But the company announced a hard date for its Android Marshmallow release, and it offered some much-needed hardware refreshes, including two new Nexus phones, an updated Chromecast, and an all-new Chromecast for streaming music. There wasn't a lot of experimentation here — with a few exceptions, like a new fingerprint sensor for the Nexus line — but that also means we got a lot of welcome news about Google's more practical products.
THE NEXUS 6P: GOOGLE'S 'MOST PREMIUM PHONE'
As expected, the Huawei-produced Nexus 6P has several hardware upgrades from last year's Nexus 6 — Google is calling it its "most premium phone yet." The metal-bodied 6P is 7.3mm thick, backed by a new fingerprint sensor called the Nexus Imprint. It now uses a USB Type-C port; while getting new cables might be an inconvenience, Google claims it can charge the device twice as quickly as an iPhone 6 Plus.
The 6P is equipped with a 5-megapixel front-facing camera and a 12.3-megapixel Sony sensor on the back, which can take 4K video and slow-motion shots. It will be available in frost white, aluminum, and graphite, and pricing will begin at $499. Preorders open today in the US, UK, Ireland, and Japan, and Google will be working with third-party retailers outside the US. The actual phones, meanwhile, will ship in late October.
THE NEXUS 5X: AN AFFORDABLE ALTERNATIVE
The Nexus 5X is the successor to Google and LG’s Nexus 5, which quietly ended its life earlier this year. It’s a slightly larger device, with a 5.2-inch screen and a fractionally bigger battery, and the design language has been updated for a new generation of phones. Like its companion, the Nexus 6P, the 5X has a fingerprint sensor on the back of the phone, and it uses the new USB-C connection instead of the standard Micro USB. As Motorola did with the new Moto X line earlier this year, Google is heavily promoting the phone’s camera, but the handset itself is a relatively modest affair — it’s positioned as the Nexus line’s "affordable" option, starting at a distinctly budget-friendly $379. Like the 6P, it’s available for preorder today in the US, UK, Ireland, Korea, and Japan, with a shipping date of October.
ANDROID MARSHMALLOW COMES NEXT WEEK
The newest version of Android, Android 6.0 Marshmallow, will begin rolling out to users next week. We learned about most of Marshmallow's features earlier this year — it aims to make notifications more consistent and search functions more intuitive, while improving battery life and giving users more fine-grained privacy controls. The most prominent feature is probably Now on Tap, which integrates Google searches and voice interaction into individual apps. As usual, Nexus users will get the Marshmallow updates right away, while carriers and other smartphone brands will make their own tweaks and roll it out further down the line.
MORE OPTIONS FOR PROJECT FI
Google's Project Fi wireless network — which combines major cell networks and Wi-Fi — offers very reasonable $20 monthly text and calling plans, with an extra $10 for each GB of data per month. But so far, it only works if you're on one phone: the Nexus 6. Now, we're learning that the Nexus 5X and 6P both support the network. That's still an extremely limited catalog, but it's the first time Project Fi users have had any choice at all.
A NEW CHROMECAST, STILL $35
The Chromecast, a little stick that lets users stream just about anything to a TV, has gotten an update. The new Chromecast 2 supports 5GHz Wi-Fi, making it significantly faster. Three different antennas, as opposed to the original Chromecast's one, are optimized for Wi-Fi streaming. Stylistically, the Chromecast looks different too: it's now a small disc with a bendable HDMI arm that allows it to hang further away from your TV than the previous Chromecast. It comes in three colors: red, yellow, and black. Like the first Chromecast, it will cost $35. Some new features will roll out next year, but the Chromecast itself will be available today in 17 countries.
MORE CHROMECAST APPS AND FEATURES
The Chromecast app got a refresh today, too. The biggest new feature is a universal voice search tool, but a new "Fast Play" function will cache videos Google thinks you'll want to watch, and the "What's On" section will surface popular content from platforms like YouTube and Netflix. There are also some new apps. Chromecast will add Showtime beginning today, and it'll support Sling TV, NBA, and NHL in the next few weeks. Spotify, a long-obvious choice for streaming, is also joining the party.
CHROMECAST AUDIO: CAST YOUR MUSIC
Chromecast Audio is, unsurprisingly, a music-focused counterpart to the Chromecast. Instead of connecting to a TV, it plugs into your speakers using a 3.5mm audio port. Users can connect and send music to it using Google Play Music, Pandora, and the newly announced Spotify — controlling it from a phone lock screen and Android smartwatch — or they can directly mirror audio from Android or a Chrome tab. (It also looks like a cute little vinyl record.) The Chromecast Audio costs $35, just like the original Chromecast, and it's available starting today in 17 countries.
FAMILY MUSIC, FAMILY PHOTOS
Google wants you to know that it is really, truly, definitely a family company, for families. Google Play Music will roll out a new family plan later this year, providing access for up to six different people for $14.99 per month. Later this year, Google Photos will make it easier to share albums with friends and family, and anyone shared on the album will be able to add their own photos to it. Within a week, Google Photos will also get Chromecast support, and users will be able to (privately) label people in their photos using their real names or weird nicknames. It's rolling out to the web and iOS soon as well.
THE PIXEL C: GOOGLE MAKES ITS OWN SURFACE TABLET
In its last news of the day, Google announced the Pixel C: a new 10.2-inch tablet with a very Surface-like detachable keyboard. The Pixel C, equipped with an Nvidia X1 processor and 3GB of RAM, inductively charges the keyboard, which can be slapped onto the back of the tablet when it’s not in use. The last device to bear the name "Pixel" was Google’s premium Chromebook laptop, but this tablet will run Android 6.0 Marshmallow. It will also cost a considerably cheaper $499, while the keyboard will sell for $149, slightly less than the detachable keyboard that Apple announced a few weeks ago. Google promises the Pixel C will be available in time for the holidays.
We won't be waiting long for the products announced at Google's event — they're coming out between today and next month, with some additional features set to go live later in the year. So for now, it's back to checking on Google's self-driving cars, quantum computing project, and virtual reality classrooms.
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