Google Pixel Phones Tap Into Google Assistant, Daydream VR

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As expected, Google on Tuesday ditched the Nexus branding for its new lineup of Pixel smartphones.

The aluminum unibody-glass Pixel is made by Google and is the first to tap into the Google Assistant and the Daydream VR platform the company first previewed at Google I/O.

At the time, Google CEO Sundar Pichai described Assistant as something that will allow users to have "an ongoing, two-way dialog with Google." In a demo onstage here in San Francisco, Google used Assistant on the Pixel to buy concert tickets, make a restaurant reservation, and get directions all by voice.

"It can help with the big things like weekend plans, but it's also good for the little things like finding information, setting reminders for yourself, and so much more," said Brian Rakowski, VP of Product Management at Google.

For video chats, there's also Google Duo built in.

If you need more help than Google Assistant can provide, the company built 24-7 live customer care right into the phone, accessible via phone or chat. A screen-share option also lets a Google agent see what you're seeing.

Pixel comes in two sizes: 5 inches or 5.5 inches. It runs a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 processor and sports a high-definition AMOLED Corning Gorilla Glass 4 display. There's 4GB of LPDDR4 RAM, a fingerprint sensor, a USB-C connector and 3.5mm headphone jack, and support for Bluetooth 4.2.

Rakowski boasted that the Pixel has the "best smartphone camera anyone has made." It features a 12.3MP rear-facing camera with 1.55 micron pixels and f/2.0 aperture. A smart burst feature will capture a continuous stream of images and select the "sharpest, clearest photo of just the right moment," Rakowski said.

HDR+ is also turned on by default, which will reduce noise and minimize blur to produce "clear vivid pictures, even in challenging conditions," he said. The phone also processes images twice as fast ("so you can keep snapping away") and features image stabilization for less nausea-inducing video.

As an added incentive, Google will provide unlimited storage for photos and video from the Pixel at full resolution, even 4K videos.

VR fans can pop the Pixel into Google's new Daydream View, the first Daydream-ready headset and controller. Get it in November for $79.

When it comes to battery life, Pixel will "easily" get you through your day with its 2,700mAh or 3,450 mAh battery, according to Sabrina Ellis, director of Product Management at Google. For those times when power is dwindling, Pixel owners can get seven hours worth of battery life with 15 minutes of charging, she said.

Pixel ships with Android 7.0 Nougat, and Google promised system and security updates as soon as they're available. Going forward, those upgrades will be downloaded and installed in the background, so you're ready to go right away. "Gone are the days of staring at a progress bar while waiting for an update to install," Ellis said.

If you're switching over from another mobile OS, Google added a new tool that will transfer contacts, photos, videos, music, texts, calendar events, and even iMessages over to the Pixel.

In the US, the Pixel is a Verizon exclusive, also available at Best Buy, though Google will also sell it unlocked on the Google Store and it will work on Project Fi. Pre-orders begin today in the US, Australia, Canada, Germany, and the UK starting at $649 or $27 per month for a 32GB device; a 128GB version is also available. Google has adopted a rather tongue-in-cheek color-naming convention for the Pixel; get it in Quite Black, Really Blue, or Very Silver.

The demise of the Nexus brand, meanwhile, is the end of an era. As Google notes, it has "partnered closely with mobile handset partners around the world to bring you the best of Android" since 2010. "Through Nexus, the goal was to work with these various partners to push the boundaries of what's possible with a smartphone. We've now decided to take the next step and provide our take on the best Google experience, by bringing hardware and software design together under one roof."

Also today, Google unveiled a 4K Chromecast and announced that its Home device, set to rival Amazon Echo, arrives on Nov. 4 for $129.

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