Google unveiled the Pixel 6 last week, and this time it says it’s ready to compete at the flagship level. Actually, it unveiled two new devices, the Pixel 6, and Pixel 6 Pro, because every smartphone line needs at least one device that has the word “pro” in the name. That’s how you know you’re supposed to take it seriously–and, in the case of the Pixel 6–Google definitely wants you to take it seriously.
“We knew we didn’t have what it took to be in the ultra high end,” said Rick Osterloh, Google’s head of hardware in an interview with The Verge. “And this is the first time where we feel like we really have it.”
The thing is that the Pixel has always seemed like a side project for Google. Like almost all of Google’s other side projects, that means that no one really takes it seriously.
That isn’t to say that the Pixels aren’t good phones, there’s just not much that stands out as a reason to buy one instead of say, a Samsung Galaxy or an iPhone. They definitely haven’t been anywhere near the “flagship” level.
The Pixel 6 is something different in that it’s really the first time that Google is making a device that seems to have a reason to exist beyond “we’re a tech company so we should make a phone.”
Actually–to be fair–that’s not entirely true. The existing Pixel devices do come with the purest version of Android, instead of the modified versions put on devices by other manufacturers. Also, the Pixel line has a reputation for being really good at computational photography. If either of those two things were important to you, you might have been willing to put up with a device made mostly of plastic that just felt like it couldn’t quite stack up with the competition.
Now, however, the Pixel is all-in on top of the line. It includes the same metal-sandwiched between-glass design that you expect to see on an iPhone or Galaxy S-series. It has an in-screen fingerprint sensor. It even has an all-grown-up camera bump.
In almost every way, Google is borrowing from Apple’s proven playbook. Hey, it’s worked for Apple, which is the world’s most valuable company largely because of the success of the iPhone.
But the biggest thing Google is taking from Apple’s playbook is something you can’t see in photos, or even if you’re holding one in your hand. The Pixel 6 series comes with Google’s very own system on a chip (SoC) called Tensor.
The details are light on what exactly the Tensor is, or how much of it Google designed itself. Still, it’s a pretty big deal. Almost every smartphone sold in the U.S. that isn’t an iPhone is powered by chips made by Qualcomm. Even Samsung, which makes its own Exynos chips for its non-U.S. smartphones, uses Qualcomm chips here.
Interestingly, most rumors point to Google using components made by Samsung in its Tensor SoC. Not only does that mean that it could break the hold Qualcomm has on the non-iPhone market for chips, but it could mean that we finally see an Android phone that can compete with Apple’s A-series SoCs.
Since Google makes the operating system, the hardware, and now the processor, it can be sure they all play nice together–just like Apple does. We’ve already seen what a difference that makes in terms of performance in the iPhone.
The A-series chips are so powerful, not only is the iPhone more powerful than a lot of PC laptops, Apple is basically using the same processing cores in its own laptops with the M1. All of that is to say that Google’s strategy to make us take the Pixel 6 seriously looks pretty, well, serious. It might even work.