On October 4, Google took to the stage for millions of watchers to announce some new and upcoming changes to their brand. Known for their superior search engine and Android operating system, Google showed us that software isn’t all they can do.
As a software company, Google has pioneered well within their market, but when looking at the hardware side of things, Google hasn’t had great success. A software company that goes out to manufacturer hardware can sometimes be a challenge.
Today, Google isn’t a stranger to the hardware market, but their previous attempts to enter it have been a slow progression. The Google Nexus TV was supposed to be the next generation of smart TVs, until TV manufacturers started to actually make smart TVs. With that as a failure, Google swapped over to the Chromecast, a device that could stream your smartphone to your TV, and this has now sold millions of units.
Of course, we cannot forget about the Nexus smartphone, a phone that was meant for the IT user who wanted a stock version of Android as well as a reasonable price. However, as previous numbers have shown, Google market share for the Nexus has diminished with Samsung and Apple taking over global control.
With another attempt, Google is entering the consumer hardware market once more, but this time they announced some new and interesting products.
All of the following products were announced at the Google I/O 2016 and this is just a brief overview of what went on at the show. Additionally, I will be sharing my thoughts about each one.
Beginning with the biggest news of them all, a new Google smartphone has arisen. Known as the Google Pixel, this new phone kills off the previous Nexus branding in favor of a revamped model.
“Pixel”, it’s just a well suited name for a smartphone. Techies will find the name to be clever as you will relate the name to a pixel on a display and non-techies will find that the name is subtle. “I have a Galaxy.” “I have an iPhone.” “I have a Pixel.” The name flows well when telling others what kind of phone you have.
The smartphone comes with all of the bells and whistles of a traditional smartphone, but nothing that is mind blowing. In fact, many other reviewers of the phone are a little disappointed as Google is charging $650 for this phone, but it lacks waterproofing, a high resolution screen, image stabilization, and other standard Android features.
For the design, it’s an either you love it or hate it design. I personally am not a fan of the iPhone 3GS type body, different textured backing and similarity to the iPhone. Design cues from LG were closely copied, like placing the fingerprint reader on the rear, and the bottom looks an awful lot like an iPhone.
Google does not manufacture their smartphone, instead it is contracted out to other smartphone brands like Samsung, LG, and HTC. This time around, HTC won the contract and I was personally disappointed to hear that they would manufacture this phone.
While they are a smartphone manufacturer, HTC has struggled to get a foot hold in the smartphone market. While HTC phones are nice, Samsung or LG could have made the Pixel better, in my opinion. At least HTC added in a headphone jack.
Being a Google branded phone, users of this phone will receive the latest version of Android before anybody else. Software updates, security patches, and a stock version of Android are all included with the Pixel.
Also included is Google Drive storage to hold all of your videos and pictures rather than saving them onto the phone.
By rebranding the Nexus smartphone, I have high hopes for Google. If they can grab the attention of smartphone buyers, it will force great competition between other companies like Samsung, LG, and HTC.
It isn’t wallet-friendly and the smartphone internals are only average, so I hope that Google’s second revision of this phone brings us a new flagship device.
Up next is the newly created Google WiFi. For those unfamiliar with it, Google offers a wireless carrier service for Android users. Unlike AT&T or Verizon, Google’s wireless carrier connects your phone to the internet in a unique way. The phone finds open and free public wireless hotspots which it then connects to and opens a VPN connection to Google for secure network traffic. T-Mobile’s 4G network covers the gaps.
This type of carrier network is special since you don’t have to pay in overages ?? of data. However, unless you live in the city, the service isn’t much use to you. Also, there is another place that Google doesn’t have great control of, your home.
Known as eero, I recently reviewed one of the greatest home network solutions that adds multiple hotspots around your phone to provide a network mesh. As I discussed in the review, this is far superior [S]than[/S]to a router as it can cover a larger range and your devices have a strong signal no matter where they are placed.
Google must have taken great interest in this small company as their latest Google WiFi is an exact copy of this mesh network.
You are provided with access points which are then placed around your home. An application is used to setup the network and after a few minutes you are all set. The network manages itself and takes care of all of the technical work. This will sound very familiar if you read my eero review.
There is something you have to remember before you go out and purchase this Google WiFi. Unless stated in their terms, I would be scared that Google would data mine my network for information about me.
Google does not make their billions of dollars per year because of their hardware, their software, or their free services. Google’s money maker is collecting and selling your information. Adwords is Google’s largest profit center as they can market anything to anybody at any time using any medium.
So with a Google WiFi in my home, Google would have the great opportunity to collect all of my home network traffic. Where I am going, what am I doing, how much time I spend there, what I click, etc. It’s too much of a risk for the consumer.
The system may be great and it may be fully functional, but unless Google clearly states in their legal terms that no data would be collected, shared, or sold, I could not recommend a system like this from Google.
Continuing on, Google is yet again taking on another competitor in this round of new hardware releases.
If you want a personal assistant for your home, there aren’t a lot of options. Amazon Alexa is one of the most popular as of now as she can control smart home devices, play music, tell you information, and perform actions like setting an alarm.
Dubbed as the Google Home, this is a small device that practically does the same as Amazon Alexa. Google Home can tell you information, perform certain tasks, and there’s even a large speaker in the base of the unit to play some tunes.
There isn’t much information about this new Google Home device, but the new Google assistant is clever, smart, and helpful. Plus, the artificial voice is unbelievably human like. My concerns about the Google WiFi extend to this product here, but at least the Google Home will only record what I tell it to.
I don’t have a personal assistant device and I don’t plan on getting one, but it would be neat to have something like this in the kitchen and asking it how to cook, set a timer, or even play some music.
Products like this are what futuristic shows have hyped for years. It’s a smart home that can listen to your command and perform its task. Smart lightbulbs can be turned on, music can be played throughout the home, smart appliances can be set to run, and with smart cars becoming a thing, you may be able to warm up your engine just by asking Google to ready the car.
Most of us know of the Google Chromecast. It’s a device that connects to any HDMI enabled TV and allows you to stream your smartphone to the TV.
Want to watch a movie from your phone? Stream it to your TV. Have family over and want everybody to see the kids’ photos? Stream it to the TV. It’s a clever little device that doesn’t cost a whole lot.
Google hit the nail on the head with the Chromecast as it’s simple, has a pleasant design, and works quite well.
As with the Nexus changing to the Pixel, the Chromecast now has a sister product called the Chromecast Ultra.
While tiny, this new Ultra variant is a puck shaped unit with a flexible HDMI port on the end of it. There is a magnetic base, but with most TVs being plastic, the new Ultra may be hard to mount behind the TV.
Features of the new Ultra are 4K ready content, improved colors, and faster speeds. Power from a USB port will still be required.
Personally, I find this new Ultra version to be a mystery. It would have been nice if Google incorporated these new features into the original Chromecast or even offered a slightly different design, not changing the whole design entirely.
Finally, with the virtual reality space market growing dramatically, Google has now entered this market too.
They call it the Google Daydream view, a VR headset that is made for comfort and daydreaming activities. This is not an HTC Vive or Oculus rift, but closely similar to the HooToo VR headset I reviewed not too long ago.
This Daydream product is Google Pixel ready and the looks of it are quite pleasant. However, there is the question of why Google chose to enter this market. The fan base is growing, but there is a severe lack of VR ready content. Furthermore, as I discussed in my HooToo review, the content that is ready is mediocre.
It looks comfortable and if Google can successfully pull this one off, then they could be a big player in this market. As of now, this seems like a middle of the road product to the HTC Vive and focused towards younger children.
There were a lot of comments, announcements, and products spoken about at Google I/O 2016, but sadly, nothing was truly outstanding. We were all expecting a new Google phone and the additional Google hardware isn’t anything new. In fact, a lot of the hardware announced consisted of close copycats to other brands.
I am excited to see how well these Google products do and to see if they affect the market in any way. If successful, then competitors will need to quickly rethink their approach to battle Google.
What were your thoughts on the Google I/O event? Should Google stick to the software side of things or is hardware a good market for them?
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