Looking to finally enter the smartphone hardware business, Google is going after a familiar foe: Apple. The maker of the Android mobile operating system unveiled new smartphones on Wednesday, the Pixel and a larger Pixel XL, that compete head on with the iPhone.
However, Kiwis might have to wait a while to get the phones as New Zealand is not on a list of countries getting the phones next month.
No New Zealand prices are available, but Kiwis can expect to pay about $1000 for the smallest option.
The Pixel phones feature thin aluminum and glass frames that come in black, silver, or blue (a limited edition for the US).
The smaller model, which starts at US$649 (NZ$900) for 32GB of storage, features a 5-inch screen, while the bigger model, priced at US$769 (NZ$1070), has a 5.5-inch screen to match the iPhone 7 Plus.
A 128GB storage option is also available, with the larger device topping out at US$869 (NZ$1200) – also in line with the equivalent iPhone 7 Plus.
The models feature high-resolution displays that Google said are sharper than the iPhones’, along with 12MP rear cameras, 8MP front cameras, and Qualcomm’s Snapdragon processors. The phones are the first to run Google’s new Siri-like digital Assistant and include new features for editing photos. The Pixel phones are the first conceptualised, designed, engineered and tested in-house by Google. Besides similar functionality and pricing, Google is going right after Apple customers with a new option to automatically transfer data such as contacts and photos from an iPhone to the Pixel when it’s first switched on.
Google included a physical adaptor in the box that plugs the new devices into iPhones to conduct the process.
Apple added a similar feature to the iPhone last year, allowing users to port their information over from Android gadgets.
The Pixel phones run a new version of Android, called Nougat 7.1, and have a user interface customised by Google.
The home screen includes a translucent launcher that reveals circular icons as it gradually blurs the background wallpaper when users swipe up from the bottom.
There’s also a shortcut to summon technical support and a digital home button to wake up Google’s digital Assistant.
The Android update will be available for other Android partners, but getting the new features will be dependent on support from those other phone manufacturers.
The update includes a mechanism that adjusts the screen’s lighting based on time of day, and support for a Daydream virtual reality headset that Google also debuted on Wednesday.
The Pixel phones will be available in the US, UK, Australia, Canada, and Germany this month.
Like the Pixel phones, the Home device uses the digital Google Assistant service, a voice-activated personal butler that can search the internet, play music or perform other useful tasks.
Google said the Home device will sell for roughly US$130 (NZ$180)online.
Along with answering questions and playing music, the device can be used to control streaming video through Google’s Chromecast device, at voice command.
Google is updating its Chromecast video-streaming device for watching Netflix and other online video on big screens.
The new device, Chromecast Ultra, will support a higher-resolution format called 4K. Ultra will cost about US$70 (NZ$100).
Chromecast’s low price has won over a lot of households. But you need a companion phone to play, pause and fast forward video, disrupting email, Facebook and other tasks you might want to do while watching TV.
Google is hoping the new Pixel phones and gadgets will be distinguished by their use of its software.
A central element of all the new gadgets is the Google Assistant, which uses artificial intelligence to deliver what chief executive Sundar Pichai described as “a personal Google for each and every user”.
Pichai said the company’s goal is to let customers interact “naturally and seamlessly” with artificial intelligence through devices like the Home device and their smartphone.
Still, while Google showed its new Assistant performing a variety of impressive tasks, analyst Patrick Moorhead of Moor Insights and Strategy cautioned that similar services, which include Apple’s Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana, don’t always live up to their early promises.
On the other hand, Moorhead said that Google was smart to emphasise the performance of the new smartphone cameras, since “consumers care about this a lot”.
But he said other features in the new phones didn’t seem that much different from what Samsung and Apple have offered in their latest devices
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