The Tensor G3 in the Pixel 8 is the best phone chip today

Google Tensor G3
(Image credit: Google)

For some of us, the only things that maters when it comes to a new phone is the raw hardware performance. I agree, just not in the same way you probably think I do. That's why Google's Tensor G3 is, in my opinion, the best phone chip on the market right now.

It's not the fastest, not by a longshot. Chips from Qualcomm and MediaTek are faster or have a better GPU, and that's not saying anything about the iPhone which ships using a SoC that's faster than a lot of laptops. But being fast isn't everything.

I think it all comes down to what the chip is supposed to be doing, and the Tensor G3 has a big lead there. Its hardware is specialized to do some very specific things when it comes to processing what Google thinks is most important.

When you also write software that can take advantage of these things in ways that just don't work on other hardware, you end up with something different. And maybe just a little bit better.

The matte glass on the back of the Google Pixel 8 Pro

(Image credit: Nicholas Sutrich / Android Central)

I'm not a big fan of Google's phones; the last two Pixel devices I've used were a bit disappointing, if I'm being honest about it. I'm also not a fan of Qualcomm, MediaTek, or Apple though. I'm a fan of consumers and users just like you and me. Companies should be doing more to earn our money.

I can't deny that Google has a vision, though. You may not agree with it, or I may not agree with it, but Google has shown exactly what it thinks is important when it comes to the software for a phone, both inside the operating system itself and its apps.

The next logical step was to make that software work best on typical phone hardware. Here's where Google steps away from the mainstream.

Inside the chip in your phone, there are several processors, and some of them are designed to do specific things. By designing some of those co-processors in a specific way and then writing software to take advantage of that unique set of instructions, Google's own phones have an advantage that no amount of raw power can beat.

Nearby Share on Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5

(Image credit: Andrew Myrick / Android Central)

Even Apple's new A17 Pro and its seemingly unlimited amount of horsepower can't run Google's own MOL and AI algorithms as well as the Pixel 8 and its relatively sluggish Tensor G3. Qualcomm and the rest really aren't even playing the same game. Since Google feels that these AI and ML algorithms are what's really important, the Pixel 8 wins by default.

Except that it doesn't in the real world. But I think Google finally understands that.

Ask yourself when was the last time you bought something because it does one thing better than anything else, yet it is a bit mediocre when it comes to everything else. The answer is probably never.

This matters even more when it comes to something so personal and necessary, like a phone. In 2023, you have to have a smartphone to do even simple things like pay the taxes on your car, so you obviously want the best one you can get.

You're probably going to look at the "big picture" when you buy your next phone, and whatever you decide, being the best when it comes to Google's unique AI and ML routines isn't going to be part of that equation. No matter how cool the AI things are. I'm a total nerd when it comes to stuff like building a "special" chip to run AI software, but even I won't buy a phone based on just that.

This is where I think Google needs to step it up and make the rest of the phone work as well as its new AI stuff does. And I think Google knows it.

Fitbit AI and Labs

(Image credit: Nick Sutrich / Android Central)

The Tensor G3 and the Pixel 8, especially the Pro, are the first of a new breed of Pixel products: one where Google acknowledges its own shortcomings and begins to correct them, one piece at a time. It's starting with the Tensor G3 and its ability to make Google magic happen so well is the right path.

We've seen it before — at one time the iPhone seemed unbeatable because Apple's tight integration of hardware and software meant a truly optimized experience. Android simply lagged behind. As much as I hate to see it, I think we're going to see Google do the same thing until a Pixel is the best option out there, and having the best chip will mean a lot more than it does today.

Jerry Hildenbrand
Senior Editor — Google Ecosystem

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.

  • fuzzylumpkin
    Is it, though?
  • shawngmc
    That's a very clickbait article title.

    Remember when HTC released a blockchain phone? Barely. Because it was capitalizing on a fad.

    AI/ML is a part of the future of computing, but it's a PART. Everything else matters too. In a few years, there will be good enough commodity ML models that none of these vendor AI models will be differentiators. Phones will need to be good enough to run these models fast enough, and we should see that on everything except the budget segment.

    Meanwhile - and this is important - the performance of the rest of the phone matters. What good is amazing AI performance if games halfway through the phone's release cycle are sluggish, or network connectivity is compromised, or the battery life has halved?

    I wanted to love the Pixel 8. I wanted to easily justify ditching my Z Flip 4, a phone that is just grating on everything except performance. But paying full price for a performance sidegrade is really difficult, and nothing in the AI/ML being shown right now is life changing - and I'm a software engineer who has done some AI work!

    Moore's law isn't dead, but we are reaching the limits of blind parallelization. Right now, the things that provide the biggest actual performace increase are:
    Increasing the speed - both in clock speed and instructions-per-clock - of the fastest core in the processor
    Improving scheduling to make sure the fastest core is doing the hardest tasks
    Improving memory and storage bandwidth and latency - more cache, faster RAM, faster UFS storage, etc.
    Improving the GPU so it can consistently feed high refresh rate screens and complex games
    Making the software lighter (think Android's Project Butter a few years back)The limitations of this round of AI will disappoint us. I fear we are approaching another AI/ML dark age if we don't temper expectations.
  • rvbfan
    I don't play games on my phone. That's what my computer is for.
  • Kroll
    Speed isn't everything, but you gotta admit Tensor could be faster. I had a 6 Pro and switched to the 8 Pro yesterday. It's definitely snappier, but it still takes a few seconds or longer to process photos, run magic eraser and other tasks that Tensor is supposed to be optimized for.
  • Lestat1886
    How I you know if the A17 Pro can’t run plot ai as efficiently as the tensor?
  • nrfitchett4
    fuzzylumpkin said:
    Is it, though?
    Absolutely not because the modem is the worst on the market. And a smart phone with no connection is pointless.
  • mustang7757
    No the G3 not the best chip by far it doesn't even compare to the first Generation Snap Dragon. Google offloads the generative AI tasks to the cloud because the chip can't handle it but I have no complaints yet on my Pixel 8pro.
  • Technerd71
    So either Tensor sucks and because of 8 gen 3 (which isn't even available yet) it has no reason to exist OR it is the best chip ever??? Seriously.

    This is the problem with our entire society. No one can even see nor consider a middle ground......

    But I digress..The Tensor G3 is a huge improvement over the Tensor G2. No question about it. It is better in every way. I can say this from personal experience with both chipsets.

    Google has never even stated that they wanted to best any other chipsets. They stated that they are focusing on many metrics besides just raw power. Since the G2 was an overheating mess Google was very conservative with the G3.

    Despite this on raw benchmarks the Tensor is between the 8 gen 1 and 8 gen 2 which is a pretty decent showing considering how poor the G2 was in the same benchmarks.

    Honestly the only thing that matters to Pixel users is that the performance is better than last year, battery life is better than last year, thermals are better than last year, and reception is improved with better efficiency. Google has delivered on all fronts. Does this mean that the Pixel 8 Pro will beat the OnePlus 12 with 16gb ram and 8 gen 3??? Obviously the answer is NO.

    As long as Google optimizes Android for the Pixel 8 series it should run fine for years. Think about wear OS. It is essentially Android running on really slow hardware yet on the Pixel watch 2 it feels extremely snappy. So I think people forget how much the software can really make or break the hardware.

    I had an P11 Pro Lenovo tablet and it had pretty decent mid range specs. It should have run a stripped down version of Android very fast. Yet because Lenovo did absolutely NO optimization the thing felt like a cheap budget device from years ago.

    What I am trying to say is having the absolute fastest hardware is great but rather useless if not properly optimized.
  • I Can Be Your Hero
    It's objectively the worst chip in a flagship phone, compared to the Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 (or even Gen 2) and Apple A17 Pro pretty much however you want to measure it.

    I don't even understand what this article is trying to say:

    "Even Apple's new A17 Pro and its seemingly unlimited amount of horsepower can't run Google's own MOL and AI algorithms as well as the Pixel 8 and its relatively sluggish Tensor G3. Qualcomm and the rest really aren't even playing the same game. Since Google feels that these AI and ML algorithms are what's really important, the Pixel 8 wins by default."
    So Tensor G3 is the best processor because it runs Google's specific AI algorithms the best? How does he know? Has he or Google tried running those algorithms on a Snapdragon or A17 chip? Does the Tensor G3 do better AI than the competition? Nope, the Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 blows it out of the water with the AI it can do.

    Then on top of that, the performance of the G3 is multiple years behind the competition, on par with a 2020 processors. Tensor has been so bad in the past it would only last a couple of minutes recording 4k 60fps video. Now it lasts longer only because Google throttle the G3 more aggressively than they did the G2.

    Then the battery and modem performance is woeful. My Galaxy S23U gets an easy 2-3 more hours screen time with my usage and cell reception is much better.

    The Tensor G3 the worst chip in a flagship phone by a very long shot. The article doesn't even make an argument as to why the Tensor is supposedly the best.

    Technerd71 said:
    So either Tensor sucks and because of 8 gen 3 (which isn't even available yet) it has no reason to exist OR it is the best chip ever??? Seriously.
    You keep saying this and you're wrong. The Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 is in the Xiaomi 14 which was released on October 23. It was released two weeks after the Pixel 8 release.