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”.

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  • goatfajitas - Monday, August 2, 2021 - link

    We all say that... Then we go Google things. LOL
  • Wereweeb - Tuesday, August 10, 2021 - link

    You go Google things*

    There are other options.
  • abufrejoval - Monday, August 2, 2021 - link

    So they probably have the most capable ML/NN SoC in the universe (might help, that Kirins are gone).

    They also have hardware security enclaves, they don't really want to talk about.

    If you buy one of these phones, you'll pay for them and in theory at least, you also own them.
    But will these ML and security capabilities work for you?

    That's what I very much doubt. The NN accelerators will enable Google to "know you better" and more deeply with far less energy consumption--continously, most likely--instead of just sporadically. The security enclaves will enable Google to run "their stuff" completely out of sight and separate from any malware that somehow passes through the quality controls of their app store.

    But again, what does that do for you? What's the value for you?

    Google wants to be Google & Apple & Microsoft & rule the world (without any of the responsibility) and they certainly want to evade accountability, competition, scrutiny, monopoly charges etc.

    They need to gain traction on the device front to make that happen.

    So if you don't see how what Google wants benefits you, I can only suggest you stick with Chinaware until some bean counter at Alphabet (or indeed some watchdog) stops this.

    Do not fall for the trap of convenience and "intelligence" that Google is holding out!
  • geo2160 - Tuesday, August 3, 2021 - link

    You're worried about a phone having a secure enclave, but from your post, it's obvious that you don't even understand what a secure enclave is. Same goes for ML. Stop spreading FUD.
  • boozed - Monday, August 2, 2021 - link

    Well that's going to be a polarising design
  • jamesindevon - Tuesday, August 3, 2021 - link

    Does the "G" stand for Geordi La Forge?
  • ChrisGX - Tuesday, August 3, 2021 - link

    The 'Tensor' SoC no doubt will be very novel. The term 'custom' has been thrown around a lot in connection to Tensor/Whitechapel/GS-101. Used in a descriptive fashion there is no harm in the term but 'custom ARM processor' has a definite technical meaning and we don't yet know whether Tensor qualifies as custom in that technical sense.

    A non-custom ARM processor is an ARM processor based on core and other IP licensed from ARM. Examples include powerful premium parts for smartphones, e.g. Snapdragon 888 or Exynos 2100, or ultra low power parts from the likes of ST Microelectronics and NXP. Most ARM based processors, as it happens, rely on IP licensed from ARM. A custom ARM processor, on the other hand, is one that doesn't rely on any processor or physical IP licensed from ARM but rather is developed entirely indepedently of ARM after an architectural license - essentially an ISA license - has been obtained from ARM. Apple silicon and NUVIA (recently acquired by Qualcomm) silicon, which we might see in 2022, fall into the custom ARM category.

    Will Tensor be a genuine custom ARM part? Maybe, but I have my doubts. Based on some snippets of information that have a plausible ring to them (the Axios article that first mentioned Google's progress with its own mobile phone SoC is a suggestive source although some details from that article are yet to be confirmed), I suspect that the development of Tensor may have involved input from Samsung as a chip design partner and as a provider of some of the essential silicon pieces - think ARM CPU cores and DSU. Indeed, a number of reports have suggested that Samsung is exploring mutually beneficial projects aimed at expanding the market for specialised ARM silicon - jointly designed/specced (for sizeable clients) or, perhaps, merchant silicon to be sold under the Exynos brand - that, on the Samsung side, seems to be aimed at building up the scope of its silicon business, viz. into design services in addition to chip fabrication.

    I have a slight hope that despite evident high end features of the Pixel 6 Google might yet be able to achieve a good value balance with its forthcoming phone models. Eschewing high end and high cost Cortex-X1 based silicon and instead using Cortex-A78 based tech, e.g. Exynos 1080, or more recent Cortex-A710 tech as a starting point might represent a more economical approach to building the processor that Google needs. And, once all of the novel AI bits have been added in to a finished sliver of silicon like that, such a part probably would strike a good balance between performance and energy efficiency, in any case.
  • Jon Tseng - Tuesday, August 3, 2021 - link

    Yeah I'm also intrigued by how tailored this design actually is. On the face of it, it looks like a semi-custom Exynos part throwing the Shannon modem in with ARM cores (my bet is standard cortex) and a customer NPU.

    The weird thing is that the Pixel volumes are way to low to justify a custom tape-out. And the cellular connectivity means its not going to be a great fit for other Google devices like a Chromebook (don't need the modem at that price point) or a streaming devices (too high end).

    So dunno if this is a merchant part Samsung will resell? Or if it gets reused as an Exynos? Or maybe Google does have that much money to burn? Peculiar..
  • jcbenten994 - Tuesday, August 3, 2021 - link

    I had, well still have, a Pixel 2 XL (Verizon) and switched to 12 Pro Max a few weeks ago. Primary reason is due to cessation of updates and the fact that Google allow Verizon to keep the phone locked.

    From my perspective, and I am a PC user, Android is head and shoulders better than the iPhone OS in usability. If I used a Mac, it might be different Android has come along way to addressing accessibility to functions that matter. Apple hides functions that have real use...for instance...Location On/Off...Android is a swipe and toggle...Apple I have to deep dive into menu structure to turn on/off. Maybe I have not found the shortcut but it is a PITA.

    Android: Messages on the problem. Works Great. For Apple...a definite...maybe? Try an emulator...nope...try the other emulator...$15/mth (or something) thanks. Get a Mac...uhhh nope not gonna do that.

    That is just the surface...I have quite a few other items that are just better on Android.
  • Peskarik - Tuesday, August 3, 2021 - link

    I am still on original Pixel XL and I do not see a reason to change.
    Photos are fine, battery still fine (I seldom load above 80%), 3.5mm is there, still have 50Gb empty storage, Real Racing 3 runs fine on this old hardware.
    No updates, I do not mind.

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