Google unveils AI-powered Pixel phone: 4 big takeaways

On Tuesday, Google unveiled its newest Android phone, Pixel, with built-in Google Assistant, along with a Daydream View VR headset and a new Google Wi-Fi mesh router.

Image: Google

The Google Pixel phone is finally here, and it's bringing AI with it. The latest pure Android smartphone was announced at a Google event on Tuesday, along with a new Daydream View virtual reality (VR) headset, a new Google Wi-Fi router, and a new Chromecast.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai opened the event, explaining the transition from PC to web, and now web to mobile. He then spoke about how Google believes the tech world is in the midst of a transition from "mobile-first to AI-first."

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That AI focus is built around Google Assistant, Google's personal assistant that was unveiled in May. And, Pichai said, the goal of the assistant is to "build a personal Google for each and every user." Google Assistant is the foundation of the Google Pixel phone, which was highlighted among a host of new hardware products announced by Google.

Here are the four big things you need to know.

1. AI-powered hardware

Google's Pixel was born out of its newly-formed hardware group, led by Rick Osterloh. According to Osterloh, the Pixel sits at the intersection of hardware and software, with AI at the center, and it is "the very best of Google as we intended it," he said.

As noted, Osterloh said that "Pixel is the first phone with the Google Assistant built in." The phone is created with contextual information in mind, and users can more easily search for data relative to people, places, and things, such as "photos from last October," for example.

The Assistant also works across multiple devices, so users can access data from Google Home on their Pixel phone. The Pixel also comes with 24/7 live customer care built into the phone, and it has a screen share option, so you can show the customer service agent what you're seeing.

Pixel is available in a 5" or 5.5" display, and it comes in blue, black, or silver. It ships with Android Nougat and Google Duo, and it will receive new updates to be downloaded and installed in the background. Additionally, a new feature allows the phone to charge up to seven hours of battery life in 15 minutes.

Pixel is available exclusively through Verizon in the US, and it will also be available unlocked on the Google Store. It starts at $649 up front, and it is available for pre-order now in many countries.

2. 'Best smartphone camera anyone has ever made'

The Pixel camera got an 89 rating DxOMark, which, according to Google's Brian Rakowski, makes it the "best smartphone camera anyone has ever made." The phone features a 12.3 MP rear camera with a F2.0 aperture and 1.55 micron pixels, HDR+, and zero shutter lag. Also, the camera app is fast to open and includes video stabilization.

Pixel owners will also get full, unlimited photo and video storage, at full resolution, in Google Cloud, so they will never run out of space. The team optimized the "entire camera stack," Rakowski said. And, it includes on-device software algorithms like Smart Burst, which captures a continuous stream of images when a user holds down the shutter button.

3. Daydream View VR headset

Pixel is the first phone that is "Daydream-ready," according to Google's Clay Bavor. Google announced its Daydream VR project a while back, but it unveiled the new Daydream View VR headset alongside the Pixel.

Once the phone is inserted into the headset, the two devices connect wirelessly and allow the user to access VR content. It also comes with a wireless controller for interaction within VR games and more.

"Daydream is a critical driver for the mobile VR ecosystem," said Forrester vice president and principal analyst J.P. Gownder. "Forrester predicts that 37.9 million mobile VR units (i.e. smartphone-based) will be in use in the US market by 2020, and Daydream (along with Samsung Gear VR) is a key player in this market."

4. Google Wi-Fi mesh router

Building on its previous work with OnHub, Google also announced a new wireless mesh router system called Google Wi-Fi. It is a modular system that relies on multiple access points that are set up in the home.

A new feature called Network Assist keeps the signal strong as you roam around your house, as it intelligently routes traffic to the nearest access point. The idea here is that users would be able to eliminate weak signal points in their home by placing another one of the access points in that area. The Google Wi-Fi routers are available as a single device for $129, or in a three-pack for $299.

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