Google Buying Guide & Reviews

Remember when Google was associated only with how you navigated the Web? It wasn’t too long ago that the software giant decided to enter the hardware game, catching the attention of nearly everyone. When the king of search makes a move, heads turn.

Google’s hardware release was modest for a company of its size, releasing a slow drip of Internet-connected devices over the past few years. While each product had a loyal following, the Chromecast, to me, felt like Google’s big leap into the consumer electronics market. Released in 2013, I still have two of them connected to televisions in my home. They’ve become a big part of my connected world.

Patience must truly be a virtue, because Google’s slow and methodical approach appears to be paying off, since the company now offers an impressive catalog covering a number of product segments. Let’s take a look at Google’s current lineup.

Google Chromecast (3rd Generation)

On its third iteration, the Google Chromecast features an updated design, ditching the Chrome-like logo for a tiny “G” instead. The other noticeable change is the upgraded 1080p support from 30 Hz to 60 Hz. Aside from that, the Chromecast still does what it does best: it streams content from popular apps on your phone like YouTube, HBO Now, Plex, and more, directly to your TV.

With Google’s popular Chrome web browser, you can even mirror web pages from your computer. While Google is commonly associated with the popular Android smartphone operating system, the Chromecast also supports iOS devices, a common feature found on Google’s products. If you have a 4K display, Google’s Chromecast Ultra is capable of delivering 4K/UHD video and supports High Dynamic Range (HDR) content.

Now that it has video covered, Google knows you love music, too. The Chromecast Audio stays true to Google’s design approach with its compact form factor and straightforward connectivity approach. Similar to its video counterpart, with the Chromecast Audio, your smartphone or tablet is your remote control.

It doesn’t have a built-in speaker, instead opting for a 3.5mm connection to your existing audio system. Thanks to integrated 802.11ac Wi-Fi connectivity, the Chromecast Audio supports popular music-streaming services such as Spotify, Pandora, and Google Play Music. If you like your existing speaker system, but wish it were “smarter,” the Google Chromecast Audio gives it an advanced degree in music.

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Google Wi-Fi

If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of Whole Home Wi-Fi, sometimes referred to as Mesh Networking, allow me to suggest a little light reading. These systems feature multiple nodes or access points that act in unison to blanket your home with seamless Wi-Fi coverage.

Rather than having a router and wireless range extenders spread throughout your home, you can manage multiple access points from a single interface. Google Wifi includes three nodes that support dual-band frequencies and 802.11ac connectivity.

You can manage your system via Google’s free mobile app and enjoy up to 4,500 square feet of coverage with three units. For even larger homes—or should I say, estates, at this point—Google also offers the option of adding additional Wifi nodes. Single nodes may also be suitable for smaller residences where two or three aren’t needed.

For your wired connections, Gigabit Ethernet ports are also onboard. Because the system can be controlled via Google’s app, you can configure and monitor your system easily from your smart device. For your quieter moments, you can even pause your Wi-Fi connection at any time, a kid favorite. At 4.2″ in diameter and 2.7″ high, finding a location for these access points is easy.

Google didn’t want to just manufacture a router—there is no shortage of those. The company created a Wi-Fi system that’s easy to set up and configure (a common knock on routers), which combines expansive coverage, expandability, and intuitive interaction.

Google Home(s)

Digital assistants have changed the way we interact with our devices. Google’s version of the digital assistant is simply dubbed Home.” Thanks to a growing ecosystem and wide manufacturer support, this device allows you to use your voice to do things like play music, control your lights, find a recipe, or even change your TV channel.

More than just a speaker with a built-in microphone, Google Home features a 2″ driver and dual 2″ passive radiators to deliver surprisingly full sound from its compact frame. It features intuitive touch controls on top of the speaker to do things like control volume, and it sits a mere 5.6 inches high.

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Thanks to far-field voice technology, you don’t have to be sitting near the digital assistant for it to recognize your voice. If you’re in the US, this speaker features multi-user capability. If you want to expand your system, you can even add multiple Google Homes to your network to enjoy a multi-room audio experience.

You’re a Chromecast Audio and Video user, the Google Home can also communicate directly with those devices. As outlined in our previous hands-on review, I was able to use the Google Home to play a Netflix show without lifting a finger.

Like Google Wifi, Google Home is app-controlled via Google’s “Home” app. Thanks to support from manufacturers like Nest, TP-Link, Philips, and many more, you can choose from a large variety of peripherals to connect to your system. On the audio side, Google Home supports Google’s own Play Music service, in addition to services like Spotify and TuneIn Radio.

Google has recently added to its digital assistant family with the release of the smaller Home Mini and the larger Home Max, giving you the option to choose the right size speaker for your environment.

New in 2018 is the Google Home Hub, a 7″ touchscreen complete with the Home experience of Google Assistant to help automate and simplify your day. It features Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, a full-range speaker paired with two passive bass radiators.

Ambient EQ, and a two-mic array with far-field voice recognition. Now with a screen, Google Home can provide you with visual details rather than just audio, for more in-depth information.

Google Pixelbook

Google’s popular Chrome OS has been making waves in the notebook community for quite some time. The Chromebook has solidified itself in the computer market and has been embraced by manufacturers such as Samsung, ASUS, Acer, HP, and others.

The operating system is designed for ease of use and it doesn’t require high-end chipsets. While all computers connect to the Web in some way or another, the Chrome Browser and Internet connectivity is the heart of Google’s Chrome OS-powered computers. When Google decided to introduce a Chromebook of its own, as you might suspect, the company decided to deviate a bit from the traditional clamshell design.

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Available in three configurations, depending on your processing and storage needs, Google’s Pixelbook looks ready to accommodate power users and creative professionals alike. The PixelBook features a 2-in-1 design, a multi-touch 12.3″ display, along with aluminum unibody and Gorilla® Glass construction. Its 2-in-1 mode offers viewing flexibility—it allows you to switch between laptop, tablet, and tent modes easily.

Using the optional Pen allows you to write and draw directly on the display with precision, thanks to pressure sensitivity. With an estimated 10 hours of battery life, you can afford to leave your charger at home.

Google Assistant is also baked-in, which allows you to utilize the computer’s voice-activation functions simply by saying “OK Google.” Additionally, the Pixelbook is equipped with a backlit keyboard, a plus for typing in low-light conditions—and it features USB Type-C connectivity.

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When Google designed the Pixelbook, it appears the engineers wanted to check all boxes—design, portability, ease of use, and power. Among the mobile powerhouses like the Microsoft Surface Pro and Apple MacBook, the Pixelbook has emerged as a solid contender in the portable computer market.

Another addition, in 2018, is the Pixel Slate. With a 12.3″ screen and 3000 x 2000 resolution, the Pixel Slate is powered by your choice of an Intel® Core™ m3 to Core™ i7 processor, 8GB or 16GB of RAM, and up to 256GB of SSD storage. It’s also worth noting that this is Google’s first tablet running Chrome OS with Google Assistant built in.

Somewhat like a Pixelbook without a keyboard, users can complete the tablet experience with the Pixel Slate Keyboard. Thanks to its Quick Snap Connect design, it doesn’t require any pairing or charging and doubles as a cover when you’re not typing.

Sound off below and let us know which of Google’s products interest you most this holiday season.

Emily Sadler: