Google unveils new hardware in its battle with Apple

Two new smartphones, updated Chromecast and a tablet part of its newly launched range

With the latest version of the iPhone barely out of the gate, Google is already seeking to increase the competition in the smartphone market, unveiling two new handsets and a Pixel C tablet.

The company unveiled its new handsets that showcase the latest version of Android, dubbed Marshmallow, with the Nexus 5X and the Nexus 6P joining the lineup.

Google threw open preorders for the devices immediately. The good news for Irish Android fans is that Ireland makes the first group of countries to get the new phones, along with the US, UK and Japan.

The Nexus 6P is being billed as Google’s most premium phone yet, with an all-metal body, a QHD display that has 518 pixels per inch and the new USB Type C charger that has also made an appearance in the Macbook. It supports quick charging, with 10 minutes of charging giving you up to seven hours of battery life.


The phone is also going for the camera aficionados, with a 12.3 megapixel rear camera and the addition of slow-motion video, a smart burst option, and instant launch of the camera from the power button.

Google's vice president of engineering Dave Burke said could produce stunning images even in tough lighting conditions, and promised the world's best selfies from its front facing camera.

“The new Nexus camera is great outdoors, but it’s also optimised for indoor photography,” he said, pointing out three ways Google had done so: pixel size; fast laser detect autofocus; and improved HDR.

The sensor used in the camera was “unprecedented” in a mobile phone, having been originally designed for camcorders.

The sequel to the Nexus 5, Google’s most popular Nexus handset, the 5X comes with a 5.2 inch 1080 display, and is powered by a Snapdragon 808 processor. It comes in 16GB and 32GB varieties, and comes in at the more affordable end of the scale. It also uses the USB C charger.

Both handsets include support for fingerprint security, with a sensor on the rear of the phone known as Nexus Imprint. The sensor can register a finger in a few seconds, and it promises to “almost never” fail. It learns over time too, Mr Burke said.

Google said Android now has 1.4 billion 30-day active devices, with growth seen in emerging economies doubling in places like Vietnam. Its Google Play store has one billion monthly active users.

"We're well on our way to bringing the next billion users online," said Google chief executive Sundar Pichai.

Many of the details about the handsets had already leaked ahead of the announcement in San Francisco, although the company managed to keep a closer grip on the details of its Pixel C tablet. It's the first Android tablet built by Google, and has an optional smart keyboard that attaches to the back of the device when not in use.

The device was unveiled by Andrew Bowers, director of product management, who described it as an "entirely new approach to combining a tablet and keyboard".

The tablet attaches magnetically to the keyboard and the screen is also adjustable, without kickstands getting in the way. It connects to the tablet through Bluetooth, so there are no exposed contacts. The tablet inductively charges the keyboard when the tablet is closed, meaning you’ll never have to remember to recharge it.

The tablet also uses Android Marshmallow.

Mr Burke said Android Marshmallow had brought Google back to basics to polish and improve the operating system, bringing fast access to voice commands, a charging speed indicator to indicate if it’s in fast charge mode or not, and improvements to the user interface.

Voice interaction capabilities have been extended to third party apps.

Marshmallow also brings improvements on power consumption, with a doze mode that saves on power when it’s not being used, promising a 30 per cent improvement in battery life

With Apple TV getting an overhaul, it seems only fair that Google’s Chromecast is getting a few tweaks too. The device has been completely redesigned with an integrated HDMI cables that allows it to connect to your TV’s HDMI port,comes with higher video resolution and lower buffering. Chromecast also uses Fast Play, a capability that Google has introduced that allows developers to set content to preload, reducing buffering times.

A redesigned Chromecast app will also showcase featured content across Cast enabled apps and services, and recommend new apps for your Chromecast setup. The device is also hoping to make a dent in the games market.

Google's Mario Queiroz said more than 209 million Chromecast devices had been sold since its introduction in July 2013.

Google also announced an addition to the lineup with the Chromecast Audio, which will stream audio to your regular speakers simply by hooking it up to the 3.5mm cable to your existing speakers.

Ciara O'Brien

Ciara O'Brien

Ciara O'Brien is an Irish Times business and technology journalist