Google's Other Big Announcements: Chromecast & Pixel C

Photo: Courtesy Google.
While we're super excited about Google's new Nexus handsets, that's not all the Alphabet-owned company announced today. Google also made updates to its budget media streamer, Chromecast, and showed off a new convertible tablet-notebook hybrid, the Pixel C. With all these new devices, plus apps on both iOS and Android, Google continues to push the smartphone as the center of your home ecosystem — and promotes its products as a cross-platform experience. Here's the lowdown on the non-phone news Google announced today.

Chromecast is Google's small HDMI dongle that plugs into any TV to make it smart and connected. Using this device and its accompanying app, you can stream music, movies, TV shows, and more from your phone to your TV. Now, it's been updated with a new circular design and a short, flexible HDMI cable so it's (hopefully) easier to plug in. It also comes in three colors, instead of just black. Google also introduced an audio-only version of Chromecast for speakers, dubbed simply Chromecast Audio.

The new Chromecast devices (both $35 and available today via the Google Store) support the latest WiFi standards, like 802.11AC, so they can stream higher-quality video and audio with less buffering.

Google also updated the Chromecast app so it's much, much easier to discover new content you want to watch. The app opens to a "What’s On" screen, where you can see what's trending on YouTube, popular episodes on Hulu, recommended shows on Netflix, and more. It only shows you content from apps you have installed on your phone — and you can count Spotify among those apps, finally! The Google Chromecast app can also recommend apps you should download if, say, you want to watch an episode of The X-Files and don't currently have an app that supports it.

The Chromecast app has a nifty feature called Fast Play that reduces the loading time of shows from apps such as Netflix. Basically, it's a caching algorithm that predicts what you want to watch before you hit play and pre-loads a portion of that show. If Netflix knows you just watched an episode of Friends, it will load up the first part of the next episode behind the scenes.
Photo: Courtesy Google.
Pixel C
The Pixel C is a tablet combined with a Bluetooth keyboard (sound familiar? Microsoft and Apple have their own versions of this, too). The two magnetically attach to one another for laptop-style computing harmony — or you can ditch the keyboard to use the Android-running Pixel C as a full-on tablet.

The 10.2-inch screen (the tablet half) attaches super-securely to the keyboard. You can adjust the viewing angle between 100 and 135 degrees and hold the device by the tablet, the keyboard, or upside down. The keyboard has a small battery but never needs to be charged — when secured to the tablet, it charges wirelessly. Smart. If you forgo the keyboard for a while, that's also fine, as the keyboard can stay charged for about two months of use.

The device gets its namesake from its pixel-packed screen: 308 pixels per inch, for 4.6 million pixels total. Inside, it's got 3 GB of memory, an Nvidia Tegra GPU for rendering graphics and video, and stereo speakers to complete that killer video experience. No word on battery life, though.

The Pixel C starts at $499 for a 32 GB model and $599 for 64 GB. The keyboard is an extra $149.

Google Photos & Google Music
Google also made some major updates to two of its major app offerings, Google Photos and Google Music. For music-loving families, Google Play Music will debut a new family plan later this year; it will let up to six people use a single account. Instead of paying $10 per person, this shared account costs $15 per month.

As for Google Photos, you'll be able to create shared albums soon; friends and family can contribute their photos, even if they're not on Android. The result is a great multi-perspective look at an event like a wedding — or even just an afternoon at the beach when you and your S.O. were both snapping photos. Others can subscribe to the album and get notified when new photos or videos are added. Google Photos is also adding deeper search, letting you label people in photos so you can search for things like "Maggie hiking." And, like with Apple TV, you'll be able to cast your photos, so you can share a slideshow on your TV screen.

Whew! We'll be getting some serious hands-on time with all of Google's new products in the coming days and weeks, so feel free to share your questions in the comments below, and we'll tackle them.

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