Google I/O is always a blur. From the opening keynotes to the wealth of code-heavy developer sessions to the amazing musical guests, there's something for everyone at Google's annual developer conference.
This year, though, things were changed up a little with the introduction of two new phones and a new smart display from Nest. Those products, plus the myriad announcements related to Android, Google Assistant, Chrome, and many other parts of the Google ecosystem, kept us busy all week.
We've got a pretty diverse team here at Android Central, so everyone had a different favorite thing from Google I/O this week. Without further ado, here's what they said:
Andrew is the Executive Editor, U.S., for Android Central and has been writing for the site since 2012. He uses every Android phone he can get his hands on, between breaks for coffee and soccer matches, of course. You can follow him on Twitter at @andrewmartonik.
My favorite announcements from I/O land primarily on the Android and device front. The Pixel 3a and 3a XL are turning out to be a hit with just about everyone who learns about them, and they mark an incredibly important point in the Pixel brand's (short) history. Bringing Pixels to more people with a dramatically lower price is big for Google, and the fact that it's being done with a really good phone is even better. It also shows a return to some of Google's Nexus roots, and is complementary to Android One's focus on even less expensive phones.
My other favorite announcements landed in the realm of Android Q. Google's taking another swing at gesture navigation, and this one feels much better and fully formed. The navigation bar and back button have to go away, and this gesture system gets us there. Even though I'm not the biggest fan of the back gesture, this is a hugely important step for Google to move away from button navigation.
Elsewhere in Q, Project Mainline is stealthily an incredibly important move for the future of software updates on Android. Being able to seamlessly update blocks of the system without need for a full system update, as if you were just updating an app, is a massive change. Android Q is also introducing a new, dramatically faster full system encryption that guarantees every Android device that passes Google certification will be fully encrypted by default — including inexpensive phones, wearables, TVs and more.
Ara is a Writer at Android Central. She themes phones and pokes YouTube Music with a stick. When she's not writing help and how-to's, she's off dreaming about Disney and singing show tunes. If you see her without headphones, RUN. You can follow her on Twitter at @arawagco.
DARK THEME! DARK THEEEEEEEEEEEEMEEEEE is back, baby! We'd hoped and hoped and gave up hope, but Dark Theme is here to stay with Android Q. This is a dream come true — you know me, guys, this made me cry with joy — but we can't rest easy yet. The Dark Theme toggle only works if apps support it, and as we all know, getting developers to support new APIs is a Herculean challenge.
Android has been laying the groundwork for this for years, but it's going to be up to the developers — and the users that pester them — to see these changes implemented. So while I am going to go have me another pitch-dark Coke to celebrate, I'm then going to start leaving feedback on all my favorite apps to ensure Dark theme support is added now rather than later.
Daniel is Android Central's Managing Editor, which means he's constantly on his phone both working and "working." He's got a dog and a daughter, which means his phones are basically full-time cameras. Find him on Twitter @journeydan where you can talk to him about coffee, dogs, or technology. Or all three.
Google I/O is always a trip, combining big, splashy announcements with plenty of minor improvements to Google's ecosystem. My favorite show-stopping "feature," if you can call it that, was the next-generation Google Assistant running on what seems like unreleased Pixel hardware operating in real-time. It was something else. Google's planning to launch this version with the Pixel 4, which should be available in October, but I don't want to wait that long.
That's why my favorite feature from I/O was something extremely simple: "Stop." I use my Lenovo Smart Display all the damn time — it's playing the radio almost all day down in my kitchen, and I use it for timers during breakfast, lunch and dinner. Before now, when setting a timer I used to have to say, "Hey Google, stop." Yes, it was just two extra words but it was frustrating nonetheless. Now I can just tell the damn thing to stop and it works. It's a tiny example but meaningful in my everyday routine.
My other favorite thing from the show was a bit more important: Live Captions. This is Google's on-device processing of audio to convey captions in real-time on any video, even if it wasn't processed for closed captioning. I'm going to benefit from this because I prefer watching YouTube and Instagram videos silently, but anyone with deafness or hearing limitations will get much, much more from it. These are the kinds of projects I love seeing Google invest in.
Harish is Android Central's India Editor, and he's currently on a mission to convince buyers that the Pixel 3a XL is actually worth the money in India. When he's not contemplating the dread that would ensue from Spurs winning the Champions League, he's found reading a book on his Kindle. Talk to him on Twitter at @chunkynerd.
Google showed off a lot of exciting stuff at this year's I/O, but what I liked the most was the Pixel 3a XL unveil. The phone doesn't exactly have great specs, but the camera experience is outstanding for a mid-range device in 2019. I've used the phone for just over a week now, and I'm loving it more and more with each passing day.
I'm not entirely sure who Google is targeting with the device, because for the longest time the Pixel 3a series was touted to be Google's showcase for emerging markets like India. But over here the 3a XL will retail for the equivalent of $640 (₹44,999), making it an incredibly hard sell. The Indian market is very price-sensitive, and there are so many phones that deliver better value. The Pixel 3a XL has a lot going for it, but Google isn't going to see much momentum here until a few price corrections.
Another announcement that struck a chord with me was the Google Lens integration in Google Go. The fact that you can now point your phone at any text and have it read aloud and translated in real-time is groundbreaking. Now that feature is aimed squarely at the Indian market, and it has the potential to make lasting change in a lot of people's lives. Good going Google.
Hayato is a recovering trade show addict and video editor for Android Central. He uses his phone primarily for photography, social media, and music streaming, but also loves any app that can help improve his musicianship. Find him on Twitter at @hayatohuseman.
I'm excited for features like Dark Mode and Q's new gesture navigation, but what really blew me away was Android's new Live Caption. You can activate it within any app; just press one of your volume buttons, then tap the new icon under the volume slider.
Android starts captioning the audio of whatever you're watching or listening to using machine learning — best of all, it's all done locally. Even if you aren't hard of hearing, a lot of people (myself included) tend to consume a lot of content in loud or public environments where you don't necessarily want to be blaring your audio. Now I can watch Instagram Stories on the Metro, even if my headphones are in my bag.
Jerry is Mobile Nation's resident nerd and proud of it. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him across the Mobile Nations network and you can hit him up on Twitter if you want to say hey.
This year Google I/O gave an early peek at what might be the most important technology Google, or any company, has ever developed: Live Relay.
Live Relay will allow people who could never take a phone call to do just that using the power of machine learning and Google Assistant. I use the word "allow" here on purpose; previous tools and tech helped people who have trouble speaking communicate but live Relay seems streamlined and much more natural.
It's awesome that things like this can work on your device instead of in the cloud, and existing tools like Smart Reply definitely make a good thing better, but Live Relay will help people who might not feel "normal" do things that are. That's special.
Joe is Android Central's News Editor and has had a love for anything with a screen and CPU since he can remember. Right now he's rocking the drop-dead gorgeous Flamingo Pink Galaxy S10 and uses it to keep up with breaking Android news, memes, and dog pictures. Find him on Twitter at @JoeMaring1.
Being the smart home snob that I am, the Google I/O announcement that I'm personally the most excited for is the Google Nest Hub Max. The regular Home Hub (er, Nest Hub) was easily one of my favorite gadgets of last year, and the Nest Hub Max is essentially that same product but with better speakers, a video/security camera, face recognition, and hand gestures. $229 is also a killer price for a smart display of this caliber because it handily undercuts both the Lenovo Smart Display and JBL Link View.
I don't necessarily need another Assistant-powered device in my apartment, but I'm willing to make room for one if the Nest Hub Max is as good as Google's hyping it up to be.
Marc is the Apps and Games Editor at Android Central. He's been a gamer for most of his life and actually took a university course on Video Game Theory — which he aced! You can reach out to him on Twitter @spacelagace.
There was a lot of really cool stuff that was shown during the Google I/O keynote, but perhaps the most exciting stuff for me was that demo showing how the next generation of Google Assistant will incorporate continued conversations and use my personal data to better understand the context of what I'm asking. Plus, everything will operate wicked fast once it's all run locally on your phone.
Google Assistant is still pretty handy in its current state, but it's also slow to listen and respond at times and just not worth calling up for every situation. Therefore, I mostly stick to using Google Assistant for simple commands like finding a song on Spotify, set a timer or alarm, or ask for directions on Google Maps. Based on what was demoed on that stage, I'm pumped to see how these changes will improve the experience and increase my confidence to use Google Assistant more in my daily life.
Russell is a Contributing Editor at Android Central. He's a former server admin who has been using Android since the HTC G1, and quite literally wrote the book on Android tablets. You can usually find him chasing the next tech trend, much to the pain of his wallet. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.
I'm honestly most excited for the Pixel 3a. I think Google made a bold move by putting what is basically the best low light camera you can buy in the U.S. into a $400 phone with a secure Titan M module. If this phone takes off, it will radically change the way we all think about mid-range phones in the U.S. and it will force the $1000+ crowd to seriously earn that price tag with more than just marketing.
But I'm also excited by how dedicated Google is to embedding Augmented Reality into so many different aspects of its overall experience right now. It's everywhere at the show this year, and doesn't feel at all forced. I'm excited to see how many developers follow Google's lead and help make these experiences the new normal.
What were your favorite announcements?
What piqued your interest during this year's Google I/O conference? Let us know in the comments below!
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