Google remains to be no Samsung, however the Pixel 6 would possibly change the whole lot

The Pixel 6's software could be how Google wins over Samsung Galaxy fans

The Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Professional


Andrew Hoyle/CNET

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 a substitute, it is the methods by which Google is making an attempt to push the essential 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, nevertheless it looks like a promising step ahead. 

That sort of edge could also be important 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 necessary 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

Google Pixel 6 Android 12

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


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

Wait Occasions, as its title implies, reveals the estimated wait occasions 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 occasions 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 presently unique to the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Professional. They observe different related capabilities that Google has launched prior to now, equivalent to Maintain For Me, which prompts the Google Assistant to attend in your house whereas on maintain and notify you when the consultant is on the market. It additionally builds on Google’s earlier work with Duplex, a know-how that may do the whole lot from ebook appointments for you over the cellphone to filling out internet kinds for duties like renting a automotive. You too can pause or dismiss alarms along with your voice simply by saying “snooze” or “cease” on the Pixel 6, a characteristic that can quickly be obtainable for accepting or declining cellphone calls, too. 

It must be mentioned that the Pixel 6’s new additions are removed from good. The Wait Occasions perform was inconsistent; it labored when dialing Verizon assist and the US State Division’s quantity for scheduling a passport providers appointment. However then it did not after I tried calling FedEx’s toll-free assist quantity. And you should manually dial a cellphone quantity to see Wait Occasions moderately than simply tapping it from a Google search consequence 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 right this moment’s smartphone that extends past taking higher pictures, 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

Should 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 improvement for software program and providers, known as Bixby “a brand new clever interface on our units” when asserting the non-public assistant in 2017. Samsung hoped to distinguish Bixby by emphasizing its capability that will help you navigate apps and menus along with your voice in an effort to make cell units simpler to make use of. Rivals like Amazon’s Alexa have been extra centered on conventional voice instructions, sensible house controls and integrations with third-party apps.

However Samsung struggled to make Bixby successful, 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 numerous unintended 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 personalized voice instructions. And it eliminated that pesky button, too. Nevertheless it’s nonetheless far behind voice assistants from Google, Amazon and Apple, notably relating to smartphone utilization. A examine from Voicebot.ai that measured smartphone digital assistant utilization between 2018 and 2020 discovered that Apple’s Siri was probably the most incessantly 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 concerning 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 giant screens within the US by way of its Galaxy Observe household, a transfer that Apple and different cellphone makers quickly adopted. Now, Samsung is among the many first firms venturing into cell units with foldable shows that may perform as each a cellphone and a pill. 

But earlier Galaxy cellphone fashions just like the Galaxy S4 and Galaxy S5 have 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 is not pushing the expertise ahead in the identical means as Google. Other than the current Google Assistant-powered cellphone options, Google’s smartphones have gained notoriety for his or her software-powered digicam options as nicely. 

Take Evening Sight, for instance, which allows Pixel telephones to snap higher pictures at the hours of darkness. That characteristic depends on Google’s machine-learning algorithms moderately than {hardware} alone, that means Google was in a position to convey it to older Pixel telephones as nicely when it launched in 2018. Critics praised the characteristic, and rivals like Apple quickly adopted go well with. The Pixel 6 household comes with one other nifty new characteristic known as Magic Eraser, which makes it attainable to eliminate photobombers with only a faucet. 

Google additionally has a historical past of bettering the digicam and different apps by including new options by means of common software program updates, sometimes called “characteristic drops.” For the reason that Pixel 6 and 6 Professional run on Google’s personal Tensor chip, hopefully we’ll see much more important 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 Evening Sight in 2018 — whereas Samsung’s replace schedule can really feel a bit extra scattered.

Samsung’s digicam, then again, 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 massive smartphone software program replace, known as One UI 4 and launching on the finish of the 12 months for Galaxy S21 units, additionally appears extra like a refinement than a giant leap ahead. Lots of the new options are centered on personalization and privateness, together with extra polished widgets, the power to set AR emojis as your Samsung profile picture, and extra management over how location knowledge is shared. In some methods, the software program looks like an effort to catch as much as the iPhone moderately than an improve that opponents will need to emulate. 

That does not imply all of Google’s ambitions have been successful. The Pixel 4’s touchless gestures, which have been powered by Google’s radar know-how, weren’t well-received by reviewers. The cellphone was in the end panned for being overpriced. It is also price remembering that new options like Wait Occasions 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 machine, and audio is not shared with Google except you select to take action. The knowledge that powers Wait Occasions can be based mostly on name size knowledge 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 selections for Android machine homeowners, nevertheless it nonetheless has a protracted strategy to go to catch as much as Samsung and different rivals relating to gross sales. Samsung is the world’s prime smartphone maker when it comes to shipments, adopted by Chinese language tech big Xiaomi after which Apple, in accordance with Gartner and Counterpoint Analysis. Google is not even within the prime 5 rankings and is as a substitute 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 prior to now, and few firms have been in a position to problem Samsung and Apple’s dominance. Simply ask LG and HTC

However what has develop into 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 great world, you’d have the very best mixture of {hardware} and software program. In any case, developing with new options which might be forward-looking and helpful moderately than simply gimmicky is the one strategy to make {hardware} developments matter. Google has a seemingly intelligent means of placing that into observe by means of 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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