After Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft (among others), today it was Google's turn to show off its new hardware for the next 12 months. Leading the way were the new flagship Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL phones, with mobile photography and phone AI once again to the fore.
Like last year, the only real difference between the two 2018 Pixel phones is the size and screen: 5.5 inches at 1,080 x 2,160 resolution for the Pixel 3 display (sans notch) and 6.3 inches at 1,440 x 2,960 for the Pixel 3 XL display (with notch), and both the handsets are once again sporting the familiar Pixel two-tone finish on the back.
Under the hood is a Snapdragon 845 and 4 GB of RAM, and Google says it's improved the audio of the phone to be louder and clearer this year. So far, so par for the course for a 2018 Android flagship, but (as with their predecessors) the Pixel 3 phones hope to stand out with the quality of the shots they can take on the go.
Around the back of both phones is single-sensor 12.2-megapixel camera, with a dual-sensor camera around the front: that enables a new feature called Group Selfie Cam, which can get more of your friends' faces (and the background) in than ever before.
Other new features include Top Shot (AI chooses the best picture from a rapid-fire burst of snaps), Super Res Zoom (AI creates a high-res zoomed-in image based on slight picture variations), Motion Autofocus (AI keeps the object of a video in focus, even while it moves), and Night Sight (AI analyzes the colors of a photo to get even better results in low light).
In other words, better zoom, better focus, better low-light shots and even better photos full stop thanks to the machine learning tricks on board the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL.
As you would expect, Android 9 Pie is on board out of the box. New this year is wireless charging for the Pixel phones, and Google is marking the upgrade with a US$79 Pixel Stand, a charging dock that turns your Pixel 3 handset into something approaching a Google Home smart speaker (with voice command support).
The Pixel 3 starts at US$799 with 64 GB of storage, while the Pixel 3 XL with the same storage will set you back $899 – 128 GB of storage on either phone is $100 more. Three colors are available: black, white, and a very light pink (which Google is calling Not Pink). Pre-orders are open today, with the phones on sale from November 1.
Appearing alongside the Pixel 3 handsets are two other Google devices. First, a Pixel Slate Chrome OS tablet with detachable keyboard that looks every inch a Surface Go rival. It boasts dual front-facing speakers and a high-resolution 12.3-inch screen, suitable for watching videos and movies as well as browsing the web. Like most modern Chromebooks, it can run Android apps too.
There's an official Pixel Slate Keyboard from Google as well, which connects with a snap and gives you a keyboard and trackpad that also doubles as a tablet cover. Google says it's used some of the experience gained with the Pixelbook to produce a clip-on keyboard that's comfortable to type on. Pixel Slate configurations start at $599, with the keyboard a $199 extra, and it's coming "later this year."
Google also unveiled a new Home Hub – a Google Home speaker with a screen, essentially – ready to bring up visual information from Google Maps, Google Search, Google Calendar, YouTube, YouTube Music, and Google Photos (the Google Photos AI even filters out your bad and blurry shots so they don't appear in an automatic slideshow).
If there was any doubt, Google remains serious about hardware. There were no game-changing devices unveiled today, but Google is now competing on more fronts than ever with its first 2-in-1 Chrome OS device and its first smart speaker with a display. Add to that a solid upgrade to its phones, and some best-in-class AI programming behind the scenes, and Google looks well prepared for 2019.
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