Continued Conversations is making its way to Smart Displays

Google Home Hub

In the years since the original Google Home was released, the smart speaker platform has received several new features. One of the most popular of these is Continued Conversations. With it, you don’t have to repeatedly state “Ok Google / Hey Google” after every command or query.

Unfortunately, despite Smart Displays being very close in nature to Google Homes, the platform lacked the feature. Thankfully, Google is bringing Continued Conversations to the Home Hub and other Smart Displays (via Android Central).

As you can see from the video, after the Assistant is done answering you, it will remain in the top left corner of the display. If you want to ask something else, you can voice your query without having to use Google’s hot phrases.

The Google Assistant will stay on your screen and continue to listen for additional commands for roughly seven seconds after the initial answer.

Google confirmed to Android Central that Continued Conversations is rolling out now to all Smart Displays. The update should make its way to every device in the next couple of days that are set to English.

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If you want to turn off Continued Conversations, you will need to disable the feature across your entire account. You can find the option to do so from within the Google Home app. From there, go to Settings > Assistant tab > Continued Conversation and toggle the item off.

What do you think about Continued Conversations? What other features do you wish Google would add to the Smart Display platform? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below!

You can now make Google Duo audio calls on Home speakers

Photograph of Google Home Hub, Home Mini, and Home side by side

Google Duo is becoming an ever more popular option for those wishing to video call someone — especially now that you can make videos calls from the web. But now, Google is expanding Duo’s audio calling feature. As spotted by a user on Twitter, Google Duo audio calls can now be initiated and answered on Home speakers (via Android Police).

The expansion of Google Duo’s audio calls shouldn’t be too surprising. After the Home Hub was released, owners noticed that they could place Duo calls despite the Smart Display not including a webcam. Google confirmed the audio calling functionality to Android Police at that time.

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As long as you already have a Duo account, you can set up audio calls for your smart speakers within the Google Home app. The setting can be found in Account > Settings > Services > Voice & video calls > Voice & Voice Apps.

From our testing, it appears as though the Duo calling feature does not work on third-party Google Assistant speakers. The limitation means that you have to own Home smart speakers to place calls via your phone number or Duo.

What do you think about this new feature? Do you think you’ll ever call someone on Duo over your Google Home speakers? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below!

Google in 2019: All in on AI

With the release of the Google Pixel 3 in October, Google reaffirmed its position as a worthy contender in the bloody war of the smartphone industry. However, despite the handset’s glowing reviews, the Pixel line still has a very small market share, especially compared to popular lines from Samsung or Huawei.

While Google’s ambitions for smartphone dominance may have a long way to go, it made huge strides in 2018 with Google Home hardware products like the Google Home Mini. It also solidified its reputation as the reigning king of the AI and virtual assistant world.

Let’s take a look at how Google ended 2018, and what’s likely to come in 2019.

Pixels are selling, but market share is still small

The back of the Google Pixel 3.

The Pixel 3 XL was probably the most successful smartphone of 2018 in one metric: organic publicity. While Google likely spent millions promoting the phone, the leak of black market prototype devices gave the Pixel 3 more promotion than Google could ever buy.

Months before the official launch of the Pixel 3 was even revealed, the public had already seen the Pixel 3 XL from every angle. We saw unboxing videos, full reviews, and photography samples before Google ran even one official ad for the device.

However, even with all this promotion, the Google Pixel 3 was no sales juggernaut. According to revenue estimates, the Pixel line — which includes Pixel smartphones, the Google Pixelbook, and the Google Pixel Slate — earned about $1.78 billion in combined gross profit in 2018. It might seem like a lot, but Samsung’s mobile division made $2 billion in gross profit from its smartphone sales in just the third quarter of 2018. That was a bad quarter, too.

The Pixel line is doing well — if you don’t compare it to any other major smartphone on the market.

Granted, Samsung offers many different smartphones, while Google only has one line, but that doesn’t negate how Pixel smartphones don’t earn Google nearly as much revenue as competitors’ devices.

Another metric illuminating Google’s lack of market share is its own Android distribution report. The most recent report from October 26, 2018, shows devices running Android 9 Pie — which would theoretically include every Pixel smartphone at that point — make up less than a tenth of a percent of all active Android devices.

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One tenth of a percent of the 2 billion active Android devices is 20 million devices. That means we can estimate there have been less than 20 million Pixel smartphones sold since the original Google Pixel launched in 2016.

Once again, 20 million might seem like a lot of smartphones for two years of sales, but in just the 2017 fiscal year, Apple sold over 216 million iPhones.

All of this data points to one thing: Google’s ambitions in the smartphone market have a very long way to go.

The one thing Google has over its competition is software. Along with a steady stream of Android updates, the Pixel smartphone line has arguably the best camera software of any smartphone in the history of smartphones. It also has unique AI-based features that competitors have yet to match.

We will just have to wait and see if Google can turn those superior products into more sales.

Google’s Chrome OS hardware isn’t gaining traction

Google’s Chrome OS is doing astoundingly well, especially in the education sector. By the end of 2017, in the United States, almost 60 percent of mobile computing shipments to schools from kindergarten to grade 12 were Chromebooks.

School systems love Chrome OS. The operating system is easy for kids to learn and use, and the hardware costs a fraction of what Windows laptops go for.

So why isn’t the Google Pixelbook or the recently-released Google Pixel Slate a best-selling computer on the market?

That answer is simple, too: price.

Google will never gain any traction in the laptop market if it doesn’t release hardware at an affordable price.

Competitor companies like Samsung, Asus, and Acer sell Chromebooks like hotcakes by keeping the devices as cheap as possible. Google is taking the opposite approach and creating top-tier hardware with a top-tier price tag. The entry-level variant of the Pixel Slate is a whopping $800 if you buy it with the (one would say necessary) keyboard sleeve. A maxed-out model of the Slate with its keyboard sleeve would cost you no less than $2,000.

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If Google wants to make a dent in the laptop market, it needs to abandon the idea of selling Chromebooks at Apple prices, at least for now. The Pixel Slate is powerful, beautiful, and altogether awesome, but the people ready to spend that much money on a laptop or tablet will just buy a Microsoft Surface Pro or Apple MacBook instead. It seems like the Pixel Slate was simply made for Google fans.

Maybe Google will be able to command $2,000 for a Chromebook years down the line. For now, it’s a fool’s errand.

Smart speakers are Google’s success story of the year

Google Home Hub logo

Despite the ho-hum progress of Pixel smartphones and laptops, Google’s smart speaker hardware is a force to be reckoned with. In 2016, it was estimated Google earned a gross profit of $49 million off its entire line of Home devices. In 2018, Home products will earn Google an estimated gross profit of $847 million, an increase of over 1,728 percent in two years.

If you look at revenues instead of profits, things get even more spectacular. In 2018, it’s estimated Google made $3.4 billion in revenue off its Home hardware, which is about the same amount it made off Pixel hardware.

A Pixel smartphone costs much more than most Google Home hardware. At $50 a pop, Google could potentially have sold over 50 million Google Home Minis in 2018.

Google is moving massive amounts of Google Home hardware — and the numbers are only going to get bigger.

Unfortunately, the two major companies in the smart speaker market — Google and Amazon — don’t report how many products they ship. Using estimates from market research firms and miscellaneous related data, it’s safe to assume Google is gobbling up market share from Amazon.

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Additionally, numerous research firms report Google Assistant — which powers Google Home hardware — is the best virtual assistant currently available. Most reviews of smart speakers also conclude that Google Home hardware is the best you can buy.

This is all fantastic news for Google, as AI and virtual assistants are the future. Although Google’s cash cow right now is still Google Search, it won’t be that way forever. Google knows years from now, its virtual assistant will be its cash cow, and the company has already set itself in the lead.

An interesting thing to note about Google Home hardware is price. A Google Home Mini is $50 and a Google Home Hub smart display is $150. Can it be a coincidence that these priced-to-move units are the best thing going for Google’s hardware division right now?

There’s still plenty of competition

The OnePlus 6T next to the Google Pixel 3 XL.

Google Search has little competition around the world. Gmail, Google Maps, and Google Chrome are also practically untouchable in their markets.

This is not the case with Google hardware devices like the Google Pixel smartphone or Google Pixel Slate. Even the runaway success of Google Home faces stiff competition from Amazon and others.

In the smartphone arena, Google faces competitors delivering devices with comparable hardware and lower prices. A phone like the OnePlus 6T undercuts the Google Pixel 3 by hundreds of dollars, delivering more RAM, more internal storage, the same processor, and the same all-glass build. Yes, the Pixel 3 has a far superior camera, but OnePlus understands consumers will buy up a device in droves if it cuts the right corners to keep it cheap.

RELATED: OnePlus 6T vs Google Pixel 3 XL

In the cases of laptops and computers, Google is pricing itself out of the market. The Microsoft Surface Pro tablet is on its sixth generation, which means consumers can find Surface Pros for half the price of a low-end Pixel Slate. To make matters worse, that Surface Pro will be able to run Windows applications which the majority of people are still looking for in a laptop experience.

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No matter how fancy of a laptop Google makes, few will buy it if it runs Chrome OS and costs as much as a macOS or Windows device. Consumers will stick with the operating system they know unless Google can give them an incentive to switch — which means dropping the price.

Finally, Google Home hardware is doing incredibly well, but Google’s main competitor Amazon is also doing incredibly well. What’s more, Amazon is doing most things faster than Google. It had its first smart speaker on sale well before Google. Amazon also beat Google to the punch in the smart display market and often releases new features before Google.

It’s a good bet Amazon will launch a new smart speaker product in 2019 and Google will launch its own answer to that product months later.

If Google wants to truly dominate the smart speaker industry, it needs to be faster than Amazon.

Google in 2019

Google is poised to drop some seriously interesting products in 2019. The most interesting is probably the anticipated Google Pixel 3 Lite (which may or may not be its real name).

Up until now, there have been two Pixel phones released each year: the regular Pixel and its XL counterpart. In 2019, however, we anticipate Google will release a mid-range Pixel and Pixel XL, likely delivering the same software experience as the “real” Pixel 3, but with downgraded hardware and specs to make it more affordable.

This could open up the Pixel experience to people in developed nations with more modest budgets, and also potentially allow people in developing countries like India to buy a Pixel. It could be a huge boon for the Pixel line.

For the first time ever, we’ll likely see a mid-range Pixel smartphone in 2019.

We don’t know much for certain about the Pixel 3 Lite, including its price. Google could overprice it and contradict the whole idea. We’ll probably hear more about the Pixel 3 Lite soon.

While we have some info on the Pixel 3 Lite, we haven’t heard anything about Google releasing a mid-tier laptop or tablet. If Google doesn’t have plans to release a Pixel Slate Lite in 2019, it really should. As stated earlier, people who can afford a Pixel Slate probably won’t buy it over a Windows- or macOS-based machine at a comparable price. If Google could deliver a high-end hardware experience in the $500 range (with the keyboard included), it might stand a chance to grab some serious market share.

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Google’s Project Stream — which lets you play AAA video games using in your browser — could also help a mid-range Chrome OS tablet sell. If Google could make a Chromebook or tablet run pretty much anything on a virtual server, Chrome OS would really have a chance against Windows and macOS. Project Stream is still in its infancy, though, so it’s unlikely this would make a huge difference this year.

Finally, we didn’t see a Google wearable in 2018. However, with Google’s push of Wear OS and Google Fit, it seems it’s only a matter of time before we see a “Made by Google” smartwatch.

RELATED: 2019 will be a great year for smartwatches and fitness trackers

There’s some truly untapped potential in the wearable market, especially for Google. It could sell a wearable not as a generic smartwatch, but more like a Google Home smart speaker you carry around on your wrist at all times. For that to work, Google would have to adopt the same strategy as it did with its Home hardware: make it great and make it cheap.

Google’s major advantage: Limitless cash

A Google logo.

Unlike pretty much every other hardware manufacturer in the mobile industry, Google practically prints money from its Google Search business. The amount of cash the company pulls in from Search alone helps fund all sorts of risky endeavors (Wi-Fi balloons, anyone?), as well as more straightforward things like the Pixel smartphone.

With that in mind, there really is no excuse for Google to not be one of the best hardware manufacturers in the business. It has the talent, the money, the marketing power, and the infrastructure to do pretty much whatever it wants. That’s why the low adoption rates of the company’s smartphones and tablets are so confounding.

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If Google truly wants to dominate the mobile markets, it needs to start from the beginning just like every other company. It needs to release smartly-priced products to get people hooked, and then release better, more expensive products as the business becomes more refined.

This whole strategy of rushing out of the gate charging Apple prices for hardware riddled with problems and out-spec’d by phones half the price simply won’t get the company anywhere. It understands this with Google Home hardware, but not with other divisions.

Google has everything it needs to make 2019 its year. Let’s see if it can do it.

Next: HTC in 2019: Last chance saloon

The Google Store is offering holiday deals on Home Hub, Nest products, and more

Google Home Hub

Black Friday was only a couple of weeks ago, but the Google Store is already back with its holiday sale. If you didn’t happen to purchase presents yet, these discounts should save you some money.

First up, Google is yet again discounting its latest smartphones. While the sales aren’t as great as what we saw back during Black Friday and Cyber Monday, they might be enough to make you consider picking up a Pixel 3 or Pixel 3 XL for yourself or a loved one.

The Google Store’s Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL discounts are live right now and will end on December 22. 

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Next up, Google is taking a decent amount off of its smart home tech. This includes deals on the original Google Home, Home Max, Home Hub, and the 4K-capable Chromecast Ultra.

You can take advantage of these deals between now and December 24.

Since late November, Google has been offering customers $80 off when they bundle the Home Hub with select Nest products. The Google Store is upping this deal and is taking an additional $20 off the bundled cost, bringing the saving to $100.

The below bundles are also available starting today with discounts ending on December 24.

Google Home Hub vs Lenovo Smart Display

Google Home Hub vs Lenovo Smart Display front size

There are now a few choices if you’re in the market for a new smart display. The JBL Link View, Amazon Echo Show, Lenovo Smart Display, and the new Google Home Hub all pair the convenience of a voice assistant with the utility of a screen for even more useful features.

Lenovo recently rolled out an update to its Smart Display that includes much of the Google Home Hub’s functionality, including the Home View dashboard. With software parity now on the cards, which of these two Smart Displays is the better buy?

Spec showdown

  Google Home Hub Lenovo Smart Display
Display 7-inch, 1,024 x 600 resolution 8-inch, 1,280 x 800 resolution
10-inch, 1,920 x 1,200 resolution
SoC Amlogic CPU Qualcomm Snapdragon 624
(Android Things)
Speakers 1x full range speaker, 80dB SPL @1KHz 1.75″ 10W Full Range Speaker, 2 x Passive Tweeters
Microphones 2x mic array 2x dual mic arrays
Camera No 5MP wide angle, 720p video call resolution
Wireless Bluetooth 5
802.11 b/g/n/ac (2.4/5 Ghz) Wi-Fi
Bluetooth 4.2
802.11 b/g/n/ac (2.4/5 Ghz) Wi-Fi
Dimensions 178.5 x 118 x 67.3mm
480g
263.2 x 142.2 x 111.4mm /
311.4 x 173.9 x 136mm
1kg / 1.2kg
Colors Sand, Aqua, Chalk, Charcoal Grey / Bamboo
Price $149 $199.99 / $249.99

At $149, the Google Home Hub is much more affordable than the larger Lenovo Smart Display. As such, it’s a little more basic in terms of specifications, with a smaller, lower resolution display, a more basic speaker setup, and no camera for video calls. I would argue just $50 more for the 8-inch Lenovo Smart Display offers good value for money, but $100 more for the 10-inch model feels a little expensive. The sheer size may also make it trickier for some people to find a good home for Lenovo’s behemoth.

Read: Google Home Hub review | Lenovo Smart Display review

The Home Hub comes in a wider range of colors, so you can probably find something you like to fit into your home. Lenovo is more limited here, locking the grey or bamboo options exclusively to the different sized models.

Google Home Hub vs Lenovo Smart Display back design

Look and feel

There’s no escaping the large 10-inch, 1,920 x 1,200 resolution display on the bigger Lenovo Smart Display model — it takes over any room it’s in. The high pixel density lends itself nicely to displaying Google Photos in Ambient Mode and playing back videos with crisp clarity. Colors pop, brightness is great, and the 86-degree viewing angle makes sure you can see the display from virtually anywhere in a room. The smaller 8-inch version makes do with a 1,280 x 800 resolution, which still handily beats out the Google Home Hub’s 7-inch, 1,024 x 600 panel.

The Lenovo Smart Display is elegantly designed, boasting a curved bamboo back that lets you stand the display vertically as well as horizontally. Don’t let that sell you on this, though — the UI doesn’t shift into a portrait mode when the hub is on its side apart from when making video calls. This makes the whole design pretty much useless as I can’t see people flipping the hub up just to make video calls. I wonder if Lenovo had thought it might have been able to do more with the UI at some point in early development.

If you’re primarily looking for a picture frame or small castable TV, the Lenovo’s superior display makes it the better choice.

Lenovo’s design certainly won’t be for everybody, but I prefer it to the Google Home Hub’s functional white plastic. The partially textured look will be familiar to anyone who owns other Google Home products, but if you’re not a fan of pastel colors, the design won’t be for you. Fortunately, the Google Home Hub is nice and compact, making it much easier to find space for — it sits nicely on a desk or side table. You definitely need to set aside some space for Lenovo’s model.

Smart Home Multi Room audio settings menu

Music and video all-in-one

Integrated Chromecast functionality is a major win for both the Lenovo Smart Display and the Google Home Hub. You can broadcast music and video from a wide variety of apps straight to the speakers with minimal hassle. Unfortunately, Netflix casting support is still absent from both products, but app support is otherwise the same as a regular Chromecast. Again, the bigger size and higher pixel density of Lenovo’s displays make them better products for watching back video, though the Google Home Hub is more than good enough for playing back YouTube music videos or following along with recipes in the kitchen.

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Speaking of streaming, both products now support multi-room music streaming. These display can be added to home groups, along with other cast enabled Home smart speakers. Speaker quality differs between the models though.

On the front on the Lenovo Smart Display there’s a large speaker grill housing the 10W full-range and dual passive radiator to direct sound out towards you. The speaker is loud, crisp, and packs plenty of bass. It’s certainly better than the regular Google Home, I wouldn’t recommend it over a decent hi-fi setup if you’re really into your music. The Google Home Hub still packs a decent punch for its little size and I’d ballpark the speaker quality in the range of the regular Google Home. It will certainly suffice as a basic home speaker, but the Lenovo has a slight edge.

One feature separating the two is the Smart Display’s inclusion of a front-facing camera for video calling. It’s nice for those that use Duo, which I personally don’t. The Google Home hub handles regular calls, sans video. Lenovo also included a shutter slider to block the camera, which the privacy-conscious will appreciate.

As a home entertainment system, the Lenovo Smart Display’s better specs give it a definitive edge.

The Google Assistant you know and love

If you’re familiar with Google Assistant, you’ll know what to expect from these Smart Displays. The familiar timer, weather, commute times, reminder, news, music casting, YouTube streaming, alarms, and other features are identical between the two Smart Displays. I might not be the most demanding smart home user, but I couldn’t find any unsupported common commands on these products.

At launch, the Lenovo Smart Display was missing a number of key Assistant features found in the Home Hub. As well as the aforementioned Multi-Room Audio feature, Lenovo didn’t have Continued Conversations and the Home View dashboard for managing other smart home products. Fortunately, these are all now accounted for and Lenovo has also increased the number of third-party smart home products supported by its Smart Display.

There are a few subtle software differences, such as Google implementation of a small LED to display when the mic is muted, while Lenovo sticks a black bar across the screen. Lenovo offers variable volumes for audio and alarms, while Google sticks with just a single setting. Even so, the software of these two Smart Displays offers the same core features, UI, and Assistant experience.

Google Home Hub showing feature menu
Lenovo Smart Display Speaker grill front

Google Home Hub vs Lenovo Smart Display: Which is worth a purchase?

I prefer the Lenovo Smart Display to the Google Home Hub, owing to the larger display for pictures and video, and the better-sounding speakers. The design certainly won’t suit everybody and the size means it can’t be a discrete part of your home, but overall I think it’s the nicer one.

As a home entertainment system, the Lenovo Smart Display’s better specs give it an edge.

If you’re looking for  extra multimedia capabilities, then Lenovo Smart Display is certainly worth a look. Thanks to a recent update, Home View isn’t an exclusive selling point for the Home Hub anymore, either.

However, those looking for a cost-effective, small panel from which to manage their existing smart home will still likely find the Google Home Hub a compelling purchase.

Ultimately, the right one for you will come down to how much you want to spend on a Smart Display. The Google Home Hub is the more attractive entry point for those dipping their toes into their first smart home purchase. Don’t count the JBL Link View out either, if you’re after something a little more music oriented.

What do you think? Which Smart Display would you buy?

Deal: Get the Google Home Hub for $99 ($50 off) from Home Depot

Google Home Hub Home Depot Sale

Leading up to Google’s fall hardware event, we leaked that the Home Hub, the search giant’s Smart Display, would only cost $149. Now that Google has made the device official, Home Depot is already selling it for 34 percent off ($99)

To recap, the Google Home Hub features a seven-inch display, can playback your favorite music and movies, control your smart home, and much more. Thanks to its small size and lack of a built-in camera, the Home Hub works perfectly for those who might want to use it in the bedroom and not worry about privacy issues. 

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Weirdly enough, Google built the operating system for the Home Hub based on the cast platform instead of using Android Things which is found on other Smart Displays. While we don’t know what this might entail, it could mean that this device might have added functionality not found on the third-party devices. 

You can buy the Home Hub in either chalk or charcoal for $99 by clicking on one of the buttons below. Home Depot’s website doesn’t state how long this discount will last so you better take advantage of it now before it’s gone.