What’s most fascinating about Google’s new Pixel 2 phone is what’s to come. The phone sets itself apart with promises to bake in Google’s powerful artificial-intelligence technology for quick and easy access to useful, even essential information. But much of the neat stuff will come later. The phone coming out Thursday is more of a teaser.
To be sure, the Pixel 2 is a solid phone. It’s not as elegantly designed as an iPhone or a Samsung Galaxy phone. But it delivers a strong tie-in to Google’s services, including those intended to fetch what you need automatically.
Visual Search Engine
The Pixel 2 comes with Google Lens, a way of searching Google just by pointing your camera at a landmark, object or storefront. This can give you quick access to reviews and store hours. It might help identify that mysterious building you walk by every day. Google Lens will also pull out web addresses and phone numbers from signs so you can browse or call with just at tap.
The feature correctly identified paintings of obscure figures in American history at a museum in New York, and it knew which Starbucks I was standing in front of, out of several in the neighborhood. But it’s not foolproof: The iconic United Nations building came across as a generic tower.
I found Google Lens slightly more reliable than a similar Samsung feature, Bixby Vision. Bixby tended to miss on identifying businesses; a Chinatown bakery serving pork buns was thought to be a CrossFit gym — quite the opposite. On the other hand, Bixby identified a plaque dedicated to a Titanic victim, while Google just said, “Hmm.”
It’s a good start, but both still have work to do. And for now, Google Lens requires you to take a photo first. Seamless, instant analysis is “coming soon.” All you’ll have…