Thursday, 05 October 2017 06:18

Google Pixel 2 seeks to smash iPhone, new hardware seeks to dominate Featured


Google's new Pixel 2 seeks to be the most powerful iPhone challenger with the most advanced blend of software, hardware and AI, which are also seen in Google's new speakers, live translation headphones, new notebook tablet, camera and more!

Moving from a mobile-first world to an AI-first world, Google is blending artificial intelligence, machine learning, software and hardware in its new smartphones, notebook/tablet, earbuds, speakers, stylus and camera, and is set to shake up the world of technology as we see it.

Sadly, not all the new tech is coming to Australia just yet, with Google's Pixelbook, Pixelbook Pen, Google Clips camera and Google Home Max units not arriving here until sometime in 2018, but there's still plenty Australians can buy.

The new Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL smartphones are available to pre-order in Australia, and already there's a waitlist to get certain models and that's at 5.09am as I type.

The 5-inch Pixel 2 with 64GB is "out of stock" but sells for A$1079.

The 6-inch Pixel 2 XL with 64GB is also "out of stock" and is an additional $320, or $1399.

Going to the 128GB model means an extra A$150 for either sized model.

The tech specs are what you'd expect from a 2017 flagship, including: IP67 water-resistant body, Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor, fast charge that gives "up to 7 hours of battery" with just 15 minutes of charging, a 12.2 megapixel rear camera that offers "portrait mode" without a second camera thanks to machine learning claimed as the fastest camera, 8 megapixel camera on the front, also able to offer portrait mode, 5-inch AMOLED Full HD 16:9 screen on the Pixel 2, a pOLED 18:9 Quad HD screen on the Pixel 2 XL, both with Always-on Display, Security updates "for up to 3 years", Android 8.0, 4GB RAM, 64GB or 128GB, Bluetooth 5.0, Wi-Fi 2.4Ghz, USB-C 3.1 Gen 1 and DayDream View compatibility.

Google made a pointed reference to Apple as well when it noted that the same features were available on both phones, so you could choose the size that suited you best, rather than being forced to get one over the other due to feature exclusivity.

Google Assistant has been upgraded as you can imagine, with Pixel 2s also getting Google Lens, which can intelligently analyse what you're seeing and do things like ring phone numbers you can see, tell you about the album cover you're looking at, send am email and much, much more.

Google announced that DxOMark had given Pixel 2 and 2 XL's cameras a 98 rating, up from 89 last year and beating the 92 rating for the iPhone 8 and 94 rating for the iPhone 8 Plus.

DxOMark has obviously been testing Google's new phones for a while, and knew that its rating for Pixel 2 would be higher than the new iPhones, so John Gruber of Daring Fireball fame questioning the validity of what can be subjective ratings is short and sweet, but is an interesting perspective nevertheless. 

That said, the video that Google had a photographer and filmmaker put together, using footage it said was completely untouched and only from Pixel 2 devices, looked extremely impressive and colourful no doubt user and professional reviews will be coming soon to confirm it all.

A replay of Google's live stream is not yet available as I type, which seems strange you'd think Google would make the reply available as quickly as possible, but presumably it will go live later today.

There are others who have created their own live streams of the event, so if you want to watch them, here's one that lets you see the event in full.

You can watch dozens of videos posted since the keynote ended showcasing the new products Google has launched at this YouTube address, and below that is Google's trailer for all its products.

While the new phones are available to buy now, with various products not coming here until next year, there's also the reality of online shopping and shipping services that allow you to buy whatever you want from the US and ship it to you wherever you are in the world, thus getting around artificial restrictions as you desire.

Google isn't launching its rather impressive looking Google Pixelbook (from US$999 with Core i5 or i7 processors, up to 16GB RAM and up to 512GB SSD at obviously higher prices), complete with optional Pixelbook stylus (US$99) in Australia as yet, but at 10mm thin and 1kg in weight, with a Chrome OS that can run Google Play Android apps, a touch screen, 10 hours battery life and more, this could finally be the blend of Chromebook and Android phone, with built-in Google Assistant, that will truly become popular.

The Pixelbook link is here but unless you are accessing the page via a VPN set to the US, you'll simply be taken to the Australian Google Store home page, which doesn't yet list the device.

There's also a Google Clips camera that is like a thin GoPro camera, but can automatically take candid photos of you, your kids, your pets and other scenarios so you can have great motion-based photos (ultra short video photos like Apple's Live Photos) and not have to be the photographer that isn't in any of your photos. It will retail for US$249 and is "coming soon", but not in Australia yet.

Google's Pixel Buds are wireless headphones that are connected with a cable — so not separate like Apple AirPods or Jaybird Run — but when connected with your Pixel 2 phone, can operate like Star Trek Universal Translators.

We saw an amazing demo of English being translated into Swedish and heard in headphones, and a Swedish speaker speaking in Swedish, with those words instantly translated into English, and then vice versa, for a conversation.

The demo was fantastic, but whether it will work as smoothly in real life is yet to be seen. Pixel Buds come with a case which delivers 24 hours of recharging, they have five hours of battery life, and the right side bud can be tapped to stop and start music, and presumably answer and hang up on calls. Swipe left or right to change volume, and tap and hold to bring up Google Assistant.

You can also hear things like notifications and messages read to you, and you don't have to bring out your phone – so again, this is like Siri and AirPods, but naturally the Universal Translator style feature is a Google exclusive.

They'll be available for US $159 and are "available for pre-order today." The Australian price is A$249, and there's also already a 'waitlist.'

The Google Home Mini is a very pleasing $79 in Australia (US$49) and does all that Google Home can do, but in a smaller size at a cheaper price.

The Google Home Max is 20 times louder than the original Google Home, and has an AUX port so you can plug in a turntable, for example, but is also Cast compatible and has Bluetooth 5.0, as well as full Google Assistant capability and more.

The Max is very obviously Google's answer to Apple's HomePod, and can dynamically adjust its sound, uses machine learning to figure out the best sound as quickly as possible - if you move the Max, it re-adjusts itself "in seconds".

US $399, it doesn't have a launch date for Australia yet, so isn't viewable on the Australian Google Play store, but if you use a VPN, you can see it at Google's Store – which changes dynamically depending on the country you're viewing it from. 

A newer, better version of the Google DayDream View VR headset is also available for A$149, with a wider field of view and other great features.

Clearly, Google has absolutely gone all out in a technological attack against Apple, Microsoft, Samsung, and all its OEM partners in an attempt to convert as many people to its products as possible.

The keynote and demos were very impressive, but you do have to wonder about Big Brother in all of this, despite Google saying it took privacy and security seriously. With so much artificial intelligence and machine learning, Google wants to know every single possible thing about you that it can, to "serve you better".

While this one day might leave us merely sitting "with folded hands" (look this sci-fi classic up!), one interesting statement was that Google's Home speakers — which Google wants you to place around your home — can hear your voice and commands even when music is blasting at loud levels.

Obviously it's only supposed to listen when you issue a command, but in dystopian Big Brother nightmares, turning up the volume as you see in so many spy movies won't be enough to stop Google Home from hearing what you're saying; it is specifically designed to beam from and hear you!

That said, the advantages are obvious, and there's lots of awesome features to make you want Google Home speakers in your home, including new modes specifically designed for kids to learn, play and be entertained - without screens in their hands!

You can broadcast a message to all the Google Home speakers in your house, to tell the kids "we're leaving soon for school", or to broadcast a message to get the table ready because you're in the car with the pizzas and nearly at home.

How Apple will introduce similar features without overt privacy worries is yet to be seen, but Google has certainly thrown down the gauntlet, and has even introduced the Star Trek Universal Translator!

Google's new products should genuinely be the most popular and desired #madebyGoogle products ever, and this puts the entire industry on notice.

It makes me wonder just what's in store for this time next year, but our science fiction futures are fast becoming science fact faster than ever!

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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

One of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.

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