Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Google Launches Pixel 4 Line and New Pixel Buds

Dieter Bohn of the Verge got to spend time with the new line of Google Pixel 4 phones and was particularly impressed with its new facial identification system:

I’ll admit, it was a little jarring. Every phone I’ve ever used had some sort of secondary action between picking up the phone and getting into it: a tap on a fingerprint sensor or a swipe on the screen. With the Pixel 4, it’s like there isn’t a lock screen at all because you almost never get a chance to see it.

I’ll have to do some actual timing in the review because it’s 100 percent possible that this speed is more perception than reality. The phone begins its unlock procedure before you even touch it, using that Motion Sense radar to detect you’re reaching for it. (More on that below.) It also feels faster because it jumps right into the last thing you were doing instead of requiring a second action with no animation that I could detect.

As facial recognition becomes faster on all phones, I wonder if today’s interpretation of the look and function of lock screens could effectively vanish.

The main thing Motion Sense does is pay attention to whether you’re even near the phone or if you’re reaching for it. If you walk away from it, it detects that and turns off the always-on display. If you reach for it, it activates the screen and face unlock.

Motion Sense lets you skip forward or back when music is playing, too. But the best feature is dismissing alarms and calls. When you simply reach for the phone, the volume drops when the phone sees your hand. Then you can simply wave to dismiss the call or snooze the alarm.

Without trying this feature — and I know that’s a big caveat — it sounds almost like the inverse of 3D Touch. And we all know how that experiment ended.

Google has clearly always wanted to do their own Android phones: they started with the Nexus One in 2010 and keep launching new ones every year. But they’ve never really been a big sales hit. These could be great phones, and will almost certainly be the best Android experience you can buy — primarily because the experience is unashamedly cribbed from the iPhone playbook. But, based on sales numbers, there just isn’t a huge market for people who want an iPhone that runs Android. People who want an iPhone buy an iPhone; people who want a premium Android phone seem to want it to be very different from an iPhone.

Google also launched a bunch of Google Home stuff today that doesn’t interest me, and a pair of earbuds that does. The old Pixel Buds were panned by reviewers, but the new ones ought to be better.

Victoria Song, Gizmodo:

Battery life is the same at five hours, though Google says they can last up to 24 hours with the wireless charging case. Sound-wise, they have dynamic volume adjusting depending on your environment. Google also emphasized they thought real hard about stuffing all those components into a new design — a video described them as “floating computers.” They’re not exactly noise-canceling; Google described them as “noise-isolating.” Basically, it’s got a small spatial vent to let in outside air. Supposedly that makes for a more comfortable Pixel Bud, but we’ll have to try them out for ourselves.

I love the sound of that dynamic volume adjustment feature. Every morning, I put my AirPods in and start listening to something while I’m waiting for the elevator; a couple of minutes later, I’m walking down a busy street and find myself reaching for the volume up button. And then, a few minutes after that, I turn onto a quieter side street and need to turn it back down a bit. What a great idea.

Unfortunately, while Google said today that these new Pixel Buds could do a lot of very cool new things, they won’t be shipping until next year and the demo models they showed to the press were non-functional.

Nevertheless, I’d love to try them, and one of these new Pixel phones.

Dan Seifert wrote a good piece in the Verge before today’s Google press event about the wireless earbud market:

While a few niche startups were first to put truly wireless headphones on the market, Apple really defined the scene with its 2016 release of the AirPods, showing what a good execution on the idea is like: reliable wireless connectivity, at least five hours of battery life, and a compact, easy-to-use charging case.

Since then, we’ve seen Samsung release several iterations of its own wireless earbuds before landing on a (mostly) working formula with this year’s Galaxy Buds. Many smaller companies, such as Jabra and Jaybird, have put out products that try to address the remaining AirPod faults, such as the lack of a customizable fit or poor sound blocking characteristics. Even Apple is selling multiple versions of truly wireless earbuds between the AirPods and its Beats brand.

It’s a crowded space. It’s also the category of tech products that, I think, comes closest to feeling futuristic today — especially with features like the new Announce Messages with Siri option coming in iOS 13.2.