Google’s fall hardware events are typically more understated than some of its competitors, lacking the theatrics of Samsung events, the iHype of Apple launches, and the rapid-fire deluge of Amazon announcements. And this year, that was for good reason; we’re in the middle of a pandemic, and Google said it wanted to make its product launch event as efficient as possible so people could get on with their lives.
Still, Google’s influence over our daily lives is massive, even if it doesn’t have the same hardware pedigree that Apple does. So any product launch event from the company is worth paying close attention to, particularly when it comes to its Pixel phone line—often one of WIRED’s top-rated Android phones—and a smart speaker system that is at the heart of a lawsuit over wireless audio patents. Here’s what’s new from Google today.
Pixel 4A 5G and Pixel 5
There are two new Pixels, but things are different this time around. There’s no usual Pixel 5 and Pixel 5 XL, instead, there’s the Pixel 4A 5G and the Pixel 5. The former is the larger variant of the Pixel 4A that came this summer, except it shares some similarities with the new Pixel 5. They both have the same camera systems—a 12-megapixel (MP) main shooter paired with a 16-MP ultrawide, and an 8-MP selfie cam. Both are also powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 765G, which is what enables 5G connectivity. It’s the new cellular network standard following 4G LTE, though coverage is inaccessible for most people in the US.
As the Pixel 5 does not have the high-end Snapdragon 865 chipset inside other flagship phones, its cheaper than the launch price of last year’s Pixel 4 at $699. It does not have the Soli radar chip either, which is what enabled secure Face ID-like authentication on its predecessor. That’s why Google put a fingerprint sensor on the back of both phones. The Pixel 5 is made of 100 percent recycled aluminum and has the usual perks like 128-gigabytes of storage, an OLED screen, a smooth 90-Hz screen refresh rate, wireless charging, reverse wireless charging, as well as IP68 water resistance. It’s up for preorder today (Best Buy) and is launching on October 15.
Chromecast With Google TV
Google’s new Chromecast is a step-up from its previous offerings, with built-in Google TV (Android TV is going back to its original, decade-old name) and a remote. The remote itself is a first for a Chromecast; it has volume and power control, plus dedicated video app buttons (like a Netflix button). It also features a Google Assistant button so you can use voice control to queue up videos or recite lengthy passwords. The Chromecast itself supports up to 4K HDR video and Dolby Vision. It goes on sale today (Best Buy) for $50—undercutting the cost of an Apple TV, but not quite as cheap as some of the streaming video sticks from Amazon or Roku.
Google TV is an interesting addition. While Android is still powering the underlying experience, this new interface means you’ll see Googly recommendations for what to watch (and undoubtedly an emphasis on YouTube). This new user interface will also be available on smart TVs, though Google hasn’t yet shared exactly which TV models will get it.
One of the most exciting additions to the Mountain View company’s new lineup is the new Nest Audio. This $100 smart speaker comes in five colors and boasts 75 percent more volume than the original Google Home that debuted in 2016, competing with Amazon’s standard-size Echo speaker. The cute pillow-shaped speaker has a few exciting things going for it, notably being made of 70 percent recycled plastic.
It will even work great for multiroom sound if you get more than one. It’s also streaming service agnostic. It works with Spotify, Pandora, Google’s own YouTube Music, and many other popular services (though we’re not yet sure about Apple Music). We’ve yet to get ears-on time, but past Google smart speakers have always sounded impressive for their size and cost. Amy Winehouse producer Mark Ronson seemed to be excited about the quality of his own music in Google’s video demo. It’s available for preorder now (Best Buy) and ships October 15.
What Google Didn’t Announce
Google did its best to add pizazz (and a fair amount of music and celebrities) to today’s product launch event, but there were also a few notable omissions. Google didn’t reveal any kind of new wearable technology, something that would compete directly with Apple Watch. (Google announced it would acquire Fitbit almost a year ago now, but the deal hasn’t yet been approved by regulators.) One of the technologies Google made a big deal about during last year’s Pixel launch, Motion Sense—powered by its Project Soli radar chip—was conspicuously absent from this year’s Pixel announcement. There was also zero mention of Google’s ChromeOS-powered Pixelbook laptops and 2-in-1s.
And, while Google Assistant was certainly present across the entire product line—you can use it to pull up TV shows on Google TV, search for music on Nest Audio, stay on hold for you when you’re calling customer service numbers, and block spam calls on Pixel phones—the event was light on major updates to Google’s AI. Most significant software updates are announced in the spring, during developer conference season, although this year that event was canceled outright due to the pandemic. Still, you can be fairly sure Google’s Assistant is constantly evolving and being updated; all the better to track you with, my dear.
Lauren Goode, Julian Chokkattu, Parker Hall, and Medea Giordano contributed to this report.
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