Google wants a walled garden with the Pixel 7, Pixel Watch, and Pixel Tablet

At its Made By Google event, the search giant introduced its biggest play at an ecosystem yet. And it might pay off.

Google hosted an event yesterday in New York City where it unveiled the latest additions to its line of Pixel devices, further expanding its ecosystem to better compete with the likes of Apple and Samsung. This lineup is particularly interesting because it includes three distinctive categories: phones, smartwatches, and tablets. We knew all of these devices were coming before today’s announcement (they were teased by Google itself and leaked to oblivion), but it’s still curious to hear about the way Google is positioning the new Pixel 7, Pixel Watch, and Pixel Tablet.

There’s no two ways about it: Google wants an ecosystem of its own, one that can compete against Apple’s walled garden better than other manufacturers. With yesterday’s presentation in my mind, I can see that happening, at least from a quality perspective. Everything leans so heavily on Google’s machine learning and artificial intelligence systems that the company’s products sort of can’t help but work together. It all seems cohesive, inclusive, and natural, in ways that only Apple has ever been able to achieve.

Am I being a bit preemptive in my judgements? Probably. But these devices seem very promising. Hopefully, they deliver on the vision Google has put forth.

Pixel 7 and 7 Pro
Photo: Google

Pixel 7 and 7 Pro

The Pixel 7 is at the center of it all, being the primary device you use to control everything. It looks and acts like the Pixel 6 from last year, with an incredibly similar design (save for a tweaked camera bar and new aluminum finishes) and screen size of 6.3-inches. The same goes for the new Pixel 7 Pro, which boasts the same 6.7-inch size and more premium stainless steel-like accents. They’re a bit shorter, slimmer, and lighter than last year, and the 7 Pro’s curved sides on the screen are less harsh, but that’s about it.

Pixel 7 pro in Hazel
Photo: Google

Display wise, you’re also not getting a lot of new stuff. Google is promising up to 25 percent better brightness, but that’s about it. You still get Full HD+ and Quad HD+ resolutions, 90Hz and 120Hz refresh rates, and embedded fingerprint readers. There’s also the same hole-punch notch at the top with no special software in tow (I must now specify whether a notch has special software thanks to Apple).

It’s really what’s on the inside of the Pixel 7 and 7 Pro that’s special, as these are the first phones to ship with Google’s upgraded Tensor G2 chip. It’s built on a 4-nanometer process which will improve efficiency and performance, and it powers all of the intelligent features associated with the Pixel 7 lineup. Things like Clear Call (automatic background noise suppression when on a call), Direct My Call, the Assistant, all of the camera smarts – each feature draws its power from a certain part of the G2, which should help to greatly improve the experience of doing everyday things on the Pixel 7.

The chip is paired with 8GB of RAM on the Pixel 7 and 12GB on the 7 Pro, with up to 256GB of storage on the former and 512GB on the latter (the first for any Pixel phone). That’s a recipe for a speedy smartphone, especially since Google’s phones are known for being some of the most well-optimized on the market.

Speaking of which, the Pixel 7 comes with Android 13 out of the box, with up to five years of guaranteed software updates. I’m assuming that means security patches and not five years’ worth of major OS upgrades, but it’s still better than the three to four years Google used to guarantee on its phones.

Pixel 7 Pro cameras
Photo: Google

The cameras are getting a boost this year as well, with an updated 50MP lens on the back that can take 2x 12.5MP photos and 10x 12MP photos (as well as full-fledged 50MP photos, if you’re into that). The new 12MP ultra-wide lens is slightly wider this year with a .5x crop, and Google says it’ll let in more light than the one on the Pixel 6. Meanwhile, the Pixel 7 Pro also get s a new 48MP 5x telephoto lens that’ll also perform better in low-light.

Obviously, software plays a huge part in the Pixel camera’s success, and Google is leaning into that more with the 7 series. With this generation, Google is including a new Macro Focus mode that leans on the ultra-wide camera to take macro images with ease. There’s Cinematic Blur that adds a shallow depth of field effect to your video using software (similar to Apple’s Cinematic mode on the iPhone), and a new Face Unblur which can help clear up blurriness in your photos (even those that you didn’t capture with a Pixel). Real Tone, which helps to adjust the camera algorithm properly for darker-skinned individuals, is also improved in low-light situations.

The cameras can also capture 4K 60fps video across each sensor, as well as record in 10-bit HDR. In addition, the 10.8MP selfie camera is said to be better overall, and it powers the device’s new Face Unlock feature.

With a combination of specs and hardware design like this, it certainly feels like Google could have an even bigger hit on its hands than it did with the Pixel 6. Even pricing isn’t bad: the Pixel 7 starts at $599 while the 7 Pro starts at $899. For the specs and software experience you get, these could be some of the best values in the phone market for the next year.

But that’s just one part of the story.

Pixel Watch
Photo: Google

Pixel Watch

The natural extension of the Pixel 7 comes in the form of the Pixel Watch, which has finally arrived. It’s the first smartwatch that Google itself created and is selling. It’s partnered with manufacturers before to help improve the Wear OS experience, but never has there been a watch with a “G” logo on it.

This one doesn’t have that, mind you, but you get the idea. It’s Google’s own watch, and all eyes are on the choices they’ve made and how it’s positioned.

There’s a single size it comes in, as well as three color choices. You can swap out the bands for other bands that use Google’s proprietary connector, and the whole package remains pretty small and unobtrusive.

The display is a 320ppi AMOLED panel with 1,000 nits of brightness and 3D Corning Gorilla Glass on top. There’s a pretty chunky bezel around the display, unfortunately, but the screen seems like a decent enough size to use day in and out (at least from a distance). On the right side are a rotatable crown and side button, while the left side houses a speaker grille.

You’ll also find an array of sensors at the bottom, which is where the Pixel Watch gets interesting. This device is essentially the combination of Google’s Pixel design language and smarts, with Fitbit’s excellent health tracking features. After the search giant swallowed up the fitness brand back in 2019, we’ve been waiting to see what Google would do with it. As it turns out, what the company really wanted to do was bring that technology to its own product, hence the Pixel Watch was born.

Pixel Watch heart rate
Photo: Google

The watch integrates directly with Fitbit services, just like a traditional Fitbit would. You get all the standard fitness tracking features you’d expect – continuous heart rate monitoring, ECGs to help detect signs of AFib, sleep tracking, step counts, and over 40 individual workouts. There’s a custom Fitbit app for the Pixel Watch that looks much more like a Google app than anything, and users get six free months of Fitbit Premium with the purchase of this watch.

“What about Google Fit?” you may ask. After all, it was the fitness platform Google drew heavy emphasis to for years. Unfortunately, I don’t have an answer as to why Fit is seemingly left in the dust. It could simply be due to the fact Google spend over $2 billion on Fitbit and it wants to prioritize it as much as possible. You can still use the Google Fit app if you want, but it’s clear the Pixel Watch is more geared toward Fitbit and its services.

Pixel Watch Assistant GIF
Photo: Google

Beyond fitness tracking, the Pixel Watch also leans into the idea of a “computer on your wrist” like many other smartwatches. It’s powered by Wear OS 3.5 which, interestingly, is based on Android 11. It features Google’s own interface on top with a suite of customizable watch faces, Tiles with glanceable information, the Google Assistant, smart home controls built into Quick Settings, and thousands of apps available through the Play Store. Something about it definitely feels like a Pixel phone, just shrunken down to the size of your wrist.

According to Google, the Pixel Watch can last up to 24 hours on a full charge. When it’s time to juice back up, there’s fast charging that can go from zero to 50 percent in a half hour. The watch comes in both Wi-Fi/Bluetooth and LTE models, and Google says Fi subscribers won’t need to pay to add a line for their Pixel Watch (another perk of being in Google’s walled garden).

Pixel Watch lineup
Photo: Google

If all of this seems like it’ll be worth it to you, you’ll have to choke up $349 to get your hands on one. That’s more expensive than most other Wear OS watches (including Samsung’s Galaxy Watch 5), but it’s about on par with the Apple Watch which seems to be the device Google is competing with the most. For LTE, you’ll need to pay $399.

It’s all an interesting proposition, so it’ll be interesting to see how the public reacts once it goes up for sale next week.

Pixel Tablet back
Photo: Google

Pixel Tablet

During its presentation, Google transitioned from the smallest screen it offers under the Pixel brand to the largest with the Pixel Tablet. This device isn’t supposed to ship until 2023, but we got a few new details about to get a better idea of where Google’s head is in the tablet space.

Pixel Tablet design
Photo: Google

For starters, it’s supposed to fit right in with the rest of the Pixel family’s aesthetics. It’s made mostly of plastic and comes with soft, round corners that add a touch of friendliness. It’s definitely nice to look at in renders, but it’s definitely not the nicest tablet around.

Under the hood, Google promises to include the new Tensor G2 that’s also found in the Pixel 7. This should help make it a pretty powerful device and help with the whole “ambient computing” thing Google’s shooting for.

Which brings us to the biggest surprise about the Pixel Tablet: it’ll work as a smart home hub. Google will be releasing a Charging Speaker Dock that attaches to the tablet via magnets and basically turns it into a giant Nest Hub. It’ll charge the device while it’s docked, all of your audio will play through the higher-quality speaker, and you’ll get a similar experience to using a Nest Hub with smart home controls and the Assistant.

Pixel Tablet on charging speaker dock
Photo: Google

Google said that it’s found tablets to be “homebodies” during its keynote, which is why it’s focusing more on making the tablet an essential part of your home and not a productivity powerhouse like other manufacturers have turned them into. Sure, this tablet can probably be one as well, but it seems more geared toward multimedia consumption than anything.

And that’s where it ends for the Pixel Tablet. We don’t have all the specs yet, nor pricing or an exact release date. Google says it’ll reveal more closer to its ship date in 2023, but it’s unclear when that might be.

Pixel 7 and 7 Pro, Pixel Watch, Pixel Buds Pro
Photo: Google

Google’s big picture

All in all, this is by and large the most aggressive play at an ecosystem of its own Google’s ever put into motion. It now has a smartphone, smartwatch, high-end wireless earbuds, a tablet, a phone service, a billion smart home devices, and a TV hub for you to buy and invest your life in. That’s a lot coming from a company which, historically, left complex hardware ecosystems to other manufacturers it simply partnered with on a software basis.

The new Pixel devices are an important step in the direction that Google, by all accounts, seems to be going in: an alternative walled garden to Apple’s. There are other ecosystems to be a part of, obviously – Samsung has the most popular outside of Apple – but no one’s seemed to match the quality and simplicity of Apple’s, at least not yet.

Google might have a solid shot of that. For years, there’s been a certain attribute among Google’s products where they “just work.” And yes, I’m aware of the bugs the company seems to be prone to with every new product launch. But not even Apple can avoid that nowadays, and the playing field couldn’t be any more level for these two tech juggernauts to battle it out for the consumer’s time and money.

Obviously, we’ll know more about whether Google can be successful in its ecosystem ventures in the future. But for now, it at least seems promising that the company has a solid foundation on its hands. Now it’s time to build, and the Pixel 7, Pixel Watch, and Pixel Tablet will be important blocks.