Made by Google 2019

Google held its annual “Made By Google” hardware event last month and with the new Pixel 4 launched we’ve got our hands on one to give you our first impressions.

Lets recap on this years announcements before we give you our thoughts on the Pixel 4 and how it lives up to flagship expectations in 2019.

What was announced:

  • Stadia 
  • Pixel Buds
  • Pixelbook GO
  • New Nest Aware
  • Nest Wifi
  • New Nest Mini
  • Pixel 4

Google have announced Stadia, their cloud video game streaming service, will launch on November 19th. Stadia has grabbed some massive titles for their platform already; including Destiny 2 and new subscription services from UbiSoft and Microsoft. Offering PC level gaming across multiple devices with no downloads or updates could be a very attractive platform for gamers. Recently several competing platforms across both desktops and consoles have launched but the appeal of high-end PC performance on a low cost system and mobile devices may be enough to differentiate from the competition. The main question we have is whether poor broadband infrastructure may introduce experience destroying stutter and input lag.

The Pixel Buds 2 have been announced for early 2020 and the new designs look great. “Insert pic” The new look feels like a direct reaction to the Airpods’ unique profile and with similar battery life and charging capabilities seem to be the inevitable decision to stay on trend in the Apple dominated wireless headphone market. The translation feature is still the flagship of the Pixel Buds and it’s likely Apple will be looking to introduce a Siri-powered alternative in time.

Pixelbook Go is Google’s new Chrome OS laptop with a focus on power users and features improved hardware to tempt Windows devotees. The new model will have 256GB of storage and 12 hours of battery life. Chromebooks have seen success in the casual browsing market with the slim, lightweight approach but the poor adoption of ChromeOS apps has hamstrung their mainstream use. The addition of Android apps running natively in ChromeOS may be the new golden bullet but at the moment this still seems unlikely in such a mature market.

A flat rate pricing for 2020 for both home security plans available through Google’s Nest Aware was announced in an attempt to simplify the complicated (and costly!) option of utilising multiple devices. One new addition to Nest Aware is the option to set your devices, including smart speakers, into listening mode. This sets your smart home devices to listen out for sound events and alert you appropriately via your smartphone.

Google is merging its popular mesh Wifi router and home speaker to create Nest Wifi. This new product has a great new look and a reasonable price point for both two and three point bundles. Google is the largest supplier of Wifi routers in the US, thanks to US ISP’s expensive router rental schemes, but in the UK we’re likely to continue seeing ISP provided routers dominating the market.

Google have also re-branded their Google Home Mini to the “Nest Mini” and with the re-brand some new features have been announced. The speaker now offers double the bass and a new machine learning chip boasts faster responses. This is another product which has received a design update, and looks all the better for it, as well as this extending to a new wall mounted option.

The Pixel 4

Google’s new flagship phone, the Pixel 4, was announced at Made by Google and is now available in Googles’ selected markets. We were among the first in the UK to get our hands on one and have some key takeaways after using it for a couple of weeks. Feature wise the Pixel 4 is a 5.7” device with a 2800mAh battery and the Pixel 4XL is 6.3” with a 3700mAh battery. They both run on the Snapdragon 855, this year’s default processor for flagship devices, while coming equipped with 6GB of Ram. Both also include a Soli radar chip to allow gesture interactions without touching the device and quick waking based on user movement.

As with previous iterations the core focus for the Pixel 4 range is the camera; with new lenses and updated machine learning algorithms in Google’s retouching software. Both phones have two cameras on the back rather than the iPhone’s three but Google are persisting with their less is more approach, in terms of lenses, despite heavy criticism in the last couple of years.

The good news is, just like the outgoing Pixel 3, the camera is phenomenal and takes natural looking photographs with impressive HDR implementation and industry-leading colour accuracy. This makes photos really pop on the high-refresh rate OLED display and you can tell Google have invested heavily into producing the best camera phone on the market. The improvements to night sight, white balance and the telephoto lens all beat the iPhone’s implementation but the lack of a wide-angle lens seems oh-so-2018 now Apple have jumped on the three-lens bandwagon. That said, barring a couple of caveats, if you want the best point and shoot camera phone on the market this is likely the phone for you. 

Our device in the “oh-so-orange” colour also looks great and is in keeping with the recent changes in Google’s design guidelines. The matte appearance looks and feels premium though we worry it may be susceptible to scratching over time. The Soli chip adds a different approach to phone interaction which is an interesting new addition but at this early stage we’re not convinced it’ll change the way users interact with their phones.

Unfortunately the Pixel 4 is a far from perfect device. The introduction of radar and the furor over last year’s giant notch on the Pixel 3 XL have seen the unwelcome return of a large forehead bezel. In a world of bezel-less competition the phone looks top heavy and a couple of years older than it is; despite retaining the neat curved screen corners. The batteries are disappointing with both models sitting way behind their Apple equivalents. The 2,800 mAh battery on the smaller version is a particular worry with our test device rarely lasting a full day of moderate usage. 

There are also some concerns around the security of the face unlock which allows the device to unlock even when users have their eyes closed; we’d expect a patch to this shortly but it’s not a great look for Google when they’re currently attempting to boost their security credentials. On top of this, for the first time, the Pixels’ Apple counterparts are actually the cheaper option while Google’s devices feel more mid-range and less well thought out than ever before.

What might this mean for App development

The main thing that will change as the technology introduced in the Pixel 4 becomes more widely adopted is the introduction of Radar. While possibly a misguided gimmick on this device; with the phone now able to intuitively track motion we may soon see devices which are able to respond to users natural movements in a number of new ways. Currently it looks like most of this will be handled by the device with developers enabling radar through a flag in the app’s code to allow range of predefined motions to be automatically implemented. As time progresses we may see this open up and allow developers to use radar with more freedom; allowing for unique new features and behaviours based on non-touch interactions.

One current issue with radar is the size of the chip dictating the addition of a large bezel in an age where manufacturers are trying to reduce bezel size with each generation. Until we see a significant size reduction in the Soli chip it seems unlikely we’ll see widespread adoption by third party manufacturers. For development we’d currently recommend a wait and see approach unless you make apps in a space where radar has seen early adoption; such as music players and ebooks.