Newest smartphone doesn’t disappoint

People who want the latest and greatest phones won’t be disappointed by the Pixel. But for most of us, this device is an extravagance. (Google knows this, pricing it in line with rivals.)

Compared with other Android devices, the Pixel 2 XL, the larger of the two versions of the device (the smaller one sells for $649), was a big improvement. Its fingerprint reader, which instantly unlocks the phone, sits on the back of the device, not far from where your finger typically sits. The camera is definitely better, even than an iPhone’s.

The Pixel also charged quickly; a few minutes plugged into the wall gets you hours of battery life. Google said the device is water-resistant. And the screen, 6.2 inches along the diagonal, was enormous — but not too huge you can’t comfortably hold the phone in one hand. Videos stretch to the edge of the phone.

In pitching the new Pixel, the company focused on the Google Assistant — Android’s answer to Siri — and other services that lean on what is commonly called artificial intelligence. This included Google Lens, a service that instantly identifies landmarks and other stuff you capture in photos, as well as a service that identifies songs playing nearby.

These were certainly the most impressive parts of the new phone. And they showed how recent advances in machine learning are producing consumer devices, cars and robots that can read, analyze and respond to their environment in ways that were not possible just a few years ago.

Google Assistant now speaks with a voice that’s closer to your own. In most cases, it can recognize what you say. But it cannot necessarily understand what you say and respond in a completely satisfying way. That is still to come.



Facebook set to go on cheaper VR headset

Facebook dropped a bombshell on the virtual-reality world: a $200 virtual-reality headset that doesn’t require wires or a smartphone to work. The headset could go a long way toward helping Facebook get virtual reality into the hands of “a billion people” — a goal CEO Mark Zuckerberg set recently at a developers conference hosted by its VR company, Oculus. The Oculus Go is set to ship early next year.