Google announced some key upgrades for its second generation Pixel handsets, including enhanced camera capabilities, a smarter Assistant and a handful of other nifty new features.

Both Pixel 2 and its larger sibling,  Pixel 2 XL, feature an improved 12.2 megapixel rear camera, with an f/1.8 aperture, image stabilisation and new dual-pixel sensor technology which Google said delivers better depth sensing capabilities for each pixel, enabling it to offer a new portrait mode without the need for physical dual lenses.

Indeed, Pixel stands out among new flagship smartphones by not adopting a dual lens set-up.

This strategy seems to be effective, as image testing company DXOMark gave Pixel 2 a score of 98 on a 100 point scale, higher than the original Pixel (which scored 89) and the new iPhone 8 Plus (94) – making Pixel 2 the highest scoring smartphone to date.

Google is also introducing motion photos which, like Apple’s Live Photos, capture images in the few seconds before and after a photo is taken to create a quick clip. Pixel 2 users won’t have to worry about using up their memory, though, as Google is offering unlimited cloud storage for photos and video at full resolution via Google Photos.

Also new to Pixel 2 are changes to the device’s user interface and Google Assistant capabilities. The former includes some slight shifts on the home screen (there’s now a search box beneath the app dock and an agenda widget at the top) and the addition of an always-on display showing the date, time and notifications along with a now playing feature providing information about whatever music is playing at the time.

The Google Assistant upgrade covers improved voice recognition and a feature named routines, providing weather, traffic and other information (it’ll even start streaming your favourite podcast) based on a user’s habits.

Pixel 2 will also let users activate Google Assistant with just a squeeze courtesy of new Active Edge technology. HTC introduced a similar feature in its flagship U11 smartphone in May.

Both Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL use Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 835 processor and feature water and dust resistance. The Pixel 2 offers a 5-inch 1920×1080 pixel OLED display, and comes in three colors: black, white and “kinda blue”. A 64GB version of the phone is priced $649; a 128GB model $749.

The Pixel 2 XL gets a slightly larger 6-inch screen, but comes in just black and white. A 64GB Pixel 2 XL costs $849 and a 128GB version $949 – a price closer to Apple’s forthcoming iPhone X which offers 64GB and 256GB storage options.

Pixel 2 will initially be launched in the US, UK, Germany, Australia, Canada and India, but the device will also be available in Italy, Spain, and Singapore later this year. In the US, the Pixel will be available through the Google Store and mobile operator Verizon. The device is expected to ship on 17 October.

“Family” affair
Pixel 2 aside, much of Google’s launch event focused on creating a broader ecosystem of connected products, which the company referred to as the “Google family.”

“We’re creating a family of products that are there when you need them,” Rick Osterloh, Google’s SVP of hardware, said during the event.

The company introduced a new Google Home Mini hub and Pixel Buds, wireless earphones made necessary by the Pixel 2’s  lack of a headphone jack.

However, the headphones come equipped with Google Assistant capabilities which enable users to read and send texts and control music without looking at their smartphone. A live translation feature is also built into the buds, allowing users to converse in 40 different languages.

Google also debuted Clips, a new standalone camera which uses artificial intelligence to detect smiles and action and snap photos accordingly.

Google Home Mini costs $49, but will be included as an added perk for customers who pick up Pixel 2. Pixel Buds are available to order immediately: users can expect to pay $159 for a pair.

Google said the Clips camera is “coming soon” priced $249.