The fall of big product releases rolls on. This morning, Google hosted its annual “Made by Google” event to launch its latest phone: The Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL. But it wasn’t the only product in Google’s hardware and software lineup that’s getting a refresh. Google also announced updates for one of its smart speakers, mesh networking system, and several new products. Those included a pair of headphones meant to compete with AirPods, a new Chromebook, and a new gaming platform. After watching the event and having a bit of hands-on time with some of the new gear, here is everything you need to know.
The Flashiest Android Smartphone Gets Flashier (That’s Good!)
By this point, many of the new features of the $800 Pixel 4 and $900 Pixel 4 have already surfaced—The Verge has called it “the most leaked phone ever.” Both those features and the new design are actually really exciting. The jump between the Pixel 3 and Pixel 4 could prove to be as big of a usability upgrade as the jump between the iPhone 8 and iPhone X.
Let’s start with the basics. The new Pixel has a new more industrial design, without the two-tone back of the Pixel 3 or Pixel 3a. It also has a square camera housing and comes in three colors, black, white, and a peach-like orange. The (notchless!) front screen has a pretty large top bezel to house the phone’s front camera and a few new sensors.
Those new sensors give the phone a few new features, including face unlock and radar gesture controls. Though it’s been on Apple and Samsung phones since 2017, face unlock is new to the Pixel. It’s a welcome update, one of the few areas in which Google’s phone didn’t feel like a leader in the category. The addition of a radar chip—something Google has been reportedly working on for five years as Project Soli—unlocks a few more flashy changes. You can now do a few different things by just waving your hand over the phone, including skipping new songs and quieting alarms. The radar chip will also sense when you’re away from the phone, powering down the always-on display, and when you’re approaching the phone.
According to Google, this means that the phone will have the fastest unlock time of any phone currently available, because it knows when you approach the phone to prepare for the unlock process. No need to tap or rotate your phone to wake it up. It’s unclear how well this will work in practice, but it’ll be interesting to see how Google and developers leverage this data in future software updates. Oh, and if you don’t want your phone to use that data, which is processed on the device itself and supposedly never sent to the company, you can opt in or out of radar use.
As you’d expect, Google spent a big chunk of the event talking about changes to the Pixel camera. The phone now includes two back cameras: a main 12-megapixel camera and a 16-megapixel telephoto lens. Google says the new telephoto lens will improve your ability to take zoomed-in photos, when you’re far away from something, and photos in portrait mode. The phone has also removed its second front-facing camera (RIP the ultra-wide selfie).
The main improvements to the camera are software-based, employing some form of machine learning. Google says it’s improved Night Mode to the point where you can now take pictures of stars and evening landscape in practically pitch-black conditions. The camera app now gives you some additional tone mapping controls, which allow you to dial in the brightness and shadow you want to appear. Google has also spent time improving its real-time preview, so that the image you see when you’re framing your shot is the image you get when you take the picture.
Google has also changed how the Google Assistant is integrated onto the device. Instead of being a separate app you have to go to, the Assistant now appears at the bottom of the Pixel screen whenever you call it up. When you squeeze the phone, swipe up from the corner, or say “Hey Google,” a rainbow bar will immediately appear ready to listen for your query, which it transcribes immediately as you say it. This works blazingly fast, which Google says is because of its new processor (the Pixel Neural Core) and because the phone can do several of these task without having to access information from the cloud—the data it needs is stored on your phone.
That's a lot, and we haven't even gotten to a whole bunch of other good stuff like a super fast refresh rate, the ability to transcribe audio almost instantaneously, and some emergency features.
The Google Mini is now the Nest Mini
The naming conventions of Google’s smart home lineup have become maddeningly confusing since the company folded the Nest brand of smart home products into its own line last year. If you’d like to participate in Google’s connected home, you have...quite a bit to choose from. Are you a Google Nest Hub Max person or a Google Home Max person? Previously, you might have observed that all the Google smart speakers with built-in screens were branded with the Nest moniker, which might help you. But the company has muddied that today with the upgraded version of its screen-less Google Mini, now called the Nest Mini. Why? Who knows!
In any case, the $50 Nest Mini promises several upgrades over its predecessor, including an additional microphone, a more refined speaker, and a wall mount. The Google Home Mini is the Google Home speaker we recommend for anyone wanting to get a starter smart home off the ground. Once its available in a few weeks, assuming something doesn’t go completely wrong during testing, the Nest Mini is likely to take its place.
Google Wifi is now Nest Wifi
Did you know that Google sells the most popular Wifi router in US and Canada? Even as a person invested in my internet not sucking, I did not! Luckily for me, Google has announced an updated version of this router: Google Nest Wifi. Google Nest Wifi is a mesh-networking system. That means that, instead of having just one router in one corner of your house do the work of connecting any of your devices to the internet, you use one router with multiple beacons spread throughout your living space. Google has redesigned both its router and “Points” to extend their potential coverage by 25 percent. According to Google, the $270 two-pack, which includes one Router and one Point, should be enough to cover a 3,800 square foot home.
The system comes with a ton of usability features and integrations that we’re also seeing in other mesh networking systems like Eero (owned by Amazon), including family controls, speed testing, password sharing, and guest network creation. But Google has gone a step farther and actually made each of the Wifi Points (but not the router) a Google Assistant enabled smart speaker itself. That means the device that ensures you have a strong enough connection to stream the TV in your bedroom can also be used to open Netflix on that TV, provided you’re using a compatible streaming device. If these integrations all work, Nest Wifi might prove to be one of the most important new releases of 2019. It will be available on November 4th.
There’s a new, more affordable Chromebook in town
A Chromebook has always been an enticing alternative option for those uninterested in spending over $1000 for a new MacBook. But up to this point, those Chromebooks have been made by companies like Asus, Acer, and HP. Google’s own Pixelbook, released in 2017, is the same price as an Apple MacBook Air. The company has finally addressed this with the new $650 Pixelbook Go, which comes with 8GB of ram and a full HD display. The laptop has a striking painted metal finish, especially when in the pink colorway (which Google annoyingly calls “not pink”), and a ribbed bottom that makes it easier to grip.
Early impressions of the new computer laud the keyboard, which Google has designed to be quiet and pleasant to type on. This is a Chromebook though, which means it might not be able to do everything you want it to. It’s definitely not the laptop to use for heavy photo or video editing. But if you’re looking for something that’s a capable surfer or to write the next great American novel, you could probably do a lot worse. We plan to test it when it’s available at the end of the month to see for ourselves.
Will the new Pixel Buds kill Airpods?
The first version of Google’s Pixel Buds, Bluetooth headphones that were connected to each other via a braided cords, were an enormous flop. They were riddled with usability issues, including bad touch controls, a weird ear fit, and an awkward carrying case. The new Pixel Buds, announced today, are a total overhaul of the old model. They’re now true wireless, but offer the same access to the Google Assistant that was its predecessor’s brightest spot. The new model have the kind of touch controls we expect of true wireless headphones these days, but also have an adaptive sound software, that will raise or lower the volume whatever you’re listening to based on how loud it is where you are. The headphones charge via USB-C, are sweat and water-resistant (which makes them great for workouts), and have a microphone for taking calls.
Google is making a gaming platform for some reason
I don’t know who is asking for a new gaming platform (the Nintendo Switch is perfect, after all), but Google has made one. Google Stadia is a cloud gaming service that will be available on November 19th. It’s a subscription service that allows you to buy games that you can play on TV via a Chromecast, Google’s Pixelbooks, and Pixel phones. It is extremely unlikely that this is a thing you need.
Originally Appeared on GQ