The best smart displays you can buy

Smart displays have evolved quite a bit since the initial debut of Amazon’s first Echo Show back in 2017. In fact, the category didn’t really come into its own until Google joined the fray with its own line of hardware about a year later. Now, both of these companies are essentially dominating the smart display landscape, with each offering their own take on a smart assistant with a screen.

It’s that screen that makes smart displays so much more useful than smart speakers. Rather than just having a voice recite the current weather report, for example, you can see a five-day forecast as well. The same goes for when you ask about your shopping list or calendar; it's simply easier to see the whole list or your day's appointments at a glance.

Plus, displays offer other benefits that speakers can't, like watching videos or checking your webcam to see who's at your front door. They're especially handy in the kitchen, where you can use them for step-by-step cooking instructions. And, thanks to touchscreens, you can often navigate through functions and settings a lot faster than using your voice.

Amazon vs. Google

The first question you should ask is whether you'd rather be in Amazon's ecosystem or Google's. If you have a lot of Google products in your home, like Nest thermostats or Nest cams, then a Google-powered model makes more sense. If you have Amazon products, like a Fire TV Stick or a Ring cam, Amazon would obviously be a better choice. Of course, it's perfectly acceptable to have products from competing companies in the same home, but just realize they might not work seamlessly with each other.

Aside from that, the two systems also offer some unique features. Google, for example, works best if you have an existing Google account and use services like Calendar and Photos. In fact, we especially love Google smart displays because they work well as digital photo frames. You can set it up to automatically pull in pictures of friends and family from your Google Photos library, and the algorithm is smart enough to use what it thinks are the best shots — so less chance of blurry photos or images of your eyes half-closed showing up, for example.

It might seem like a minor point, but seeing as the display is on standby 90 percent of the time, its secondary function as a digital photo frame is very welcome. All Google smart displays also support YouTube and YouTube TV, step-by-step cooking instructions and all of the usual benefits of Google Assistant, like weather reports. As with Assistant on the phone, it also has voice recognition, so only you can see your calendar appointments and not others.

Amazon's smart displays, on the other hand, are slightly different. Instead of YouTube, they offer some alternative video streaming options, including Amazon Prime, NBC and Hulu. They also come with two browsers (Silk and Firefox), which you can use to search the web or watch YouTube videos – a handy enough workaround given the lack of a dedicated app.

Amazon devices offer step-by-step cooking instructions as well, thanks to collaborations with sources like SideChef and AllRecipes. In fact, the cooking instructions sometimes include short video clips. But although you can use Amazon's displays as digital photo frames, the process is not quite as intuitive as Google’s, and Amazon doesn’t have anything comparable to Google’s photo-sorting algorithm.

The best smart displays

Smart displays come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, and some are better suited to certain rooms in the home than others. So while we do have some favorite all-around picks, we've also compiled a list of smart displays that would suit specific use cases as well.

The best Google smart display: Google Nest Hub

Google Nest Hub

We at Engadget tend to prefer Google smart displays because most people are likely already entrenched in the Google ecosystem due to the ubiquity of Google services like Gmail, Calendar and so forth. We also tend to find Google Assistant to be a little smarter than Alexa, especially when bringing up answers from the web. As mentioned earlier, we also really like the tie-in with Google Photos and the smart photo-sorting algorithm.

Our favorite smart display overall is Google's latest Nest Hub. Its 7-inch size is a better fit in more rooms, and its unobtrusive design combined with its soft fabric exterior blends nicely into your existing home decor. It does everything we think most people would want in a smart display, like YouTube videos, step-by-step cooking instructions, smart home controls and the ability to check in on your Nest cams if you have any.

In fact, the Nest Hub is especially useful if you have a Nest video doorbell, as the camera view of who’s at the front door will show up on the screen. An ambient light sensor helps to detect the light and color temperature of the environment and adjusts the screen to match. Plus, if you choose, it can help track your sleep patterns if placed next to your bed.

Another feature of the Nest Hub is actually a lack of one: It doesn't have a camera. That gives it that additional layer of privacy that many people covet, and it's also a lot more suitable for personal spaces like the bedroom. Sure, you could also cover up a camera with a shutter, but with the Nest Hub you don't have to remember to do that.

Buy Nest Hub at Walmart - $100

Runner up: Google Nest Hub Max

Google Nest Hub Max

If you like Google but you miss having a camera for video calls, or you just prefer a bigger screen, consider the Google Nest Hub Max. At 10 inches instead of seven, it works a lot better for watching videos from YouTube and YouTube TV. It's especially useful in the kitchen, where it functions as a kind of portable television, and you can see more of those step-by-step cooking instructions at a glance. The bigger display also means a larger photo frame, which you may prefer.

As mentioned, the Nest Hub Max adds a camera to the mix. It doesn't have a physical shutter, which is a concern, but you can shut it off with an electronic switch. You can use the camera for video calls with Google's Duo service as well as Zoom, and it can also function as a Nest Cam to help you keep an eye on your house when you're away. Another benefit of the camera is the addition of Face Match facial recognition for authentication purposes, which we found to be a little more accurate than just using Voice Match.

Last but not least, the Nest Hub Max's camera adds a unique gestures feature that lets you play and pause media simply by holding up your hand to the screen. It's not entirely necessary, but it's potentially useful if you're in a noisy environment and just want the music to stop without having to shout over everyone. Or perhaps you have messy hands while cooking and don’t want to dirty up the display.

Buy Nest Hub Max at Walmart - $170

The best Amazon smart display: Amazon Echo Show 8

Amazon Echo Show 8
Amazon

Our favorite Amazon smart display is the second-gen Echo Show 8. Its 8-inch screen is just right; it doesn’t take up as much space as the Echo Show 10, but it’s also more suitable for watching videos than the tiny Echo Show 5. Like other Amazon smart displays, it has a built-in camera, but there is a physical camera cover to help alleviate privacy concerns.

As such, the Echo Show 8 is a compelling choice if you want the option of using your smart display for video calls. Not only is the camera quality fantastic, but the Show 8 has a feature that automatically frames your face and follows your movements during video calls. It’s useful if you want to move around as you’re chatting, or if you have rambunctious children and pets running around the house and you want to involve them in the conversation. You can use the Echo Show 8 to make calls between other Echo Show displays, or through Skype or Zoom.

As with the other smart displays, the Echo Show 8 also works as a digital photo frame and can be used to keep up with the news, check the weather and control smart home devices. If you want to use your smart display to play music, we also really like the Echo Show 8’s audio quality on account of its deep bass and rich tone.

Buy Echo Show 8 at Amazon - $130

Runner up: Amazon Echo Show 5

Amazon Echo Show 5 smart speaker
Nicole Lee / Engadget

At only 5.5 inches wide, the Echo Show 5 is one of the smallest smart displays on the market, and as a result, will work nicely on a desk or a nightstand. In fact, one of the reasons we like the Echo Show 5 so much is that it doubles as a stellar smart alarm clock. It has an ambient light sensor that adjusts the screen's brightness automatically; a tap-to-snooze function so you can whack the top of it for a few extra minutes of shut-eye; plus a sunrise alarm that slowly brightens the screen to wake you up gently.

The Echo Show 5 does have a camera, which might make you a touch queasy if you are privacy conscious – especially if this is supposed to sit by your bedside. Still, it does have a physical camera cover, which can help ease any fears.

Buy Echo Show 5 at Amazon - $85

The best smart clocks

Lenovo Smart Clock

Perhaps a smart display doesn't appeal to you because you don't care about watching videos on it. But maybe the idea of a smarter alarm clock like the Echo Show 5 intrigues you. In that case, I’d recommend the 4-inch Lenovo Smart Clock 2, which isn't a full-fledged smart display because you can't play any videos on it, but it does use Google's smart display tech, so you can use it for controlling your smart home as well as checking out your Nest Cams.

We also like it because it lacks a camera, which makes it perfect for your nightstand. It has all of the features we want in a smart alarm clock, like an ambient light sensor, that tap-to-snooze function and a sunrise alarm. Plus, the latest version can double as a night light – you can swipe down the display to enable it – and you can get an optional wireless charging base to go with it.

If the Smart Clock 2 is too advanced for you, Lenovo does offer an even simpler version called the Smart Clock Essential. It really isn’t a smart display at all – it’s really more of a smart speaker with a clock – but it does perform many of the same functions as the Smart Clock 2.

Lenovo sells the Smart Clock Essential in two different versions: One has Google Assistant, while the other is powered by Alexa. The one with Google Assistant has a built-in night light, an extra USB port for charging devices and a mic-mute button. The one with Alexa, on the other hand, is compatible with an optional docking station that can be used with accessories such as a wireless charging pad or an ambient light dock (it comes in either a sea lion or a squid shape) that can act as a night light.

Buy Lenovo Smart Clock 2 at Walmart - $70Buy Lenovo Smart Clock Essential at Walmart - $33

The best smartwatches

Just a few years ago, the case for smartwatches wasn’t clear. Today, the wearable world is filled with various high-quality options, and a few key players have muscled their way to the front of the pack. Chances are, if you’re reading this guide, you’ve probably already decided that it’s time to upgrade from a standard timepiece to a smartwatch. Maybe you want to reach for your phone less throughout the day, or maybe you want to stay connected in a more discrete way. The list of reasons why you may want a smartwatch is long, as is the list of factors you’ll want to consider before deciding which to buy.

What to look for in a smartwatch

Google WearOS interface on a smartwatch.
Cherlynn Low

Compatibility

Apple Watches only work with iPhones, while Wear OS devices play nice with both iOS and Android. Smartwatches made by Samsung, Garmin, Fitbit and others are also compatible with Android and iOS, but you’ll need to install a companion app.

The smartwatch OS will also dictate the type and number of on-watch apps you’ll have access to. Many of these aren’t useful, though, making this factor a fairy minor one in the grand scheme of things.

Price

The best smartwatches generally cost between $300 and $400. Compared to budget smartwatches, which cost between $100 and $250, these pricier devices have advanced fitness, music and communications features. They also often include perks like onboard GPS, music storage and NFC, which budget devices generally don’t.

Some companies make specialized fitness watches: Those can easily run north of $500, and we’d only recommend them to serious athletes. Luxury smartwatches from brands like TAG Heuer and Hublot can also reach sky-high prices, but we wouldn’t endorse any of them. These devices can cost more than $1,000, and you’re usually paying for little more than a brand name and some needlessly exotic selection of build materials.

Battery life

Battery life remains one of our biggest complaints about smartwatches, but there’s hope as of late. You can expect two full days from Apple Watches and most Wear OS devices. Watches using the Snapdragon Wear 3100 processor support extended battery modes that promise up to five days on a charge — if you’re willing to shut off most features aside from, you know, displaying the time. Snapdragon’s next-gen Wear 4100 and 4100+ processors were announced in 2020, but only a handful of devices – some of which aren’t even available yet – are using them so far. Other models can last five to seven days, but they usually have fewer features and lower-quality displays. Meanwhile, some fitness watches can last weeks on a single charge.

A few smartwatches now support faster charging, too. For example, Apple promises the Series 7 can go from zero to 80 percent power in only 45 minutes, and get to full charge in 75 minutes. The OnePlus Watch is even speedier, powering up from zero to 43 percent in just 10 minutes. (Mind you that turned out to be one of the only good things about that device.)

Communication

Any smartwatch worth considering delivers call, text and app alerts to your wrist. Call and text alerts are self explanatory, but if those mean a lot to you, consider a watch with LTE. They’re more expensive than their WiFi-only counterparts, but data connectivity allows the smartwatch to take and receive calls, and do the same with text messages, without your phone nearby. As far as app alerts go, getting them delivered to your wrist will let you glance down and see if you absolutely need to check your phone right now.

Fitness tracking

Activity tracking is a big reason why people turn to smartwatches. An all-purpose timepiece should log your steps, calories and workouts, and most of today’s wearables have a heart rate monitor as well.

Many smartwatches also have onboard GPS, which is useful for tracking distance for runs and bike rides. Swimmers will want something water resistant, and thankfully most all-purpose devices now can withstand at least a dunk in the pool. Some smartwatches from companies like Garmin are more fitness focused than others and tend to offer more advanced features like heart-rate-variance tracking, recovery time estimation, onboard maps and more.

Health tracking on smartwatches has also seen advances over the years. Both Apple and Fitbit devices can estimate blood oxygen levels and measure ECGs. But the more affordable the smartwatch, the less likely it is that it has these kinds of health tracking features; if collecting that type of data is important to you, you’ll have to pay for the privilege.

Samsung Galaxy Watch Active
Engadget

Music

Your watch can not only track your morning runs but also play music while you’re exercising. Many smartwatches let you save your music locally, so you can connect wireless earbuds and listen to tunes without bringing your phone. Those that don’t have onboard storage for music usually have on-watch music controls, so you can control playback without whipping out your phone. And if your watch has LTE, local saving isn’t required — you’ll be able to stream music directly from the watch to your paired earbuds.

Always-on displays

Most flagship smartwatches today have some sort of always-on display, be it a default feature or a setting you can enable. It allows you to glance down at your watch to check the time and any other information you’ve set it to show on its watchface without lifting your wrist. This will no doubt affect your device’s battery life, but thankfully most always-on modes dim the display’s brightness so it’s not running at its peak unnecessarily. Cheaper devices won’t have this feature; instead, their screens will automatically turn off to conserve battery and you’ll have to intentionally check your watch to turn on the display again.

NFC

Many smartwatches have NFC, letting you pay for things without your wallet. After saving your credit or debit card information, you can hold your smartwatch up to an NFC reader to pay for a cup of coffee on your way home from a run. Keep in mind that different watches use different payment systems: Apple Watches use Apple Pay, Wear OS devices use Google Pay, Samsung devices use Samsung Pay and so forth.

Apple Pay is one of the most popular NFC payment systems, with support for multiple banks and credit cards in 72 different countries, while Samsung and Google Pay work in fewer regions. It’s also important to note that both NFC payment support varies by device as well for both Samsung and Google’s systems.

Engadget Picks

Best overall: Apple Watch

An off-angle view of the Apple Watch Series 7 on a person's wrist, showing the screen's refracted edge and the watch's dial and button.
Cherlynn Low / Engadget

The Apple Watch has evolved into the most robust smartwatch since its debut in 2015. It’s the no-brainer pick for iPhone users, and we wouldn’t judge you for switching to an iPhone just to be able to use an Apple Watch. The latest model, the Apple Watch Series 7, has solid fitness-tracking features that will satisfy the needs of beginners and serious athletes alike. It also detects if you’ve fallen, can carry out ECG tests and measures blood oxygen levels. Plus, it offers NFC, onboard music storage and many useful apps as well as a variety of ways to respond to messages.

The main differences between the Series 7 and the Series 6 that preceded it are the 7’s larger display, its overnight respiratory tracking and faster charging. The slight increase in screen real estate allows you to see things even more clearly on the small device, and Apple managed to fit a full QWERTY keyboard on it to give users another way to respond to messages. The faster charging capabilities are also notable – we got 10 percent power in just 10 minutes of the Watch sitting on its charging disk, and it was fully recharged in less than one hour.

While the $399 Series 7 is the most feature-rich Apple Watch to date, it’s also the most expensive model in the Watch lineup, and for some shoppers there might not be clear benefits over older editions. Those who don’t need an always-on display, ECG or blood oxygen readings might instead consider the Apple Watch SE, which starts at $279.

We actually regard the Watch SE as the best option for first-time smartwatch buyers, or people on stricter budgets. You’ll get all the core Apple Watch features as well as things like fall detection, noise monitoring and emergency SOS, but you’ll have to do without more advanced hardware perks like a blood oxygen sensor and ECG monitor.

Buy Apple Watch Series 7 at Amazon - $399Buy Apple Watch SE at Amazon - $279

Best budget: Fitbit Versa 2

Engadget

Dropping $400 on a smartwatch isn’t feasible for everyone, which is why we recommend the Fitbit Versa 2 as the best sub-$200 option. It’s our favorite budget watch because it offers a bunch of features at a great price. You get all of these essentials: Fitbit’s solid exercise-tracking abilities (including auto-workout detection), sleep tracking, water resistance, connected GPS, blood oxygen tracking and a six-day battery life. It also supports Fitbit Pay using NFC and it has built-in Amazon Alexa for voice commands. While the Versa 2 typically costs $150, we’ve seen it for as low as $100.

Buy Fitbit Versa 2 at Amazon - $150

Best for Android users: Samsung Galaxy Watch 4

A black Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 on a wrist
David Imel for Engadget

Samsung teamed up with Google recently to revamp its smartwatch OS, but that doesn’t mean Tizen fans should fret. The Galaxy Watch 4 is the latest flagship wearable from Samsung and it runs on WearOS with the new One UI, which will feel familiar if you’ve used Tizen before. Also, the watch now comes with improved third-party app support and access to the Google Play Store, so you can download apps directly from the watch.

We like the Galaxy Watch 4 for its premium design as well as its comprehensive feature set. It has a 3-in-1 biometric sensor that enables features like body mass scanning, bloody oxygen tracking and more, plus it has a plethora of trackable workout profiles. Both the Galaxy Watch 4 and the Watch 4 Classic run on new 5nm processors and have more storage than before, as well as sharper, brighter displays. They both run smoothly and rarely lag, but that performance boost does come with a small sacrifice to battery life: the Galaxy Watch 4 typically lasted about one day in our testing, which while not the best, may not be a dealbreaker for you if you plan on recharging it every night.

Buy Galaxy Watch 4 at Amazon - $250

Fashion-forward options

Michael Kors Access Gen 5e MKGO at CES 2021
Fossil

Yes, there are still companies out there trying to make “fashionable” smartwatches. Back when wearables were novel and generally ugly, brands like Fossil, Michael Kors and Skagen found their niche in stylish smartwatches that took cues from analog timepieces. You also have the option to pick up a “hybrid” smartwatch from companies like Withings and Garmin – these devices look like standard wrist watches but incorporate some limited functionality like activity tracking and heart rate monitoring. They remain good options if you prefer that look, but thankfully, wearables made by Apple, Samsung, Fitbit and others have gotten much more attractive over the past few years.

Ultimately, the only thing you can’t change after you buy a smartwatch is its case design. If you’re not into the Apple Watch’s squared-off corners, all of Samsung’s smartwatches have round cases that look a little more like a traditional watch. Most wearables are offered in a choice of colors and you can pay extra for premium materials like stainless steel. Once you decide on a case, your band options are endless – there are dozens of first- and third-party watch straps available for most major smartwatches, allowing you to change up your look whenever you please.

Cherlynn Low contributed to this guide.

Google finally finds a true purpose with its new augmented reality glasses… sort of like Apple and its watch

When Google debuted the Glass in 2013 (yeah, nearly a DECADE ago), it had a signature Google flaw – it lacked purpose. Now, with their newly unveiled demo at I/O 2022, Google seems to have finally found a purpose for their AR glasses. Hint, it ties in with the general theme of Google I/O 2022 – to help people.

I remember when Apple was still working on the Watch. There was this consensus that the company was looking to make a watch that was ‘wearable fashion’. Apple even recruited iconic designer Marc Newson and the ex-CEO of Yves Saint Laurent to help design the Watch. A few years later, the Watch isn’t perceived as a fashion-forward wearable – not even by Apple. Instead, somewhere down the road, Apple realized the TRUE purpose of the Watch, to be a health wearable. That moment of clarity seems to have come to Google too, although 9 years later – as they finally realized that strapping an Android device to your eye isn’t an AR headset. Instead, Google’s new augmented reality prototype hopes to allow people to make sense of the world.

Designer: Google

Google XR Glasses Concept by Gokul Beeda

After announcing a whole new catalog of products, including the Pixel 6A, Pixel 7 and 7 Pro, Poxel Buds Pro, Pixel Tablet, and Pixel Watch, Google gave us a taste of an AR Glasses prototype they’ve been working on (labeled Proto 29) that combines natural language processing and transcription to provide subtitles to the real world. Wear the glasses and, in theory, you can understand any language. The glasses pick up audio and visual cues, translating them into text that gets displayed on your lens, right in your line of vision. These virtual subtitles overlay on your vision of the world, providing a contextual, USEFUL augmented reality experience that’s leaps and bounds ahead of what the Google Glass was designed to do in 2013.

It seems like Google’s making a habit of lifting the veil on their ‘under-wraps’ projects and showing them to the world as a flex of their tech capabilities. Last year, Google gave us a taste of Starline, a holographic chat portal that made virtual conversations feel like people in the same room, talking to one another. Starline’s purpose was to blur the boundaries in a virtual conversation, and in a lot of ways, Google’s new glasses do that for a physical conversation, transcending languages and even disabilities, given that the glasses go a great deal in helping the deaf and people with reduced hearing to understand the world around them.

All that’s nice, but what’s really remarkable is the new Google Glass (or the Proto 29) design. Unlike the 2013 glass, which was as bad as having the word NERD tattooed on your face, these new glasses look remarkably stylish, and there’s absolutely no hint of tech visible even when you take a closer look. Unlike Facebook and RayBan’s Stories, or Snap’s Spectacles, there’s no camera lens in sight, and aside from the Google branding on the temple stem, you really won’t be able to tell that these are advanced AR glasses.

Then again, that’s probably intentional on Google’s part. Knowing that this product won’t release at least for another 2-3 years, it’s possible that Google created a special demo unit that hid all the electronics. All I’m trying to get at is that there’s a lot to know and learn about these spectacles and their design, and I’m willing to bet good money on the fact that the final product may look nothing like the prototype. That being said, let’s not take away from the fact that what Google demonstrated is BEYOND incredible, blurring the line between innovation and magic… and finally demonstrating a pair of AR glasses WITH PURPOSE!

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Google Pixel Buds Pro with smart ANC + pressure releasing sensors are right on point

With the mild success of the 2020 Pixel Buds and the Pixel Buds A-Series on its back, Google is now looking to turn the tables in the ANC earbuds market with its latest creation. Yes, the long-rumored Pixel Buds Pro are here, and they pack features that will be hard to deny for even the grumpiest of users!

Announced at the Google I/O event, the true wireless earbuds are designed around the nifty little nuances that audio listeners face every day. They are more than just another noise isolating audio accessories, pitted directly against the Apple AirPods Pro. The Pixel Buds Pro will be an integral part of the ecosystem Google is creating with their latest launches at the even including Pixel 6A and Pixel Tablet. Something that tries to replicate the closely-knit ecosystem created by Apple. The ability to seamlessly switch between devices thanks to the multipoint Bluetooth connectivity and software integration. So, you could be listening to a podcast on your phone, and then seamlessly switch to your computer for Zoom calls.

Designer: Google

The new buds are designed keeping in mind the different ear shapes of thousands of people. Top that off with the advanced active noise canceling technology honed by the custom-built-6-core audio chip that adapts to the environment to provide the best isolation. Not only this, Google takes things a step ahead with the Silent Seal tech which is aided by sensors capable of adjusting the pressure in the ear canal for maximum comfort. This feature also adapts to the user’s ear and listening habits to provide apt noise cancellation in any environment.

These earbuds are IPX4 rated for water and sweat resistance making them ideal for an active lifestyle. The intuitive touch controls bring to the fore easy music toggling, volume control, and adjusting ANC and transparency modes. Calling on these buds is going to be bliss as they come with bone condition tech to pick up speech during calls. The beamforming microphones, wind-resistant mesh covers, and the voice accelerometer all combine to make sure you hear the person on the other end loud and clear, and vice versa – no matter how noisy the external environment is.

For audio quality fanatics, the buds produce clean sound powered by Google’s algorithms beaming sound via the custom drivers. All the software end tuning done by the in-house audio engineers is top-notch, and a good example is the Volume EQ feature which automatically adjusts the lows, mids, and highs depending on the volume level. This will please audiophiles who want a warm audio signature with a very balanced curve.

The dual-color design of the buds in four color options – Coral, Fog, Charcoal and Lemongrass – adds zing. In fact, Google senior vice president of devices and services Rick Osterloh said in a media briefing that the Pixel Buds Pro is the “best mobile audio hardware we’ve ever designed.”

Google Pixel Buds Pro claim to have 11 hours of listening with ANC turned off and around seven hours without them. With the wireless charging capable case, that number can be increased to another 13 hours in ANC mode. The buds will be available for pre-order from July 21 onwards for a price tag of $199 and shipping starts July 28.

The post Google Pixel Buds Pro with smart ANC + pressure releasing sensors are right on point first appeared on Yanko Design.

Pixel 6a and Pixel 7 cement Google’s design language

The smartphone market is often characterized as fast-paced, frantic, and whimsical, with features and designs getting changed almost every year. While that helps keep products look fresh and allows companies to experiment with new ideas faster, it also makes it difficult for people to form familiarity and confidence in these products. Apple is the lone exception, as always, and sticks to its designs longer to build brand loyalty. Other manufacturers have started to realize the wisdom of staying put, even just for two generations or three, especially when they come across a design style that uniquely works for them. That seems to be the case with Google’s latest generation of Pixel devices, establishing what will hopefully be Google’s signature look until 2024 at least.

Designer: Google

Even before Google launched the Pixel 6 last year, the designs that were leaked already sparked interest and praise across the Interwebs. The form was unique, non-conformist, and quirky, traits that could be used to describe Google or at least Google in its youth. Just like the first Google Pixel phone, the new Pixel 6 design exuded a more humane and approachable appearance that belied that hard power that is crammed inside the phone.

The Pixel 6 continues this aesthetic with almost no modification. It has the exact same visor-like camera bump and dual-tone color split. The only difference, which most people might not know, is that the camera bump is always black, no matter the colorway you pick. More importantly, however, the Pixel 6a also partakes in most of the same hardware, particularly the Tensor processor, that the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro use at a more approachable $449 price tag.

Perhaps trying to beach leaks to the punch, Google uncharacteristically also revealed the design of the Pixel 7, which looks a lot like the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro, too. There are more visible differences now, with the camera lenses visibly separate from the rest of the camera bump and a more uniform color scheme. Despite those modifications, it’s not hard to pick out the Pixel 7 from a lineup, at least if it’s face down and showing its unique back.

The Pixel Buds Pro does deviate a bit from Google’s earbuds design for the past year or so. Whereas the Pixel Buds 2 and Pixel Buds A both sport “wings” to aid in fitting the buds into ears, the Pixel Buds Pro’s shell is more streamlined and more refined. Just like their predecessors, the buds come with a vertically oriented charging case, and just like their predecessors, it carries a dual-tone color scheme. All color options have a black body and differ only in the outer touch surface.

Google is clearly aiming for a more consistent and more identifiable branding with its latest products, and hopefully, that will continue to be the case even after the Pixel 7 launches later this year. The one outlier, however, seems to be the still-unnamed Pixel tablet that will launch in 2023, though there’s hope that Google will change directions before then. A bit more interesting will be the Pixel Watch, Google’s first-ever first-party smartwatch, with a design that some have already mocked as a “round Apple Watch.” It does fit in with Google’s use of smooth, curved surfaces and the duality of colors and materials, but we’ll have to wait until Fall to see who it plays in practice.

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Google Pixel tablet is coming, but it might not be what you expected

Google is finally making a tablet again, but what it revealed could have some questioning whether it should.

Normally, you wouldn’t put “Google” and “tablet” on the same sentence unless you put “doesn’t like” somewhere in between. Although Android tablets have existed for as long as the iPad has, its existence hasn’t exactly been one filled with love from its creator. It wouldn’t be until more than a decade later that Google would finally put its weight on making the Android tablet experience better, but even then, it hasn’t proven its commitment by coming out with a tablet of its own making. At this year’s Google I/O conference, the company finally made that promise, but the supposedly premium Pixel tablet that’s coming next year has left some wondering if Google is trying to pull a fast one instead.

Designer: Google

A Rocky Start

Android’s history with tablets has been anything but smooth. The first devices, particularly those from Samsung, had extremely customized user experiences because Android itself didn’t have the necessary bits to support running on large screens. When Android 3.0 “Honeycomb” came out in 2011, it brought rudimentary support for tablets, but thanks to some lukewarm reception from Google and app developers, those never really stuck that much. The Android tablet market itself was like a roller coaster ride in terms of profits and popularity, but the experience itself was far removed from “standard” Android as it could be, at least until now.

Whether it’s the resounding success of the iPad Pro or events of the past two years, Google seems to have become more invested in making Android work better on larger screens, which includes tablets naturally. But while it is refining the software and the operating system to be a better fit for slates, it felt like there was still a piece missing from its commitment, like hardware that would prove it’s really going all in. That’s finally coming next year, but it might not be what many have hoped.

Pixel Slate Redux

It’s not that Google has never made tablets, Android or otherwise. It actually launched at least four Android tablets under the old Nexus brand and two under the newer Pixel name. The Pixel C was the last Android tablet that had been made by Google, and the Pixel Slate was the first and last Chrome OS tablet it ever launched. In both cases, it felt like Google made half-hearted attempts to appease tablet fans, but there was no follow-up, nor was there long-term interest and support from the manufacturer.

That’s why it’s rather surprising that Google is giving into expectations and announcing that it’s making another tablet. Based on reports and quotes from Google’s own hardware chief Rick Osterloh, this tablet will be a perfect match for the Pixel phone and be a premium contender in the tablet market. Based on the glimpses that were shown during the keynote presentation, however, there might be some confusion on what the exec actually meant.

The tablet that was shown there had rather thick bezels all around. Its profile was also thick, and the material on its back looked like matte plastic. The general design bore no resemblance to any Pixel phone, which made it feel like the black sheep of the family. To put it bluntly, its design looks dated and unappealing by today’s standards, not exactly the best first step you’d expect for Google’s comeback to the Android tablet market.

Expectations versus Reality

Compare that to what fans and market watchers have imagined Google’s next tablet would look like. One recent concept, in particular, actually tried to follow Google’s design language while also extending it a bit further for a modern tablet. Bezels, for example, are considerably thin, with only a punch-hole cutout for the front camera.

Designer: Giuseppe Spinelli (Snoreyn) via LetsGoDigital

The design didn’t have room for a camera on its back, but it’s not difficult to imagine it would be placed somewhere in the middle. The slightly curved back employs a dual-tone color and material scheme, just like all Pixel phones so far. The middle part that encloses the Google “G” logo seems to be made of glass, and it’s surrounded by a matte-like material, probably frosted AG glass. Comparing the concept art from what Google teased is like comparing two different worlds, and it probably doesn’t take too much thinking to know which one would appeal better to people in 2023.

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Pixel Watch – The one true Apple Watch competitor has finally arrived

The one true Android Wear device was finally unveiled by Google at their I/O 2022 keynote, with more details coming during the Pixel Watch launch this fall.

When you think of how far Apple’s progressed with their Watch, it’s worth considering how the Apple Watch has only gotten this far because Apple controls every part of its experience. The Watch is a part of Apple’s expansive product ecosystem, feeding off the innovations of the iPhone and other devices. Apple designs the Watch’s hardware, and even its software, controlling and calibrating the Watch’s UX on every level. That’s honestly why the Apple Watch is MILES ahead of anything Samsung, Garmin, Fossil, or other companies have produced. Google’s Pixel Watch may shuffle things up.

Designer: Google

Unveiled by Rick Osterloh himself, the Pixel Watch finally puts Google in the Smartwatch market (not counting the Motorola smartwatch that was released years ago). After years of ‘will they won’t they’ and even a mildly embarrassing leak last month where someone left a Pixel watch at a bar, Google finally announced the Pixel Watch, a beautifully smooth circular watch that finally puts years of Google’s Wear OS work to fruition, along with the acquisition of Fitbit that happened in 2019. Osterloh didn’t provide too many details on the Pixel Watch (given that it won’t be officially launched until this fall), but he did dwell slightly on the watch’s circular design, its tactile crown, recycled stainless steel body, and interchangeable watch strap system. “It’s all designed to be tappable, voice-enabled, and glanceable, so you can be more present at home, at work, or on the go”, Osterloh added.

However, keen observers may have noticed that as Osterloh highlighted the Pixel Watch’s features (which include Maps, Google Wallet, Notifications, and Google Fit integration) the UI being demonstrated behind him showed a watch with a relatively dark UI – a tough yet necessary choice because the Pixel Watch has TREMENDOUSLY thick bezels. Now I’m not one to bezel-shame any device, but when you’re working with a display as small as the one on the Pixel Watch, bezels are a true enemy of usability, eating into crucial space that could be used to display a whole lot of other information. I’m being incredibly optimistic, but I really love the Pixel Watch’s design, bezel not-withstanding, and I have my fingers crossed that the device they unveil this fall will have a larger display with a smaller black band around its edge.

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Google unveils Pixel 7 in a rare move at the Google I/O 2022 Keynote

In a pretty unprecedented move at today’s Google I/O, the company gave a sneak peek at a phone that’s months away from being launched. Unlike other tech giants (especially looking at you, Apple) that keep their upcoming projects incredibly well-guarded secrets, Google just decided to rip the old bandaid instead of having people play the speculation game. Along with the Pixel 6A (which really quickly became stale news), Google’s Brian Rakowski also presented the world with a ‘first look’ at the Pixel 7, due this fall. The 7 follows the unique camera bumper style of the Pixel 6, but cuts its visual mass by providing ‘eye-shaped’ outlines around the cameras. The bump still exists, but there’s a cutout within the bump, adding an extra visual element to the phone. I’ll let you decide whether you like it or not. Me? Well, I honestly think it’s refreshing, but I belong to the group of people who wants to see phones reinvent THEMSELVES, not just their camera bumps.

Designer: Google

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Google Pixel Watch leaked photos hint at questionable design decisions

Google is this close to finally launching its own smartwatch, but is it going to be the Pixel Watch of fans’ dreams or a product design flop?

For years, there have been doubts about Google’s commitment to wearables. Although it did spin out a dedicated version of Android for smartwatches, it hasn’t exactly been consistent nor active in developing Wear OS, previously called Android Wear. It wasn’t until last year’s Wear OS 3 launch that it seemed Google would be in for the long haul, but there are still some doubts about that. Perhaps the only way Google can guarantee that Wear OS is here to stay is if it actually launched a device it would have to support. That’s the Pixel Watch that’s expected to be revealed next month, but this surprising but suspicious leak reveals some disappointing details about Google’s first smartwatch.

Designer: Google

Bezel Be-gone

Google is terribly late to the smartwatch game, at least as far as hardware is concerned, and smartwatch designs have almost been set in stone by now. Of course, there’s still some wiggle room for innovation, and there might, in fact, be a need for some. But just like in the not-smart watch industry, there are some design cues and traits that people have come to expect as standard across different brands and designs.

If this Pixel Watch that was “accidentally” left by a Google engineer at a public restaurant in the US is the real deal, it seems that Google will be throwing a few of those out the window. In some cases, that might be good for visual differentiation and brand distinction. In other cases, the experimental design could pose some problems with usability and sustainability.

Mirroring trends in smartphone design, this watch’s body seems to push bezels out of the way by making the screen curve down. Curiously, the bottom side of the watch also curves steeply to the point that it’s almost completely convex. According to the source, the surface of that bottom face looks metal but is actually covered with glass.

The watch has a mechanical crown, which will most likely be used for scrolling through Wear OS. There’s a button below it but no sign of the rumored second button. That might be hidden beneath the crown if the final design sticks to this alleged prototype.

The rather odd shape of the Pixel Watch’s bottom could mean it might not be so stable when lying on a flat surface, at least without the straps to balance it. With the screen also dropping off the edges, it’s unclear yet how it could affect the interface of the smartwatch as it does many smartphones. More importantly, without a bezel surrounding the sides of the screen, there might be greater risks of accidents that could scratch or even break the display.

Strapped for Straps

The photos also reveal the jelly-like straps of the Pixel Watch, which isn’t that unusual for many smartwatches with silicone bands like the Apple Watch. What sets these straps apart is how they attach to the smartwatch, which isn’t like any we’ve seen before. There appear to be special hooks that let the strap connect to the body of the watch and like flat flush against the surface rather than the standard lugs on almost all watches.

Although the photos don’t show how the Pixel Watch looks with the straps attached, it doesn’t take much to imagine what it would look like. It would almost seem like the straps are directly fixed to the watch body and flow from it, creating an almost unibody appearance. Of course, that’s nothing like the Pixel Smartwatch concept we saw two years ago that truly had a unibody design while still sporting a curved edge screen.

The consequence of this unique strap design is that Pixel Watch straps are completely proprietary to Google. While the company is most likely to sell different colors, designs, and possible limited edition straps, you will still be limited to what Google and some accessory makers provide. You can’t use your favorite watch straps like you could with other Wear OS brands. Then again, this is exactly the same strategy that Apple uses for the Apple Watch, so it’s not surprising that Google is following suit.

Fickle Future

From a purely visual design perspective, the Pixel Watch is going to be really interesting. Its pebble-like form is unique in the smartwatch market, and its strap style will give it a unibody-like design. For a long-overdue Google smartwatch, this does make a good first impression.

It might not offer the assurance that many are hoping for, however, especially as far as Google’s long-term commitment is concerned. Everything about the watch’s design doesn’t seem to have been made with longevity in mind. The screen’s exposed edges could be a recipe for disaster, and the proprietary straps could spell the end of the watch the moment Google decides not to make them anymore.

At a time when even consumers are demanding stability and sustainability, the Pixel Watch seems to be going in the opposite direction. Hopefully, however, this “engineering sample” is just that, and the final version of Google’s first smartwatch will have a more positive story to tell in a few weeks’ time.

Photos courtesy of Android Central.

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Google Cinema projector with its own wireless speaker is the fancy way to bing-watch movies in your ‘Nest’

Google per se hasn’t delved into the projector game just yet, even though projectors with Android OS built-in have been around for pretty long. Since the idea of watching a movie on the TV screen is slightly old-school, the biggest tech brands have already got their idea(s) of a projector on the market. Before Google can create one to integrate into the Google Home ecosystem, a designer has given us a head start on what that future could literally hold.

This idea in line with Google’s design language is called Google Cinema; easy, right! The purpose of the entire design is as simple as the name: to present a cinematic experience at home that is already neck-deep in Google’s smart home product cycle. According to designer Andrea Gallarini, the brain behind the Google Cinema, a projector helps make viewing of your favorite media more engaging. To achieve this, and to give it some Google tinge, the projector is scaled within the Google Home ecosystem, so it can leverage the support and integration of all Google Next products.

Designer: Andrea Gallarini

Google Cinema thus makes the viewing experience much more immersive by projecting your content and allowing you to experience it in a unique way. The projector can communicate with other Google smart home products thus creating a bubble around the user for a cinematic experience; thus, getting its random name. For user convenience, Google Cinema comes in two variants: Home Cinema and Cinema Mini. While the former comprises two elements; the base and the projector, the latter is a standalone projector. The base in the Home Cinema setup is basically a wireless speaker that doubles as the magnetically fastened stand for the projector. The base also serves as Qi charging unit for the battery-powered Home Cinema projector. In Cinema Mini configuration, Google Cinema comes without the speaker base and is provided with only a flat charging base it can rest on, making this version slightly more travel compatible.

The entire Google Cinema setup exudes minimal aesthetics with nice eco-friendly material construction, streamlined buttons, and fabric finish to align with Google’s design scheme. The effectiveness of a projector is measured by its lumens of brightness and the quality of built-in speakers. Though the conceptual Google Cinema has no value to divulge for the lumens count, it does accompany a handsome speaker alongside being able to interact with other devices for a surround sound experience.

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