Which of Google’s New Devices Is the Biggest Know-It-All?

The new Pixel phones and Nest speakers will be helpful—possibly to an extreme.

Google’s Pixel Buds, the Pixel 4 phone, and the Pixelbook Go.
Google’s Pixel Buds, the Pixel 4 phone, and the Pixelbook Go. Helpful! Photo illustration by Slate. Photos from Google.

In the future, you won’t even have to ask your phone, speaker, or smart bathtub for help. Whatever you need will just semi-magically happen. That was the theme of the Made by Google ’19 event on Tuesday, where the tech giant introduced a fleet of new hardware bearing sensors and apps designed to cater to your needs with the slightest of gestures. That’s the optimistic view, anyway. The reality, as is the case with so many current smart gadgets, will probably be more like having an overactive back-seat driver: sometimes helpful, sometimes wrong, sometimes stuck repeating the same Taylor Swift song while you repeatedly shout an urgent request. Which of Google’s new phones, smart speakers, earbuds, and other gadgets is the biggest know-it-all? Here they are, ranked from least to most likely to a little bit too helpful.

Stadia: Described by some observers as a “Netflix of games,” Google’s already-promised cloud-based gaming service got a release date (Nov. 19). Maybe there will be some algorithm-generated recommendations? Normal enough.

Pixelbook Go: The new Chromebook presumes to know a couple things about your environment and offers small correctives to them: a wavy underside to keep it from sliding on your lap, a “hush” feature so your keyboard doesn’t clank in a silent environment. Small features, if questionably useful.

Nest Aware: The service that records footage and send phone alerts from Google Nest cameras is getting an update to its subscription offerings. A whole-home plan will now include smart speakers. If a random smoke alarm is going off in your home, your smart speakers will realize it, ping your phone, and help you find the nearest emergency precinct. That is: It picks up the slack for the parts of your home that are still dumb. Fine, until it starts offering to call 911 every time your cat bumps into something.

Nest Mini: Google’s latest smart speaker is clothed in fabric made of recycled plastic bottles (a very know-it-all choice!) and equipped with a wall mount (all the better to shout from!). Features include an alert system to tell you when someone is at your front door, and a fancy machine-learning chip, all the better for quickly learning your commands. A decade ago, this would easily have topped this list. Today, this passes for a pretty regular semi-omniscient disembodied speaker-voice. A know-it-all from central casting.

Nest Wi-Fi: Here we get into true overachiever territory. With a built-in smart speaker, Google’s revamped router system will provide an internet signal and do everything that the Nest Mini does. (Minus the sustainable fashion cover.)

Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL: These smartphones will have … radar detection. Your phone will know when you are approaching it. Your phone will know when you are walking away. Your phone will know when you wave at it. Your phone will know when you are half-asleep and flailing your hand at its screen in response to your 7:30 a.m. alarm. It will intuit that your true desire is to sleep through whatever it was you needed to get out of bed for, silencing itself.

Pixel Buds: These wireless headphones will be connected to Google assistant, which means they’ll be ready to chime in with an answer anytime you say “hey Google,” whether intentionally summoning the smart assistant or not. They’ll also automatically adjust their volume based on your surroundings, and they have a feature that appears to translate languages on the fly like a babel fish. (Though would you really trust Google Translate to navigate a complicated conversation?) The buds are “so small and light it’s easier to forget you’re wearing them,” Rick Osterloh, head of hardware stuff at Google, explained at the event. That is: constantly lying in wait, ready to pipe up.