/ Technology

Are Google’s new devices worth getting excited about?

Today is Google’s big annual consumer hardware launch. I’ll be there with all the latest updates right here on Which? Conversation, but will we see anything groundbreaking from the tech giant?

Autumn is consumer tech launch season as the big players unveil their line-ups for the shopping season: Black Friday, Cyber Monday and of course Christmas. We’ve already seen big launches from Microsoft and Amazon in the past couple of weeks, and today it’s Google’s turn.

The actual event is in New York, and sadly I’m not jetting off to the Big Apple for it, but I will be at the parallel London event in Shoreditch this afternoon.

Although Google does other big events through the year, this is the one where they show off their new kit.

In the past couple of years at this event Google has launched its Google Home devices and Pixel smartphones, and last year it added the Pixelbook, a luxury Chromebook, and its Pixel Buds earphones that come with inbuilt translation abilities.

What can we expect?

Google doesn’t reveal in advance what it’s going to launch, but there are plenty of good informed guesses out there. It’s not sticking my neck out to say we can expect the Pixel 3 phones to be launched, and they’re probably going to feature the notch display that many other phones already have.

We’re also expecting to see a Google Home with a screen, with pundits confidently saying it’s going to be called the Google Home Hub, taking on Amazon’s Echo Show.

There’s talk of a Chrome OS tablet, which I’m particularly interested in seeing as I’m not sure that Chrome OS is really ready for showtime as a tablet device just yet. There could also be a new version of the Pixelbook, and refreshes of both the Chromecast and the Pixel Buds.

Smart TV

I’ve seen speculation about some kind of smart TV kit bundling a Google Home Mini and a Chromecast, which would be an interesting move. Google has made a couple of feints into the content delivery space pretty much owned by Amazon with its Fire Stick and Fire TV ranges, but hasn’t done anything big in that area since the Nexus Player, which it killed off in 2016.

Mind you, it has kept Android updated on the Nexus Player: mine is running last year’s Android Oreo, though that will be its last update – it won’t be getting Android Pie.

Google has also played with putting Android TV directly on to televisions, but that has been a low-key strategy. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a new play for your sitting room from Google today – it’s a bit of a gap in its march to global device domination.

What are you particularly looking forward to seeing? Will you be watching the livestream on Google’s YouTube channel? I’ll be updating this piece in the comments, and I’d love to have you join me. It starts at 4pm.

Comments
Guest
DerekP says:
9 October 2018

I won’t be holding my breath to see what new things Google has produced.
That said, I’ve just acquired my second nice cheap secondhand Chromebook and, so far, I’ve managed to hold onto it for me, me me!

As appliances for easy access to internet based activities and services, I think Chromebooks are hard to beat. I’ve not yet played with one new enough to run Android apps, but I guess that adds useful extra capabilities in way that will be obvious and easy for smartphone users.

The idea of a Chrome OS table sounds interesting – but how would such a device really differ from an Android tablet? From my general experience with tablets, they make great e-readers but, when you need to do a lot of typing, devices with built-in sturdy keyboards win hands-down.

For home media applications, including remedying the short support lives of expensive smart TV’s, I think there is a lot of scope for systems can use an HDTV as a display and provide maintained apps for things like BBC iplayer. Easier to use and more powerful Android and Chrome OS “boxes” or dongle might have something to offer there.

Guest

I’m a fan of Chromebooks too – I’ve got a Pixelbook and tbh I hardly ever fire up my Windows laptop at home now. Android apps are definitely a bit gnarly on Chrome OS: sometimes they work really well and sometimes they just don’t – I don’t use them much as most of what I use a laptop for at home can be done in the browser.

I share your scepticism about a Chrome OS tablet, tbh. The main issue there is that Chrome OS doesn’t (yet) include the Gboard soft keyboard that comes with Android, and the Chrome OS soft keyboard is definitely a bit inferior. And agreed on the smart TV point. Let’s watch this space!

Guest

I’ve just arrived at the Google bash and good grief, it is absolutely dudetastic

Guest

Certainly very few females there, Kate.

Guest

On the upside, we won’t have to queue for the loos 😉

Guest

Looks like Nerd Central.

Guest

Yes, it was definitely an audience of nerds. Quite a lot of journalists, but also sales channel partners and various other folk, many flown in by Google from around Europe.

Guest

Rick Osterloh of Google’s line about wanting to respect users is perhaps a little uncomfortable given yesterday’s breach news https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/oct/08/google-plus-security-breach-wall-street-journal

Guest
DerekP says:
9 October 2018

When a platform like Facebook or YouTube becomes a defacto world standard app, then security leaks stand to compromise vast numbers of users.

In the real world, I think upgrading software or adding more features is always likely to add more bugs and loopholes.

Hence, I think successful companies like Google have an obligation to work hard on security, but even so, consumers should not expect those efforts to provide impregnable defences.

As an individual user, I try to limit the amount of data that I’m sharing via Google and Facebook, but I don’t find this easy to do.

Guest

To be fair, security is a really major focus with all the tech companies now. I saw someone say that a big breach is like a plane crash for an airline: catastrophic. And that’s possibly overstating it, but it’s not a bad metaphor. But yes, I think there will be a reluctance from normal folk like us to share everything with the big tech organisations.

Guest

Why do you think Google+ failed as a social platform Kate?

Guest

Simply because Facebook was really lucky/smart with its timing. Facebook came along as most of us got home broadband, and then really took off when 3G happened and we started getting smartphones. Facebook did it better, and at the right time; Google+ was so obviously a half-baked clone, rushed out to compete with Facebook, and it didn’t do anything better than Facebook.

I wrote a piece about why it’s so hard for new social platforms to succeed a couple of years ago (FT, you’ll probably need to register to read it) https://www.ft.com/content/eefcc49c-6e68-11e4-afe5-00144feabdc0 and I stand by what I say in that: it’s really hard to challenge a big incumbent.

Guest

There was a big appetite for connecting socially online at the time, too. The older generation were loving Friends Reunited while the kids were all on MySpace and Bebo. From what I can remember they were all pretty poor experiences, until Facebook came along with its cleaner interface and easier navigation, plus its ability to tag photos.

Guest

OK, as widely trailed, here come the Pixel 3, the Pixel Slate and the Google Home Hub

https://t.co/nFPuIH8uhY

Guest

And here’s a picture …

Guest

The product manager for Home Hub is going in to a lot of detail about how it’s going to work: reactive to ambient light, recognises different voices, you can turn it to a do not disturb mode.

This is a big play for the space occupied right now by Amazon’s Echo Show and Echo Spot.

There’s also a lot of talk about the deep integration with Nest products and also lots of third-party devices. This a really determined play for the smarthome space.

Guest

I associate the name Home Hub with BT but now we have Google Home Hub and BT have a Smart Hub. Has there been some wrangle over the trade name?

Guest

Everything’s a Hub!!

Guest

OK, here we go with ChromeOS kit (I’m using my Pixelbook for this event, and I think it’s remarkably good).

Guest

They’re now introducing the Pixel Slate. As I’ve said in the main Convo, I’m not sure ChromeOS is ready to be a tablet OS, though it is great as a laptop OS. It does look like a very pretty device: dark blue, high-res.

Guest

They’re talking about the security of ChromeOS, and I had a look at that for a piece in Which? Computing and it is very good: it’s one device where I’d stick my neck out and say you don’t need third-party antivirus.

Now they’re introducing the keyboard, which is a similar form factor to the iPad Pro’s – it forms a cover and a prop for the slate. (I still miss my Pixel C tablet, which had a terrific hardware keyboard cover.)

Guest

Obviously this is aimed squarely at the iPad Pro market, and it’s the same kind of price, too: the slate on its own is going to start at $599 (no UK price given, but I’m guessing it’ll be £599). Keyboard is $199 and the Pen is $99 (seriously, you don’t need the Pen; I never use mine with my Pixelbook.)

Guest

ah, ok, now we’re getting the UK prices: £549, and the keyboard £189.

Guest

Here comes the Pixel 3 … three colours, black, white and a kind of pearly pinky-white. And as usual two sizes, same as the Pixel 2. The XL has, unsurprisingly, the notch that we’re seeing on so many other devices.

I’m not sure this is much of a bump from last year’s Pixel 2, tbh. There’s a partnership announced with the amazing Annie Liebovitz, but this isn’t particularly germane for ordinary folk like you and me.

Guest

They’re enthusing enthusiastically about the HDR mode, but I turned it off on my Pixel 2 XL because it felt heavily overprocessed to me and you don’t have any granular control over it. It takes really nice photos without HDR on.

Guest

Here comes some low-light stuff – it’s called “Night Sight”. Apparently it uses machine learning to perform better in low light. Coming next month to older Pixel phones and shipping with the 3. There’s also a mode that shoots several pics (basically, bracketing) so if someone blinks or whatever you’ll probably have a decent shot without the blink.

And there are some new AR stickers, too, which are quite fun.

Guest

And they’re finally bringing wireless charging to the Pixel 3, with a few smart tricks thrown in, such as being a window to your Nest doorbell, should have such a device.

Guest

And that’s it – thanks for joining me, gang!

Guest

And do let me know what you think – will you be going for any of these devices? I’ll be looking in more detail at probably the Home Hub and possibly the Pixel Slate in the December issue of Which? Computing.

Guest

Well, they’re gradually caching Apple up, anyway. The look and feel of all the devices is remarkably similar – to each other, even. Wonder when we’ll see real innovation?

Guest
DerekP says:
9 October 2018

Given that the basics for decent PC’s were established a long time ago, it is easy to see that significant innovation is hard.

I think Apple have done a great job of securing the premium “more money than sense” segment of the market, but I can see that other suppliers would be attracted by even marginal incursions there.

As folk acquire more and more home computers, it becomes harder and harder for evolutionary products to make headway in the market.

In recent years, tablets seem to have lost out to smart phones, while “real work” mostly still needs devices with decent keyboards.

3D TV seems to have come and gone and cloud based AI is waiting in the wings. But we won’t make much use of cloud based AI unless we grow to trust the companies operating it.

From my point of view, home hubs and IoT devices look like brilliant solutions to nonexistent problems. But perhaps there’s a killer app out there, just waiting to be discovered.

Guest

Grown ups toys now, Derek. I still have notebooks and pencils for some tasks. I like Miele products; they work well and are well built. A feature of a washing machine described by Which?:
The new Miele WCR860 WPS arms owners with a full suite of tech to improve laundry day. You can use your smartphone to set it using Miele’s WiFiConn@ct app. But if manual controls are your preference, you’ll enjoy swiping to set your programs using the new touchscreen on the machine itself. These two features make the Miele feel right up-to-date.

Read more: https://www.which.co.uk/news/2018/10/is-it-worth-splashing-out-for-a-new-miele-washing-machine/ – Which?

As I can’t use my smartphone to load clothes into a washing machine I’m not sure why I’d need an app. I’m sure someone will tell me :-). Our Bosch machine has a rotary knob to set the programme – is that an advance over a touch screen? People seem to use “new features” as an excuse to replace something; smartphones are a good example. Are “new features” always desirable, except for the manufacturer to sell more stuff?

malcosaurus r 🙁

Guest

I think you’re bang on, Derek, and it answers Ian’s question, too: it’s really hard to come up with new products and to be innovative. Both Google and Apple’s strategy is clearly to keep giving you good reasons to stay with their respective ecosystems, and of course the same applies to Amazon.

I like the look of the Home Hub: it’s smaller than I expected and it looks as though Google has thought carefully about its functions. It’s not a glorified tablet; it’s got clearly defined functions. I’m looking forward to getting a review sample to play with

Guest

Kate Bevan says: 9 October 2018

I think you’re bang on, Derek, and it answers Ian’s question, too: it’s really hard to come up with new products and to be innovative. Both Google and Apple’s strategy is clearly to keep giving you good reasons to stay with their respective eco

Ah – the joys of convergence.

Guest
DerekP says:
10 October 2018

“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”

Guest

Here’s the Pixel 3 XL, btw. It’s a bit slimmer and more sleek than my Pixel 2 XL, and of course it’s got the notch, but it feels like a small iteration rather than a big leap forward, as last year’s phones were on the original Pixels.

Guest

And finally, here’s the Pixel Slate. It was locked, annoyingly, so I didn’t get a chance to play with it. The new dark blue colour is very smart, and it’s clearly aimed at the iPad Pro/Surface Pro market segment.

Guest

Notch? What am that for?

These technical discussions are a bit like watching an unfamiliar sport on television. I do wish they would explain the rules – repeatedly for new viewers. Even the Ryder Cup got me baffled by the 3 and 4 and how the 4s worked. I understand bowls, because I play, but anyone watching without that knowledge would get a headache working it out. 🙂

Guest

*chuckle* Thanks, Malcolm, that’s a nice reminder that not everyone is immersed in this stuff as I am!

The notch is to accommodate the various gubbins at the top of the device when the screen is otherwise filling the front of the phone, so the front camera, lasers etc for focus and and facial recognition. It was first seen on the iPhone X last year, when that pretty much did away with bezels around the screen, and it’s being seen on more and more Android phones now too.

Guest

@katebevan, thanks Kate! I’ll explain bowls rules if the opportunity ever arises. 🙂

Guest

I’ll hold you to that 😉

Guest

Big thanks to Kate for the live commenting last night! Some great photos. Amazed at how similar the Pixel 3 looks to the iPhone X.

Guest

Really? 🙂 You’d almost think Google was copying Apple…

Guest

To be fair, all phones look alike these days: they’re all shiny fondleslabs that all do more or less the same thing. It’s a real challenge for the phone manufacturers to differentiate their devices, and they have to offer the things people want, such as a bezel-free device. I’m not sure I want to go back to the Nokia 7600 (I had one to review: it was a weird device). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nokia_7600

Guest

Fondleslabs sounds vaguely Shakespearean, out of Upstart Crow 🙂 . I really don’t mind having a bezel. Our 15 year old TV has one but it’s the picture we watch.

I am catching up with technology with a Samsung 4. In my terms, a terrific picture, but for phone calls my Nokia C1 takes up a lot less room. Funny how miniaturisation produces bigger things.

Guest

“Fondleslabs” was I think coined by someone on The Register, but it’s such a great word. I used it once on the Today programme when I was being interviewed by Evan Davis about something (can’t remember what). Evan hadn’t heard the word before and chortled like a delighted elf.

Guest

I probably have a fondlewafer and a small fondlebrick as well as a fondleslab.

Guest

When watching the presentations I kept thinking that what was missing was Steve Jobs.