​Google Pixel smartphones: Will specs, $649 starting price, assistant make 'made by Google' matter?

Google's hardware event is designed to get tech buyers on board with the search giant as a hardware vendor and creating an experience that personalizes the company's machine-learning efforts.

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Google is betting that "Made By Google" will matter in the hardware market, as it rolled out a pair of high-end smartphones using its Pixel brand. The real pitch: Google can integrate hardware and software with artificial intelligence at the core.

CNET: Pixel and Pixel XL unveiled: Google's post-Nexus phones come out swinging

What remains to be seen is how tech buyers will value Google as a hardware player and whether they'll pay up for devices promising an integrated experience from the search giant. After all, the Pixel devices start at $649.

Rest assured that the Alphabet's Google is giving another run at hardware. Google Glass, a lumpy Nest acquisition and the sale of Motorola Mobility be damned.

Google's event and live stream will feature virtual-reality hardware, an Amazon Echo-ish device called Google Home, and smartphones. Google also pre-briefed a few outlets. For instance, Bloomberg went live with a feature minutes before the Google event. The short version:

  • The company can deliver new assistant features
  • Android's latest version Nougat 7.1
  • A new executive running Google's latest take on its hardware unit in Rick Osterloh
  • Google may alienate partners like Samsung

"This is the right time to be involved in hardware and software," said Osterloh, who argued that Google's main advantage is to integrate hardware and software with AI at the center. "Bringing hardware and software together allows us to leverage years of experience in machine learning and AI. We're in it for the long run."

For Google, the Pixel effort is a big reboot. Google executives talked about how the company started from scratch on hardware and integrated engineering teams. CEO Sundar Pichai sees hardware as a companion to Google's assistant technology. "Our goal is to make a personal Google to reach individual users," said Pichai. "This is about getting our assistant in the hands of users. This is what this is about."

CNET: How Google hopes its Pixel camera will win over iPhone fans

Google said everything about the Pixel is simple. The Pixel was designed by Google but manufactured by HTC.

Osterloh called the Pixel "beautiful", and emphasized the "Google smarts" at its heart. "It's the first phone with the Google Assistant built in," he said.

Google's hardware revolves around:

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As for specs:

  • Two screen sizes (5 inch and 5.5 inch)
  • Features work on both size devices
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  • Google said it reworked the camera stack on the Pixel and touted its camera rating. Images are processed fast, and the speed of the camera app were improved as were stabilization, HDR, and a bevy of sensors.
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  • Google private cloud storage.
  • Battery life has been improved with fast charging (Google claims that 7 hours of battery life can be had in 15 minutes).
  • Updates for Android have been improved.
  • Google support is available 24/7 via voice, video and chat (Google improving customer service is critical if it is going to get buy-in on the hardware front).
  • Google also rolled out a new migration app.

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