Google’s October Hardware Event


If you follow Android at all, you’ve probably heard at least a little bit about Google’s hardware event that happened yesterday.

Here’s what Google announced.

Devices

Google announced three main devices yesterday, the Pixel 3 phones, the Pixel Slate tablet, and the Google Home Hub. There were also some accessories mentioned for the Pixel 3 and Slate, and a new Chromecast was released, but not mentioned at all on stage.

Depending on what you were looking for (and what you were expecting) these devices may or may not be interesting. Certainly, there were lots of leaks of almost everything, and so there weren’t really any surprises today.

If you’re not familiar with what Google had in store today, here’s a brief look at what you can expect in the coming weeks (and months).

Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL

The Pixel 3 and it’s larger cousin, the 3 XL, have been known about for quite a while, and most of the details are not a surprise.

The Pixel 3 looks similar to the Pixel 2, with moderate top and bottom bezels. The Pixel 3 XL, however, is quite striking, with a prominent notch at the top of the phone and a normal bezel at the bottom. Lots of phone with notches at the top do away (either mostly or totally) with the bottom bezel. The notch at the top of the iPhone X (and XS, XS Max, and XR) is for the complicated True Depth camera that allows for facial recognition. This notch seems to simply supply space for the front camera, speaker, and ambient light sensor, and it’s unclear why Google decided to make this notch so big (while other Android phones with notches can be more subtle).

Both phones also now have glass backs instead of metal. While this does make them more fragile and susceptible to breakage if/when dropped, it also allows Google to add wireless charging. Certain Google Android phones have had wireless charging, so while the Pixel 1 and 2 broke from that tradition, it’s nice to see that it returns. There’s also an accessory, the Pixel Stand, which is a wireless charger that also puts the Pixel into “ambient mode” that allows the phone to show certain information in a subtle manner while it’s on the charger.

Google also introduced a feature called Call Screen, which allows Google Assistant to answer calls and ask who’s calling and why. These answers are then transcribed on the screen in real-time. This seems like an awesome feature with the increasingly-common spam calls. This feature will start on the Pixel 3, and it will be released to other Pixel phones in the future.

Interestingly, the Pixel 3 and 3 XL both have the same single camera system, but with upgraded software. Google has been big into computational photography, and the excellent results that the Pixel 2 have gotten (despite also having a single camera) have shown the value of good software and a decent camera module. The Pixel 3 camera will feature Top Shot, which picks the best photo in a burst of photos, and Super Res Zoom, which uses AI and multiple photos to improve the quality of digitally zoomed-in shots.

The Pixel 3 is also priced a bit higher than last year, starting at $799 for the standard model and $899 for the XL. Preorders are available now.

Although it will be interesting to see how the reviews are, right now this seems priced quite high compared to last year’s Pixel 2 (considering the small number of hardware changes and improvements vs. software improvements.

Pixel Slate Tablet

It’s long been speculated (even by me) that Google is killing Android tablets. The experience of Android apps has been much better on ChromeOS than on Android tablets for quite a while.

So that’s what the Pixel Slate, a tablet in the style of a Microsoft Surface Pro or iPad Pro, but running ChromeOS is both interesting and totally expected.

The Slate has many of the ChromeOS/Android features that I like about my Samsung Chromebook Pro, such as a full desktop browser, Android apps that aren’t tablet-optimized can run in small windows and optimized apps can be resized like standard windows. This Chromebook tablet (that is a clumsy description) also can run Linux apps and features the same camera app and computational photography abilities as Google’s Pixel phones.

The Pixel Slate features a fingerprint reader, allowing secure access without needing to type in a long password. It also has two optional accessories; a keyboard with a trackpad (and round keys) and a pen. The keyboard will set you back $199, while the pen is $99. Unlike the infamous Pixel C, the Pixel Slate uses a physical pogo connection for the keyboard/trackpad, which should be more reliable than Bluetooth.

Also, for some reason, the Pixel Slate has no headphone jack. And while Bluetooth can be touchy on any device, ChromeOS has some well-known (and long-lasting) Bluetooth issues.

The Pixel Slate starts at $599 for a Celeron processor, 4GB of RAM, and 32GB of storage, and goes up to $1599, for an 8th-generation Core i7 with 16GB of RAM and 256GB of storage. The Pixel Slate will go on sale later in October.

Although I’m always glad to see a new ChromeOS, the Pixel Slate seems very expensive. The slowest Pixel Slate (plus keyboard and pen) is going to be around $900, several hundred dollars more expensive than my Samsung Chromebook Pro, the HP Chromebook X2, or even Google’s own Pixel Chromebook. A high-end Pixel Slate, plus keyboard and pen is going to be approaching $2,000 – high-end laptop territory.

Google Home Hub

The Home Hub is Google’s answer to Lenovo’s Smart Display 10, which featured Google capable Assistant and a screen for easier interaction and viewing of content.

The Google Home Hub uses the same Google Assistant found in all Google Assistant products, from the Home Minis to the Home Maxx, but adds a screen. This display can add quite a bit of usefulness to the Google Assistant, allowing it to show weather, directions, Youtube videos, recipes, calendar events, photos, and more. The Home Hub will also have a “Home View”, which provides a screen that allows access to many different IOT devices that can be controlled by Google Assistant in one place. This could be a great central controller for some complex IOT setups.

The Home Hub does not have a camera, though. Google said that this is to allow the Home Hub to be set up in private spaces (like bedrooms) without privacy concerns. This does mean that Duo video calls (which you can do on Lenovo’s Smart Display 10) aren’t available, however.

The Home Hub will cost $149, and it’ll be out later this year.

What Was Missing

There were some interesting leaks and potential devices that didn’t show up at Google’s event at all.

Google’s new Chromecast is available. This upgraded version adds support for streaming at 60 fps (at 1080p), but not 4K. This new Chromecast will also feature Chromecast Audio functionality (coming later in 2018). Everything else about the Chromecast (HDMI, 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Micro-USB for power) is the same.

There was also no mention of new Pixel Buds. Both the Pixel 3 and the Pixel Slate lack a headphone jack. This means that they music use USB headphones (which are hard to find and a bit dreadful) or Bluetooth headphones. Google’s Pixel Buds were the hardware equivalent of Google+ (more on that in a bit!) and it’s a bit surprising that Google didn’t even try to upgrade them. So there’s still no good first party headphone solution from Google.

There was also no mention of a Google/Pixel Android Wear watch. Since the Android Wear ecosystem has been a bit lacking lately, this isn’t the best sign for the longevity of Android Wear.

Google+ STILL EXISTS (and was hacked)

As you might have heard, Google+ had a significant security issue involving the potential loss of data for the past 3 years. More troubling, though, is that Google consciously decided not to report the issue to the public.

The leak was from 2015 to March 2018. A flaw in API used by developers that interacted with G+ accounts was used to access the private information of up to 500,000 users.

Also, Google+ still has at least 500,000 users.

The hack made it possible for developers to view profile information not marked as public, including full names, email addresses, birth dates, gender, profile photos, places lived, occupation, and relationship status. This leak doesn’t include G+ posts, messages, other Google account info, phone numbers or G suite content.

Because of this leak (and also maybe because the average login time for G+ users is 5 seconds) Google said that Google+ will be retired from consumers over the next 10 months. Start planning now. I guess.


About Colin Dorman

Colin is a freelance horn player and teacher, as well as a fan of tech of all sorts, aviation, and increasingly complex flight simulators. He also enjoys beer, bourbon and fitness - but not at the same time. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, as well as right here at ColinDorman.com!