Go-go Google gadgets: Tech giant goes big on hardware fused with AI

10 Oct 2018

Pixel 3 XL smartphone. Image: Google

With its new smartphones, tablet computers and more, Google is stepping up its game against Apple.

Even as a privacy storm rages over Google Plus and the company is appealing a massive EU fine over Android, internet giant Google has demonstrated its ambition to be a serious hardware player with new Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL smartphones and a bevy of other gadgets powered by artificial intelligence (AI).

Revealed at a Made by Google event in New York yesterday (9 October), the new Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL are flagship devices that are as much about the internet giant’s prowess at software and AI as they are about polished, attractive devices that will give Apple a run for its money with its rival iPhone XS, XS Max and XR devices.

Even with a notch to give more screen, will they be a notch above the Cupertino rival’s devices? The proof will be in the tasting.

Both devices come with a Snapdragon 845 processor, 4GB of RAM, Bluetooth 5.0, front-facing stereo speakers and the new Titan M security chip.

The Pixel 3 comes with a 5.5in screen and the Pixel 3 XL has a 6.3in screen. Both have 64GB and 128GB storage options.

The era of AI for all

A big game-changer will be AI. The camera on the Pixel 3 comes with a feature called Top Shot that captures alternate shots in HDR Plus to help users ensure they get the best shot. A Super Res Zoom feature uses computational photography techniques usually reserved for astronomy and scientific imagery to provide a sharper zooming experience, and Night Sight lets you take natural-looking shots in dark surroundings without a flash.

Another feature called Group Selfie poses to do away with the selfie stick by enabling 184pc more room in a photo for friends. Google has also added a feature that lets users save photos and videos in their original resolution in Google Photos.

Meanwhile, Google Lens has been built directly into the AI camera so that you just point it at information you want to remember – a URL, a QR code, an email address – and it creates a new contact. It also comes with a feature that helps users to screen phone calls and avoid spam calls. By tapping on Screen Call, users will immediately see a transcript of the caller’s responses so you can decide to pick up or respond with a message, or mark the call as spam and dismiss.

In the US, users will be the first to get access to an experimental new Google Assistant feature powered by Duplex technology to complete real-world tasks over the phone, such as getting the phone to call a restaurant on your behalf. The technology was demonstrated at Google’s I/O conference during the summer by CEO Sundar Pichai. Cities such as New York, Atlanta, Phoenix and the San Francisco Bay Area will be the first to get their hands on the technology later this year.

Picture of Google new stand device for holding smartphones.

The Pixel Stand. Image: Google

Pixel 3 will come with an 18-watt fast charger, which will give the device seven hours of use in 15 minutes of charging. Separate to the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL, Google has also unveiled the Pixel Stand, a new Qi-compliant wireless charger that will be sold separately. Both devices come with glass backs so they can enable wireless charging. The Android 9 Pie devices are also water- and dust-proof to the IP68 standard.

As well as the new smartphones and wireless charger, Google also revealed its 7in Home Hub smart display, which will compete with Amazon’s Echo Show. The Home Hub has all the features of the Google Home and Home Mini but also enables users to watch YouTube videos. Crucially, as the Hub moniker suggests, it is also a hub for all smart home devices and allows homeowners to see door locks, security cameras and thermostats all in one place.

In a move that will up the ante against Apple’s iPad line-up, Google last night also launched the Pixel Slate, a device with a 12.3in display and a resolution of 3,000 x 2,000 pixels and a detachable keyboard. Featuring a fingerprint scanner, USB-C jacks and double front-facing speakers, it is powered by Intel 8th Generation processors.

Revealing Google’s third generation of hardware, Rick Osterloh, the tech giant’s senior-vice president in charge of hardware, said that the key is making AI a natural interface rather than something scientific.

“There’s a clear line from the technology we were working on 20 years ago to the technology we’re developing today – and the big breakthroughs come at the intersection of AI, software and hardware, working together.

“This approach is what makes the Google hardware experience so unique, and it unlocks all kinds of helpful benefits. When we think about artificial intelligence in the context of consumer hardware, it isn’t artificial at all – it’s helping you get real things done, every day. A shorter route to work. A gorgeous vacation photo. A faster email response.”

Pricing and availability

Pixel 3 (5.5in screen) will be €899 (64GB) and €959 (128GB), while the Pixel 3 XL (6.3in screen) is priced at €999 (64GB) and €1,099 (128GB).

Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL are available for pre-order now and will be on sale and in store on 1 November from the Google Store and Vodafone Ireland.

Both sizes come in Just Black and Clearly White, with an additional Not Pink colour available from the Google Store exclusively. Pixel USB-C earbuds come included with all models.

The Pixel Stand will be on sale for €79 in Clearly White and will be available on the Google Store only.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years