Conclusion & End Remarks

Google’s newest Pixel 6 and 6 Pro are definitely most interesting devices, as in many ways they represent Google most competitive and value-rich phones the company has been able to make in years. While today’s article isn’t focusing on the device itself – more on that in a later review, including more in-depth camera coverage, what we did have a deeper look today was at the new chip powering the phones, the new Google Tensor.

The company notes that the primary reason they saw the need to go with a customized silicon approach, was that current merchant silicon solutions didn’t allow for the performance and efficiency for machine learning tasks that the company was aiming for in their devices. This performance and efficiency is used to enable new use-cases and experiences, such as the many ML features we see shipped and demonstrated in the Pixel 6 series, such live transcribing, live translation, and image processing tricks, all that run on the Tensor’s TPU.

While Google doesn’t appear to want to talk about it, the chip very clearly has provenance as a collaboration between Google and Samsung, and has a large amount of its roots in Samsung Exynos SoC architectures. While yes, it’s a customised design based on Google’s blueprints, the foundation means that some of the defining characteristics of Exynos chips is still found on the Tensor, particularly power efficiency is one area of the SoCs that are very much alike in, and that also means that the Tensor falls behind, much like the Exynos, against Qualcomm’s Snapdragon solutions when it comes to battery life or efficiency.

Google’s CPU setup is a bit different than other SoCs out there – a 2+2+4 setup with X1 cores, A76 cores and A55 cores is unusual. The two X1 cores are fine, and generally they end up where we expected them, even if there’s a few quirks. The A76 cores, ever since we heard those rumours months ago that the chip would feature them, made no sense to us, and even with the chip in our hands now, they still don’t make any sense, as they clearly fall behind the competition in both performance and efficiency. Who knows what the design process looked like, but it’s just one aspect of the chip that doesn’t work well.

GPU performance of the Tensor seems also lacklustre – while it’s hard to pinpoint wrong-doings to the actual SoC here, Google’s choice of going with a giant GPU doesn’t end up with practical advantages in gaming, as the phones themselves have quite bad thermal solutions for the chip, not able to properly dissipate the heat from the chip to the full body of the phones. Maybe Google makes more use of the GPU for burst compute workloads, but so far those were hard to identify.

So that leads us back to the core aspect of the Tensor, the TPU. It’s the one area where the SoC does shine, and very clearly has large performance, and likely also efficiency advantages over the competition. The metrics here are extremely hard to quantify, and one does pose the question if the use-cases and features the Pixel 6 comes with were really impossible to achieve, on say a Snapdragon chip. At least natural language processing seems to be Google’s and the Tensor’s forte, where it does have an inarguably large lead.

One further aspect that isn’t discussed as much is not related to the performance of the chip, but rather the supply chain side of things. We of course have no idea what Google’s deal with Samsung looks like, however both new Pixel 6 phones are devices that seemingly are priced much more aggressively than anything we’ve seen before from the company. If this is related to the SoC bill of materials is just pure speculation, but it is a possibility in my mind.

In general, I do think Google has achieved its goals with the Tensor SoC. The one thing it promises to do, it does indeed do quite well, and while the other aspects of the chip aren’t fantastic, they’re not outright deal-breakers either. I still think energy efficiency and battery life are goals of highest priority in a design, and there we just absolutely need to see better improvements in the next generation Tensor. We don’t know what path Google is taking for future designs, but it’ll be interesting to see.

We’ll be following up with a more in-depth review of the actual Pixel 6 phones, starting with a camera-focused article – stay tuned.

Phone Efficiency & Battery Life
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  • sharath.naik - Thursday, November 4, 2021 - link

    Good in-depth review. I know you are doing the camera review of this. So I have a request can you look into if the Pixel 6 cameras are hardware binned to ~12MP even though the specs say they are 50MP/48MP. There is a lot of mixed views out there, most mistaking this as the pixel binning done on other phones like galaxy S21u(Software binned for low light but has access to full resolution). If you could confirm this for the review would be great, looking forward to that review. Reply
  • Silver5urfer - Tuesday, November 2, 2021 - link

    Exactly as expected 1:1

    The SoC is a bust, they tried to do some gimmickry with their zero talent and tried to make it a cheaper deal by going to Samsung for their IP fabrication expertise and lithography process. Ended up being a dud in CPU, GPU and price to performance, all that NPU NN, mega magic boom is all a farce. I was asking the same thing, what does these provide to us end users ? Nothing. Just that fancy Livetranslation and other gimmicks which you use seldom. On top we do not even know what TPU does in the Pixel Software, it's closed source. AOSP is open but Pixel UI and all backend are closed.

    Hardware is utter joke, the P6 series has garbage mmwave system look at the internals, they crammed one lol. LG V50 back in 2019 had 2-33 mmwave antennas. This junk saved on cost. The display has banding issues all over the place. Optical image sensor for Fingerprint is slow and a joke vs the physical dedicated ones. The stereo speaker system has massive channel imbalance on top. Then you have the low battery SoT for this price point and battery capacity. The DIY aspect is thrown into gutters, the phone has massively hamfisted cooling approach with graphite pads smeared all over the place as leaks showed and no proper HS system it's just a small pathetic AL board reinforcement plate doing it so on top the Display has no metal backplate to reinforce it or dissipate heat. What a nonsense. SD888 itself heats up a lot and so many vendors add VC cooling, Sony Xperia 1 Mark 3 messed up there and had inferior performance with throttling. This junk is even more pathetic, pay for a S tier SKU get trash sustained performance of a B+ device, the AP, Pocket now and other Youtube shill press will hype this to moon.

    We do not even know how this junk has in terms of Software blocks like P2, P3, P4 had A/B system, then merged partitions, later read only ext4 system. This will have even worse. To make it a round about trash, the software is a joke cheap kiddo inspired garbage, heck that BBKs OnePlus's Oxygen + Oppo Color OS mix is way superior than this junk with massive information density loss.

    I'd wait for the next SD successor device, hopefully 888's BS power consumption and insane heat can be reduced.
    Reply
  • Silver5urfer - Tuesday, November 2, 2021 - link

    It's a typo for mmwave, it's 2-3 units. Also I forgot to mention the lack of charger, SD slot, no 3.5mm jack very poor servicing almost impossible to get the phone properly cooled if you open it due to cheap graphite pad reliance. It also has that USB port and microphone soldered to the mainboard which looks like a feeble trash unit check any phone in the recent times and look how solid engineered they are, dual sandwich designs with reinforced chassis and proper heat dissipation. Reply
  • goatfajitas - Tuesday, November 2, 2021 - link

    People get WAY too hung up on benchmarks. LOL, a "dud". A phone is about user experience, not how many "geekmarks" = best. Reply
  • lionking80 - Tuesday, November 2, 2021 - link

    I agree that the benchmarks do not tell the whole story, but I would still say that even the use of a Snapdragon 870 would have been a better choice.
    The general performance is similar (maybe a small advantage for Tensor in AI), but the advantages of Snapdragon 870 are bigger: runs much cooler, hugely better battery-life.
    To be honest I am disappointed by the SOC. The only thing that might make it a seller is the software (ui and camera), but the SOC is rather a no-go.
    Reply
  • goatfajitas - Tuesday, November 2, 2021 - link

    There are other factors though. Early ROM settings, tweaks, bugs, and cooling/hardware. The 870 may have scored lower in a P6 as well. So many factors. - Agreed, the P6 should be a bit more polished though. Reply
  • at_clucks - Tuesday, November 2, 2021 - link

    The problem goes beyond the slightly worse SoC than the already existing Qualcomm offering. It's that despite being a "Google SoC" they still support it for just 3 years. All the excuses used over the years, all the pointing fingers at SoC manufacturers for the lack of support were just proven to be a load of crap. Same crap, now with a google sticker. Reply
  • sharath.naik - Tuesday, November 2, 2021 - link

    It's about to get worse with the camera review. I can verify Google might have been bluffing about the 50mp/48mp sensors. The sensors are locked at 12mp. So Pixel pro has essentially three 12 mp cameras. Which means the portrait mode zoom of 2x is a low resolution 3 MP image. Also at 10x zoom the image resolution is 2.5MP, 4 times lower than that of s21 ultra. What drove Google to make the choice of first hardware pixel binning the resolution down and then trying to digitally blow the resolution backup!!.It's baffling, tried to get an answer from Google support, they just refused to confirm or deny this is binned at the hardware level Reply
  • hoxha_red - Tuesday, November 2, 2021 - link

    "I can verify that google might have been bluffing"

    dude, lmfao—it's called "binning"; please look it up. they've been upfront about this and it was known before the phone was even launched, let alone after we've seen all of these reviews. The reason Google support "refused to confirm or deny" is because the people doing customer support are unlikely to know what "pixel binning" is (hey, I guess they're in good company there with you), and are not equipped to deal with weirdos of your specific variety.
    Reply
  • Maxpower27 - Tuesday, November 2, 2021 - link

    You obviously have no familiarity with mobile phone cameras and sensors in particular. Read up about them and then try again. Reply

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