavailable*)
Chromecast Ultra - $90
*The Pixel and Pixel XL are priced exactly the same as the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, so expect their 2 year contract prices to also be the exact same on all the carriers.