In a big day that was partially ruined by leaks, Google announced two new Nexus-branded Android handsets, a new Pixel C tablet, and new Chromecast devices.
While Android and Chrome OS are of course problematic for Microsoft, Google’s own devices for tnhe most part are not. The Nexus phones and Pixel-branded Chromebooks have never sold in appreciable numbers, nor have they really inspired other devices makers to follow along. Oddly, of these devices, only Chromecast has made a big impact, and while a lot of that is price—these little AV dongles sell for just $35 each–it helps that they actually solve problems too.
As with my recent examination of the new iPhones—see A Few Thoughts About the New iPhones and A Few More Thoughts About the New iPhones for more information—I’ll approach these devices with the same viewpoint on how I think they impact Microsoft’s products, as well as other competition. That said, this is based only on today’s announcements, as I don’t have any of these devices on-hand yet.
The new phones: Nexus 6P and Nexus 5X
For the first time ever, Google has announced two new phones at the same time, the new Nexus 6P flagship and the Nexus 5X, a spiritual successor of sorts to one of the only truly successful Nexus handsets, the Nexus 5. Both are made by different companies: The Nexus 6P is made by Huawei, and replaces the beastly-big Nexus 6, a Motorola product. And the Nexus 5X is made by LG Electronics, as was the original Nexus 5.
Both devices feature what Google describes as superior cameras, which should raise eyebrows within the Lumia fanbase. Neither supports optical image stabilization, but Google says it’s not necessary because these devices both sport identical 12.3 MP cameras with very large pixels. Both also include USB-C ports (which is trendy right now, but Google says it’s for faster charging, a cute way of redirecting the lack of wireless charging) and Nexus Imprint fingerprint readers (on the back; we’ll see whether that is awkward) for both sign-ins and Android Pay payments.
Both offer improvements over their respective predecessors. Where the Nexus 6 was simply too big—and was unpopular as a result—the Nexux 6P “right-sizes” down to 5.7 inches, putting it in iPhone 6S Plus/Galaxy Note 4 territory. It also features an “aeronautical-grade aluminum” body for a more professional look and feel. It comes in silver, black, or white, with prices starting at $499, about $100 more than I’d like.
The Nexus 5X features a 5.2-inch screen, a hexa-core Snapdragon 808 processo, and comes in three colors: Black, white, and rose gold, er, sea breakze blue or whatever it’s called. Prices start at $379, which is about $80 too expensive in this day and age.
The most curious announcement today—and the only one not destroyed by leaks—was the Pixel C, a new Android-based tablet that can turn into a laptop-like device using an optional, magnetically attached keyboard cover. If that sounds familiar to Surface Pro (from 2012) or Apple’s recently announced iPad Pro, well, it is. This is Google’s take on the PC hybrid.
What’s curious about this, of course, is that it’s Android, and not Chrome OS. To date, each of Google’s Pixel devices has run Chrome OS, so this is a departure. (Put another way, to date, each of Google’s tablets has been branded as Nexus.)
As with the overly-expensive Chromebook Pixel, it’s not clear what the market for this device, though, full disclosure, I never understood the point of Chrome OS and have always felt that Android was the right choice for a hybrid tablet/laptop device (from Google) if only because of the rich app library and surrounding ecosystem. Maybe Google intends to let them fight it out and let the market decide.
Pricing is as you might expect: $500 for the base tablet and $150 for the keyboard. There’s no stylus, so Surface fans can stop fretting for now.
Chromecast and Chromecast Audio
While I’m not clear why Google needs separate Chromecast and Chromecast Audio dongles, well, they have ’em. Both cost just $35, both are available now, and both let you “cast” content from an Android or iOS device, or from the web. So not from Windows, at least not natively.
The new Chromecast works like the old one, but has been updated with a new round body (because it’s important what something you hide behind a TV looks like) and improvements like more modern Wi-Fi support, higher-quality video, and so on. There’s still no remote.
The Chromecast Audio is specifically for turn dumb speakers into smart speakers, creating in effect a poor man’s Sonos system. This device plugs into speakers rather than an HDTV, and works with popular apps like Spotify, Pandora and Google Play Music.
I’ve already ordered both of the new Chromecasts and will be testing them soon.
Google Play Music family plan
Speaking of Google Play Music, Google announced that it will be copying Apple Music and offering a family plan “later this year” at a cost of $14.99 per month (compared to $9.99 per person) for up to six people. This is smart. And we desperately need this for Groove Music. Microsoft? Anyone home?