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Google’s Home invasion, and the start of Microsoft’s VR Odyssey


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We thought last week was exhausting, but oh no, they weren’t done yet. This week has seen even more launched from the biggest names in tech as everyone races to be ready for the holiday season.

From better VR headsets to new smart home gadgets to translating earbuds – this week has seen it all. We also, sadly, had a death as TomTom confirmed it was stepping away from wearables and sports market. Here’s why editor Mike is sad to see it go.

As for reports of Android Wear’s death, they were greatly exaggerated. As we explain, the case of Android Wear vanishing from Google’s storefront is all part of a bigger plan, but as I also argue, Google needs to do a better job of pushing the platform – and a Pixel smartwatch would do it nicely.

Here’s what else happened this week.

Google: Go big *and* go Home

Google sucked up most of the air this week with its big Pixel launch event, where it revealed a stream of new devices. Among them was the new Google Home Mini, a small woven pebble-like competitor to the Amazon Echo Dash, which definitely looks better than its Alexa counterpart. The Google Home Max, meanwhile, was an answer to the growing number of smart speakers that put more emphasis on sound quality – Apple HomePod and the new Sonos One included.

I’m staring at the pink Home Mini on my table right now, and while I do think it looks a lot better than its Alexa counterpart, it’s not going to improve my music experience the way Max is. I got a short demo with it at this week’s event, and the sound is really good, even at the highest volumes, which is where the standard Google Home tends to buckle.

But even with all of that going on, and the updated Daydream View headset, it’s hard to deny that Google’s Pixel Buds stole the show. Google’s new hearable isn’t just a wireless pair of neckbuds to take on AirPods, but they can translate languages too. Before you get too excited, they still require a Pixel phone to do it, but Google is trying to make a better experience out of what Bragi and others have attempted – and I think it’s done it. My demo with the Pixel Buds was as meagre as my French vocabulary, but I got a small taste for how they work. There are limitations here, and it remains to be seen how easy it is to get a conversation going on the fly, but I’m excited to find out.

Microsoft mixes it up

At a small gathering in San Francisco this week, Microsoft firmed up its plans for what it calls its Windows Mixed Reality platform. That included the reveal of the Samsung Odyssey, the next headset to join Asus, Dell, Lenovo and co, and tops out the bunch as the most impressive MR system to date. Oculus, Vive, you have a new competitor in town.

Hands on: Samsung Odyssey review

In fact, when trying it out, I didn’t notice a world of difference between the Odyssey and the Rift. It’s especially interesting given that Samsung works with Oculus on the GearVR, but is now posing as a rival at the high-end.

But the bigger takeaway point is that Microsoft’s vision of VR for all is coming to fruition. All of these headsets support the same minimum specs, and all of them (bar Asus) are now available to pre-order.

Lastly, Microsoft’s purchase of AltspaceVR shouldn’t go unnoticed. This is Microsoft buying Minecraft all over again, and while it might not have as big an audience as Mojang’s world builder, the potential for this shared social VR space is huge. It also means AltspaceVR doesn’t die, which is good, you know.



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