Google Teases Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro with new "Tensor" SoCby Andrei Frumusanu on August 2, 2021 1:55 PM EST
Today Google has teased its new upcoming Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro phones; in what is likely an attempt to get leaks and the upcoming narrative of the product under control, as opposed to the previous years of quite severe product spoilers several months ahead of the actual official product launches, the company is themselves revealing large important bits about the upcoming new flagship phones.
Google reveals that this year’s Pixel phones will be called the Pixel 6 and the Pixel 6 Pro, two seemingly similarly sized devices in a high-end configuration with some compromises, and one in an all-bells-and-whistles uncompromising device. In a more exclusive prebriefing with The Verge, it’s stated that the new devices will be truly flagship specced phones competing at the highest end of the market, marking an important step away from the mid-range of the last several years. This is a large shift for Google and has been one of our main criticisms over the last few years – a seeming lack of clear direction where Google wants to be with their Pixel phones, at least until now.
The first big news and confirmation from Google is the fact that the new Pixel 6 phones will be powered by a custom SoC that Google has dubbed the “Google Tensor”. For a few years now it had been rumoured that Google would be the first customer of Samsung LSI’s new semi-custom SoC business – essentially a design and manufacture for hire service that would allow OEMs to work very closely with SLSI in designing differentiated products. Essentially this would be the exact same business model AMD uses in partnership with the console vendors.
What’s interesting here is exactly what’s part Google, and what’s part Samsung LSI and stemming off from the Exynos SoC line-up. The one thing that had been assumed and has been confirmed today is that Google is employing their own AI/ML/NPU IP in the new chip, basically leveraging the company’s experience off their datacentre TPU hardware designs and IP, and integrating it into an SoC. In a sense, this also might be a successor to the Pixel Visual Core, with the large power efficiency and cost savings advantage that Google is now able to integrate it into the primary SoC.
In terms of other specifications of the SoC, there were no further details revealed at this time, but generally given the expected fall release date of the devices, it’s generally to be assumed that the chip would feature the same generation IP blocks in terms of CPU and GPU as other 2021 SoCs such as the Exynos 2100. This wouldn’t be a complete move away from past Pixel device’s release schedule not matching the industry’s IP release cadence – I would still expect the Q1 2022 SoCs to vastly out-spec it, but it’s at least a large improvement thanks to the new hardware differentiation.
The one large question that remains to see is how things play is in terms of the cellular capabilities – notably the device dropping Qualcomm as the preferred chipset vendor would also mean that this would be the only second other design besides Qualcomm featuring mmWave connectivity, which will be interesting to see. Samsung had noted back in 2019 that they had mmWave modules, and although we didn’t see them in 2020, maybe the new Pixel phones will be the first to feature them.
In terms of the actual Pixel 6 phones, the Pixel 6 is advertised as having a 6.4” screen at a presumably lower FHD+ resolution, with flat glass design, while the Pixel 6 Pro is a 6.7” phone and a presumably QHD+ resolution. Both screens are reportedly 120Hz refresh rate as per the The Verge, though MKHD notes 90Hz on the regular unit.
The design of the new Pixels is defined by what Google describes as the “camera bar”, which is an interesting take on merging the needed camera bump and embracing it into the phone’s design. The large feature is very much unapologetic and horizontally covers the width of the phone, being rounded off to the sides. It somewhat reminds me of the Mi 11 Ultra bump, just much thinner and more subdued.
In terms of cameras, both phones feature an ultra-wide and a regular wide-angle, both with new sensors that are advertised to have much better light gathering capabilities. The Pixel 6 Pro also gets a periscope telephoto module with 4x optical magnification, meaning it’ll end up around 105mm equivalence. Google’s decision to go with a lower focal length here is I think extremely good as it avoids the large quality gap, and if the company employs a high-resolution sensor on the new module, it’ll still be able to have great spatial resolution at >8x magnification.
The camera software and processing are said to be extremely integrated with the new Tensor SoC and the ML IP block of the chip, enabling new features such as using HDRnet in video recording, running the same image pipelines that previously only were possible in still shots.
Google plans to formerly announced and launch the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro “this fall”.