Nest Audio review

The Nest Audio is a surprisingly hefty thing. It’s compact, but dense, packing a lot into a footprint not much taller than an iPhone. At 2.65 pounds, it’s 2.5x the weight of the original Home. It’s clear that, above all, Google was interested in offering up something premium, in spite of a quite reasonable $99 price point.

It certainly took the company long enough. It’s been four years since the first device arrived — that’s a lifetime on the scale of smart home devices. But while Google introduced a slate of new products and delivered a key update to its smaller sibling, the Mini, its flagship smart speaker remained untouched, in all of its air freshener designed glory.

In four years, Google has proven less interested in hardware upgrades than Amazon. That’s not a huge surprise from a company that’s long suggested that software — not hardware — is at the heart of product evolution. But even Google knows that software can only take you so far when it comes to things like premium audio. That’s where the new device comes in.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

Nest Audio’s name represents two key things. First, it’s the last of Google’s smart speaker/smart screen line to adopt the Nest title, cementing its 2014 Nest acquisition as its smart home brand. It’s not quite accurate to say that the Nest brand encompasses all of Google’s Home products — after all, a new Chromecast was launched this week with Google branding, but then, no one’s ever accused Google of being consistent about such things.

The Audio bit finds Google following a similar journey as Amazon. The first generation of smart speakers focused significantly more on the smart than the speaker. The devices were primarily considered a way to deliver smart assistants into the home — certainly not something that was set to replace anyone’s home stereo.

But Apple, for all of its issues bringing Siri into a home setting, proved that users were willing to invest in a premium product — so long as a company could demonstrate superior audio. Google followed up with the Home Max and Amazon did so first by beefing up the sound of the standard Echo, and more recently introducing the Echo Studio. There’s also the matter of the Samsung Galaxy Home, but the less said about the unreleased speaker — and Bixby in general — the better.

With Nest Audio, Google is looking to prove that good sound shouldn’t be the exclusive realm of high-end speakers. It even went so far as dropping $30 off the price of the original Google Home — putting it in line with current Echo pricing. The internals have been considerably upgraded, as well. A 50mm full-range driver (40mm on the Nest Mini) has been upgraded to a 75mm woofer for much stronger bass. Two passive radiators, meanwhile, have been swapped out for a 19mm tweeter to complete the picture.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

The speaker is also capable of getting really loud — 75% louder than the original Home, according to the company. It’s too loud for my apartment. Though I would advise against relying on a single speaker to fill a large space, as stuff gets distorted at peak volumes. A speaker of this caliber is best paired with another — which is, thankfully, something Google does reasonably well.

As it stands, the Nest Audio is quite clear and full, given its pricing and size. For space like the living room in my one-bedroom New York apartment, it’s got pretty good sound. The design means that (like the new Echo) you get pretty good audio from all sides — though the company cautions against, stay, sticking it deep on a bookshelf, or else you may deal with some muddy reverb. It’s clear that Google knew it had to step up its game to deal with superior audio from third-party speaker makers like Sony who have embraced Google Assistant, and it’s done a pretty good job here.

I still prefer the much heftier and massive Google Home Max that’s currently sitting by my computer on my desk. Size really does matter in the world of speakers, for a number of pragmatic reasons, including how it moves air to create sound. That said, you can currently purchase three Nest Audios for the price of a single Google Max, so that may be something worth considering, depending on your setup and the layout of your home.

Groups and pairing are one of the strongest reasons to consider these device. The Google Home app setup is extremely simple in that regard, and presents an extremely simple and fairly inexpensive way to set up a home audio system. You can either pair two of the same speakers to create stereo (a solid choice for, say, flanking the computer screen) or simply creating groups for multiple speakers to fill a space. I do the latter with my own home setup.

It’s usually a good solution, though even at this point in the life of the devices, it can still be pretty buggy. A lot of this comes down to Wi-Fi and connectivity issues, but it can be frustrating. Wireless systems are a lot easier — but less reliable — than simply wiring up your system the old-fashioned way. And of course, there’s the fact that the more wireless devices you install, the more strain there’s going to be on your home network.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

There are some nice tweaks to the system, as well. Ambient IQ actually turns up assistant’s voice when there are sounds in the background, while Media EQ dynamically adjusts the balance depending on what you’re listening to — be it music or a podcast, turning up the vocal output for the latter.

The speaker’s design has improved dramatically. We mocked the original Home for looking like a Glade air freshener since day one, and that criticism still stands. The Nest Audio, meanwhile, if far more unassuming. Covered entirely in fabric with a design that Google freely admits was inspired by a pillow, it’s designed to blend in with its décor — which, frankly, is precisely what a smart speaker should do.

There are five colors: white (chalk), black and Sage, Sand and Sky — all pastels. Odds are pretty good you’ll find one that fits your home. Google sent me a black one, which is likely what I would have chosen myself. And bonus points for the fact that the fabric is made from recycled water bottles, like the Nest Mini before it.

The Nest Audio is a long overdue upgrade to the company’s line of smart home devices and one that puts the focus on sound, precisely where it should be.

#google, #google-assistant, #google-hardware-event-2020, #google-home, #google-nest, #hardware, #nest, #nest-audio, #reviews, #smart-home, #tc

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Google now has three mid-range Pixel phones

The Pixel has always been a mixed bag. The first-generation product was announced roughly this time four years ago, with Google finally offering a full-throated entry into the smartphone space after years of device partnerships.

Of course, by 2016, the market was already mature — particularly for Android phones. But while it was easy to write off those initial devices as Nexus-like references for future software updates, Google made it clear that it was taking the line seriously. It put any doubts to rest two years later, with its $1.1 billion acquisition of the design team from a struggling HTC.

But Google’s had struggles of its own. Slow Pixel 3 sales left the company in a tough spot, as the overall market took a hit. Google was able to correct the ship with the launch of the Pixel 3a, joining the likes of Apple and Samsung in offering budget versions of its smartphone flagship as consumers grew weary of premium prices.

It’s a strategy that makes sense. Two primary devices: a flagship and a budget model. Of course, the line has never been particularly clear for Google. For one thing, the company just doesn’t chase premium hardware in the same way that Apple, Samsung or Huawei does. Rather, it insists setting itself apart with its software — even for things like imaging. That often results in a less pronounced gap between devices. It also dulls the company’s edge with features that, more often than not, come to other Android devices.

But today’s hardware event blurred those lines more than ever. The dual-launch of the Pixel 5 and 4a 5G was arguably the most confusing element about a morning event with words “Launch Night” in its title.

Image Credits: Google

While pre-show rumors and leaks revealed a lot about the devices that ultimately proved true, they didn’t do much to distinguish the differences between the products. Turns out there’s an obvious reason: There really isn’t that much of a difference. If anything, the 4a 5G feels like a stepping stone toward the Pixel 5 — a device that would, perhaps, more fittingly have been named the Pixel 5a, if the company’s naming conventions worked that way.

We already knew that both devices were going to sport 5G. That seems to be Google taking advantage of Qualcomm’s aggressive push to bring the next-gen wireless technology to more budget devices. Really, the big driver here is that both devices utilize the same processors: Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 765G. It is, as I’m sure you’re aware, a mid-tier processor. It’s a step down from the 865 currently found in the majority of this year’s flagships.

Likely, the decision was a cost-cutting measure, but we’ve seen evidence from a number of manufacturers that it’s possible to produce an 865-sporting device priced in the middle six digits. Both devices also sport the same dual-camera set up on the rear and the same resolution screens — though the 4a 5G’s is actually bigger (albeit with a lower pixel density), at 6.2 inches to the 5’s 6.0.

There are some differences between the products to justify the $200 pricing gap. For starters, the 5 features a 100% recycled aluminum body, whereas the 4a 5G is polycarbonate. The cheaper phone lacks waterproofing and the reverse wireless charging found on the 5. It also sports a smaller battery, though both devices have been upgraded in that respect over the 4 and 4a. Battery life, after all, was the biggest complaint against the Pixel 4 — and either way you’re going to need more milliamp hours to handle the strains of 5G and, in the case of the 5, reverse charging.

So, are you clear on all of this? Me neither, to be honest. Google’s smartphone line now contains three devices. There’s a mid-tier handset, a slightly lower-mid-tier handset and an even lower-mid-tier handset. That’s three distinct devices with about a $300 price difference, all released within months of one another. It’s as if Google saw the 3a’s successes and decided “screw it, we’re making all of our products mid-range.” Affordability isn’t a bad thing, of course, but if you’re going to release three separate products over roughly a two-month span, you owe it to yourself and your fans to offer clearer value propositions.

Some of this is going to self-correct. For starters, it seems likely that the three devices will turn into two by this time next year. I don’t foresee the company keeping both an LTE and 5G model around in late-2021. There’s also the fact that the company has been undergoing a bit of an executive shakeup among the Pixel line — something that appears to point to a dramatic rethink of the line. It’s likely that the 4a, 4a 5G and 5 were already pretty far into development when Google started its executive shuffling.

Hopefully all of this will cause the company to rethink the Pixel line from the ground up and determine what Google can bring to the table that the competition can’t.

#5g, #google, #google-hardware-event-2020, #hardware, #mobile, #pixel, #pixel-4, #pixel-4a, #pixel-5, #smartphones

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Everything Google announced at today’s hardware event

This year, Google’s annual hardware event consisted of a brisk 30 minutes of pre-recorded promotional videos, but the company managed to pack a number of new product announcements into that time.

To make things easy for you, here’s a quick rundown of everything that Google announced, including the Google Pixel 5, a new TV interface and an upgraded smart speaker.

Google Pixel

Google’s latest mobile flagship, the Pixel 5, comes in a 100% recycled aluminum body and offers reverse wireless charging — in other words, you can use the Pixel 5’s battery to charge other devices. There’s a 6 inch display and the whole package costs $699. Pre-orders started today, with the phone available in nine countries on October 15.

In addition to the Pixel 5, Google also announced the 5G version of the Pixel 4a, which will cost $499, with specs that are closer to the Pixel 5 than the existing 4a. This one will be available in Japan on October 15, then launches in the United States and elsewhere sometime in November.

Both phones come with improved cameras, including a new ultrawide lens in the back. And beyond the hardware, Google also said it’s introducing a new Google Assistant feature, which will stay on the line for you when you make a call and then get put on hold, then send you an alert when someone picks up.

Google TV and Chromecast

Image Credits: Google

Google TV — at least in this iteration — is the company’s name for a new interface bringing streaming, live TV and other services together in one place. It includes most existing streaming services while also offering live TV via YouTube TV. And Google seems to be putting a lot of resources into the voice search experience.

The interface is included as part of the new Chromecast with Google TV, which also adds a remote control to Google’s streaming dongle and costs $49.

Nest Audio

Image Credits: Google

Nest Audio is the successor to Google Home, the company’s mid-range smart speaker. Google said the device will offer more bass, increased volume and clearer sound. And the form factor is closer to the Google Home Mini and Google Home Max. The Nest Audio smart speaker will cost $99 and will be available starting on October 5.

#google, #google-hardware-event-2020, #hardware, #mobile

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A new Google Assistant feature, ‘Hold for Me,’ waits on hold so you don’t have to

Google has been pushing forward the capabilities of what a smartphone can do when it comes to one of the device’s most basic — if these days, often overlooked — features: phone calls. In previous years, the company launched Call Screen to vet your incoming calls, Duplex for restaurant reservations, and just this month, a feature called Verified Calls that will tell you who is calling and why. Today, Google introduced one more handy feature for those who still use their devices as an actual phone with the introduction of “Hold for Me.”

At the company’s hardware event this afternoon, where Google introduced its new Pixel smartphones, it also briefly showed off the Pixel’s latest trick. A feature called “Hold for Me,” will stay on the line for you when you’re placed on hold, then alert you when someone picks up.

Image Credits:

Google explained the technology was built on the smarts of its existing Call Screen and Duplex technology — the latter which is an A.I.-based technology focused on how conversations take place over the phone.

In the short demo of “Hold for Me,” Google showed how a Pixel device owner is able to activate the new feature after they’ve been placed on hold. This is done by tapping a new button that appears on the phone screen above the buttons for muting the call, turning on speakerphone, and the other in-call phone controls.

Once activated, you’re alerted with a message that says “Don’t hand up,” where you’re advised that Google Assistant is listening to the call for you, so you can do other things.

A button is also available on this screen that lets you tap to return to the call at any time, and below that an on-screen message says “music playing” to indicate if the Google Assistant is still hearing the hold music. You can also choose to press the red hang up button to end the call from this screen.

When a person comes on the line, the device will alert you it’s time to return to the call.

At a time when people are waiting on hold for hours for help with COVID-19 related government assistance, like unemployment benefits, a “Hold for Me” option could be more than a useful new feature — it could be a literal lifesaver for those in the middle of a financial crisis due to job loss.

Google says the new feature will come to its new Pixel 5 devices, which will soon be followed by its older-generation Pixel phones via the next “Pixel feature drop” roll out.

#google, #google-assistant, #google-hardware-event-2020, #pixel, #tc

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Pixel 5 and 4a 5g get the same, improved cameras with rear ultrawide lens, Night Sight portraits and more

Google made its newest smartphones official today, unveiling the much-leaked Pixel 4a 5g and Pixel 5. Both smartphones will get the same, improved cameras, despite a $200 price different between the models, which is great news for people who are specifically coming to Google for their excellent mobile camera tech. Here’s an overview of what google did with the new and improved Pixel cameras in terms of both hardware and software.

Ultrawide lens

The biggest new physical change to the new Pixel phones is the addition of a new ultrawide lens to the camera array on the back. This provides a new wide angle field of view that lets you capture a significantly larger perspective, which is great for large group shots and landscapes. This was one of the features that Apple added to the most recent iPhone that Google fans were looking for on their Pixel devices.

Here’s an example of the additional coverage you’re getting (roughly, since the first shot likely wasn’t actually filmed on Pixel):

HDR+ with bracketing

The HDR+ feature of Google’s Pixel phones is also very popular with users, providing a way for people to get better lighting in their photos without having to worry about compositing images after the fact to adjust exposure in different parts of the scene. Google has upgraded its HDR+ feature by combining its own machine-learning powered techniques, stacked with traditional, much more old-school exposure bracketing for what the company says is a better final product.

Night Sight in portrait mode

Portrait mode has been popular since its introduction on smartphones, and has improved over time to allow people to get a more accurate depth effect with artificial background blur. Google added the ability to use portrait mode with its Night Sight feature with this generation of devices, meaning you can get that kind of depth effect even when you’re using Google’s software trickery to increase the illumination in a dark scene for clear, static-free results like the shot below.

Portrait Light

Another portrait mode feature is the addition of portrait light, which lets you apply a customizable lighting effect to do things like counteract deep shadows or washed out potions of the image. This works similar to Apple’s studio lighting effects in its own portrait mode in iOS, but it looks to be considerably more customizable, and potentially more powerful thanks to Google’s AI tech on the Pixel devices – though we’ll have to get them in for testing to know for sure.

New stabilization for video, including Cinematic Pan

Finally, there are three new stabilization modes for filming video on the new Pixels – Locked, Active and Cinematic Pan. These were built using tutorials on YouTube, Google said during its event, as well as by studying Hollywood cinematographers. Cinematic Pan looks like potentially the most fun for YouTubers, since it gives that silky smooth, slowed down effect (it’s half actual speed) that makes it look straight out of a film travelogue.

#apple, #artificial-intelligence, #camera-phone, #gadgets, #google, #google-camera, #google-hardware-event-2020, #google-pixel, #hardware, #iphone, #mobile-phones, #pixel, #pixel-3a, #pixel-4, #pixel-5, #smartphone, #smartphones, #tc

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Google unveils the $99 Nest Audio smart speaker

Four years after the introduction of the Google Home smart speaker, Google showcased its successor to the company’s mid-range smart speaker. In keeping with the broader rebranding of the company’s smart home products, the device is now called Nest Audio. The smart speaker will retail for $99 and come in a variety of colors including sage, sand, sky, chalk and charcoal.

The device is available starting October 5th and will go on sale in 21 countries.

The company says it prioritized more bass, added volume and clearer sound when designing the product which replaces the aged Google Home smart speaker. Indeed, Google says Nest Audio has 50% “more bass” and can get 75% louder than Google Home could. It all comes in a much larger package. It sports a 19mm tweeter to hit high frequencies while a 75mm midwoofer pushes things out on the lower-end. We’ll have to take them at their word until we can get a hand on the device ourselves.

Image Credits: Google

Nest Audio’s design ditches the candle-like form factor of the previous generation, instead embracing the fabric blob design that the Google Home Mini and Google Home Max have long sported.

The smart speaker market is in a bit of an odd place, the devices have gone through several iterations but the ecosystems for the devices have, if anything, contracted as third-party integrations with smart assistants largely failed to pan out aside from basic tasks like listening to music. For Google, the market opportunity now looks more like creating a low-cost alternative to Sonos, a company which is suing Google for IP theft by the way. Multi-room audio has gotten more and more accessible over the years and smart speaker manufacturers have largely been responsible for that.

#audio, #google, #google-hardware-event-2020, #tc

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Google launches the $499 Pixel 4a 5G

As expected, Google today announced the 5G version of its Pixel 4a phone at its annual hardware event. Given all the previous leaks, there were no real surprises left and Google had already announced the $499 price. We now have a launch date, though. It’ll launch in Japan on October 15 and then come to Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Taiwan, the United Kingdom and the United States at an unspecified date in November.

The new phone, together with the new Pixel 5, is now available for pre-order in the Google Store.

The $499 phone is a bit of a mix between the non-5G version of the Pixel 4a and the newly announced Pixel 5. It features a larger edge-to-edge OLED display than both the Pixel 5 and $399 4a, at 6.2-inch, but uses the same mid-range Snapdragon 765G CPU as the Pixel 5, combined with 6GB of RAM and 128 GB of storage (with no other storage options). There are two cameras, including one with an ultrawide lens and yes, there’s still a headphone jack, too.

The phone comes in white and black.

Given that the 5G chips and larger screen are more power-hungry than those on the regular 4a, it’s no surprise that Google bumped up the battery from 3140 mAh to 3885 mAh, too. Google promises a 48-hour battery life with its extreme battery saver mode.

The Pixel 4a 5G doesn’t feature water resistance, which the $699 Pixel 5 does offer.

Overall, the 4a (5G) is a bit of a strange one, with specs closer to the Pixel 5 than the 4a and dual cameras, something the 4a is missing.

“With 5G gaining moment, we wanted to make this technology available at an affordable price,” Google’s product marketing manager for the Pixel line, Maya Lewis, said in today’s announcement.

#google, #google-hardware, #google-hardware-event-2020, #pixel-phones, #tc

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Google’s Pixel 5 get reverse wireless charging and 5G for $699

Here it is, the centerpiece of this morning’s confusing-titled Launch Night In. The Pixel 5 is Google’s latest mobile flagship. Launching months after the budget-minded Pixel 4a (and same day as the Pixel 4a 5G) , the new handset sports a a 100% recycled aluminum body to set the new phone apart from the rest of the line. That’s coupled by 8GB of RAM and the addition of reverse wireless charging.

Reverse wireless charging is probably the most interesting hardware addition here — and the one that wasn’t leaked like crazy. The feature, which is already available on fellow Android devices like Samsung’s flagship, lets users charge devices (such as the newish and very good Pixel Buds) using the device’s on-board battery.

The specs are now live on the product page (where you can currently pre-order the device). As usual with Google mobile devices, basically all of the leaks proved true. There’s a 6-inch display with a hole punch selfie up top. Inside, you get a Snapdragon 765G (which brings the 5G), coupled with 8GM of RAM and a healthy 4,000mAh battery (that last part, at least, addresses the biggest standing issue with the Pixel 4).

The product could pass for something mid-tier in most lines, and honestly, the line is fairly blurry between this product and the new 5G version of the 4a.

 

There’s a single front-facing eight-megapixel camera and a 12-megapixel and 16-megapixel ultrawide on the back. As ever, though, the big camera advance come via software.

It seems likely that this is the final device from Google that maintains that trend, courtesy of a recent shakeup of the department aimed at juicing flagging device sales.

#google, #google-hardware-event-2020, #hardware, #mobile, #pixel

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The new Google TV brings streaming apps, live TV and search into a single interface

Not to be confused with the smart TV platform of the same name (2010-2014, RIP) or the Android TV platform it’s built on top of, Google has just taken the wraps off the new Google TV. The name refers to the interface for the new, aptly titled Chromecast with Google TV, combining streaming services, live TV (via YouTube TV) and various other Google offerings into a single, streamlined UI.

In that sense, the new Google TV is similar to offerings from Apple and Amazon, serving as a kind of one-stop-shop to replace cable TV outright. It works with most of the top streaming offerings, including Disney+, france.tv, HBO Max, Netflix, Rakuten Viki and, of course, YouTube, with NBC’s Peacock coming soon.

Live TV is accessible for those who have a YouTube TV membership in the States. The (admittedly pricey at $65 a month) service brings access to 85 live stations, including the networks, CNN, ESPN and Nickelodeon, available via a Live tab. The company will also be adding additional live TV provider integration down the road.

The real secret sauce here, however, seems to be the underlying search smarts that serve as the foundation for so much of what Google does. Here’s the company discussing the new feature in a blog post:

To build this, we studied the different ways people discover media—from searching for a specific title to browsing by genre—and created an experience that helps you and what to watch. We also made improvements to Google’s Knowledge Graph, which is pa of how we beer understand and organize your media into topics and genres, from movies about space travel to reality shows about cooking. You’ll also see titles that are trending on Google Search, so you can always and something timely and relevant.

Image Credits: Google

Users can search for specific recommendations via voice. They can also use Assistant to get the weather, sports scores and view their security cams via compatible products like Nest straight from the TV set. The fact that the system is built on top of Android TV means that Google TV is compatible with some 6,500 apps at launch, with support for the company’s own streaming gaming offering, Stadia, coming in the first half of next year. When not in use, Ambient mode will display a slideshow of Google Photos.

Google TV is available for  Chromecast with Google TV, which launches today at $50. Users can also access it as part of the new Google TV app — an update to Google Play Movies & TV for Android, which also arrives today.

#entertainment, #google, #google-hardware-event-2020, #tc

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Watch Google’s Pixel 5 event live right here

Google is holding an event to unveil its new phone, the Google Pixel 5. It is going to be a virtual event, and you can steam it live. The event starts at 11 a.m. PDT (2 p.m. in New York, 7 p.m. in London, 8 p.m. in Paris).

Rumor has it that there could be more than just one device. In addition to the Pixel 5, there could be a new Chromecast as well as some updated connected speakers. The Google Home and Google Home Max haven’t been updated for a while, so there might be some updated devices.

Google has already expressed interests in releasing 5G devices. So you can expect a 5G variant of the Pixel 5. But the company might not be using top-of-the-line chipsets in its new smartphone.

Feel free to tag along and watch the event and please check our coverage of the event.

#gadgets, #google, #google-hardware-event-2020, #pixel, #pixel-5

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