The stakes were high heading into Alphabet (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL) subsidiary Google's Pixel event. Rivals Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) and Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN) hosted their own blockbuster product unveilings in September, introducing devices that Google will inevitably compete with across numerous categories.
Google did not disappoint. The search giant unveiled a plethora of new products, some of which were widely expected, but there were a few surprises.
The feature presentation: Pixel 2
The products that we all knew were coming were new Pixel smartphones. The standard Pixel 2 has a 5-inch OLED display, while the larger Pixel 2 XL features a 6-inch OLED display. The aesthetic design is fairly similar with mostly minor tweaks. The real improvements are mostly internal spec upgrades, most notably an improved camera.
The company went to great lengths last year to highlight the original Pixel's DxOMark Mobile score of 89, proclaiming that the Pixel had the best smartphone camera ever. Apple's new iPhone 8 set a new record score of 94 last month, with DxOMark calling it the "best smartphone camera" that it had ever tested. The title is being passed right back to Google, though: Pixel 2 scored a 98. DxOMark scores are mostly arbitrary, since distilling camera performance down to a single number is misleading, but Google insists on highlighting its DxOMark performance. Let's just say the camera is really good.
Oh, and there's no headphone jack, despite the company mocking Apple last year for ditching the old standard. Google designed both devices, but HTC will manufacture the Pixel 2, with LG manufacturing the larger Pixel 2 XL. Pixel 2 is priced at $649, while Pixel 2 XL will set you back $849, and both phones ship on Oct. 19.
Google is expanding its Google Home lineup with two new additions: Google Home Mini and Google Home Max. This is similar to what Amazon is doing in offering a growing portfolio of products that are intended to facilitate voice-controlled smart-home products. Google Home Mini is a small, low-cost device that is reminiscent of the e-commerce giant's Echo Dot, right down to the $50 price point. It's a small puck made with a fabric enclosure that includes a low-power speaker and far-field microphones. Unlike Echo Dot, there is no auxiliary jack to plug in a better speaker.
Google Home Max, on the other hand, looks to compete directly with Apple's HomePod, which is due out in December. Like Apple, Google is targeting audiophiles with high-fidelity audio in order to justify a premium price point -- even higher than HomePod's $349. Google Home Max is priced at $399, and like HomePod uses artificial intelligence (AI) to adapt its audio output to its surroundings.
A new Pixelbook convertible and stylus
There's also a new Pixelbook that runs on Chrome OS. Channeling Apple's marketing, Google says that Pixelbook is "the thinnest, lightest laptop we've ever made." The convertible device features a 12.3-inch touchscreen (2400 x 1600 resolution) and includes a hinge that allows it to flip all the way back as a stand, similar to other convertibles like the Lenovo Yoga, among others. Pixelbook is powered by Intel Core i5 and i7 processors, and Google is even jumping into the stylus arena with the Pixelbook Pen.
Pixelbooks have always been something of oxymorons. Chromebooks are generally known as low-cost computing devices, almost like modern netbooks, but Pixelbooks feature high-end hardware and design. The new laptop starts at $999, which doesn't include the Pixelbook Pen. The stylus is sold separately for $99.
Three more things
There were three accessories that Google also unveiled. There's a new $99 Daydream View that people can use to strap their phones to their faces for augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) experiences.
Google now offers wireless headphones called Pixel Buds. These aren't entirely wireless like Apple's AirPods, but are connected to each other by a fabric loop. Think of Apple's BeatsX earphones instead of AirPods, although Pixel Buds have the same $159 price tag as AirPods.
No one really saw the Google Clips coming. Despite the similar name, it's completely different from Apple's Clips, the Mac maker's live photo/video filter app. Google Clips is a lightweight, hands-free camera that Google believes can help people capture spontaneous moments. It's also wearable, which GoPro (NASDAQ:GPRO) investors weren't too keen about; shares fell 6% on the news. It may not be as rugged and suitable for extreme sports, but at $249 it's much more affordable for mainstream users that just want to capture everyday activities. (And GoPro has been moving further upmarket.) Google says Clips was designed specifically for parents and pet owners.
Google Assistant is featured prominently in all of these new products. The AI does the tasks that you'd expect on a smartphone like Pixel 2 or laptop like Pixelbook, can power your smart-home products through Google Home devices, and can even try to determine good moments to capture with Clips. In case it wasn't obvious from the acqui-hire of HTC's Pixel team for $1.1 billion, Google is absolutely committed to hardware in the long term. There's going to be more from where these devices came from.