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What is Google Tensor? The Pixel chip explained

If you’re thinking of picking up a Pixel, you’ve probably stumbled across the term “Google Tensor” when researching Google’s latest flagship phone. But, what exactly is Google Tensor?

We’ve created this guide to explain everything you need to know about the smartphone chip, including what it is, where you can find it and how it compares to the Qualcomm Snapdragon and Apple A-series chips that power rival handsets. 

What is Google Tensor? 

Google Tensor is Google’s first custom smartphone system-on-chip (SoC). It launched in the Pixel 6 series in 2021, replacing the Snapdragon chip that powered the Pixel 5 and the phones that came before it.

The name “Tensor” is taken from Google’s Tensor Processing Unit, an AI-focussed application-specific integrated circuit the company developed and began using in data centres in 2015. You can also spot the name Tensor in Google’s open-source platform for deep learning, TensorFlow.

One thing all three of these products have in common is a specific emphasis on machine learning.

Where can you find Google Tensor?

Google Tensor launched on the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro in October 2021, making it a relatively new addition to the smartphone line. More recently, Google announced the Pixel 6a, a mid-range handset also powered by the chip. 

While the chipset has only been found in smartphones so far, we wouldn’t be surprised to see Google expand its focus to Chromebooks, smartwatches or its Nest range of smart home devices in the future.

How does it compare to other flagship chipsets?

Like Qualcomm’s Snapdragon, Apple’s A-series and Samsung’s Exynos chips, Google Tensor is based on the ARM architecture. 

What makes this chip stand out is its heavy emphasis on AI and machine learning. This is an area in which Google felt it faced limitations when relying on Snapdragon processors which prevented the company from offering all the features it wanted to offer. 

Holding the front of the Pixel 6a

The chip allows Google to implement a number of advanced image processing features. These include Magic Eraser to remove unwanted object and photobombers from your images, Face Unblur to sharpen up faces, and motion mode to better capture movement by blurring the background of your image. 

Tensor also brings with it the most accurate Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR) on a Google phone and ASR can be found in the Recorder app and Live Caption tool. 

The chip powers the Live Translate feature, which is capable of automatically translating a number of languages in messaging apps and on videos using on-device speech and translation models. 

Finally, there’s the Titan M2 security core, which Google says provides “the most layers of hardware security in any phone”.

As benchmarks have shown, the chip doesn’t offer best-in-class CPU or GPU performance, with much of its strength existing in these AI-powered features.

Google Tensor also has quite a bit in common with Samsung’s Exynos chip, a report by AnandTech has shown. This has lead many to believe Samsung may have had a hand in the custom Google chip, despite Google’s claims the chip was an internal production.

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