Google remains to be no Samsung, however the Pixel 6 may change every part


The Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Professional have been praised for his or her glorious cameras, aggressive costs and sharp designs, making them the primary Google telephones which may actually rival Apple and Samsung’s units. However to me, none of these qualities are what make the Pixel 6 so fascinating. As an alternative, it is the methods during which Google is making an attempt to push the fundamental smartphone expertise ahead with new software program options that make its new units stand out.

Google has struggled to problem Samsung — the no. 1 smartphone vendor worldwide — since its first Pixel launched in 2016. However the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Professional include options that make it simpler to perform easy duties like calling a customer support quantity or dismissing an alarm — issues that many people do routinely with out a lot thought. These options nonetheless want some work earlier than they’re really helpful, but it surely appears like a promising step ahead. 

That sort of edge could also be crucial to the Pixel’s future at a time when many new smartphones have solely launched incremental upgrades lately, like a barely higher digicam or a refreshed processor. Google’s edge in software program can be vital as a result of {hardware} developments are solely helpful when paired with useful software program options that make the most of them, an space the place Samsung has historically fallen behind. 

The Pixel 6’s new options put Google Assistant to work in your cellphone

The Pixel 6 runs Android 12 and even has a handful of particular options.


Patrick Holland/CNET

Google’s Pixels include two new phone-centric options: one which robotically pulls up projected wait instances earlier than calling a toll-free quantity and one other that transcribes automated menus when dialing a toll-free enterprise. 

Wait Instances, as its title implies, reveals the estimated wait instances for the present day and the remainder of the week when calling a toll-free quantity. It is much like how Google Maps will present you the instances of day when eating places and subways are most busy. Direct My Name transcribes automated menu choices in order that you do not have to recollect which quantity to punch when calling your financial institution or cable firm. 

Each options are at the moment unique to the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Professional. They observe different comparable capabilities that Google has launched previously, reminiscent of Maintain For Me, which prompts the Google Assistant to attend in your house whereas on maintain and notify you when the consultant is accessible. It additionally builds on Google’s earlier work with Duplex, a expertise that may do every part from ebook appointments for you over the cellphone to filling out net types for duties like renting a automobile. You can even pause or dismiss alarms together with your voice simply by saying “snooze” or “cease” on the Pixel 6, a function that may quickly be accessible for accepting or declining cellphone calls, too. 

It needs to be mentioned that the Pixel 6’s new additions are removed from good. The Wait Instances operate was inconsistent; it labored when dialing Verizon assist and the US State Division’s quantity for scheduling a passport companies appointment. However then it did not once I tried calling FedEx’s toll-free assist quantity. And you have to manually dial a cellphone quantity to see Wait Instances moderately than simply tapping it from a Google search outcome or your name log. Direct My Name additionally struggled when the Verizon automated operator started talking in Spanish. 

Nonetheless, these updates counsel Google has a plan for bettering immediately’s smartphone that extends past taking higher images, refreshing the design and including a quicker processor. It additionally reveals how Google is considering what it means to have a digital assistant tailor-made to your cellphone that may do extra than simply reply voice instructions and floor app ideas.

Samsung’s Bixby digital assistant hasn’t caught as much as Google and others

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James Martin/CNET

In the event you’ve been following the trajectory of Samsung’s smartphones lately, which may sound acquainted. Samsung additionally had a imaginative and prescient that concerned utilizing a digital assistant to make your cellphone really feel extra handy: its digital helper Bixby.

Injong Rhee, beforehand Samsung’s head of analysis and growth for software program and companies, referred to as Bixby “a brand new clever interface on our units” when saying the non-public assistant in 2017. Samsung hoped to distinguish Bixby by emphasizing its capability that will help you navigate apps and menus together with your voice in an effort to make cell units simpler to make use of. Rivals like Amazon’s Alexa had been extra centered on conventional voice instructions, sensible house controls and integrations with third-party apps.

However Samsung struggled to make Bixby a hit, partially as a result of the digital helper’s launch got here a lot later than Amazon Alexa and the Google Assistant. It additionally had a tough time convincing app builders to get on board with its voice platform. Samsung additionally gave telephones just like the Galaxy S8 — which was the primary cellphone to assist Bixby — a devoted {hardware} button for triggering the voice assistant. That irked some customers, as a result of it resulted in a number of unintentional presses, giving Bixby a less-than-ideal first impression with customers. 

Samsung has improved Bixby by giving it a extra simplified look and including ideas for custom-made voice instructions. And it eliminated that pesky button, too. Nevertheless it’s nonetheless far behind voice assistants from Google, Amazon and Apple, notably in the case of smartphone utilization. A research from Voicebot.ai that measured smartphone digital assistant utilization between 2018 and 2020 discovered that Apple’s Siri was essentially the most regularly used cell digital assistant, with 45.1% of the market in 2020. The Google Assistant positioned in second with 29.9%, whereas Amazon Alexa claimed third with 18.3% and Samsung’s Bixby solely accounted for six.7%.

Samsung’s telephones have at all times been in regards to the {hardware}, not the software program

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The Galaxy S21 Extremely (proper) has a quadruple lens digicam. 


Sarah Tew/CNET

Samsung’s smartphones have at all times stood out for his or her {hardware}, however software program has historically been a weak level. The corporate’s Galaxy line made a reputation for itself, due to the colourful screens and sharp cameras on Samsung’s smartphones. Samsung additionally popularized telephones with massive screens within the US through its Galaxy Be aware household, a transfer that Apple and different cellphone makers quickly adopted. Now, Samsung is among the many first corporations venturing into cell units with foldable shows that may operate as each a cellphone and a pill. 

But earlier Galaxy cellphone fashions just like the Galaxy S4 and Galaxy S5 had been criticized for his or her software program, which felt cluttered with too many settings, options and interface choices. Samsung has come a good distance on this regard, now deploying software program that is cleaner, extra streamlined and customarily simpler to navigate. 

Whereas Samsung has improved its smartphone software program, it isn’t pushing the expertise ahead in the identical method as Google. Except for the latest Google Assistant-powered cellphone options, Google’s smartphones have gained notoriety for his or her software-powered digicam options as properly. 

Take Night time Sight, for instance, which allows Pixel telephones to snap higher images at the hours of darkness. That function depends on Google’s machine-learning algorithms moderately than {hardware} alone, which means Google was capable of convey it to older Pixel telephones as properly when it launched in 2018. Critics praised the function, and rivals like Apple quickly adopted swimsuit. The Pixel 6 household comes with one other nifty new function referred to as Magic Eraser, which makes it potential to do away with photobombers with only a faucet. 

Google additionally has a historical past of bettering the digicam and different apps by including new options by common software program updates, sometimes called “function drops.” Because the Pixel 6 and 6 Professional run on Google’s personal Tensor chip, hopefully we’ll see much more vital software program upgrades for these telephones sooner or later. Google additionally has a historical past of rolling out new capabilities throughout older units and new telephones concurrently — because it did with Night time Sight in 2018 — whereas Samsung’s replace schedule can really feel a bit extra scattered.

Samsung’s digicam, however, stands out for its {hardware} greater than its software program. The Galaxy S21 Extremely achieves unprecedented zoom pictures, due to its 4 digicam lenses, two of that are telephoto lenses. (One has a 3x optical zoom, whereas the opposite has a 10x optical zoom.) 

Samsung’s subsequent large smartphone software program replace, referred to as One UI 4 and launching on the finish of the yr for Galaxy S21 units, additionally appears extra like a refinement than an enormous leap ahead. Lots of the new options are centered on personalization and privateness, together with extra polished widgets, the flexibility to set AR emojis as your Samsung profile picture, and extra management over how location information is shared. In some methods, the software program appears like an effort to catch as much as the iPhone moderately than an improve that rivals will wish to emulate. 

That does not imply all of Google’s ambitions have been a hit. The Pixel 4’s touchless gestures, which had been powered by Google’s radar expertise, weren’t well-received by reviewers. The cellphone was in the end panned for being overpriced. It is also value remembering that new options like Wait Instances and Direct My Name imply giving Google much more perception into our cellphone exercise as privateness issues have emerged lately. (Google says all audio transcriptions are processed on the system, and audio is not shared with Google until you select to take action. The data that powers Wait Instances can be primarily based on name size information that is not linked to identifiable customers.) 

Google and Samsung have completely different visions for the way forward for the smartphone

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Google’s Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Professional are promising decisions for Android system house owners, but it surely nonetheless has an extended technique to go to catch as much as Samsung and different rivals in the case of gross sales. Samsung is the world’s high smartphone maker by way of shipments, adopted by Chinese language tech large Xiaomi after which Apple, in response to Gartner and Counterpoint Analysis. Google is not even within the high 5 rankings and is as an alternative lumped into the broader “Different” class. 

It is unclear if new tips like having a digital assistant that may wait on maintain for you’ll be sufficient to vary that. Google has struggled with Pixel gross sales previously, and few corporations have been capable of problem Samsung and Apple’s dominance. Simply ask LG and HTC. 

However what has grow to be clear is Google’s imaginative and prescient for pushing the smartphone ahead, and the way that differs from Samsung’s. Google is all about utilizing its digital assistant and synthetic intelligence prowess to energy new options that make utilizing core apps just like the cellphone, digicam and alarms really feel extra handy. Samsung, in the meantime, is extra fixated on {hardware}, because it’s confirmed with its quadruple-lens Galaxy S21 Extremely and versatile Galaxy Z Fold 3 and Galaxy Z Flip 3.

In a perfect world, you’d have the perfect mixture of {hardware} and software program. In any case, developing with new options which can be forward-looking and helpful moderately than simply gimmicky is the one technique to make {hardware} developments matter. Google has a seemingly intelligent method of placing that into follow by the Google Assistant and different software program options, even when these options nonetheless want some refinement. Now it is your transfer, Samsung. 



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