The Pixel series started with a simple premise: the best of Google in a phone. But Google's journey from Pixel 1 through to Pixel 5 has been anything but smooth. As we broke down in our 'Pixel Imperfect' feature around 18 months ago, each of the first four generations of Pixel flagships was undone by basic hardware oversights. Whether it was the Pixel 2 XL and its lackluster screen, or the Pixel 4 with its famously terrible battery life, there was always something holding these flagship Pixels back.
So the Pixel 5 was a break from the norm. Cheaper, with killer battery life and a (largely unchanged) camera that remained competitive at its aggressive price point. Despite its less powerful CPU, the Pixel 5 is the best Pixel yet, but it's not the true flagship a lot of enthusiasts were hoping for.
And, with Google having apparently pivoted away from traditional flagship phones in 2020, many of us were left wondering what's next for the Pixel brand.
It's taken some time for the leaks to address those questions, but with the Pixel 6 Pro we finally have the answer: high-end Pixels are back, and the Pro is likely to be the most premium Google phone ever.
The devices were first leaked by YouTuber Jon Prosser, before Steve Hemmerstoffer (a.k.a OnLeaks) gave us a clearer look at Google's upcoming flagship. There's a lot to unpack, but the details point to a high-end phone likely accompanied by a high-end price tag. Who knows how the vanilla Pixel 6 will shake out — that phone's flat screen, larger bezels and dual camera suggest a lower price point. But there's little doubt that the 6 Pro will seek to challenge the best Android phones of the moment.
This year's Pixels will challenge the best phones from Samsung and OnePlus.
At the center of the most Googley Google phone yet will be the firm's new GS101 chip, a.k.a. Whitechapel. The Google-designed chip will reportedly use a tri-cluster design with two ARM Cortex-A78 cores, two A76 cores, and four A55 cores. That could put it behind the Snapdragon 888 and Exynos 2100 in terms of raw horsepower, especially in single-threaded tasks. But, as AC's Jerry Hildenbrand writes, GS101 doesn't need to score top marks in synthetic benchmarks to power the most premium Pixel yet.
Google is said to be working with Samsung LSI on the chipset. The GS101 could be fabricated on Samsung's 5nm node, just like the Snapdragon 888 and 780G, as well as the Exynos 2100. The 5nm node should deliver additional efficiency gains, and we'll have to wait and see how the Pixel 6 holds up in this area.
There's more to this than just CPU cores, though. GS101 could save power by passing on the Cortex-X1 cores used in Qualcomm and Samsung's latest offerings and make up the difference in superior AI performance. Google has dabbled in custom chips in Pixels in the past, with its Pixel Visual Core, Pixel Neural Core and Titan M security chip. And XDA's Mishaal Rahman reports that a dedicated TPU (Tensor Processing Unit) will indeed be coming to GS101, likely a distant descendant of the Neural Core, last seen in the Pixel 4 series.
In short, even without trailblazing single-core performance, GS101 could enable AI features that simply aren't possible on rival Android phones. And thanks to a leaner CPU cluster, it could do so while saving power compared to high-end Snapdragon.
It's also important to note that, with Qualcomm out of the picture, Google would have almost full control over how long it wants to support the Pixel 6 series in the future. At the very least we'd expect Google to match the four years of security updates now promised by Samsung flagships. GS101 could allow for a much longer support lifespan, perhaps even matching some iPhone models.
After a year of boring Pixel designs, a breath of fresh air.
The Pixel 6 Pro's design also screams "premium" — a refreshingly punchy aesthetic after an incredibly dull year in Pixel hardware designs. Steve Hemmerstoffer, who has an excellent track record with CAD leaks of upcoming phones, reveals a Pixel 6 Pro with a curved display and bezels as slim as a Galaxy S21 Ultra. With a 6.67-inch screen diagonal, the Pixel 6 Pro lands comfortably within "big phone" territory — the first large-screened Pixel in two years. Dual stereo speakers are also reportedly present, meaning the dual-tone paint job isn't the only Pixel 2 XL throwback feature in the new model.
Pixel processing magic with newly upgraded hardware.
If you're like me, though, the main attraction of the Pixel 6 Pro will be its camera setup. The Pixel's main rear camera has seen only minor upgrades since the Pixel 2 series, and is long overdue a major overhaul. As you'll know if you listened to the Android Central podcast recently, I understand that's exactly what's coming in the Pixel 6 Pro. And the OnLeaks renders confirm that, with what seems to be a much larger main sensor, an ultrawide and what appears to be a periscope telephoto unit. (Note the telltale rectangular aperture.)
The first couple of generations of Pixel cameras were years ahead of their time in terms of computational photography. But the competition has gotten better at fancy AI photo processing quicker than Google has been able to update its camera hardware. The Pixel 6 Pro looks set to combine Google's legendary postprocessing with its biggest hardware upgrade ever. The results, especially for the main camera and telephoto, could be something very special indeed.
A true Google flagship phone is something Android nerds have been craving since the days of Nexus phones. And with the Pixel 6 Pro, that elusive combination of Pure Android, fast updates, top-end specs and an industry-leading camera could finally be here.