Google’s Pixel 6 is designed to be the industry’s most exciting smartphone in years, thanks in large part to the new, custom Tensor processor, which hopes to push Google to the forefront of the industry smartphone by taking Google’s years of technology. And Google needs it: despite the popularity of the Pixels in technology circles, Google phones are not the best sellers in the United States, hardly placing a needle in parallel with juggernauts such as Samsung and Apple, or even companies small service like Oppo or Xiaomi.
Tensor is Google’s big bet, based on the TPU-based AI-enhanced platform that promises to improve photos and videos, search, title, text-to-speech, and more. It is a high order for any chip, at least one focused primarily on device training as its stand – but while Tensor SoC may not launch Google to the heights of the iPhone yet, it may be the first major step to turning on your Android re-passed into a top contender.
The rest of the SoC is a mystery right now, but it looks like Google will be using third-party designs for things like CPU, GPU, and modem – meaning the Pixel 6 will probably feel pretty to any other Android smartphone. via a Qualcomm or Samsung processor for most tasks, instead of some sort of revolutionary upgrade on par with Apple’s A-series powered iPhones.
Google has not given much information about what exactly the Tensor architecture will look like for things like the CPU, GPU, modem, or other important components of the SoC beyond the TPU. But based on the rumors and the fact that Google did not allow the site to write about any major customization or improvements made here, it is likely that most of the Tensor application packages will be external designs. Qualcomm and Samsung have already done something similar – the Snapdragon 888 uses customized versions of Arm’s Cortex-X1, A78, and A55 designs, while Samsung’s Exynos 2100 uses Arm designs for both its CPU and GPU.
XDA notes more specifically that Tensor will be made available in some combination of Arm’s Cortex-A78, Cortex-A76, and Cortex-A55 CPU cores and standard Arm Mali GPU. Which means that the difference between Tensor and, say, the Snapdragon 888 or Exynos 2100 may not be as important for things like general CPU or GPU performance. That is a good feature to look for, especially if Google is really trying to make it a flagship device. But as Google’s Rick Osterloh told the Verge, “the standard tools people see will be very competitive and the AI thing will be completely different.” What makes Tensor special and unique is not how fast it can run games or how the CPU and its battery life are effective, though.