Google Pixel 2: smartphone upgrade highlights internet giant’s push into hardware and artificial intelligence

The new smartphone includes a revamped single-lens camera that promises better images using an AI tool known as computational photography

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 14 October, 2017, 10:16am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 November, 2017, 3:09pm

Google has unveiled new versions of its Pixel smartphone, the highlight of a refreshed line aimed at weaving artificial intelligence (AI) deeper into modern lives.

Google software and AI were common threads in the gamut of new devices it unveiled this week, showing it is stepping up its challenge on the hardware front to rivals such as Apple and Amazon.

The new Pixel 2 and larger Pixel 2 XL are the first Google-made phones to be released since the California tech giant bought key segments of Taiwan-based electronics group HTC.

The upgraded smartphones are officially available in six countries (including Singapore but not China and Hong Kong) starting at US$649 for the five-inch display Pixel 2, and US$849 for the six-inch Pixel 2 XL.

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The new aluminium smartphones, along with Google’s upgraded connected speakers and new laptop computer, all aim to infuse AI to make the devices more user-friendly, built around the Google Assistant – the rival to Amazon’s Alexa, Microsoft’s Cortana and others.

Google vice-president Rick Osterloh says Google’s new devices “are simple to use and they anticipate your needs”. Osterloh told the product launch event in San Francisco: “You interact with your devices naturally with your voice or by touching them.”

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By bringing in a team of engineers from HTC, Google aims to emulate the success of Apple iPhones by controlling the hardware as well as the software used in the premium-priced handsets.

The revamped camera in the smartphone retains a single lens, but seeks to improve images via an AI “computational photography” tool.

Analyst Ian Fogg of IHS Markit wrote in a tweet that the new smartphone “adds incremental improvements on the great v1”, while noting that “Google’s challenge is to solve production limits which hurt the original.”

Fogg also wrote that the use of computation to improve images with a single lens “is technically impressive”.