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Google Finally Making Their Own Chips for Pixel 6


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As has been heavily rumored and leaked for a while now, Google is finally going all in on their Pixel phones and creating their own chips. Today we got our first official confirmation that this will be the case, and while tech reporters were allowed to handle the devices and see some demos, they couldn't take any of their own footage or test anything themselves.

 

The devices generally seem comparable to other high end (~$1000) smartphones, which has not always been the case with the Pixel line. The camera system is notable, given that Google has finally ditched the old 12MP Sony sensor they've been using since the Pixel 2. No direct specs were given, but leaks suggest it's a new 50MP sensor that is also larger than the old one. There's also an ultra wide and a periscope telephoto lens.

 

The big deal though is the new Tensor chip. Tensor is the name Google has used for their AI chips used in their data center products, so it's notable they're using it again here. Unfortunately, Google was again light on the details. They wouldn't share what parts were custom designed, who is building it, or any benchmarks. The only real info is that the Tensor SoC will include mobile versions of the "Tensor Processing Unit" that Google has been putting in their server farms. This shouldn't be a surprise, given that Apple, nVidia, and basically everyone else already puts dedicated AI hardware in their SoCs, and Googles TPUs have been well regarded for years.

 

In the past we've seen different kinds of jumps when companies move to their own hardware. Samsung has been selling versions of it's phones for years with their own Exynos chips, but they've never really been clearly better than their Qualcomm counterparts. When Apple first moved to their own A series chips, they were more or less a continuation of what had come before, taking a bit before they became the market leading chips we see today. When they moved to the M series with their laptops, it was a huge leap we're unlikely to see here. If I were to guess I'd say we won't be seeing much performance differences between this first gen and existing Qualcomm phones, but over time it could become quite a competitive advantage for Google.

 

Google is also promising that this time they're going to spend money and actually attempt to capture some market share. They've said that before, but there's some reason to believe they actually might do it this time. As someone who's been using Pixel phones for years now, I'd be happy if they can make these really standout products.

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I get free phones at my work. Or, rather, my school division pays for my phone plan, and I get a free upgrade every 2-3 years (but have to pay for the new phone if it's above a certain amount). However, we recently switched telcos so we no longer have access to Pixels, which sucks. My plan is to upgrade to whatever iPhone is free, sell it immediately, and then use that cash to buy a Pixel. I'm on a base Pixel 5 now and like it. I still think the Nexus 5 was the best phone I ever had.

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  • 2 months later...

The Pixel 6 event is finally live.

 

Something I don't think leaked is the price. The Pixel 6 starts at $599 and the Pro at $899. So definitely not the high prices we've seen from other phone makers.

 

Tech sites already have their hands-on impressions posted, at least for hardware. For some reason Google doesn't want people talking about the software experience or performance yet.

 

I'm very curious to hear a full review of these phones. It's odd to me that they'd send phones out to tech sites, but not want them to post much about the actual user experience. That doesn't bode well for phones shipping this month (the 28th).

 

Also, while not entirely confirmed, what we do know about the Tensor chip is not terribly exciting. It seems to be using mostly off the shelf cores, though in a different configuration. The Snapdragon 888 uses one high performance core, three midrange cores, and four low power cores. Tensor trades one of those midrange cores for an additional high end core, and it adds the expected custom TPU AI chip.

 

Maybe that TPU core will make a big difference in the camera, and it's possible the extra performance core will make intense tasks feel faster, but it could hurt battery life. It's also odd that they introduced it downplaying benchmark performance. While I still think it's a big deal that Google is working on a custom chip, and it does mean Google will be able to support it longer than they otherwise would, I don't think this is Google in any way catching up to Apple.

 

I do hope the camera lives up to their promises. Other makers have really caught up and surpassed Google's cameras, and it's good to see them finally update the hardware. The "magic eraser" feature does seem like something that will make for great commercials and a useful selling point.

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