What is a Google Home, really?
If you think about it, the Google Home is just a way for Google’s virtual assistant to express itself. Assistant can live in speakers and headphones, smart displays and smartwatches, but the core function of the Google Assistant is to always be there when you need it. That’s why the Google Home was made to blend into your home decor and that’s also why it looks like an air freshener.
A few days ago, Google introduced the Pixel Stand. While it might look like any other wireless charging stand from the outside, Google has cooked up some fresh ideas that lets its Assistant exist in a new way, on a device it already inhabited.
So how does it work, and what’s so special about it, anyway? Read our full Google Pixel Stand review to find out.
The basics, but better
Google’s new Pixel Stand is definitively Google. That’s to say, it’s an object that blends into your home almost seamlessly, with a stark white silicone body and colorful base. Unfortunately, this might not work as well in more mixed decor. The Pixel Stand works best when you forget it’s there, just like a Google Home. In Google’s vision of the world, that would be a bright white room with color only being introduced from accent pieces like paintings and trinkets. Google designs their products for idealistic scenarios, and I wish they would have offered the Stand in more than its one color — white.
The Pixel Stand uses Google’s new fast wireless charging tech. That’s 10 watts of power being pumped into your Pixel through the air, and it also works with cases — even the relatively thick Moment case I’ve been rocking since launch. While it isn’t quite as fast as USB Type-C quick charging through its included 18-watt fast charger, Google has pulled some compelling tricks to keep your Pixel on its stand longer than usual. More on that later.
Charge whatever you like, but the Pixel 3 will charge smarter.
This Stand uses the Qi charging standard, so any device with Qi wireless charging capabilities will work just fine with the charger, but the special features are reserved for the Pixel 3. Because the Pixel Stand has two separate charging coils, you’re able to set your device on it in either a portrait or landscape orientation and still get a jump. Pretty nifty.
More than just charging
Google is charging $79 for the Pixel stand, and that’s kind of a lot of money. You can get hundreds of wireless chargers for far cheaper than this first-party option, so Google had to add something that made the Pixel Stand in particular worth your money. In the end, Google did exactly what it did for image processing on the Pixel 2 XL — it shifted some smarts onto a separate microprocessor.
Obviously, this microprocessor isn’t as complex as the Pixel Visual Core. Instead of performing image recognition through machine learning, the Pixel Stand’s microprocessor checks to see that your phone is actually a Pixel 3, then stores a unique ID to pair it so it can recognize it again later. It does this because the Stand can host multiple Pixels and perform different actions based on how the user set it up to work on that particular Stand. This is useful if you have multiple Pixel Stands, like one at your bedside you use like a digital photo frame in Do Not Disturb mode and one at your work desk you use as a clock. Unique identifiers for each phone-stand combination are also useful if other people in your home own a Pixel 3 as well.
The actions your phone can trigger could be as simple as putting your phone into Do Not Disturb mode while on the Pixel stand, or even telling your device to turn the screen off if it detects darkness. Many of the actions the Pixel Stand enables play into Google’s Digital Wellbeing initiative, and I think it’s a brilliant use of a wireless charger. The Stand encourages you to leave your phone on the Stand while still remaining useful.
In its default state, the Pixel Stand will show the time alongside your notifications and a new interface for Google Assistant. You can press the Assistant button to trigger voice actions, but Google would prefer that you use the “Hey Google” hotword to start talking instead. There’s a reason the Pixel 3 has front-facing speakers — it transforms into a Google Home.
You can ask the Assistant to tell you about your day, which will do things like read the news and let you know when you should leave for work. You can also take advantage of the Assistant’s Routines feature to trigger other aspects of your smart home like starting up a smart coffee maker or turning on your lights. Routines is an extremely powerful feature, and it’s nice being able to automate things from the comfort of your bed.
Another action Google has introduced with the Pixel Stand is Photo Frame. This action uses your Pixel 3 as a digital frame of sorts, parsing through your Google Photos albums much like the Chromecast can do. It can also use some AI smarts to automatically select the best images from your library, and it works shockingly well. I don’t have my Photos library sorted at all, and it’s filled with random device photos and screenshots from benchmarking phones. To my surprise, Photo Frame mostly picked the photos I shot with my actual mirrorless camera, as well as the best images I’ve shot with phones, and primarily showed me images of people smiling.
Google is also introducing a new feature called Sunrise Alarm. This uses the OLED display on your Pixel 3 to slowly raise the brightness of the screen with a solid color, ambiently waking your body even if it doesn’t jolt you awake. The process starts 15 minutes before your actual alarm is set to go off, and if you’re lucky, it might help you wake up without the need for a loud and annoying alarm clock. If you do reach the point where your actual alarm goes off, you should be more prepared to wake up and feel better during the morning — at least in theory. This feature hasn’t launched yet, but we’re excited to test it out as soon as it hits devices later this month.
Why it’s amazing
From the outside, the Pixel Stand looks like a wireless charger with a few extra features. When you combine those features with the power of Google’s Assistant, you start to see where this accessory brings a massive amount of value.
Google doesn’t care about its hardware as much as it cares about making the Assistant a part of your life. The more vessels the Assistant can live in the better, and Google is developing more innovative ways to get the Assistant into the products we use on a daily basis.
The whole point of the Assistant is to exist all around you. Whether that’s through a Google Home, Google Assistant-enabled headphones, a Smart Display, or even your phone, Google wants you to have access to the Assistant wherever you are. Why are Google Home Mini and Google Home Hub so affordable? Google wants the Assistant to be in every room of your home.
For better or worse, your phone is now a Google Home.
In this vein, the Pixel Stand transforms your phone into a Google Home. Sure, you can technically call on the Assistant from your phone wherever you are, but Google wants to encourage you to use the Assistant instead of your screen. It does this with the promise of rapid charging your phone for when you need to leave the house, and the extra functionalities like Photo Frame encourage you to leave your phone on your stand and rely on your voice to make searches. Google is pushing us into a voice-first world.
The Pixel Stand is also an enormous push in Google’s Digital Wellbeing feature. With the functionality the Pixel Stand promises, users are encouraged to dock their device on the stand when they get home and leave it there until it helps them wake up more naturally in the morning. Instead of stressful messages and notifications, you’re greeted by memories which are automatically chosen from your messy Google Photos library. Google wants us to live in a world where we don’t use our phone at all while we’re at home, and that’s a reality I would be incredibly excited to live in. Of course, in this idealistic worldview it’s only Google services that deserve a pass.
In the end, it comes down to thinking of our phones as utilities. Sure, they can be sources of entertainment when we’re not doing much else, but apps have shifted from mindless games to being primarily used for work. Slack alone is installed on over 10 million devices worldwide, and hearing that hair-raising ping just as you’re settling down to relax is something we could all live without.
Google’s best accessory ever… if you’re willing to pay for it
The Pixel Stand may not seem like much, but I think it’s the best accessory Google has ever made (I consider the Chromecast a full product, not so much an accessory). In classic Google fashion, its core purpose is a symbiotic relationship, drastically increasing the number of voice queries while at the same time helping you remove yourself from the screen you’re glued to 50 percent of the day. Google knows ad revenue won’t last forever, and it has been rapidly trying to get users onboarded to using voice as their primary method of interacting with computers.
$79 is a bit of a hefty price to pay, and I am honestly a little surprised that Google didn’t price this more aggressively. There’s no way the hardware costs anywhere close to $79 to produce, and the value of onboarding a customer onto Google Assistant is a big win for Google. I’d like to see Google sell bundle deals that reduce the price of the Pixel Stand when ordering a Pixel 3, but we’ve yet to see any such bundle hit the Google store. Carriers do bundles like this fairly regularly though, and it’s possible we’ll see something concrete as we approach the holiday season.
If you don’t mind the $79 price tag, the Pixel Stand is one of the coolest accessories you can buy for your new Google Pixel 3. I want one for the sole reason that it removes me from my phone while I’m at home, and I think anyone could benefit from that in 2018.