Google Debuts A Universal Language Translator, Plus Other Surprises

Senior Contributor


Google’s hardware goes one of two ways. They either play it excessively safe, as we’ll see today with much of its product line, or roll out something that’s a swing for the fences. Both can be variable: Remember that bold attempt to make augmented reality a thing, Google Glass? But today, Google showed off both approaches, with a lot of fairly run of the mill products, a swing for the fences that’s a wee bit creepy and one that might just be a massive home run.

Here they are:

  • The star of the show are the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL, which largely aligned with the rumors we told you about yesterday. One thing the rumor mill missed is that the screen, and the microphone, will always be on in a Pixel 2. That’s already drawing fire on Twitter; telling you the songs in your ambient environment may be cool, but nobody wants a Google Narc in their pocket.
  • Far, far more interesting was Google’s Bluetooth headset, the $160 Pixel Buds. They’re gigantic compared to more discreet earbuds, but the idea is that you use the touchpad to control the volume, start and stop your music, and pair them with Google Assistant.
  • Speaking of Google Assistant, Google demonstrated a live audio translation of another language and promised support for 40 languages. Yes, Google has built that classic Star Trek gadget, the Universal Translator. Apparently it will support 40 languages out of the box and Google will add more over time. Granted, Google’s translation capabilities really more offer you the gist of what somebody is writing, and it’s unlikely you get perfect, natural language out of your earbuds. But this is still a fairly big leap in the field. Right now, you need a Pixel to make it work, but it’s likely to expand quickly.
  • The Google Home Mini is a $50 home assistant that’s basically a cheaper Google home. It also resembles a puff, instead of an air freshener, and comes in three colors. Since the Home is $130, this is clearly aimed at a market that wants just the voice assistant. It also works with Nest products, which is a nice little upgrade. Oh, and now you can message between Homes, meaning prank wars between roommates are imminent.
  • Or, get a bigger speaker with Google Home Max. With two 4.5-inch woofers and some tweeters, it’s got some musical force behind it, and it comes with YouTube Music free for a year. Which it had better, since it costs $400, and Sonos just dropped a similar speaker for half as much.
  • The Pixelbook laptop, complete with stylus, is also returning. You can flip the screen back to make it a tablet, and it runs an Intel Core i5 or i7. It’s sorta neat, but nothing we haven’t seen before, and that it runs Chrome OS may be seen by some as a drawback. At $999, it may be a hard sell.
  • The Daydream View, at $99, is the one VR headset that might catch on, albeit it’s an accessory that turns your high-end phone into a VR unit, not a standalone headset.
  • Also upping the creepy factor a bit is Google Clips, a $249 smart camera that Google promises will learn the face of you and your family over time and capture all those precious moments for Google’s AI to ruthlessly dissect. Just kidding, connecting it to the internet is optional and you choose what gets uploaded, but uh, this is still pretty creepy.

So, there you have it. A lot of fairly conventional gear, a potentially very creepy little camera, and a universal translation device that may potentially smash barriers of human communication and bring us closer together as a species. Maybe you guys should have focused more on that last one?

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