Google launches Pixel 3a and Nest Hub Max
The full power of Android on a mid-range Pixel handset
3Google’s I/O 2019 developer conference kicks off with announcements for the latest Pixel 3a and 3a XL smartphones and the latest version of the Google’s smart display for the home, which now goes under the branding of Google Nest Hub Max.The latest additions to the Pixel range of smartphones had been heavily leaked and discussed well before their official launch at Google’s annual I/O conference but their unveiling came with the trumpeted goal of making the benefits of Google’s software developments available to all. Thus, the 3a and 3a XL come in at £399 and £469 respectively, which is roughly half the price of the older siblings launched a mere seven months ago.
In a pointed comment about the cost of competitors’ high-end models, Google drew attention to their claims that they can achieve in software much of what their rivals need hardware to do. This plays to search giant’s strengths and keeps the costs lower, enabling greater access to the latest technology developments.
They will also be aware that the smartphone market is slowing as it becomes clogged with flagship handsets from the likes of Samsung, Apple and Huawei, so offering a more reasonably priced Pixel with all the software benefits of the more expensive Pixel handsets may help the latest versions stand out from the crowd.
The latest Pixels still have premium elements in place such as an OLED screen, Bluetooth 5.0, the lauded Night Sight camera mode for low light photography and a re-introduced 3.5mm headphone jack. However, in order to keep costs down there are some compromises such as a single front camera, lack of wireless charging, a plastic body (that keeps the distinctive two tone markings) and using Qualcomm's mid-range Snapdragon 670 processor rather than the more powerful 845 chip. The 3a XL also has a slightly smaller screen than the 3 XL at 6-inches rather than 6.3-inches.
Battery life has been enhanced via machine learning to enable up to 30 hours use and a 15 minute charge using the included 18W charger will give 7 hours of use. As part of the Pixel range, the new models will benefit from free storage of all photos in Google Photos and 3 years of included Android and security updates will be available.
Google’s other hardware announcement came in the form of a rebranded smart home display. Now sporting the Nest name and coming with a larger 10-inch touchscreen display, the Nest Hub Max is intended as a central information, communication and entertainment hub. The smaller version has been rebranded as the Nest Home Hub and will now be discounted from $149 to $129 and expanded to 12 new markets.
Probably the most significant element of the Nest Hub Max is the introduction of a front-facing camera. It can be used as an interior security camera but also features Face Match which enables the device to recognise a user, automatically bringing up the personalised data, settings and schedule for that particular user. Along with Voice Match, this allows the Nest Hub Max to be used in a communal area with multiple users who all have different settings and requirements.
The camera also supports video calling via Google Duo, which keeps the speaker centred in the screen and is compatible with any iOS, Android or PC using the Chrome browser.
Addressing security concerns, Google state that the camera will not record or stream anything unless specifically instructed to do so and staff at Google do not have access to your footage. A green light indicates when the camera is functioning and usefully, there’s a large hardware switch on the rear of the display that disconnects the camera and microphone.
The Nest Hub Max brings all compatible devices together in a single dashboard so that Nest security cameras, thermostats and lights can all be accessed and controlled.
It can also be used as a digital photo frame, stream YouTube LiveTV and play music via its powerful rear mounted woofer. When the music volume gets too loud and voice commands become inaudible, a simple gesture will pause the music.
Android 10 (called Q) will be with us soon and the company explained some of the enhancements to the software. The search engine will be able to return a full array of information using Full Coverage. This provides deeper analysis of the subject matter including background information about how a news story has developed.
Using Augmented Reality, an enquiry into a subject can project an AR version into your environment (via your smartphone’s screen) so there’s a greater appreciation of the detail and scale of an object.
Google Assistant will become up to 10x faster due to a reduction in the size of the machine learning models from 100 GB to 0.5 GB. This means that rather than sending information up to the cloud to be analysed, the model can be downloaded to the phone and the data crunched on the handset. This means faster processing and greater privacy since none of the user information is sent up to the cloud. This Next Generation Assistant will be coming to Android later in the year.
Excitingly, Google Maps will finally get an update for walking mode whereby Augmented Reality can overlay directions onto the phone’s screen to give real-time information about a journey as you walk through your environment.
Other features included in Android Q are native support for 5G and special feature sets to take advantage of the opportunities afforded by the upcoming smartphones with folding screens.
The Pixel 3a and 3a XL are available now in 13 markets including the UK and will come in three colours, Just Black, Clearly White, Purple-ish.
The Nest Hub Max will be available for $229 later in the summer.
Android Q will be rolled out later in the year, though the Beta 3 version is available for OEM devices that are part of the beta programme.
Source: Google I/O 2019, www.bbc.co.uk
Image Source: bbc.co.uk, google, dailymail.co.uk
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