As the competition perfects its next generation technology and makes breakthroughs in material science, it’s not hard to feel like Google’s hardware is a bit behind the rest.

Apple’s LiDAR technology gives us a glimpse into the future of home automation and Samsung has turned stiff smartphones into malleable objects, but Google is now just jumping on the wide-angle camera bandwagon. 

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There’s a good argument for keeping things simple and cheap considering most consumers remain resolutely focused on two smartphone features: price and battery life. Also, the flashy extras can come across as frivolous adventures for cash-rich tech companies seeking out some R&D tax breaks. 

But Google’s slightly dated approach to hardware doesn’t tell the full story. Its work in AI, which manifests as Google Assistant, keeps me coming back to its devices. The recently announced Hold for Me feature is a perfect example of exactly that.

The new service takes over when you’re on hold and lets you do something else whilst waiting in a call queue. As Google explains it, the AI is smart enough to recognise when the person on the other end has actually answered. “Hold for Me is powered by Google’s Duplex technology, which not only recognises hold music but also understands the difference between a recorded message (like “Hello, thank you for waiting”) and a representative on the line. Once a representative is identified, Google Assistant will notify you that someone’s ready to talk and ask the representative to hold for a moment while you return to the call.”

I was fortunate enough to spend 20 minutes idly waiting for a customer representative at the local council this week as I tried to solve a parking issue. It was as fun as it sounds. Being tethered to my phone whilst waiting on hold, paralysed from doing anything else, is incredibly frustrating – not least because it’s such a colossal waste of time. Google’s invention solves that. But, most importantly, it gives you time back.

Regaining lost time is an incredibly valuable and powerful offer from Google. All smartphones save you time and make your life easier in some way, but only Google is innovating in the phone call space. Verified Calls tells you who is calling and why, saving you lost time from politely listening to spam spiel. Call Screen filters out robo-calls before your phone even rings and Duplex calls businesses on your behalf if you want to book an appointment or a table at a restaurant. 

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Whilst rivals work on sound quality and stability of VoIP calls, Google is making the kind of technological strides in phone calls we see from others in hardware. No one else is doing this.

Google isn’t anywhere near finished either. It still has to roll out these upgrades to new territories and the search company is constantly releasing free AI-focused features for existing Pixel phones and other devices, like its Nest or Pixel Bud ranges (through its feature drop program or just randomly). Google’s work in AI always gives its devices that advantage. 

You can, of course, experience the benefit of these updates on non-Pixel phones. But not all devices, including Apple’s iPhones, will get the Assistant-enabled call features. Roll-out can be slow to other Android devices, too.

Google’s Live Caption feature for example, which translates voices to text – and now works for phone calls – is only available on Pixel handsets and “selected Android phones”, including some Samsung handsets. In short, if you want guaranteed access to all to Google’s mad professor creations – and you want them now – you’ll need to buy a Pixel. 

It’s because of this that I’m again looking to switch back to a Pixel phone after being mesmerised by Samsung’s Galaxy Z Fold 2 for the last couple of weeks. The Korean company’s foldable phone is brilliant in a lot of ways. Instant access to a large 7.6-inch display has helped me rediscover a love of mobile gaming and video content. But if I have to choose between regaining time through Google’s inventions, or idly losing it on YouTube, I’ll take the former.

Got a tip, thoughts or something to complain about? Let me know.



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