Google sprints in the 'smart home' race with Home Hub, unveils Pixel 3 phone

The company's Google Assistant-powered device is competing for heart of the home

Google debuted its new product line including its Pixel 3 smart phone, Pixel Slate tablet and Home Hub at its annual "Made by Google" event on Tuesday.

The unveiling, which was held in New York for the first time, echoed Apple events with a clean, white aesthetic and touted celebrity collaborations, along with an emphasis on its smartphone cameras. Several Google execs referenced competitor products, sometimes obviously, sometimes obliquely.

The Pixel 3 features a new Group Selfie Cam, which the company said captures "184 percent more of the scene than iPhone XS" and also has a portrait mode.

Google also announced several glossy partnerships with publisher Conde Nast to photograph seven magazine covers with the Pixel 3, including one by celebrity photographer Annie Leibovitz, who is touring the U.S. shooting with the Pixel 3, and Donald Glover, aka the rapper Childish Gambino. The event ended with a short film by director Terrence Malick, which, you guessed it, was shot on the new Pixel 3.

Google’s rollout emphasized the hyper competitive market for smart devices that dictate most aspects of modern lives. It also highlighted Google’s product range from hardware to software, including free YouTube service subscriptions that come with all three products for at least a few months.

However, the presentation fell flat for at least one industry expert.

"I am between underwhelmed and disappointed,” Werner Goertz, an analyst at Gartner, a research and advisory company, told ABC News after the demonstration. “I don’t know why anyone would migrate or update from a Pixel 2 to a Pixel 3. There’s still a notch and fairly large bezel on the bottom, so the screen ratio compared to the [Samsung] Galaxy S9 Plus or Note 9 -- the other two have more displayable real estate. I’m really excited about the software -- AI enablement -- but that’s available to the Pixel 2. I don’t know why I would spend an extra $800 or more to upgrade from a Pixel 2 to a Pixel 3.”

Google’s updated tablet, the Pixel Slate, was introduced as a “great device for cord-cutters” and comes with three months of YouTube TV for free. It has rear and front cameras with portrait mode and enabled for video chat, as well as a wide angle lens, “so you can fit everyone into one frame.” It also has the ability to host a split screen, and is equipped with Google Assistant.

The company, which disclosed a bug in its Google+ social site on Monday that it had known about for at least seven months, advertised proprietary security on the tablet that includes built-in virus protection and automatic operating system updates.

“I was positively impressed by the Slate,” Goertz said. “The units they had on display were surprisingly brilliant from a screen perspective and the responsiveness of the entire system which was really fast. It’s a surprisingly good product and I think it’s the surprisingly affordable product that may be an alternative to a Windows laptop.”

The new Google Home Hub uses the company's artificial intelligence-powered Google Assistant, built into a desk or countertop display with a control panel.

The company "did not put in a camera, so it’s comfortable to use in private spaces of your home like the bedroom," said Google's Diya Jolly, vice president of product management.

The device features Home View, a dashboard for the spectrum of home devices, including appliances, DVRs, lights and thermostats. It pairs with more than 200 million devices and more than 1,000 brands, said Jolly, adding that through the Home app or remote control, "It can turn down the temperature in the bedroom and up in the living room."

Paired with Google’s Nest, the device provides a remote way to see someone ringing a doorbell.

When not in use, Google Home Hub acts as a digital photo frame that can automatically download photos and use machine learning to edit out random or blurry shots using Google Photos, Jolly said.

The Home Hub is priced at $149 and pre-orders began at the Google store today. By comparison, the second-generation Amazon Echo Show retails for $229.99.

In the arms race to capture the smart home market, the new Home Hub is a key product. The Home Hub comes shortly after the second generation Amazon Echo Show was revealed and the Facebook's Portal, which is paired with Amazon’s Alexa AI, was announced. The Portal does have a camera.

Goertz noted that the camera could be used for video conferencing.

"While you can use the Echo Show for a video conference you cannot use the home hub for that,” he said.