As befits an event that kicked off at 3:30AM in New Zealand, the country was once again overlooked by Google. If you want the new Pixel 8 or the Pixel Watch 2, you’ll just have to import from Australia like last time around.
Should you jump through those annoying hoops to do so? Well, all three devices look pretty promising in their own way, but without all that much to distinguish themselves from Samsung’s hardware which is already readily available to keen Kiwis.
Pixel Watch 2
The Pixel Watch 2 is probably the biggest upgrade, and a bit of a kick in the teeth for early adopters of the original, given it fixes two very obvious problems. Gone is the geriatric Exynos 9110 chipset (born 2018), and replaced by the spry and nimble Qualcomm SW5100 processor which is just a year old.
The efficiency improvements that come from four years’ worth of chip development should go some way to fixing the original’s Achilles Heel: the dire battery life. Google is promising a full 24 hours with the always-on screen enabled this time around — which would have been a delusional pledge on the first-gen watch which would get separation anxiety if taken too far away from a plug socket.
The watch also comes with three new sensors. The first is an improved module: a multi-path heart-rate sensor. It can switch between single and multi-path modes depending on how much you’re exerting yourself and should improve the accuracy of everything that relies on heart-rate measurement from sleep tracking to fitness analysis.
It’s joined by new body-response and skin temperature sensors. These work in tandem to assess your stress levels, with the watch able to tell when you’re anxious and offer calming advice (“go for a walk!”) or a meditation exercise.
There’s also a useful sounding safety feature which you can enable if you’re about to do something risky — like walking home from a night out. At the end of the custom timer you’ll have to confirm you’re okay — if you don’t, a message with your location will be sent to your emergency contacts.
Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro
The Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro smartphones also benefit from a faster chipset, but it’s considerably less dramatic, with the Tensor G2 being replaced by — shock horror — the Tensor G3. We’ll have to see how it performs in benchmarks, but Google says its machine-learning models are ten times more complex than those used on the G1 powering the Pixel 6 just two years ago.
That means it’s going big on artificial intelligence, and that will be demonstrated by the speed of Google Assistant — which can now quickly summarise, read aloud and translate web pages — and some rather neat camera party tricks. Audio Magic Eraser will remove annoying background audio from videos, while Best Take will let you get the best bits from a bunch of similar shots to create brilliant (if objectively fake) photographs.
The main differences between the handsets come down to size, RAM, battery life, cameras and price. While both phones share the same 50MP main sensor, the 6.7in Pixel 8 Pro gets an improved ultrawide lens (48MP vs 12MP) and an additional 48MP telephoto sensor with 5x optical zoom.
The 6.2in regular Pixel 8 misses out on a telephoto lens altogether, and also gets a smaller battery (4,575mAh vs 5,050mAh) and less RAM (8GB vs 12GB). It is, however, cheaper, starting at US$699 (~NZ$1,183) against the Pro’s US$999 (~NZ$1,690). And yes, that is US$100 (~NZ$169) more expensive for both than last year.
Do they do enough to justify the increase? Possibly. We’ll have to wait for the reviews to come in to see just how much better the processor and cameras are, when they launch on October 12.