"Active Edge" – Google's new smartphones are to press

The Internet company Google launches its autumn offensive with two new smartphones, new networked speakers, headphones and new glasses for virtual reality applications. Google presented the devices on Wednesday in San Francisco.

With its Pixel smartphones, the group is moving in a highly competitive market, which is dominated by Apple and Samsung. The new Google Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL thus compete against the iPhone and the Samsung smartphones S8 and Note 8.

With the Pixel 2, Google is not following the trend towards the displays that extend across the entire front. The Oled display has a size of five inches and leaves a larger frame at the top and bottom, in which Google has placed its two speakers.

Google designs its smartphones, but has them produced by partners. The Pixel 2 is built by HTC. Google now wants to take over parts of the HTC smartphone division for 1.1 billion euros. The larger Pixel 2 XL, on the other hand, LG builds.

Pressure sensors on the edge to call the assistant

The XL 2 has a six-inch display, but the case is no larger than the previous Pixel XL, which only has a 5.5-inch display. So the larger Google smartphone has a narrower edge around the display than before. In contrast to the first Pixel generation, the new devices no longer have a headphone jack. An adapter to connect headphones to the USB-C port is included.

Both smartphones are equipped with pressure sensors on the frame, an innovation that is already installed in the HTC U11. If you press the Pixel smartphones in your hand, the Google Assistant is called. The assistant answers questions about the weather or appointments, for example, but also takes commands to change mobile phone settings or control the connected home.

The print function Google calls “Active Edge”, it works even when the display is off. The user can individually adjust how hard the device must be pressed. According to Google, for example, the device detects whether it is inserted into a smartphone holder in the car, and then does not respond to the pressure of the holder.

Google claims to have used machine learning in this technology. When pressed, users get a haptic feedback that feels like a small vibration and leaves the impression that you are really squeezing the case.

Music recognition runs offline

The Pixel smartphones should differ from the competition by another function. If the phone is in sleep mode and plays music in the environment, the lockscreen shows the artist and the title of the song after a short time. The user does not have to actively start this function, as is the case with corresponding apps such as Shazam or SoundHound.

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The detection does not work in the cloud, even for privacy reasons, but on the device alone. Therefore, the “Now Playing” function is also available in airplane mode without any Internet connection. A local database has stored the corresponding information for several tens of thousands of songs.

It is reported to be constantly updated and varies from region to region. However, this also means that no ads may be made for the somewhat unusual taste in music.

When the Pixel smartphones were launched last year, the cameras achieved top marks in the following tests. Google now wants to repeat this with the second generation. However, the group does without a dual camera on the back, as it is now found in many competitors.

Unlimited cloud storage

Nevertheless, functions should be possible for which other manufacturers use a dual camera. Among them is the portrait mode, which allows a bokeh effect, in which the foreground is sharp, but the background is blurred. The new Pixel smartphones achieve this effect via a technology that Google calls “Dual Pixel”, which has so far mainly supported autofocus.

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In a first test in the WORLD, the results were very promising and similar to the quality achieved with dual cameras. Here, a second camera collects the depth information in order to calculate the blur range via the software.

In contrast to the first pixel generation, the new smartphones have an optical image stabilizer in addition to the electronic one, but they only ever work together. This reduces the focal length of the camera lens. So if you want to have a larger section in your video, you have to turn off the image stabilization completely. As before, Google offers unlimited cloud storage for the recordings together with the Pixel smartphones.

Google has now integrated its Google Photos application even more into the Pixel devices, so the preview is also done in Google Photos. Google Lens is now integrated there. Photos are analyzed for information.

For example, Google Lens recognizes a photographed work of art or a landmark in the photos and displays additional information about it. The company has not yet announced when Google Lens will be available on other smartphones. Depending on the memory equipment and size, the Pixel smartphones cost between 800 and 1050 euros.

No audio output on speaker

In addition to smartphones, Google also presented a wireless earpiece called “Pixel Buds” and a new smaller Google Home speaker with a built-in Google Assistant. The Google Home Mini, a smaller version of the Google Home, costs just under 60 euros and is the size of Amazon’s rival speaker Echo Dot.

However, in a first test, the new Google Home showed better sound quality than the small Amazon counterpart. Unfortunately, the small device does not have an audio output, so larger speakers can not be connected by cable.

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For those who need more volume, Google will offer a larger Google Home called “Google Home Max”. The speaker is able to scan its surroundings with the “Smart Sound” function, adapting the sound to the reflections of furniture and walls.

A similar technology is used by the speaker provider Sonos. Google Home Max will be available in the US from December for $ 400. Other countries are expected to follow in the coming year. The Group has made no statement on Germany.

Google Home can now distinguish between different voices in Germany. The Voice Match feature has been available in the US for some time. Once the users have been created in the smartphone app, Google Home recognizes the voice of the individual users and, for example, outputs the entries of the corresponding calendars on request.

VR glasses and new notebook

Google’s Daydream View virtual reality glasses also get a refresh with better lenses and an improved fit that makes them more comfortable to wear. In contrast to the first Daydream View, no light now penetrates the eyes from the outside. Daydream View is a passive VR headset into which a smartphone must be inserted. Users can navigate the VR world with a controller.

In San Francisco, Google also presented a new notebook. The Pixelbook weighs a kilogram, the 12.3-inch display can be completely folded over so that it can be used like a tablet. With one battery charge, it should last ten hours.

Richi Chandra, Director of Product Management, Google Chromecast, speaks about the Google Home Mini during a launch event in San Francisco, California, U.S. October 4, 2017. REUTERS / Stephen Lam

The device runs Google’s Chrome OS operating system instead of Windows. Just as Microsoft has built the Cortina digital assistant into Windows, Google naturally uses its Google Assistant. The display is touch-sensitive and can be operated with a stylus, but it must be purchased separately.

In the smallest equipment, the device costs just under 1000 dollars and is available for the time being only in North America and the UK. The pen will cost $ 100.

Surprisingly, in San Francisco, Google presented its own small square camera called “Google Clips”. It can be pinned or placed anywhere and independently records – with the help of artificial intelligence-short video clips without sound, which can later be stored on Google Photos. In doing so, she should independently recognize which scenes could be interesting. The camera becomes active when it perceives faces and pets. The device is said to cost $ 250. Google has not announced when it will be available. For Germany, they say, there are no plans yet.

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