The big Google Pixel smartphone question: What's Google's hardware brand worth?

If Google price its next two flagship smartphones in the same ballpark as Apple and Samsung, the company could give tech buyers some pause.

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Image: Google

Google on Tuesday is expected to unveil its latest flagship Android devices, ditch the Nexus brand and roll out smartphones called Pixel. The big change here is that Google is putting its brand front and center as a hardware maker.

What's the Google brand worth on the hardware front? We'll find out if pricing rumors are on target.

The specs and announcements--two Pixel smartphones, details about Google Home, Google Wi-Fi and other goodies--have mostly leaked.

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But the most interesting item for me is the pricing. Google will reportedly price the Pixel phones starting at $649, according to Android Police. That price point puts Google's smartphones on par with those from Apple and Samsung.

Note that Android Police has a few caveats about its pricing report.

In either case, Google has used more aggressive pricing in the past and has positioned its devices more in the value category.

Should the Pixel XL start at $649 it'll directly compete with the likes of Samsung and Apple. Would you buy Google hardware (manufactured by HTC most likely) for what you'd pay Samsung for a Galaxy S7? Jokes about exploding Galaxy Note 7s aside, my guess is that most tech buyers will pause.

These tech buyers may also look to Lenovo's Moto unit for a better deal.

After all, the Pixel will have solid specs--12MP rear camera, 32GB storage, 2.0GHz 64-bit processor--but the win is the latest updates from Google. Still -- given Android's maturity -- getting the latest updates from Google isn't the big incentive it used to be.

In addition, I've had a few Nexus devices and while the updates on Android are notable there's a beta feel to the whole experience. I'm not sure Google is going to be able to command a premium price for devices that are largely going to be on par with what's produced already by Lenovo.

Add it up and Google/Android win on machine learning, AI, maps and being helpful as it walks a line of knowing too much about you. Google is a software and information brand. I probably won't care what hardware Google runs on and certainly won't pay up for an integrated all-Google experience I can get with another Android device.

Now all of that can change should Google integrate the experience well. Judging from the Nexus experience historically, Google has some work to do.