The smartphone launch season is usually in the fall, but Google has unexpectedly early news today. The company has just announced that the Pixel 6 will not only be coming this fall, but will also have the first on-chip system designed by Google. The The chip is called Tensor and uses the expertise of AI enable more powerful and better integrated machine learning on devices. At a demo event that showed Tensor’s strength, I was able to check out the Pixel 6 with company hardware chief Rick Osterloh. I wasn’t allowed to take photos or videos, and Google didn’t share all the phone’s specifications, but I can tell you about a few new features.
First there will be two lines: Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro. Google hasn’t shared the actual dimensions yet, but the Pro, which is larger, had a similar size as the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra. They both look alike the render leak we saw, except for the brighter and three-dimensional ones. At the back is a strip about an inch high in black, lime green or peach red, and below it is a horizontal protrusion of the camera that extends across the case. According to Google’s blog post, the sensors and lenses have been improved and “are now too big to fit into the traditional square.”
Yes, when you place the Pixel 6 on a table, there’s still a tilt due to the bar, but since it’s not angled like on previous Pixels (either Galaxy phones or iPhones), the phone won’t sway from side to side. The rest of the back is black, pastel green or pastel peach.
For the Pro line, the colors are more subtle with less contrast between the parts, but they have what Osterloh called “high-gloss metal accents” around the edges. Camera bumps also get this great treatment from professionals, who come in black, white and light orange. The regular Pixel 6 has matte sides. All the phones I saw seemed to have glass on the back, with screens slightly curved along the edges. Google has also moved the selfie camera from the upper left corner to the center of the screen.
I liked the peachy pastel version of the Pixel 6, although the mostly black version would suit those who like something less dazzling. (Google doesn’t have color names yet, though Osterloh said their marketing team is having fun with them.)
More importantly, Google upgraded the cameras itself. He has not yet shared data on megapixels or sensor size, but said these are sharper and larger sensors than before. Osterloh said the Pixel 6’s main camera will let in about 150% more light than previous Pixels. There is also an ultra-wide lens for both models, and the Pro also gets an additional telephoto option with 4x optical zoom.
With real camera hardware improvements, the Pixel 6s promises better photo processing thanks to Tenzor. At our meeting, Osterloh highlighted the changes that come with the way Google processes images and videos for clearer and better exposed images of moving subjects. The company was also able to apply things like HDRNet to videos as it captures the scene to ease awkward situations like filming the camp with the phone pointed at the sun.
Google has also redesigned its speech software, with a new platform called SODA (Speech On Device API) that allows applications to use Tensor to recognize speech at the data center level. Even better, Osterloh said all of this works at half power than on previous Pixels. He showed me the new Live Subtitles feature with the Translator feature that subtitles all the sound played through your phone’s sound system. With Tensor, the device can transcribe and translate what is being played at the same time, without the need to use cloud processing.
Dictation is also getting some big upgrades. In GBoard on Pixel 6, you will be able to press the microphone button in the compose box, tell your message and use hot words like “Send” or “Delete” to start actions. You can also edit typos via the on-screen keyboard while the microphone is still listening to your dictation.
We still don’t have all the details about the CPU core and GPU or clock speeds, RAM and battery life – they will come later. But Osterloh still said that Google knows that “users expect it to last one day of battery life”, and that it strives for that, but also that it “offers them many more possibilities in that period”. The devices will also support 5G, which “in the US means supporting all the different bands we have here,” Osterloh said. However, he refused to name any brand of 5G modem.
While not an official presentation of the Pixel 6, this review showed us a lot. Among other things, there will be new cameras, a new design, a new user interface (in Android 12) and a new chip. Osterloh said he was excited about the launch. “We see this as a Google phone,” he said. “We intended to build this a few years ago and we’re finally here.”
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