In keeping with what is quickly becoming a tradition, Google has now formally acknowledged that the Pixel 6 is a thing long before its expected autumn unveiling. In a blog post today (apparently embargoed at a handful of high-profile outlets), Google has revealed both renders and a few technical details for the new Pixel 6, Pixel 6 Pro, and the new Tensor SoC that powers both.
Pixel 6 and 6 Pro
Google has confirmed the design for both the Pixel 6 and the larger phone, now also confirmed to be named the "Pixel 6 Pro." The smaller phone appears to have more "fun" saturated colors and a smaller forehead above the camera strip on the back, while the larger "Pro" phone has a bigger forehead and comes in more demure colors.
Above: the Pixel 6. Below: The Pixel 6 Pro.
Google's still keeping some details close to the chest, including pricing and availability, but it is giving us a "preview" of what to expect, including confirmation of an upgraded camera system, with both the long-requested improved sensors and a new design.
Material You will be best on #Pixel6.
The colors, the camera, the form, and what’s on the screen all work together in a single, fluid experience.
— Made By Google (@madebygoogle) August 2, 2021
A good pair of 360-degree looks at the two phones are available in the Twitter embed above.
Google's formal announcement lacks technical specifications, and the company hasn't provided us with much — this seems to have been a very exclusive embargo — but The Verge was given some basic tech specs:
Pixel 6 Pro
|Display||6.7" QHD+ 120Hz, slightly curved at the edges|
|Cameras||New wide-angle primary that "takes in 150% more light," ultra-wide, 4X optical zoom periscope|
|Misc.||Polished aluminum "rails," in-display fingerprint sensor, Titan M2 security chip|
|Display||6.4" FHD+ 90Hz, entirely flat.|
|Misc||Matte aluminum "rails," in-display fingerprint sensor, Titan M2 security chip|
Both phones will have high-refresh-rate displays with centered hole-punch front-facing cameras, but the "Pro" gets a bigger and faster one at 120Hz and 6.7" compared to the 6.4 90Hz display on the smaller model. Again, both will harness Google's new Tensor SoC (nee Whitechapel), and they're expected to launch with Android 12.
The store page for the new Pixel 6 series is live as well, but there isn't much there yet other than the same sort of details Google's teased elsewhere — though you can see the three color options available for each size. There's also quite a lot of "9:30" times in the promotional content Google's shown, which could indicate a September 30th release date, but take that with a grain of salt.
Google also advertises "the most layers of hardware security in any phone" when paired with the Titan M2 chip.
Google apparently admits that its prior products have "definitively not been in the flagship tier for the past couple years," and that this will be a different and more premium-priced approach, including the camera upgrades. A specific sensor hasn't been named, and the company hasn't provided any specs like aperture size, but it's a clear camera upgrade — so big, Google's not making any effort to hide it with the design, given the big camera strip on the backside. And there's the new chipset to be considered.
Google's formal name for the new chipset is apparently the "Google Tensor" or "Tensor SoC," and it describes the chip we previously knew as Whitechapel when it leaked several times during development, though Google has apparently been working on it for the last four years.
Google still leaves more to the imagination than we'd like, but the company is clear that the new chipset was customized to run Google's computational photography models, and heavily leverages AI and Machine Learning optimizations for better performance and to enhance "specific experiences" for users. Performance in standard workflows and mundane specs like GHz and core counts weren't discussed, but The Verge was told that "the standard stuff people look at will be very competitive and the AI stuff will be totally differentiated." That last bit is courtesy of a new TPU inside Tensor itself that augments AI workloads.
The camera is expected to be a big beneficiary of these heterogeneous performance improvements. The Verge's Dieter Bohn cites a demonstration that leveraged not just HDR but the output of multiple cameras at the same time to dynamically enhance the contrast and sharpness of a toddler's face in a fast-moving photo. And Google claims that the new TPU will allow every single frame in recorded video to get the sort of HDR processing that it applies to still images. Google's photos have always been stellar, but the company may finally catch up when it comes to smartphone video, too.
But Tensor and the TPU's advantages aren't only for photography and videography, we can also expect improvements to things like translation performance, the on-device Live Caption feature, speak-to-type, and other AI workloads, with Google apparently claiming to be able to "run data-center quality models" right there on-device.
It sounds like Google's going to be much more serious about making the Pixels a truly premium experience this year. Even for die-hard fans, the Pixel project has felt more like a hobby over at Google than a serious effort to enter the market — even with the occasional TV advertisement or talk show product placement. Not a Pixel to date has been released that hasn't cut corners in some way. While it's a strategy that has honestly worked very well in the mid-range a-series Pixels, it's kept Google's smartphones from ever being "true" flagships compared to the competition — and if you like the Pixel software features, that's been a years-long bummer.
Apparently all of that is set to change here with the Pixel 6. Rick Osterloh sounds quite serious in his quotes with The Verge about investing in the product and marketing at a heavier level than before, outright saying "we want to grow," in tandem with the CFO's claims that marketing expenses would increase for future product launches.
Maybe 2021 is the year Google really takes the Pixel seriously, and the Pixel 6 Pro could be the first true Pixel flagship. As always, one word of advice: Wait for reviews before giving in to these early claims.