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Google’s giving up too much ground in the smart home fight

While Amazon’s smart home lineup continues to boom, Google’s is stagnating.

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Amazon announced dozens of updated smart home devices this last week, from a drone home security camera to a new swiveling Echo Show and an excellent overhaul of the Echo speaker line. They even rolled out a game streaming service that looks like it might be able to beat Stadia at its own game.

We’re also three days out from Google’s Launch Night In event, where we’ll see the latest Pixels and updates to several Google Nest products. As someone who uses Google Assistant-powered speakers and is loving the absolute crap out her Pixel 4a, I should be giddy as a kid on Christmas Eve right now. Unfortunately, I just can’t help this sinking feeling in the back of my mind that whatever Google shows us on Wednesday will feel like crumbs after Amazon’s feast.

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Nowhere is this more apparent than the upcoming Nest Audio. This is the first direct successor to the original Google Home, which came out in 2016 — yeah, it’s really been that long, I can’t believe it either — while Amazon has updated the main Echo speaker three times in the last four years.

In addition, the new Amazon Echo is sporting a new spherical design that’s oddly reminiscent of the Nexus Q, the Nest Audio’s design is basically the same design we’ve seen for three years with the Nest Mini and the Google Home Max. While the new Echo is boasting new features like a built-in Zigbee hub and new custom co-processors powering its on-device AI, about the juiciest rumor we have for the Nest Audio is the hope that it might double as a portable speaker rather than being tied down to one room, a niche limited to third-party Google Assistant speakers so far.

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We’re also only expecting an update for the main Nest Audio, whereas Amazon has been updating the Echo Dot whenever it does the main Echo to ensure that it’s smaller, more affordable speaker has the latest features and the cutest looks, like the insanely adorable tiger and panda Echo Dot Kids Editions. Combine that with the entire Alexa line getting even more intelligent features over the last 12 months, and Google’s smart speakers start feeling more and more like they’re falling behind.

The same can be said of the Nest Learning Thermostat, which we’re still not sure we’ll actually see this week. Nest’s last new thermostat came out in 2017, but that was the stripped down Nest E; the Nest 3rd Gen has been out for 5 years now. Granted, we don’t replace a thermostat every other year the way we replace a phone, but there’s always improvements that can be made. Nest’s main competitor, Ecobee, has released three new generations of its thermostat since the Nest 3rd Gen launched in 2015.

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I understand that Google’s a services company first and a hardware company second, but is it too much to ask for a little more hustle out of Google’s hardware team when the competition is giving it all they’ve got?

We know that Google can turn out a great product that fits users needs. The Pixel 4a is the best phone of 2020 not just because it’s the perfect size for one-handed use on the go, but because it offers a great Android experience for $349 instead of the $900+ you’d pay for most 2020 flagships. The Chromecast was a great tool that helped turn millions of dumb TVs into smart TVs, and it did so for $35.

We know Google can hit home runs. And we could see home runs this week: the ‘Sabrina’ Android TV in particular looks very promising, and the Pixel 4a 5G will be offering up a big screen at a low price while still packing 5G for the future.

But I also know how often Google tends to whiff on a shot, too.

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From the rest of the tech world last week:

  • Finally, Chromebook availability is starting to recover from the back to school rush! At check this morning, most of the models in our Best Chromebook are in stock at regular price, including the Lenovo Flex 5 that’s been selling out within hours for the last three months. The Flex 5 at $410 is a phenomenal value and I wouldn’t wait for Prime Day to buy it.
  • We got a new Chromebox from HP this week, and I am pleased as punch. Chromeboxes aren’t sexy, but they’re useful and we deserve updated choices.
  • The TicWatch Pro 3 is a great watch that I look forward to wearing for the foreseeable future. I’m not thrilled about the hybrid screen now turning on the backlight via tilt-to-wake — I find it distracting — but it does make it easier to read at night.
  • The bold colors, the flat screen and the lower price make the Galaxy S20 FE a very alluring prospect, but unless you love Samsung’s look, I recommend grabbing the Pixel 4a.

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