SAN FRANCISCO - For the first time, Google's flagship Pixel 2 XL smartphone will be available in Singapore. The search giant made the announcement at its annual hardware event in San Francisco early Thursday (Oct 5) morning Singapore time.
The new 6-inch smartphone will be available here on Nov 15 in an exclusive partnership with Singtel. It is also the first time that a Google Pixel smartphone will be available in South-east Asia.
While local pricing has not been announced, consumers here can register their interest in the device at singtel.com/googlepixel from 9am on Thursday (Oct 5).
In addition, a localised version of Google Assistant that can understand Singlish will be launched later this year.
Google also plans to sell its new Pixel Buds wireless headphones here, though its local pricing is unknown. This wireless Bluetooth earbuds come with built-in Google Assistant and Google Translate features.
However, the smaller, 5-inch Pixel 2, as well as other newly revealed Google hardware devices, including a 2-in-1 convertible Chromebook and a smaller Google Home Mini smart speaker, will not be available in Singapore.
Both Pixel smartphones come with either 64GB or 128GB of internal storage and run the latest Android 8.0 Oreo mobile operating system. They sport a revamped home screen launcher that places the search bar near the bottom of the screen instead of the top.
New to the Pixel phones is the ability to squeeze the sides of the phones to trigger the Google Assistant. Dubbed Active Edge, it is similar to the Edge Sense feature introduced by the HTC U11 earlier this year.
The original Pixel had one of the best smartphone cameras last year, despite not having a dual-camera system. This camera was snappy and produced excellent high dynamic range (HDR) photos, thanks to an automatic HDR mode in its software.
The new Pixel 2 phones, however, are bucking the trend of equipping a dual-camera system. Instead they have a 12 mega-pixel rear camera with optical image stabilisation (OIS) to aid in taking photos in low-light conditions, and electronic image stabilisation (EIS) for more stable, less jerky videos.
More importantly, the camera on the new Pixel phones has topped the smartphone camera category rated by review website DxOMark with a score of 98. In comparison, the original Pixel scored 90 while the recently-launched iPhone 8 Plus and Galaxy Note8 scored 94.
Like its rivals, the Pixel camera supports a Portrait Mode feature that blurs the background while taking photos. The difference is that it uses machine learning instead of a second camera to achieve the effect. The front-facing camera, too, is able to take Portrait Mode selfies.
Exclusive to the Pixel smartphones at launch is the Google Lens feature, which can intelligently extract relevant information from images taken by the Pixel phone. For instance, it can pick up dates and timings to add to Google Calendar, or to scan a business card to add a phone contact. It is currently integrated with Google Photos as an option in the Photos app. Google says it will expand Lens to other devices in the future.
Music lovers will appreciate the built-in music recognition feature called Now Playing - think Shazam. The Pixel phones will identify the song and display it on their lock screens.
The Pixel phones have an always-on ambient display, like the ones on the Samsung Galaxy S8 and Note8 devices, that shows notifications.
Google has also ditched the 3.5mm headphone jack for its Pixel phones, a year after making fun of Apple for removing the headphone jack on the iPhone 7. Included with the phones is an adapter for the headphone jack.
The Pixels are rated at IP67 for water and dust resistance, which means they can survive unscathed when submerged in water of about a metre deep, for up to 30 minutes. This is an upgrade over the older IP53-rated Pixel phones that are merely resistant to splashes.
PRICING AND AVAILABILITY
Google has yet to reveal the Singapore pricing of the Pixel 2 XL.
In the United States, the Pixel 2 XL costs US$849 for the 64GB (S$1,149) model and US$949 (S$1,284) for the 128GB model.
The Pixel 2 is priced at US$649 (S$878) for the 64GB version and US$749 (S$1,014) for the 128GB model. It will be available on Oct 19.
GOOGLE PIXEL BUDS
Google also announced a pair of wireless Bluetooth headphones, the Google Pixel Buds. Unlike Apple's AirPods, Google's earbuds are not fully wireless - there is a connecting cable that links the two earphones together and lets you hang it on the neck when not in use.
A touchpad on the right earbud lets you answer calls and adjust the volume without reaching for the phone. More importantly, those with a paired Android Nougat device can tap this touchpad to ask the Google Assistant for help, from walking directions to sending a text. Google Assistant can also read out your messages and alert you to new notifications.
With a Google Pixel phone, the headphones also support a real-time translation feature powered by Google Translate. The headphones will pick up what you say, and play the translation in the desired language using the Pixel's speakers. Meanwhile, you will hear the translation of the other person in your ear via the Pixel Buds. It currently supports 40 languages.
Google says that a single charge will provide up to 5 hours of listening. Its carrying case also charges the Pixel Buds, and holds sufficient charges for the headphones for up to 24 hours of listening time.
It will be available for US$159 (S$216) in November.
Another new accessory that was announced, but unavailable in Singapore is the latest Google Daydream View headset. This US$99 (S$136) virtual reality (VR) headset now comes in new colours with upgraded lens. Google says that there are over 250 VR apps for the headset.
OTHER GOOGLE HARDWARE
In addition to its Pixel phones, Google also revealed the high-end Chromebook Pixelbook, a 2-in-1 convertible that runs on its lightweight Chrome operating system.
This 12.3-inch device can switch between tablet and laptop forms by flipping its flexible hinge. It has a dual-tone design that measures just 10mm thin and weighs around 1kg.
New features include an easy way to connect to a Pixel smartphone for mobile tethering, as well as support for Google Assistant, which is a first for a laptop.
It also comes with an optional stylus called the Pixelbook Pen, which is sold separately at US$99 (S$136). Google says that the pen offers over 2,000 levels of pressure sensitivity and is responsive with low latency.
It is powered by Intel Core processors and will come with 128GB, 256GB or 512GB of internal storage, with prices starting at US$999 (S$1,360). Pixelbook will be available in the US, Canada and UK from Oct 31.
Google has announced a smaller version of the Google Home smart speaker, a just a week after Amazon refreshed its Alexa-powered Echo smart home speakers and devices.
The new Google Home Mini is a fabric-covered, pebble-like, voice-activated speaker that comes with Google Assistant to help you with the latest weather and traffic updates, as well as control other smart home devices. It is priced at US$49 (S$67) and available in stores starting Oct 19 in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, UK and the US.
Last week, Google Home received an update that lets users set one-off and recurring reminders by speaking to it. This feature is also enabled for the Mini version.
For those who are more particular about audio, there is a new Google Home Max smart speaker that offers better audio quality than the standard Google Home.
Google Home Max can adapt to your environment thanks to its Smart Sound feature, which uses machine learning to tune the audio dynamically. It supports popular music streaming services such as Spotify and YouTube Music.
Like Home, it comes with Google Assistant built-in. It will be available at US$399 (S$543) in December in the US, with more countries to follow next year.
Finally, Google showed off Google Clips, a small standalone hands-free camera that uses machine learning to capture photos and video snippets for you at the right candid moment. It can be attached to various surfaces and objects. Users can choose which video clips or photos to save to their phones. It will be available soon at US$249 (S$339).