Google’s Pixel phones tick off all the checkboxes, but its design is uninspiring

The Pixel XL (top) and Pixel (bottom).
Image: dustin drankoski/mashable

Google couldn’t have picked a better time to hit reset on its flagship phones. Samsung’s Galaxy Note7 is literally burning up in flames, and that’s created a gaping hole in the premium Android market.

The company’s new Pixel and Pixel XL replace the Nexus phones. The names are new and they’re positioned as premium phones, but, make no mistake, they still stick to the Nexus mission: to offer the very best and purest experience of Android and Google services that you can get.

Which isn’t to say the Nexus phones were flawless. The problem with Nexus wasn’t bad hardware (last year’s 5X and 6P were the best Nexus phones yet) or poor software (stock Android will always be superior to any custom skins), but that they never moved outside of the geek circle: Google barely marketed them, and they never really sold at scale. Most consumers still don’t know what a Nexus is.

To many people, Android equals Samsung. And for good reason: Samsung’s Galaxy phones (when they’re not exploding) are incredibly well-made. The company makes dozens of different models, and Samsung shipped more than 300 million phones worldwide last year.

That’s an empire, but without the Note7, Samsung has a empty spot at the top of the line. Android needs a new king can the Google Pixel fill the void left by the Note7?

The Pixel XL (left) has a 5.5-inch screen and the Pixel (right) has a 5-inch screen.


With the Nexus, Google trapped itself into a corner with price. Consumers got used to expecting midrange prices for a premium phone. The Pixels, by contrast, are priced like iPhones.

The Pixel starts at $650 for a 32GB of storage and the Pixel XL starts at $770 for 32GB. Both are also available with monthly financing plans starting at $27 per month paid over 24 months.

In the U.S., the Pixels are available from the Google Store and at Verizon stores. Verizon’s Pixels come with three pre-loaded apps, which are fortunately removable, but otherwise, they’re carrier unlocked and identical to the ones sold from Google.

They come in three colors: “Quite Black,” “Very Silver” and a limited edition “Really Blue.” Obvious digs at the iPhone 7’s pretentious color names aside, I tested out the Quite Black Pixel XL and let me tell you, it is not quite black. The color is more gunmetal or dark gray. It still looks nice, but it’s nowhere near as sleek and stealthy as, say, a Jet Black or Matte Black iPhone 7 or a Black Onyx Galaxy Note7 (RIP).

Looks nice, but doesn’t inspire


Everyone who has seen the Pixel XL says it looks just like an iPhone. I don’t really see it.

Sure it’s got some similarities like the aluminum body, visible antenna bands and rounded corners, but all phones now look like that. Save for the extra large pane of glass covering two thirds of the backside, the Pixel XL hardware is as generic as a premium phone gets.

Like the past Nexus phones, the Pixel XL is made by another company. In this case, HTC’s manufacturing it and Google takes full credit for its design as evidenced by the “G” logo on the back and no HTC logo anywhere to be found.

Fingerprint sensor


Textured power button


There’s nothing wrong with the Pixel XL’s hardware; it’s a nice metal phone. But there’s also nothing that jumps out and surprises like the Jet Black iPhone 7 finish or the curved glass edges on the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge (and the now dead Note7). Those phones exude luxury and tempt you to caress them every single time. The Pixel XL just is.

When you’ve seen phones like the OnePlus 3 that cost hundreds less and also come with solid metal designs, the Pixels, despite their sturdy construction, just don’t inspire.

But looks are just one reason to buy a phone. Usability is another. The Pixel XL is pretty manageable for a phone with a 5.5-inch screen. It’s a smidge larger than the S7 Edge and way easier to hold and use with one hand than any Plus-sized iPhone. The Pixel has a smaller, more manangeable 5.2-inch 1080p screen.

Performance and power all day long

The Pixel XL’s not lacking in specs. It’s got a large and bright Quad HD screen (2,560 x 1,440) and a big 3,450 mAh battery that’ll last you up to two days. The Pixel XL is definitely a marathoner and not a sprinter. The Pixel’s got a smaller 2,770 mAh battery. Both phones also support quick charging to get up to 7 hours of battery life with a 15-minute boost.

It’s got the newest Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 processor with 4GB of RAM and comes with either 32GB or 128GB of storage. I don’t recommend buying 32GB since there’s no memory card slot to add more storage later.

The Pixel XL is definitely a marathoner and not a sprinter.

On the other hand, the Pixels do come with unlimited full-resolution photo and video storage with Google Photos, so if you’re planning to stash everything in the cloud, maybe 32GB will be enough. But even with the premium Google Photos storage, I wouldn’t get 32GB since apps keep getting larger; if you’re buying a premium device, you can afford to pay extra for storage.

The rest of the Pixel XL is pretty similar to the Nexus 6P. There’s a fast-working fingerprint sensor on the back (doubles as a touchpad to bring the notifications shade down with a swipe), identical power and volume buttons on the right side and a reversible USB-C port on the bottom.

The Pixels come with USB-C ports and support fast charging.


The mono speaker is a bit of a downgrade compared to the Nexus 6P now that they’re both downward-facing instead of front-facing stereo speakers. The Pixel XL’s speakers can get loud, but when even the iPhone 7 has at least one front-facing speaker and a stereo setup, it’s a little disappointing. But hey, at least there’s a headphone jack. That’s meaningful in 2016.

The phones ship with Android 7.1 Nougat, which comes with some new features like split-screen, better notifications, more emoji and customizable quick settings. Daily performance is as I expected: fast and smooth with no noticeable lag opening apps or multitasking. And you’ll have no issues playing playing 3D games like the usual graphic-intensive Asphalt 8 and N.O.V.A. 3 or Pokmon Go (if you’re still playing it).

Other neat little gems include the GIF keyboard and Night Light (works just like iOS’s Night Shift mode and adjusts the screen to a warmer color temperature for nighttime use).

The Pixels run Android 7.1 Nougat and come with a new “Pixel Launcher” that no longer has the app drawer icon; it’s been replaced with a ^ swipe up.


The most notable aesthetic change is the home screen. Google’s app icons are now round, the search bar is tucked inside of an oblong “G” icon that floats in the upper left, and the app drawer icon is no longer an icon that hogs up a spot on your dock (it’s been replaced with a “^” that brings up all your apps with a swipe up). They’re all fairly minor tweaks, but they make for a more pleasant Android experience.

Alongside all your regular Google apps, the Pixels also come with Allo and Duo. Allo replaces Hangouts (which is disabled by default, but can be enabled from the Play store) and Duo is basically Google’s FaceTime.

A digital assistant that’s actually smart

More than the hardware, newest version of Android or great cameras, Google strongly believes AI is the next frontier after mobile.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai said AI will tie all devices together and the company is uniquely positioned to dominate because of its heavy investment in machine learning. Google’s been building towards its Google Assistant with Google Now for years and now it’s here. As a built-in feature, it’s exclusive to the Pixel phones (and Google Home), and it stomps all over Siri.

As Pichai said on stage during the Pixel’s unveil event, Assistant is “your own personal Google.” It’s constantly learning things, and it can intelligently anticipate what you want to do next.

Image: screenshot: raymond wong/mashable


To activate the Assistant, you press and hold the home button. (This action was previously reserved for Google Now on Tap, which has now been absorbed by the Assistant.) And then you just start talking to it. Your requests show up in a chat-like interface, which I guess is supposed to make it feel more like you’re talking to someone on the other end. You can still say “OK, Google” if your screen’s unlocked, but that’s still lame, especially in public.

The Assistant is pretty quick to answer. It rarely misunderstood what I was saying and corrected itself on the fly even as I stuttered through some of the queries.

It understands all the general voice commands like “What’s the weather?” and “Give me directions to the Grand Hyatt,” but most importantly, it understands conversational English and understands it well.

For example, you can say “I’m hungry” and the Assistant will show some nearby restaurants. Or say, “Show me the Pen Pineapple Apple song,” and it’ll bring up the viral song and video from YouTube. It’s also hilarious to ask for photos, which it’ll either search for on the web or yank from your Google Photos (if it detects any relevant ones). Try “Photos of dogs with hats” to get a fun laugh.

I asked the Assistant what Trump’s latest tweet was…


…and it launched Twitter to show me.

Image: screenshot: Raymond wong/mashable

It’s still weird to talk to the Assistant (just like it was weird to talk to the Amazon Echo’s Alexa in the beginning) instead of just going into an app and doing things yourself, but once you get used to this new way of oral computing and realize how much time you’re saving, I think there will be no going back. Years from now, we’ll all be laughing at how we spent time opening Chrome up to look someone up or Google Maps to get home.

Google’s Assistant is still a newborn, but it’s already fulfilling what Siri promised.

Stunning photos, except for one thing

The Pixels have identical cameras: 12.3 megapixels on the back.


Google says the Pixels have the best smartphone cameras, period; DxOMark, an industry-respected imaging benchmark, gave it a score of 89, the highest of any smartphone camera.

That said, a high score is what you aim for when you’re playing Pac-Man, but mostly nonsense when it comes to determining the best smartphone camera.

I mean, when the HTC 10 has the same score as the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge, and the Sony Xperia Z5 one of the worst-tested smartphone cameras in Mashable’s 2015 ultimate smartphone camera shootout scores higher than the iPhone 7, I was highly skeptic.

Having tested every single flagship phone this year (crazy, right?), I can tell you unequivocally it’s harder than ever before to crown any one phone’s cameras the best there is. The best will be decided over the nerdy details and, honestly, nobody but nerds care that much.

If you want to really see how well the Pixel cameras compare to the iPhone 7 and Galaxy S7 Edge, check out our in-depth camera comparison here where you’ll find more sample photos and more close-up side-by-sides. It may surprise you just how good the Pixel cameras are, especially if you’re more forgiving on when it comes to color reproduction.

I couldn’t find many photos that looked like potatoes out of the hundreds of shots I took.

For a 2016 flagship phone, the Pixel XL’s cameras are exactly where they need to be. They’re wicked fast to focus, shoot and save (even with HDR+ processing turned on). Details are crisp and detailed from the 12.3-megapixel back and 8-megapixel front camera and the back camera excels in low-light situations with little to complain.

Reviewing the photos on the Pixel XL’s screen, I couldn’t find many photos that looked like potatoes out of the hundreds of shots I took. That’s really impressive and Google should give itself a huge pat on the back for really improving the cameras.

The back camera’s only real weakness is color accuracy. The camera still tends to oversaturate colors with warmer tones. So shots look way yellower, redder and greener than they really do in real life. Some people like this artificial color boost since they really pop off the phone’s AMOLED screen, which is made for more saturated colors, but I prefer the iPhone 7’s more life-like colors.

Way warmer tones

Galaxy S7 Edge


Pixel XL

Image: raymond wong/mashable

Though most photos are way warmer than on the iPhones, sometimes the rear camera goes cooler for some reason. There just isn’t much consistency for white balance:

iPhone 7


Pixel XL


Pixel XL has wider lens that fits more into a shot

iPhone 7


Pixel XL


I also like the camera app’s “pro” controls. Adjusting exposure is an easy swipe up and down on the screen after tapping on a focus point and there are various white balance settings. I wish it had more settings like ISO and shutter speed, but I’m in the minority when it comes to wanting manual controls.

Other clever and useful camera features include ways to quickly launch the camera. Double-tap the power button when the screen is off or from the lock screen, double-tap power button from home screen or while in an app to launch the default camera app or a preset third-party camera app like Snapchat, and double twist to switch between from and selfie camera in default camera app.

There’s also a really neat Google Photos-integrated feature called Smartburst that automatically creates a GIF from a burst of photos, saves all the individual shots and even picks out the best one for you.

As for selfies, I think the Pixel XL does a better job than the iPhone 7:

Skin tones

iPhone 7


Pixel XL

Image: raymond wong/mashable

The Pixel XL performs quite good night shots. As expected, photos are a yellower than the iPhone 7:

iPhone 7


Pixel XL


The Galaxy S7 Edge preserves shaper details of the Empire State Building, but the image noise is greater, too:

iPhone 7, Pixel XL, Galaxy S7 Edge


While the camera attention is almost always focused on still photography, the Pixel XL boasts impressive video recording capabilities. Like most smartphones, it records at up to 4K resolution.

That’s nothing special. What is crazy is how well the camera stabilizes video. Phones like the iPhone 7 and Galaxy S7 rely on optical image stabilization (OIS) to compensate for shake in different directions, but the Pixels uses electronic image stabilization (EIS) to outstanding effect.

EIS is normally inferior to OIS, but not so on the Pixels. Through software even the shakiest footage appears smooth even smoother than the iPhone 7:

Maintaining the status quo


In the past, Google showed up to what were essentially gun fights with Samsung and Apple with a knife.

The Nexus phones, as highly coveted by geeks as they were, couldn’t really compete with any Galaxy phone or iPhone. Whether it was materials or cameras, the Nexuses always fell short somewhere. The Nexus 5X and 6P weren’t perfect, but they had enough polish and the pricing was so good.

If Google wants to really play in Apple’s playground, it’s going to have to try harder next year.

With the Pixels, Google has basically rebadged the Nexus, tossed in the new Assistant and jacked up the price to match the iPhone.

In my opinion, the Pixels aren’t compelling enough compared to more affordable premium phones like the OnePlus 3 outside of the Assistant. Is that enough to justify a premium? Not yet if you ask me.

Google could have fiercely charged through the door and laid smackdown on the iPhone 7 and Galaxy S7 Edge, but it didn’t. Instead, it just played things safe and maintained the status quo.

The Pixels don’t have groundbreaking designs that would make anyone line up outside a Verizon store just to be the first to have them. They’re fine phones and I’m positive the Assistant will only grow to become more useful, but they’re just not exciting enough or inspiring enough.

If Google wants to really play in Apple’s pricey playground, it’s going to have to try harder next year.

Pixel and Pixel XL

The Good

Fast cameras take sharp photos Incredible electronic image stabilization for video Terrific battery life Super smart, convenient Google Assistant Has a headphone jack

The Bad

No water-resistance Bland generic design Costs as much as iPhone No memory card slot

The Bottom Line

Google’s Pixel and Pixel XL have everything you could want in a flagship phone but a first-class design that makes you lust.

BONUS: The best parts of Pixel

Read more:

OnePlus 3T is the new heir to the Google Nexus throne

The OnePlus 3T replaces the the OnePlus 3, which was released less than six months ago.
Image: lili sams/mashable

Startup phone maker OnePlus has a new flagship Android smartphone. Well, tweaked phone might be more accurate.

Less than six months after it released the $400 OnePlus 3 to critical acclaim (Mashable’s included), OnePlus is back with the OnePlus 3T a faster and longer-lasting OnePlus 3.

The OnePlus 3 (left) and new OnePlus 3T (right) are identical with the exception of the darker gunmetal color.

Image: lili sams/mashable

OnePlus 3 owners might be upset at the rapid refresh I’d be upset too if my phone was suddenly outdated in less than six months but OnePlus waits for no one, not even its most loyal customers. Pushing forward as quickly as possible is built into the company’s “Never Settle” ethos.

So what’s new and what’s different and does the new justify the higher pricing ($450 for 64GB and $480 for 128GB)?

The OnePlus 3T is to the OnePlus 3 as the iPhone 6S was to the iPhone 6. That is, design-wise, the OnePlus 3T is identical to the OnePlus 3, save for the new darker gunmetal color (it’s also available in “soft gold”).

Fingerprint sensor is embedded into the touch-sensitive home button.


Which isn’t a deal breaker at all since the OnePlus 3’s design drew inspirations from all of the best premium phones and was already superb. Nothing’s changed on the OnePlus 3; it still feels amazing.

The 5.5-inch AMOLED screen is still “only” full HD resolution and very bright even out doors, and the home button/fingerprint sensor below the screen is still super fast.

You don’t get water-resistance, but at least the headphone jack is still there and the port is USB-C.

Modest speed boost

With the OnePlus 3T, OnePlus focused on on inner beauty. There’s a faster Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 processor with 6GB RAM, the aforementioned 128GB storage (still no expandable storage, though), and 3,400 mAh battery that lasts 13 percent longer.

As per Qualcomm, the Snapdragon 821 provides a performance boost of up to 10 percent a very modest improvement.

The gains were mostly negligible.

And true enough, in my tests, the gains were mostly negligible, if not inconsistent. Some apps like Twitter and Feedly actually opened slower on the OnePlus 3T compared to the OnePlus 3, and other times, like launching Instagram and loading up websites, loaded up faster on the OnePlus 3T.

And for some reason, even though they were on the same Wi-Fi network, the OnePlus 3T always took longer to download the 750MB file for Need For Speed No Limits.

But like most modest performance updates, you wouldn’t notice the difference unless you had the two phones running side-by-side.

At least it has a headphone jack, which means you can charge and listen to music at the same time…

Image: lili sams/mashable

Functionally, Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow customized with OnePlus’s “OxygenOS” add-ons still runs like a champ with buttery smooth performance and no real slowdown.

The 13 percent longer battery life is also welcome and got me through nearly two days if I was judicial with my usage. Heavy users should have no problem getting through a full day. Plus, the Dash charging is still the quickest fast charging technology around, juicing up the OnePlus 3T from 0% to about 60% in 30 minutes.

Stock Android gets dressed up

The OnePlus 3T runs OxygenOS, which is based off of stock Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow.


Don’t be alarmed…yet.

While the OnePlus 3T is still based off of stock Android, the customized OxygenOS software is starting to show signs of deviating from Google’s clean experience.

Right off the bat, you’ll notice some of the icons are different (i.e. Messages, Calculator, Settings and Clock). Open some of the apps and you’ll see some small and subtle differences, but nothing as overbearing as the skins on other Android phones (I’m looking at you Samsung, LG).

As always, all of OyxgenOS’s extras (Shelf, gestures, dark theme, touch-sensitive/onscreen buttons, etc.) are customizable.

App Locker lets you lock up your apps behind a PIN code or fingerprint.


Don’t even think about spying on my Insta.

Image: Screenshot: raymond wong/mashable

Two handy new features include the App Locker, which lets you lock up apps and require either a PIN code or a fingerprint to unlock them and a three-finger swipe down gesture for taking screenshots. Both are super handy and the screenshot gesture sure beats pressing the power and volume down button.

There’s another feature that lets you flip the phone upside down to mute an incoming call, but it’s not nearly as useful.

Other niceties in OxygenOS include a dark theme, proximity wake feature (wave your hand in front of the phone display to turn it on) and the double-tap power button shortcut that launches the camera. These are all great, but they’re not exclusive to the OnePlus 3T; the OnePlus 3 already has them.

Shipping with Android 7.0 Nougat would have been great, but I’m told it’s coming by the end of the year, so that should be just around the corner.

Sharper selfies

Improved cameras are must with smartphone refreshes. While I would have liked to see the rear 16-megapixel camera get a boost better low light, faster autofocusing, etc. OnePlus left it unchanged with the lone exception of better electronic image stabilization while recording video. There’s still optical image stabilization (OIS) like on the OnePlus 3, too.

The front camera, arguably the most important camera for so many people nowadays, got a big boost: double the resolution from 8 megapixels to 16.

Selfies definitely look sharper:



And low-light performance from the selfie camera is a little sharper, too:

Image: raymond wong/mashable


But if you look closely, there’s still a lot of image noise. For outdoor and indoor selfies, the OnePlus 3T’s higher resolution front camera does the trick, but it’s no iPhone FaceTime camera or Galaxy S7/S7 Edge front camera.

Photos taken with the back camera are basically the same as on the OnePlus 3. You’ll get lots of details. The colors are a smidge saturated if you’ve got HDR turned on (it’s on by default and all of the pics below were taken with HDR on), but not as aggressive like on the other phones such as the Google Pixels.

Photos look pretty good indoors.

Image: raymond wong/mashable

The sky is a little oversaturated.



Filling the Nexus void

Image: lili sams/mashable

You can skip the OnePlus 3T if you already own the OnePlus 3. But if you don’t own a OnePlus 3, the OnePlus 3T is yet another excellent and more affordable device that puts the squeeze on more expensive premium phones like the Samsung Galaxy S7 and Google Pixel.

Sure, it’s $40 more than the OnePlus 3 and while the updates are modest, they’re still improvements. There are other excellent phones like the Huawei Honor 8 and ZTE Axon 7 that occupy the $400-$500 space, but neither are as polished as the OnePlus 3T.

And with Google abandoning its Nexus phones in favor of its premium-priced Pixels, there really is no other phone that gives you so much bang for your buck.

Long live the heir to the Nexus throne: the OnePlus 3T.

OnePlus 3T

The Good

Excellent premium build-quality Fast, smooth performance Great cameras Useful new software features

The Bad

No water resistance No microSD card slot for storage expansion

The Bottom Line

The OnePlus 3T balances premium features with performance at an incredible price.

BONUS: OnePlus 2: Is the most hyped Android phone really a ‘flagship killer’?

Read more:

Google’s first real stab at a VR headset needs more VR content

Google’s Daydream View is wrapped in soft microfiber fabric.
Image: lili sams/mashable

The world of virtual reality is a convoluted mess right now, divided into three categories: low, mid and high end.

On the low end you’ve got Google Cardboard and all the “viewers” that don’t have any kind of head tracking or controllers. These are pretty terrible in most cases.

In the middle, you’ve got Samsung’s Gear VR and a dozen of clones that provide good VR experiences with limited head-tracking and controller support (either built-in or wireless).

And on the high-end, there’s the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, which require expensive, powerful gaming PCs to work. But man, are the VR experiences worth it. Sony’s PlayStation VR gets lumped into this category, too, but it’s a notch down from the Rift and Vive.

The sweet spot will be self-contained VR headsets something Intel and others are hard at work on that give you a near high-end experience with the portability of the Gear VR.

But until we get there, most people who don’t want to blow a small fortune on VR are going to settle for good enough. Which is why Google’s launching the DayDream View, an $80 VR headset that’s designed to knock out the Gear VR.

It’s familiar, yet different, but still the same idea: Slot your phone into the headset and jack into the matrix VR world.

Soft and cozy

The Pixel XL sticks out pretty bad on Daydream View.

Image: lili sams/mashable

At least that’s how Clay Bavor, Google’s head of VR, described Daydream View during its unveil at last month’s Pixel launch event.

It’s just not sleek looking at all.

“We looked at what people actually wear; we wear stuff that’s soft, stuff that’s flexible and breathable, and so we crafted our headset out of that same comfortable stuff,” Bavor said.

I can confirm Daydream View is indeed soft; the outside is wrapped in microfiber. The look is less Best Buy and more Crate & Barrel.

But despite its significantly smaller size compared to the Gear VR, it’s still a thing you strap to your face with an elastic band. Until these VR headsets that look like sunglasses, they’ll always look dorky.

Daydream View is 57 percent lighter than Samsung’s Gear VR.

Image: lili sams/mashable

As for cozy, I can’t say I entirely agree. Though Daydream View is about 57 percent lighter (without phones) than the Gear VR it’s not noticeably lighter during actual usage. And while the face pad (the padding between your face and the lenses) is soft as well, it also lets in quite a bit of light around the nose region something you definitely don’t want to happen when you’re looking at virtual dinosaurs or immersing yourself in 360-degree videos on YouTube.

I also don’t love how the Pixel and Pixel XL (the only two phones that currently work support Daydream) stick out between the front flap and the headset. It’s just not sleek looking at all.

The facepad is removable and washable.

Image: lili sams/mashable

The controller fits snuggly into the headset for storage.


There are some clever Daydream View features. The remote-like controller fits inside of the headset for convenient storage, and the face pad is removable and washable. It’s also nice there isn’t a band on the top to flatten and ruin your hair.

Not much to do yet

You’re going to be disappointed if you buy a Daydream View today expecting to get lost in an endless portal of immersive VR content.

The sad reality is there just isn’t much to see or do with Daydream View right now; there are fewer than dozen VR apps and most of them are so-so.

But let’s start with Google’s Daydream VR interface because it’s really simple and easy to navigate, and similar to the Oculus experience you get with the Gear VR.

Daydream’s “homescreen”.

Image: google

There are two rows to Daydream (three if you count the last row of round icons: Play Store, Library and Settings). The top row shows three VR apps and you can swipe on the controller’s touchpad to bring up new ones. The row just below it shows the four most recently opened VR apps with the newest on the left.

To launch apps just point your controller, aim the little dot-shaped cursor on the screen and click on the touchpad. A single press on the home button (O) always brings you back to the main Daydream homescreen. If you’ve used Android or a set-top box of any kind, you’ll be right at home.

The Google Play Store for Daydream.

Image: google

Buying and installing apps from Google Play is also pretty straightforward. All I had to do was enter my PIN code after making making sure my Google account had money loaded up.

Design-wise, I like that the controller is wireless and separate from the headset. You could blame me for having weak arms from typing all day, but constantly holding my arm up to the Gear VR’s side-mounted touchpad gets tiring.

Functionally, though, the Gear VR is superior; the in-headset cursor never gets misaligned, unlike the Daydream View’s controller and cursor which constantly needs to be re-calibrated and re-aligned during usage. Re-calibrating the controller is extremely easy (just long press on the home button), but it’s annoying when you have to do it every few minutes.

The wireless controller that comes with Daydream View.

Image: lili sams/mashable

Now back to the apps. Because a VR headset is useless without any content.

During my review period, I had access to YouTube VR, Google Street View, Google Arts & Culture VR, Google Play Movies & TV, Star Chart VR, WSJ VR and a three games including Hunters Gate, Wonder Glade and Mekorama VR. And that’s it.

As you can see, it’s not a whole lot.

I was less amused by apps like Google Street View (360-degree landmarks), Google Arts & Culture VR (viewing museum paintings) and WSJ VR (a weird Wall Street Journal app that takes place within a modern Gordon Gekko-like penthouse office with several of its 360 videos and, of course, stocks shown in 3D graphs).

Use the controller to point and click.

Image: lili sams/mashable

Nothing was that great. Either they weren’t very immersive or the content was dull. Of the apps provided, the games were the most engrossing and promising. Hunters Gate is a third-person top-down shooter where you have to shoot demons, Wonder Glade offers an amusement park of mini-games including a mini-golf game where you swing the the controller like a golf club (kind of like Wii Golf), and Mekorama VR has you helping a robot make its way through a 3D puzzle.

Google has a list of more exciting VR content like Need for Speed: No Limits VR, experiences based on the movie Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and Netflix and Hulu are coming before the end of the year. But it would have been great to see more variety at launch. When you’re playing catch-up you have to come hard and Daydream View’s launch content is really soft.

YouTube in VR

Image: google

The only app resembling a killer Daydream app is YouTube VR.

Google’s designed the app from the ground up just for VR and I have to say it’s quite good. There are three main panels: On the left is a panel for a video’s description, the center panel shows videos, and the right panel shows videos that are “Up Next.”

At first glance, the panels are a little overwhelming, but as you start pointing your controller and clicking on things, it feels less so.

YouTube VR has a great chance of becoming the place to see new 360 and VR videos.

The majority of videos are in 2D, and you view them in a dark room that’s super barebones with just a giant screen (resizable by swiping up or down touchpad) in front of you. It would have been nice for Google to put some more thought into this simulated “theater” view; on the Gear VR you at least feel like you’re in a movie theater with real seats around you or on the moon. (Even the Google Play Movies & TV VR app show 2D videos on a giant screen on a campsite.)

The app’s got a curated 360-degree video section so you don’t need to look for the content yourself. It’s great except most of the quality of the videos look pretty bad (even on a fast Wi-Fi connection). There are a few gems like Help and the fan-made Star Wars 360 VR: Hunting of the Fallen, but they’re scarce.

Even so, the interface is solid and there’s more than enough content to get lost in for a few hours. Just as YouTube has become the primary place for online video, YouTube VR has a great chance of becoming the place to see new 360 and VR videos.

Building a VR ecosystem

Image: lili sams/mashable

The best analogy for Daydream View is a Nexus phone. Daydream View is like a reference model, so to speak, for other hardware makers to model their own Daydream-compatible VR headsets and controllers after.

But more than just a headset, Daydream View is a jumping-off point for Google’s grand plan to own the mobile VR space. The Gear VR has the Oculus Store and Daydream View (and future Daydream VR headsets) has Daydream, which has access to VR apps and content from the Google Play Store and the YouTube VR app.

With Daydream View, Google’s laying the framework to standardize phones (they must meet certain requirements on screen resolution, refresh rate, processing, etc.) for optimal mobile VR experiences and for the Daydream platform to flourish.

As such, Daydream View feels exactly like what it is: version 1.0. It’ll improve and get better with newer versions and there will be tons more content to experience with Daydream weeks, months and years from now.

If you’ve got a Pixel and want to dip your toes in VR waters, Daydream View is a good place to start. It won’t deliver the superior ocular and audio experience of the Gear VR or an Oculus Rift, but at least it’s not as terrible as Cardboard.

Google Daydream View

The Good

Washable face pad Storage slot for controller within headset YouTube VR curates 360 videos into one place

The Bad

Smaller field of view than Gear VR Not much to experience in Daydream (yet) Pixel XL sticks out of the headset Controller constantly needs recalibrating

The Bottom Line

Daydream View feels like what it is: a version 1.0 product.

WATCH: People try Daydream View VR headset for the first time

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Review: Google Home

I’d be lying if I said unplugging my Amazon Echo didn’t feel a bit like a breakup. “Alexa,” I whispered while pulling the plug, “it’s just for now.” Butit wasn’t Alexa, it was me. More specifically, it was someone else. I needed the space for Google Home.

The $129 Home smart speaker playsa vital role inGoogle’s futuristic vision of “a Google for everyone,” powered by itsomnipresent Assistant. Virtually nothing about it is new; it’s like someGoogler bought an Echo and wondered if, uh, maybe Google should make one, too. (I mean, the product development timeline does allow for this.) Its not a knock-off, though. Google aspires to another level of power, personalization, and accuracy—not to mention a cuter package than the goth tennis ball can Amazon designed.

I like Home. It providesmuch of what Echo offers, while signaling far more product and platform ambition than Amazon. Great potential is worth only so much, though, and Amazon seems to understand better than anyone what’s possible withthese devices right now. Sometimes Home feels like sci-fi magic. Sometimes it reaches beyond its grasp and falls flat. The Echo is less impressive, but more reliable.

The good news is, you cant go wronghere. Youll like them both, though neither is perfect. The question is how much youre willing to bet on what these devices could be, and which company you think can deliver on that promise.

Speaker of the House

Any gadget sitting front-and-center in your home had better look nice. Home does. It sits 6inches tall, with a bulbous bottom and a sharply sloped top which makes it easy to seethe four lights that indicate Home is listening or working. It looks like something you might plant a succulent in, or a modernist orange juice carafe. Or an air freshener.

Google Home



Home looks like a gadget you’d actually want in your home. Assistant does all the basic things really well, plus a few remarkably cool things too. It’s an impressively good speaker, for such a tiny package.


Not much of the Google-infused personalization or intelligence seems to be here yet. Google doesn’t have many third-party partners yet, so you’re stuck in Google Land.

How We Rate

The potential here is enormous, perhapsbigger than what Amazon could ever offer with Alexa. Right now, you can say “OK Google, play Last Week Tonight on my living room TV,” and Home connects to Chromecast tomake it happen. You can network a bunch of Homes together and pump music through your house. You can keep a shopping list in Google Keep, and check your Google Calendar. Echo, of course, can do most of this as well; to truly differentiate, Google needs to integrate more of its services more deeply. Why can’t I email from Home? Or make phone calls through Voice or Hangouts? Or search for photos and see them on my phone? Home also needs more third-party partners, because surprise, not everyone uses all Google everything.

Someday, assuming Google keeps caring about Home, I suspect the device will be more like the ad. It’ll be smart and integrated enough to know that your flight is delayed and change your dinner reservation, to turn on all the lights in your house, to tell you how to get to work, to teach your kids about the world, and all the rest. Right now, it’s simpler than that. Like, a lot simpler.

A Familiar Sound

Don’t get me wrong. As much as I wish Google Home lived up to its future promises, its a fantastic addition to my living room right now. It’s hard to describe how nice it is to play music just by asking for it, or turn on NPR without lifting a finger. You never realize how many times you pull out your phone for one tiny, insignificant thing, until you finally havea better way to do it.

Of course, all that is true of the Echo, too. Home might be better two years from now, but right now they’re more or less the same device. So here’s where I landed, after 18 months with the Echo and a week or so with Home: They’re both great.

Helpful, right? If you don’t own either, I’d say buy a Google Home. It’s cheaper, it’s just as good in almost every important way, and Google’s ambition for both this product and Assistant in general is so high that Home should get really good, really fast.

But then again, Amazon does have Sonos integration coming, which is awesome. And it’s away ahead withthird-party partnerships. And I’m leery of giving Google yet more data it can sell to advertisers. OK, never mind, buy an Echo. Oh, and isnt it overdue for a hardware refresh?

You know what? This is impossible. Both devices are excellent, both have bright futures, both are increasingly essential partsof your household. I bought a Home because I like the design, and I like the sound quality. If you buy an Echo because you love your Sonos and don’t trust Google with your data, youll be perfectly happy as well.

There’s only one mistake you can make, really: not letting a smart speaker into your home at all. These things are great, and they’re only getting better.

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With Google Home and Assistant, Google is ready to take over your home

I’ve been eagerly waiting to try Google Home, Google’s answer to the Amazon Echo, since the company announced it in May.

Not just because Home is smaller, cheaper ($130 versus $180) and prettier than the Echo, but because Google Assistant, the built-in digital assistant Google’s big AI bet on the future is supposed to put all other digital assistants to shame.

Echo’s Alexa is no dummy. With its year head-start, Alexa’s gotten so much brainier that I was surprised it was able to answer many of the questions I asked. Alexa also has over 3,000 “skills” integrations with third-party products and services at its disposal. For instance, you can now easily set up your Echo to order you an Uber or read Twitter updates on command.

But as smart as Alexa is today, Google’s Assistant is potentially a lot smarter because of the work Google has put in to understand context. It can also tap directly into Google Search and other services.

Still, after using Home for almost a week, it’s clear to me that it’s still very, very early days for AI at home.

If you already own an Echo, you probably don’t need a Home, unless you really care about having the Assistant read you search results. But if you don’t own an Echo and haven’t yet set up a smart home, Home is a great place to start (assuming you’re okay with giving Google a physical presence in your home).

Fits right at home

Say what you want about Home looking like a Glade air freshener, but compared to the Echo, it’s a downright looker.

Home blends better into my home decor on my kitchen counter or on a bookshelf than the black-Pringles-can look the Echo has going. Home looks less like a gadget and more like a piece of modern art; the only thing that gives it away is the flat cable snaking out the backside, but that can easily be tucked away.

Choose between different colored bases and materials.

Image: lili sams/mashable

Home is also customizable. The standard gray fabric base pops right off with a light tug and you can swap in a different color made of either fabric ($20) or metal ($40). Google sent over a “Mango”-colored fabric base and a black metal base to check out and I’ve taken a real liking to the orange.

On the back, there’s a single button to mute and un-mute the microphone. And that’s it for physical buttons, unless you count the touch-sensitive top; you can tap it to play and pause a song, use a clockwise gesture (with one finger) to increase volume and a counterclockwise gesture to decrease volume, and tap it to cancel a Google Assistant command.

The top lights up with four dots (blue, red, yellow and green) when you say “OK, Google,” and they spin when it’s searching for an answer.

Controlling your house

Google Home has a built-in “high-excursion speaker”.

Image: lili sams/mashable

Functionally, Home is capable of doing everything the Echo does. Just like the Echo, it’s got a built-in speaker to play music from various music services like Google Play Music, YouTube Music, Spotify (premium account) and Pandora. It also connects to smart-home devices from Philips, Nest, SmartThings and Chromecast devices (of course). It also works with the digital “recipe” service IFTTT.

If you’ve never used an Echo with Alexa to control your smart home, you’re going to be mighty impressed.

Using the Google Home app (formerly called Google Cast) for iOS and Android, I was able to easily connect my Philips Hue smart light bulbs and Nest Cam, and within minutes say “OK, Google, turn on living room lights.”

If you’ve never used an Echo with Alexa to control your smart home, you’re going to be mighty impressed. It’s going to feel like magic. But since I’ve been using an Echo and Alexa for over a year now, it just felt normal. The “OK, Google” command doesn’t feel quite as personal as “Alexa…” (or “Hey, Siri” for that matter), but it works.

Despite its small size, the Home is a decent speaker. Google says it included a “high-excursion speaker” for clear highs and rich bass. The speaker sounds good (comparable to most $50-75 Bluetooth speakers), but the Echo sounds better with deeper bass and clearer highs at the loudest volume. You’ll hear more distortion at louder volumes with Home.

Compared to the Echo, Home’s a little lacking when it comes to device support I can’t connect the Wink smart plug I have set up in my bedroom to Home like I can with the Echo but hopefully that’ll expand in the months following its release.

Image: lili sams/mashable

One thing Home has going for it: Chromecast support. If you’ve got a Chromecast plugged into your TV or a Chromecast Audio plugged into a speaker and they’re turned on, you can say something like “OK, Google, play Casey Neistat videos on TV,” and it’ll play his newest vlog video. Say “OK, Google, play the Weeknd on bedroom speaker,” and it’ll play music from whatever supported music service you have it set to.

It’s not quite full entertainment-center automation but really cool nonetheless. Besides, it’s just awesome being able to use voice controls to play YouTube videos.

Smarter than Alexa

The Google Home app is available for iOS and Android.

Image: screenshot: raymond wong/mashable

You use it to set up your Home and manage all the queries that you’ve asked the Assistant, similar to the Alexa app for the Echo.


“Credit to the team at Amazon for creating for creating a lot of excitement in [the home AI space],” Sundar Pichai, Google’s CEO, said during this year’s I/O keynote. “We’ve been thinking about our own unique approach.”

It’s rare for a company, let alone one as large as Google, to publicly tip its hat at a competitor. But by doing so, Google is admitting Home is playing catch-up to the Echo.

And when you’re behind, you need something that’s more than just a “me-too” product. You need something that matches the competition and has its own compelling twist.

Google Assistant the same one that’s built into the new Pixel phones and into Google’s Allo chat app is Home’s secret weapon.

Powered by over a decade of natural-language processing and Google Search, the Assistant is simply brainier than Alexa in almost every way. It knows 70 billion facts, according to Google, and is constantly adding more knowledge to its artificial gray matter. If it doesn’t know something, it’ll try to find an answer from the internet using Google Search.

Four dots light up when you say “OK Google.”


Touch and rotate to adjust volume.

Image: raymond wong/mashable

Last month, while reviewing the Pixels, I pitted the Assistant against Siri and the Assistant emerged triumphant. I did the same with the Assistant and Alexa and no surprise the Assistant was able to answer more questions in more detail.

For starters, the Assistant is able to understand context better. For instance, you can ask it a question, then follow it with another and another. Alexa couldn’t even answer the first question below.

Q: When did Michael Jordan retire?

Home: Michael Jordan career ended in 1995 and 2003.

Q: And how tall is he?

Home: He’s 6’6″ tall.

Q: Does he have any kids?

Home: Marcus Jordan, Jeffrey Michael Jordan, and three others.

Q: Where does he live now?

Home: According to, Jordan also owns a luxury condo in Charlotte, N.C. and a property in Salt Lake City. He has sold his Chicago mansion for $29 million.

Missed the answer the first time? Just say “repeat that.” But don’t wait too long or else the Assistant will tell you “I forgot what I said.”

The stronger conversational queries are great, but they’re not perfect. Sometimes when you ask a completely unrelated follow-up question, it still thinks you’re talking about the same previous topic.

Assistant also knows traffic information data:

Q: How long does it take to bike to the World Trade Center?

Home: It takes 18 minutes to bike to One World Trade Center.

Echo: Your current location is 10.6 miles, 17.1 kilometers from World Trade Center. As I don’t know your speed, I can’t tell you how long it’ll take.

And the weather in more places:

Q: Whats the weather like in Lake Elkhorn?

Home: Right now in Lake Elkhorn, it’s 57 and cloudy. Today, it’ll be cloudy with a forecast high of 59 and a low of 58.

Echo: Sorry, I couldnt find info on location.

And translations (although not all of the languages from Google Translate), which is super convenient:

Q: Translate “This is the best day ever” into French.

Home: C’est le meilleur jour.

Echo: Sorry, I don’t have the answer to that question.

And recipes (swiped from the internet):

Q: How do I make meatloaf?

Home: According to McCormick: Preheat oven to 350F. Mix ground beef, bread crumbs, egg and seasonings in large bowl. Shape into a loaf on shallow baking pan. Pour ketchup over top. Bake 55 to 60 minutes or until cooked through.

Echo: Hmm, I don’t know but you can take a look at the Bing search link I added in the Alexa app.

And nutritional info (to maybe help you stop eating so much junk):

Q: How much fiber is there in a pretzel?

Home: There are 0.9 grams of fiber in one salted pretzel.

Echo: Hmm, I can’t find the answer to the question I heard.

And how to soothe a sore throat:

Q: What do I do about my sore throat?

Home: Here’s some information that’ll help soothe sore throats. According to Every Day Roots: Heat the water until it is very warm, but not so warm that you cant drink it. Mix in teaspoon of salt and teaspoon or a little less baking soda, stir, and test the temperature. Pour some of the liquid into your throat, let it sit for a moment, then gargle. Do this twice in a row 3 times daily.

Echo: Sorry, I didn’t understand the question I heard.

The Assistant is also funny:

Q: Is Siri better than you?

Home: Siri is the best Siri. I try to be the best Google Assistant.I think Siri is great. I’m definitely more Google-y.

Echo: I’m not better. Just different.

And knows way more pickup lines than Alexa, which knows exactly two:

Q: Tell me a pickup line.


Did it hurt when you fell from heaven? If so, I can find you the nearest doctors office.

It’s a good thing I have my library card because I love books.

Do you wash your clothes with Windex? Because you shouldn’t, I can find tips for doing laundry.

If I could rearrange the alphabet I wouldn’t because that would be mayhem.


This place must have have good Wi-Fi because I’m definitely feeling a good connection.

You must be the square root of two because I get irrational around you.

Where Home and Echo both fall short is making shopping lists. You can add items to a shopping list (Home adds it to your Google Keep app) but you can’t remove any items using voice controls. I don’t need toilet paper on my list twice, guys!

Pichai touts Assistant as “your own personal Google.” Hands-down, Assistant is the smartest digital assistant on the block, but it’s still got lots to learn before it replaces any human assistant or butler.

My only real complaint with Home is that it has the same multi-room problem that hampered the Echo. That is, there’s no way to get a multi-room setup unless you buy multiple Home devices. Amazon’s solved this issue with the smaller, cheaper $50 Echo Dot, which comes in a six-pack for $250. It’ll be interesting to see if Google releases an Echo Dot counterpart or insists you just use the Assistant on your Pixel.

Will get better over time

Google Home has a single mute/un-mute microphone button on the backside.

Image: lili sams/mashable

I felt a sense of dj vu reviewing Google Home. It felt like the Echo all over again. In almost every sense, Home is like the Echo was over a year ago, but better out of the gate.

Home is instantly intuitive to use and intelligent enough to satisfy anyone who’s never used a voice-controlled digital assistant at home before.

Google nailed every trick the Echo could do at launch and packaged it all into a more attractive, customizable air freshener-like design. Extras like Chromecast support give the Home a slight edge when it comes to talking to your TV and speakers.

I’ve got my quibbles with the Assistant’s limitations just like I did with Alexa at first, but Google’s only scratching the surface of what it can do. Once Google opens the floodgates for Assistant to connect to more Google services (with your permission, of course) like Gmail, Google Maps, Google Photos, etc., then it’ll really be your own personal Google.

And at $130, you could buy a Home and a $50 Echo Dot for the price of one Echo, and live in both worlds.

Home is brimming with delight with what it can do today, but it’s what it’ll be able to do in the future that will make it a fixture in every home.

Google Home

The Good

$50 cheaper than Echo Base is customizable Responsive voice controls Google Assistant is way smarter than Alexa

The Bad

Only connects to three major smart home brands Doesn’t sound as good as an Echo

The Bottom Line

Google Home gives the Amazon Echo a solid run for its money.

Watch: Google Home answers the mind-boggling questions Google uses in job interviews

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