With 5 years of updates, the Pixel 6 can actually compete with the iPhone 13

Google Pixel 5 Review
Google Pixel 5 Review (Image credit: Android Central)

We learned last week that the Google Pixel 6 could receive 5 years of Android software updates. Samsung (4 years), OnePlus (3 years), and OPPO (3 years) have also promised longer support, but it's the Pixel 6 that could actually go toe-to-toe with the iPhone 13 in longevity.

I won't dive into iOS vs. Android here — I've already said my piece about switching from iOS to Android — but iPhones undeniably beat the best Android phones for fast, long-lasting support. Exhibit A: the iPhone 6S will get iOS 15 this September alongside the other iPhones, six years after its launch. Even when an old Android phone does get a new update, it's often months later than newer phones.

Google's Whitechapel strategy gives the Pixel 6 an iPhone-esque appeal.

With the Pixel 6, Google (allegedly) will offer the same iPhone-esque perk for buying stock Android, thanks to the new Whitechapel GS101 custom chipset. A quick run-down for those unfamiliar with Whitechapel: it's a custom-made SoC co-developed by Google and Samsung with a tri-cluster design equivalent to the Snapdragon 780G, plus dedicated modules for security and AI/ machine learning.

Apple can easily support long-term updates because it creates its own Bionic chipsets and tailors its software to them. Android manufacturers, meanwhile, adjust their software every year to new Snapdragon chips, having no say in how Qualcomm builds or updates them. That makes it much harder to release new OSs for new hardware that also works with old hardware. Whitechapel will change that for Google.

The big question will be whether the promise of software updates will be enough to drag shoppers away from Apple, Samsung, OnePlus, or other brands. As is, the Pixel 6 certainly beats the Pixel 5 in specs but may already be outmatched by other upcoming phones.

Will the Pixel 6 be better than the sum of its parts?

Google Pixel 6 Pro Front Back Leak

Source: Jon Prosser (Image credit: Source: Jon Prosser)

If the recent Pixel 6 specs leak proves true, it will have a 6.4-inch AMOLED display with FHD+ resolution and 120Hz refresh rate, 50MP main camera, up to 256GB of storage, 8GB of RAM, and a 4614mAh battery; the Pixel 6 Pro will upgrade to QHD+ resolution, 12GB of RAM, and a 5,000mAh battery.

The Pixel 5 outperformed its Snapdragon, but it still lagged behind other flagships. Will the Pixel 6 follow that trend?

That's all perfectly respectable for a 2021 phone lineup. Unfortunately, we have no mention of an LTPO display, so we can't count on VRR for a battery boost. Otherwise, its specs compare favorably against most other recent flagships, except perhaps for massive, overpowered handsets like the Galaxy S21 Ultra and iPhone 12 Pro Max.

But we have to talk about Whitechapel and its comparison to the Snapdragon 780G. We know that chip is 40% more powerful and more energy-efficient than the 765G found in the Pixel 5, which we called the "best Pixel ever." For context, it outperformed other phones with faster Snapdragon processors for daily use and did just fine playing Android games, but it struggled with some demanding tasks like photo processing.

As for the Pixel 6, we heard from leaker Yogesh that Whitechapel's "current performance on PVT units [are] closer to SD870" and that "they are not trying to match SD888. Google's focus is on ML & so the raw AI performance is matched to that of other leading mobile chips."

If we take this leak at face value, Google took the parts for the energy-efficient Snapdragon 780G and has it performing as fast as the much faster Snapdragon 870, which is no small feat. It will sound familiar to iPhone fans: those phones typically have "worse" chipsets than the latest Snapdragons but outperform them in benchmarks thanks to Apple optimization.

Will Android shoppers chasing powerful hardware turn their noses up at Whitechapel's intangible success with lesser tech?

On the other hand, Google has optimized mid-range hardware without any intention of matching the Snapdragon 888 found in other 2021 phones. When the iPhone 13 launches in September or the Galaxy S22 in early 2022, they're likely only to widen the performance gap. Will Android shoppers chasing powerful hardware turn their noses up at Whitechapel's intangible success with lesser tech?

Despite the Pixel 6 Pro's upgrades, Google still doesn't appear to relish the idea of battling head-on with the smartphone heavyweights for sheer performance. Instead, it will offer ultra-fast Google Assistant commands, streamlined Android 12 performance with exclusive Material You customization, and the promise that the phone will remain functional and secure until 2026. But it picks more efficient chips so it can price its phones more reasonably than competing flagships.

Do Android fans want optimization or power?

Qualcomm Snapdragon 888

Source: Qualcomm (Image credit: Source: Qualcomm)

To me — a former iPhone die-hard who loves buying a phone and sticking with it for years — that all sounds pretty darn appealing. One of the reasons that a quarter of iPhone users switch to Android is that Android phones offer better deals, and a reasonably-priced Pixel 6 that will last five years could certainly appeal to iPhone shoppers. Particularly because the Android 12 Material You update is just so dang colorful and cheerful, an aesthetic that absolutely will strike a chord for most Apple fans.

But plenty of Android phone buffs are used to swapping out their phones every year or two, which helps keep their tech cutting-edge. The Pixel 6 will run Android 12 as well as any other phone, even if Samsung or OnePlus has more raw power with its Snapdragon tech. But by the time we reach Android 16 or 17, will the Pixel 6 still be worth using?

My two-year-old Pixel 3a runs the Android 12 beta pretty well, all things considered, but you certainly can't help but notice how its budget hardware slows everything down. Admittedly, it's no flagship, but the Whitechapel specs aren't exactly cutting-edge either. So the Pixel 6 will be the first phone to test whether Google can preserve and maintain its phones as well as Apple does. I'm optimistic, but I'm not treating the idea as inevitable either.

Michael L Hicks
Senior Editor, VR/AR and fitness

Michael spent years freelancing on every tech topic under the sun before settling down on the real exciting stuff: virtual reality, fitness wearables, gaming, and how tech intersects with our world. He's a semi-reformed Apple-to-Android user who loves running, D&D, and Star Wars. Find him on Twitter at @Michael_L_Hicks.

33 Comments
  • I think price will be a big key for the pixel 6/6pro. If they price it like a flagship (with a mid tier chip) it is not going to sell well. Also will be interesting to see how their first chip holds up down the line (5 years of updates are great if the chip can actually handle that many updates and continue to perform well).
  • Price is a factor in the Pixel phones not selling well but but it's also availability as well as marketing the Pixel. Remember Apple's A series chips are midrange on paper but are the most powerful in reality. It would make sense for Google to be the first to offer 5 years of updates because they were the first to offer 3 years of updates and with them now using their own in-house SoC, Google will now have complete control over hardware and software like Apple does.
  • The thing is the A series chips aren't really "mid range" on paper unless you think more cores automatically make it more powerful (this is the same reason for the longest time android was throwing all the MP at their cameras and still weren't dominating apple in the camera department. 
  • We'll have to see how it performs IRL, but if the CPU bechmarks at a SD870 level, while having flagship-level ML cores (meaning things like photo processing will be very fast), I wouldn't consider consider Whitechappel a mid tier chip. The GPU is also rumoured to be flagship-level, so gaming shouldn't be a problem at all, even at higher settings. Honestly, for me, much more important are the 5 years of updates. And sales, as much as techies likes us sometimes don't like to admit, are much more about marketing and brand awareness than the SOC inside. I hope Google pulls all the stops this time.
  • I suspect you'll see the Whitechapel SoC perform suspiciously similar to a cut-down Exynos 2100.
  • Google updates with..... some features removed like Google is doing in Pixel 3 and Pixel 4 NOW - thanks for that
  • Do remember sales of Pixel 4 with top SoC and top price?
  • Knowing Google their custom SoC will have data farming embedded right into the microcode.
  • "Do Android fans want optimization or power?" I want optimization and ENOUGH power. My Pixel 4 XL runs the Android 12 beta like a champ and, on day-to-day tasks, I never feel the phone is "slow".
  • Of course,, Android fans want optimisation and power, but this Android user values optimisation more with enough power to run the most demanding games at the highest settings.
  • "My two-year-old Pixel 3a runs the Android 12 beta pretty well, all things considered, but you certainly can't help but notice how its budget hardware slows everything down". Which one is it? You guys rave about how an iOS device is supported longer than an Android device. Almost never is it mentioned that an iPhone 6s running iOS 14.6 six years after it was released is being bugged down by old hardware. Now Google is supposedly promising 5 years of OS updates for the Pixel 6, and all of a sudden the author can't help but wonder how the Pixel 6 hardware will perform 5 years down the road? Where was this same sentiment when they raved about how iOS devices were being supported longer on older hardware? Personally, I would like to see a battery health checker similar to what is found on iPhones. This helps take the guess work out of the way when it comes to battery degradation. Samsung and Sony (I'm sure others do too) implement something that helps minimize degradation in their Android fork, but it doesn't tell you the battery capacity left. This type of info is valuable when you plan on holding on to a device for more than 2 years (which again I certainly will if we're supposedly getting 5 years of OS support with the Pixel 6 series).
  • You keep using that word "flagship". I do not think it means what you think it means.
  • Yeah, I get that feeling a lot.
  • I don't think normal people actually care very much about software updates.
  • Normal people need to be educated about software updates and how they can improve performance and most importantly, keep their devices secure.
  • Some people having thousands Dollars in Banking apps - they are even ready to PAY for those updates!!! So now I just KNOW you have 1 Dollar in bank
  • Apple are the world champions at monetising their products and isn't 2021 the first time any of their phones have (superficially) qualified for a 5th year of support?
    I have an iPhone 6s and I was surprised and pleased to learn it will be getting iOS 15. But Apple aren't rushing to mention that this model will only get a watered down version of iOS 15. The same apparently applies even to several of the newer models. From what I've seen on YouTube iPhone owners will need an iPhone XR or newer to be able to use ALL the bells and whistles they're showing in the Betas?
    I've called them monetising champions because their control over every aspect of their products requires customers to use Apple approved spare and replacement parts, even basic consumables like batteries. Even parts of the phones linked to Touch/Face ID on iPhones are locked to that individual phone and only Apple stores and their Approved Repairers possess the software to override the locks. If you use parts not supplied and approved by Apple the phone will automatically lose essential features. Take a look at some of Hugh Jeffrey's iPhone repair videos on YouTube and Apple's 5 year boast won't seem so attractive or believable.
    5 years with the same phone probably implies 2 battery changes as a minimum (having more than one of their widgets on any of their iPhones devours battery life). Of course Apple will be happy to do it for the customer, but only on their terms. And the cost of replacing the glass backs of iPhones are eye watering. 5 years is a very long time for any phone to last without accidental cosmetic damage or normal wear and tear.
    I'm looking forward to the new Pixels. Android has always been my first choice. I much prefer the freedom and choice available across Android that Google's business model gives us all.
    But I can't see Google ever adopting Apple's same greedy, controlling, restrictive and overpriced business model needed to enable a 5 year old Pixel to be viable.
    And this is coming from someone who uses and enjoys his iPhone as a second phone. But also someone who isn't blind to the reality of the limitations attached to everything Apple.
  • Fantastic comment and wholeheartedly agree, I have an iPhone 11 Pro as a secondary backup to my S20 FE and while I don't like Samsung's One UI, I have slapped on Lawnchair. I use my S20 FE as my primary device because I have really grown to like Android and prefer it over iOS for the same reasons you stated and I absolutely hate Apple's business model and how restrictive iOS is. And you're right, Google won't br like Apple in how restrictive iOS as it's Android which is all about choice wnd freedom. I hope that Google can now achieve the same optimisation as Apple now that they're using their own in-house SoC Whitechapel chip instead of a Qualcomm Snapdragon chip.
  • I didn't think about older phones getting an inferior version of iOS 15, that's a really good point. And you're right, Apple's a great case for why we need strong right-to-repair laws.
  • The thing is this isn't an apple-specific thing. The hardware can only run so much, every company does this where the new device gets all the bells and whistles while the older devices do not. Some things are hardware-specific which you can't just magically add down the road. 
  • For me I'm alwaysdrawn back to Samsung because Pixels are a great stock experience but lack some features that Samsung offers. With the new Pixel getting an updated camera sensor, to me that is huge cause the photos while good the sensor has not been updated for the past few iterations.
    I hope both have wireless charging and the larger battery. I'm sure the new chip will be able to hang with at least last year's version of Snapdragon chips.
    They also need to price the regular Pixel 6 at $700-750 for 128gb $800 for 256gb and then $900 for xl or pro 128gb
  • Educated iPhone user ask for SMALLER battery and...... more energy efficient SoC
    Hope you able to understand this
  • wooooswwwwww please launch it in Indian market please
  • I really, really hope that John Prosser isn't wrong with this because if this turns out to be true, then the Pixel will most definitely have an iPhone esque appeal and fast and guaranteed updates is one of the reasons why a Pixel will be my next Android phone because updates was why I was drawn to the iPhone originally and why I'm drawn to the Pixel and it's only right that Google sets the standard for updates as Google was the first to commit to 3 years of software and security updates with the Pixel 2 series. Samsung only started offering 3 years of software updates last year because they were shamed into it.
  • Forget 5 years of updates, after 5 years your phone battery will be done!! Here's the point not mentioned here, if you've a iPhone you can walk into a Apple store and get your battery changed for a new one for a price (so you can actually use your phone in the 4/5th year fully) This is alot more difficult to do with Samsung, Google and most android OEMs?
  • That's not necessarily true. Your phone battery won't be done after 5 years. It may have degraded, but it won't be done. My iPhone Xs that launched in 2018 still has a 98% battery capacity (based on the battery health checker). On another note, when Apple was offering a free battery replacement after being caught for "battery optimization", I had an iPhone 6 then that needed a battery replacement. Guess what? There isn't a local Apple store around me. So, no, I can't walk into an Apple store for a battery replacement. Yes, there are more Apple physical stores than there are Google or Samsung, but it isn't "a lot difficult" to get a battery replacement from Android OEMs. Samsung has partnership with UBreakiFix, and you can enter your zip code on their site to find the closest one to you for a battery replacement. Google just opened their first of many Google Physical stores in NY at 15th and 9th. I'm sure battery replacement can be done there for Pixel devices.
  • Not chasing peak performance now is a mistake, in 2 years time the Pixel 6 will be so outclassed there will be little incentive to keep it for a further 3.
    Personally I'm not convinced of the value in 5 years support, a 5 year old device is so uncompetitive as to be unusable as a main device particularly in camera performance.
  • That's your opinion, Google not chasing power is a good thing and from what I've heard from users using the Pixel 4 XL, they say performance is still top notch, Google has always been about the software experience and updates for 5 years makes sense as people are holding on to their phones for longer.
  • See Android 12 24% boost they claim So it will work FASTER even on old Pixel 3
  • The definition of 'may' and 'will' are vastly different. Like the difference between night and day. Wait till they actually state it's facts and then opine. Until then, it's just speculation intended to stir the pixel true believers, of which I was previously.
  • I think it's entirely possible, Google was the first to offer 3 years of software and security updates so it's only fitting that Google offers 5 years of software and security updates and which would make the Pixel a legitimate iPhone competitor which I think it already is already.
  • If Pixel 6 will STILL have mid range SoC it means Android will NOT be more resources demanding any more for next..... 5 years. Anyone remember +-10 years ago EVERY new Android update slowed down system?
  • Apple sent out a security update to iPhone 5s from 2013 last month.