Google unveils 5G Pixels with feature that lets Google Assistant wait on hold so you don't have to
Google announced its first 5G smartphones, the $699 Pixel 5 flagship, and the $499 5G version of its Pixel 4a budget handset. (The previously announced non-5G Pixel 4a goes for $349). That leaves Apple as the only major smartphone maker without a 5G handset though this almost certainly won’t be the case for long. Apple is expected to unleash iPhones sometime in October.
5G of course promises the kind of blistering speeds that will let you download a movie onto the device in seconds, though your ability to exploit this fast wireless pipeline will depend on where you have coverage.
Indeed, fast speeds are grand, but what really makes the new Pixels interesting are some of the other features, at least on paper.
Fresh camera tricks. Google is adding the night sight feature that lets you shoot photos in near darkness to portrait mode, the feature that keeps the background fuzzy while the focus is on your main subject. Under such lighting conditions, it is to say the least a challenge to blur the background while having the subject stand out as in the Google supplied image below. I’m eager to see just how well Google pulls this off in my own hands.
Google also says it has improved portrait mode by dropping in extra light to such a photo. Inside Google Photos, you can even add the effect to portrait shots taken year ago inside Google Photos.
I’d also like to try a new video feature Google calls cinematic pan, which promises sweeping Hollywood style special effects by stabilizing and slowing down the motion by 2X.
The phone has a 12.2 MP dual pixel camera and 16 MP ultra-wide shooter on the rear, and 8 MP front camera.
Forget waiting on hold. Perhaps the most intriguing new feature has to do with something we can all relate to, spending endless time on hold listening to lame music while waiting for some representative to come on the line. Now the Google Assistant can take your place and alert you when the person you’re trying to reach is finally able to talk to you. It’s the latest way that the Google Assistant is making unpleasant phone interactions just a little bit better.
Indeed, on prior Pixel phones (and on these new models as well) the Assistant can help thwart robocallers and fraudsters by screening calls before the phone even rings. Google says this Call Screen feature collectively helps people with more than 25 million calls save 2 million minutes monthly.
Google is also adding HD screen sharing on Duo video calls.
What else? Let me tick off some other features inside the Pixel 5. The aluminum phone is water resistant (lacking on the 4a), has an all-day 4080 mAh battery (with fast wireless charging) and a 6-inch Full HD+ OLED display with slim bezels. The phone is supplied with 8GB of RAM and 128 GB of storage. It is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G processor, has a Titan M security chip, and will launch with Android 11.
If you buy either of Google’s new 5G phones, you will get three months of Google’s Stadiia Pro gaming service, YouTube Premium, plus 100GB of cloud storage as part of the Google One subscription service.
Meanwhile, I'm a huge fan (and user) of a holdover Recorder app feature on Pixel that automatically can transcribe recordings in real time--a boon to us journalists who can search the transcripts later. What's more, you can now crop or remove corresponding audio form a recording.
One bummer: Google has removed the standard size audio jack on the Pixel 5 that it kept on the 4a.
Separate from the phones, Google on Wednesday unveiled a 49.99 Chromecast dongle with Google TV, now with a voice remote control. Chromecast competes against streaming sticks from Amazon Fire TV and Roku. By pressing the Assistant button on the remote, you can ask Chromecast to help you find something to watch. The remote also had dedicated buttons for Netflix and YouTube.
Google also is taking pre-orders on a new $99.99 Nest Audio smart speaker that was also announced during a virtual press event. It sounded good through my computer though that is hardly a true test.