What a beginning. The Google I/O 2019 keynote is over, but it felt like a tour de force from the beginning to the end. While some of our predictions didn’t come true — will we never have a Pixel Watch? — the most anticipated rumors did come true, and that means we met some desirable new hardware, including the midrange Pixel 3a and the Nest Hub Max. Android Q was also in attendance, as expected, and it’s made us even more excited for the future of mobile technology.
But there were plenty of things we didn’t see coming, including Google’s focus on creating mobile tech that everyone can engage with, and the shrinking down of existing tools so they can be made more easily available to everyone. Here’s everything we saw at Google I/O 2019.
The Pixel 3a and 3a XL: Phones for the many, not the few
Phones are getting more expensive, and Google isn’t happy about that. That’s why it’s launched the midrange Pixel 3a and 3a XL — Google’s first midrange phone since the Nexus range, and the first non-flagship Pixel phone.
The pair are packed with good midrange specs, including the Snapdragon 670, and come with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of onboard storage. As is traditional, there’s no MicroSD card, but owners will get free high-resolution storage on Google Photos. As expected, both run the pure Pixel version of Android 9.0 Pie, and are guaranteed to get three years of major Android updates and security patches.
Unlike the all-glass Pixel 3 range, the Pixel 3a and 3a XL are made from polycarbonate, and come in three colors — Clearly White, Just Black, and the new Purple-ish color. There’s even a feature you won’t find on the flagship Pixel: a 3.5mm headphone jack. Battery life has also been improved, with a 3,000mAh battery on the Pixel 3a, and a 3,700mAh battery on the Pixel 3a XL. You’ll also get the same high-level of security as the flagship Pixel range.
The Pixel 3a range will come with the same exceptional camera as the Pixel 3, and also comes with Night Sight, Top Shot, and all the software fun you expect from a flagship phone. Active Edge makes a welcome return, and you’ll even get access to Google’s A.I.-enabled Call Screen and Duplex. Pixel phones will now also get access to Google’s new AR mode in Google Maps, so you’ll be able to actually see where you need to go in the real world.
The Pixel 3a — and the entire Pixel family — will now also be available from a much larger variety of U.S. carriers, including Sprint, Verizon, T-Mobile, and U.S. Cellular. The Pixel 3a starts from $400, while the larger Pixel 3a XL starts at $480.
Read our Pixel 3a review for more
The new version of Android is always a big part of Google I/O, and 2019 was no different. Google is making security, digital wellbeing, and innovation a huge part of Android Q — but we hadn’t anticipated how many new accessibility options Google was building into Android Q as part of its drive to bring mobile technology to as many people as possible.
Accessibility through A.I. was a major theme throughout the keynote, but this was never more obvious than where Android Q was concerned. Google is keen to use mobile technology to enrich the lives of as many people as possible, including those with disabilities. Remember Google launching an app called Live Transcribe a few months ago? The app did just that: It listened for speech nearby, and transcribed it onto your device’s screen.
Google is taking that a step further with Live Caption. With one tap, your device will be able to recognize speech and transcribe it directly onto your screen, without having to change apps. Built into Android Q, Live Caption will be easily accessed with the volume rocker. It uses Google’s speech recognition to put captions over any video — even if it wouldn’t usually have them. Best of all, the processing for Live Captions is done entirely on the device, so there’s no need to send any additional data to the cloud, minimizing mobile data use, and heightening security.
Live Relay is another element of this, designed to help deaf people who need to speak on the phone but are unable to by other means. By using speech recognition and text-to-speech, Live Relay acts as a mediator between yourself and the phone, transcribing the call, and speaking messages to the person on the other end of the call.
Support for foldable screens is also coming to Android Q, as is native support for 5G connections. A systemwide Dark theme — a long-awaited feature — has also been confirmed. You can also expect the usual boosts to security and privacy in the new OS. Giving users control was very much a theme of Google’s new mobile OS, and users will soon also soon get stronger parental controls built-in, as well as a distraction-hiding Focus Mode.
Read more about Android Q
The next generation of the Google Assistant is almost here
It wouldn’t feel like Google I/O without a mention of Google Assistant. But what we got wasn’t just some new features or abilities — instead, Google used the I/O 2019 keynote to give us a good long look at what it’s calling the next generation of Google Assistant.
One of the biggest changes this year is behind-the-scenes, but it’s no less impressive. Google has worked hard to change the way Google Assistant works to make it faster to respond, and the way it’s managed to do that is by shrinking it down and changing it so all the A.I.’s processing happens on-device, rather than being sent up to the cloud. Removing the need to send data to the cloud doesn’t just make it more secure, it also means it’s much more data-efficient. At just 500MB, it’s also much easier to use on cheaper devices too.
But that was just the start. The next generation of Google Assistant will be able to handle even more tasks, processing questions and answers up to 10 times faster. Continued Conversation means you don’t have to keep saying “Hey, Google,” and the Assistant will even be able to pull data from other apps into bubbles in front of your current task — so you don’t need to navigate away.
Google Duplex is moving online
Google Duplex was one of the biggest innovations of last year’s I/O, and now it doesn’t just handle phone calls. The new and improved Duplex can fill in reservation forms you find online, including those for car hiring. As with the phone version of Duplex, it asks you to confirm its choices before the booking is complete, so you can be sure it’s booking the correct thing. It should be accurate though, as it pulls from your Gmail and previous bookings to understand your preferences. Duplex on the web will be coming later this year.
Finally, Google is expanding its offering within the car. Presumably made to complement the new Android Auto is the Google Assistant’s new Driving mode. Launch it by saying “let’s drive,” and the dashboard immediately highlights a selection of recommended and personal actions. It will also be completely voice-controllable — so you never have to take your hands off the wheel.
Read more about the next-gen Google Assistant
The Nest Hub Max
Hold onto your Google Home Mini, as the Google Home smart range is changing. Google is bringing its smart home section under the Nest umbrella. That means the Google Home Hub is becoming the Nest Hub — but more important, Google is also introducing a new member of the family, the Nest Hub Max. It’s essentially a larger version of the Nest Hub packing a camera and a larger display.
The Nest Hub Max will use Duo for video calls, so it’s able to call Android and iOS phones, and the intelligent camera lens will follow you around the frame if you move. Security is still a focus for Google, so your Hub Max will never record without you knowing what it’s recording. A small green LED will always show when it’s recording, and it’s also easy to turn off the video camera entirely.
In much the same way other Google Home units have Voice match, the Nest Hub Max will be able to recognise you with Face Match. Face Match allows your Hub Max to recognize you and show personalized information when it knows you’re around. If it doesn’t recognize a face, it will notify you immediately that a stranger might be in your house.
The Nest Hub Max will launch at $229, while the original Nest Hub also see a price drop, taking it to $129.
Read our Nest Hub Max review
Bringing the camera to Google Search, and improving Google Lens
Google CEO Sundar Pichai opened the keynote by highlighting what Google is adding to its oldest and most used product — Google Search. Starting soon, you’ll be able to open podcasts and more directly from your Google Search results — but most excitingly, you’ll also be able to access AR content directly from your Google Image Search on an AR-compatible mobile device.
Google is also improving Google Lens. Google Lens’ new software will be able to automatically highlights popular dishes on a restaurant’s menu, and even show you what it looks like, as well as relevant reviews from Google Maps. It will also be able to calculate an appropriate tip from looking at your receipt. Google is also looking at adding more AR content to Google Lens as well, including real-time AR recipes in supported cookbooks.
Google Lens has had the ability to translate text for a while, but Google is also adding the ability to have translated text read back to you. Particularly useful for anyone with impaired vision, this feature already works in over a dozen languages, including English, French, Spanish, and more. The software has also been tuned to be exceptionally small, so it will work with various entry-level phones as cheap as $35.
Read more about Google Lens and AR Google Search
Updated on May 7, 2019: We’ve added everything that was announced at Google I/O 2019.
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