Google teases the Pixel 6 series with its custom Google Tensor chip
It’s no surprise that Google is preparing to launch the Pixel 6 series later this year, and in now typical Google fashion, the company has shared a plethora of details about its new phones weeks ahead of their launch. Google today confirmed the names, design, expected launch date, and many of the specs of its upcoming Pixel 6 series. Here’s a summary of everything they teased.
Meet the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro
Thanks to leaks, we knew that Google was working on two phones in its 2021 Pixel lineup. What we didn’t have confirmation on was the name. Many assumed the larger and more premium model would be called the Pixel 6 “Pro” rather than the Pixel 6 “XL”, and while some leaks pointed towards the latter being the name, Google today confirmed that they’re going with “Pro” to signify the ultra-premium model.
Both the Pixel 6 and the Pixel 6 Pro will debut this fall, though Google didn’t specify exactly when they’ll launch the two phones. The launch will probably happen in mid-October, though, if their previous history is anything to go by. At the launch, we’ll hear more about the new features, tech specs, pricing, and availability, but Google’s preview today still reveals a lot of exciting information.
For starters, Google talks up the design of the new Pixel 6 series. Both phones have an “industrial design”, with the Pro having a “light polished aluminum frame” and the non-Pro having a “matte aluminum finish.” Interestingly, the non-Pro will seem to be available in more fun color options, while the Pro will be available in three staid colors.
In a major departure from previous Pixel phones, the Pixel 6 series will have a massive rectangular camera bump spanning the width of the phone to house its multi-camera setup. For the first time in a Pixel phone, the Pixel 6 Pro will have three rear cameras — a main wide-angle camera, a secondary ultra wide-angle camera, and a tertiary telephoto camera. The Pro’s telephoto camera offers 4X optical zoom, which seems a bit less than what the Google Camera APK hinted at but without knowing the exact sensor and optical details, we can’t comment on the discrepancy. The regular Pixel 6 skips out on the 4X telephoto camera, but it’ll have the same main and ultra wide-angle cameras.
Google confirmed some additional hardware details to The Verge. According to the publication, the Pixel 6 Pro will have a 6.7-inch Quad HD+ resolution curved display with a 120Hz refresh rate. The sides have “shiny, polished aluminum rails” and the wide-angle sensor “takes in 150 percent more light.” Meanwhile, the regular Pixel 6 has a smaller 6.4-inch Full HD+ resolution flat display with a 90Hz refresh rate. The sides have “matte-finished rails” and not aluminum ones.
Debuting with Android 12 and Material You
At this year’s Google I/O developer conference, the company unveiled Material You, the latest version of its Material theming guidelines. Material You is all about personalization, and it makes several key updates to Android design paradigms. First, Material You brings with it the “monet” theming system, which uses color science to extract colors from your wallpaper and generate a palette of colors to apply as a system-wide theme. Next, Material You also calls for the revamp of Android’s age-old widgets system. Finally, Material You also introduces new recommended layouts, styling options, animations, and more.
In the Android 12 beta releases, we’ve caught glimpses of Material You’s new “monet” theming system, layouts, and animations, but we haven’t seen any new widgets from Google yet. That’s set to change with the launch of the Pixel 6 series, though, as Google has confirmed the phones will not only debut with Android 12 out of the box but that they’ll feature all the Material You features teased at I/O.
While Google hasn’t commented on whether or not the Pixel 6 series will have extended software support (they’re currently rumored to offer 5 years of support), their software teasers do confirm the front design of both phones in the 2021 Pixel lineup. As shown in the images above, the Pixel 6 Pro has an edge-to-edge curved display with a small hole-punch cutout in the center for a single front-facing camera. The Pixel 6 is similar, though its screen is perfectly flat.
Google Silicon 101 (GS101) is officially “Google Tensor”
With this year’s Pixel phones, Google has been rumored to ditch Qualcomm’s Snapdragon chips for the company’s in-house chips co-designed by Samsung. Those chips were reportedly code-named “whitechapel” and numerous references to the new custom chip appeared online in the form of “GS101”, where “GS” likely refers to “Google Silicon” and “101” indicating the first chip in the Google Silicon lineup. Google today confirmed that its new custom chip will be marketed as “Google Tensor.”
“Tensor” is an important mathematics term in the world of machine learning, so it’s no surprise that Google is calling its chip that given how many AI features will be present on the Pixel 6 series.
For instance, Google has customized its Tensor chip to run their computational photography models such as HDR. According to The Verge, the Tensor Processing Unit — or TPU — within the Tensor chip is capable of running HDRNet on every single frame in a video, at up to 4K at 30fps. The Tensor chip also helps reduce blurriness in photos by simultaneously stacking multiple pics from the main camera into a single HDR image and grabbing details from pics taken by the ultra wide-angle camera. The main camera exposes the scene and captures the colors, while the ultra wide-angle camera shoots at a higher speed to get more details.
Google has always applied its AI prowess to making photos better on Pixel phones, but they’re also using the Tensor chip to power more on-device AI features. The company says that the Google Tensor chip has allowed them to make big leaps in voice recognition, translation, captioning, and dictation. According to The Washington Post, the Pixel 6 will be able to “generate live, translated captions when you are watching — or listening to — content in another language.” Based on this, it sounds like Google’s rumored “Live Translate” feature will debut on the upcoming Pixels. Both WaPo and The Verge report that on-device transcription is much faster, but it’s hard to gauge this improvement without seeing a side-by-side demo.
Besides the Google Tensor chip, the Pixel 6 series will also have updated security hardware. The Titan M hardware security module first shipped in the Pixel 3, and its successor, the Titan M2, will debut on the Pixel 6. Google hasn’t revealed any information on the Titan M2 chip, though. When counting the Tensor chip’s own security core, Google says the Pixel 6 will “have the most layers of hardware security in any phone.”
Finally, Google told The Verge that the Pixel 6 will have an “always-on computer” to handle low-level, low-power tasks like the ambient display. The expected battery life of the two phones is still a full day, though.
A new direction for Pixel
Google Pixel phones don’t sell that well in the U.S., let alone around the world. Recent reports even suggest that growth has been negative for the brand, which is troubling for its future. However, it’s clear that Google is devoting a lot of resources into the Pixel 6 series. Rick Osterloh, SVP of Devices and Services at Google, told The Verge that the company is ready to invest a lot in marketing and making the Pixel line grow. It’s too early to say whether the Pixel 6 is worth the hype — after all, its price could deflate all enthusiasm for it — but the fact that Google is building up hype this early suggests they have a lot of confidence in it.
The Google Store has been updated today with a landing page for the Pixel 6 series. There, you can sign up for more news on Pixel 6 availability.