Google on Tuesday unveiled a new smartphone and home hub that squarely aim at products from market leaders Apple and Amazon.
The company’s new branded smartphone, called “Pixel,” marks a departure from past efforts. Up to now, Google’s Nexus phones were made by a variety of manufacturers that sold them under their brands.
“Google is trying to position itself as a complete supplier rather than simply offering Nexus-branded handsets that were rebatched by another company,” said Jeff Orr, senior practice director for mobile devices at ABI Research.
Google announced Pixel, along with its home entertainment and smart device hub, called “Google Home,” at a launch event at Ghiradelli Square in San Francisco. At the forum, the company emphasized the unity of the ecosystem behind its new hardware offerings.
“That’s more of a challenge to a device leader such as Apple than an announcement of the next generation of Google-branded handsets,” Orr said.
Next Big Innovation
Google needed to go into hardware to address an information explosion, said Vice President for Hardware Rick Osterloh at the launch event.
“These informational changes mean that technology needs to be smart and just work for you. This is why we believe the next big innovation is going to take place at the intersection of hardware and software with AI at the center,” he explained.
“Hardware isn’t a new area for Google, but now we’re taking steps to showcase the very best of Google across a family of devices designed and built by us,” Osterloh added.
Google’s new devices can provide new experiences for users.
“The announcement of Google’s phone comes into a market where we’re seeing growth slow down in the premium segment,” observed Ross Rubin, principal analyst at Reticle Research.
That said, “they’re bringing experiences to the phone way beyond the typical interaction we have on smartphones today,” he said.
In moving from providing an operating system — Android — to offering hardware for sale, Google is emulating another big tech player, noted Bob O’Donnell, chief analyst at Technalysis Research.
“Google is using the strategy Microsoft used with its Surface tablets,” he said. “They’re trying to make a statement with their brand.”
Microsoft isn’t the only big tech player Google is cribbing notes from.
“What Google is doing is trying to show how they can integrate all their software, services and hardware in a unified way — in the same the way Apple does,” O’Donnell said. “It’s definitely a page out of Apple’s book in that regard.”
Google’s Pixel phones come in two models. The chief differences between them are the screen and battery sizes.
The Pixel has a 5-inch AMOLED screen with a resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels (441 pixels per inch), while the Pixel XL has a 5.5-inch AMOLED with a resolution of 2560 x 1440 pixels (534 ppi).
The Pixel has a 2,770 mAh battery, while the Pixel XL’s is 3,450 mAh. Both batteries have a quick-charge feature that gives the phone seven hours of runtime on a 15-minute charge.
Highly Rated Camera
Both Pixel models have f/2.0 12.3 megapixel rear-facing cameras with large pixels — 1.55 microns — and support for 4K video. Their front-facing cameras are 8 MP with an f/2.4 aperture and support for HD video.
The front-facing camera received high marks from testing outfit DxOMark.
“With an overall DxOMark Mobile score of 89, Pixel, the latest Google smartphone, is the highest-rated smartphone camera we have ever tested,” wrote reviewer David Cardinal.
“Its image quality scores are impressive across the board, but it is particularly strong in providing a very high level of detail from its 12.3MP camera, with relatively low levels of noise for every tested lighting condition,” he continued.
“It also provides accurate exposures with very good contrast and white balance, as well as fast autofocus,” Cardinal added.
Pricing for the Pixel models starts at US$649 with 32 GB of memory. Units will be sold exclusively through Verizon, although unlocked versions of the phones will be offered through the online Google Store.
Customers can preorder the Pixel now in the United States, UK, Canada, Australia and Germany.
Pixel users who want to dabble in virtual reality will be able to do so with another new product introduced at the Google event. Daydream is a fabric headset that allows Pixel to be used as a VR screen. It will sell for $79 starting in November.
Google also rolled out a competitor to Amazon’s Echo home hub. Called “Google Home,” the unit is voice-controlled and can play music, communicate with other devices in the home, provide anticipated information, and assist in everyday tasks like creating shopping lists, making dinner reservations and buying concert tickets.
Google Home will sell for $129 — about $50 less than Echo — and it includes six months of the YouTube Red premium service for free. It is available now for preorder at the Google Store, as well as at Best Buy, Walmart and Target.
Despite already owning an Echo, Tirias Research Principal Analyst Kevin Krewell already has preordered a Google Home.
“The search on Echo is no way near as effective as plugging into Google search,” he said. “When it comes to search, there is really no one better than Google at it.”