Google’s Pixel 2 smartphones: 4 innovations you must know

The search giant’s latest flagship smartphone comes equipped with various innovations such as Google Lens and software-enhanced cameras.

The Google Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL. (Photo: Twitter@madebygoogle)

SAN FRANCISCO: Google on Wednesday (Oct 4) launched a slew of hardware devices, led by its second-generation Pixel smartphone as well as accessories to pair with it like its first wireless earphones in Pixel Buds.

It is worth noting that the tech giant is finally bringing its smartphone to Singapore, partnering Singtel in an exclusive deal to sell the Pixel 2 XL device from Nov 15.

Consumers in Singapore are spoilt for choices in terms of having their pick of the latest and best high-end smartphones in the market, with the Samsung S8 and Apple’s iPhone 8 devices already available and the iPhone X on its way come Nov 3.

So what stands the Pixel 2 XL apart from these rival offerings? In a word: Integration.

The search giant has invested heavily in machine learning and artificial intelligence, and it has now integrated these elements deeply with its latest handset, according to senior vice president of Hardware Rick Osterloh who was speaking during a separate press briefing on Wednesday.

Here are some of the more note-worthy innovations:

PICTURE PERFECT POSSIBILITIES

Let’s start with the Pixel 2’s camera.

According to ratings by independent camera experts DxOMark, Google’s second-generation smartphone has come out tops ahead of the competition with an “unprecedented score” of 98, noted the company’s vice president and general manager for phones Mario Queiroz during the launch event.

According to DxOMark’s post on Wednesday, Pixel 2 topped the scores in most of the traditional and video categories, pushing it ahead of the iPhone 8 Plus and Samsung Galaxy Note 8. This is despite the Pixel 2 coming in lower in the new Zoom and Bokeh categories, it added.

This performance, Mr Queiroz said, is because the camera is powered by Google’s “computational photography and machine learning capabilities”.

The software behind the camera mean that it is possible for users to take portraits using both the front and back cameras - without needing a second camera to achieve the effect, he said. The dual-camera configuration is used by the likes of Samsung, Apple and Xiaomi in their offerings.

LENS INTO THE WORLD

Another software innovation Google was keen on touting was its Google Lens feature, which will debut via its Photos app first before being rolled out to Google Assistant, and available on Pixel first.

Essentially, Google Lens gives users the ability to learn more about the world about them as they would be able to look up landmarks, books, music albums, movies and artwork by clicking on the icon in Photos.

On Google Assistant, they can find out more about the subject by asking further questions. For instance, during a demo after the product launch, a Google representative showed how it was possible to find out the band members, after the name of the band was identified from an image of an album cover.

“Lens builds on Google’s advancements in computer vision and machine learning, combined with our Knowledge Graph which underpins Google Search,” Mr Queiroz said in a Google blog post announcing the phone.

NO IFS, JUST BUDS

Alongside the unveil of the Pixel 2 smartphones, Google also made its first foray into the wireless earphones space with the launch of its Pixel Buds. And it’s not just a hardware play.

The Pixel Buds was designed to bring Google Assistant to the fore, allowing users to play music, make a phone call or get directions without having to pull out their phones. It can also go “eyes free” by reading out incoming notifications or messages, when necessary, said Mr Adam Champy, product manager for Google Pixel Buds, during a separate media briefing on the same day.

It is also designed to be contextual and adapt to the user’s activity or environment - reiterating one of the four core attributes CEO Sundar Pichai laid out during the launch to be “thoughtfully contextual”.

This means when a user activates Google Maps with Pixel Buds, for example, the digital assistant will know that he or she is walking as there is a “low likelihood” for someone to wear the earphones and use the app while driving, Mr Champy explained.

Interestingly, the new generation of Pixel smartphones have done away with the earphone jack. So there’s that, too.

The Just Black model of wireless earphones will come to Singapore later in November, although the exact date and price is not known. In the US, the retail price is US$159 and it will come in three colours: Just Black, Clearly White and Kinda Blue.

SIM-PLY DONE

Let me caveat this right from the start: Pixel 2’s eSIM capability is only limited to Project Fi subscribers in the US. And it likely won’t come to Singapore any time soon.

That said, eSIM, or embedded SIM, functionality is a feature that needs to catch on. Imagine the day when you don’t have to pay for the use of a SIM card to get mobile service, and having to find a sharp-tip object to fish out the SIM card adapter on one’s phone to get started.

Product manager for Project Fi, Joy Xi wrote in a separate blog post on Wednesday, describing such a scenario: “If you’re already a Project Fi subscriber, simply power up your Pixel 2 to begin setup. When you’re prompted to insert a SIM card, just tap the button for SIM-free setup, and we’ll take care of the heavy lifting.”

Sounds like bliss to me.

Source CNA