Google's New Pixel 6 and 6 Pro Smartphones Powered by Custom Chip

The phones are expected to be on sale this fall

Google Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro Phones Photo: Google

Google’s Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro phones were rolled out in a surprise announcement Monday through a series of tweets.

In past years, new phones have been announced in the fall, after the dust settled from the higher-profile Apple and Samsung product launches. This announcement was more of a sneak preview than an official launch. Though Google did show pictures of the phones, it didn’t reveal any pricing information or a sale date beyond “fall 2021.”

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The devices boast an updated look and updated cameras (more on that below), but the most notable new feature is the Tensor, a Google-designed and custom-built System on a Chip (SoC) that the tech giant says will make the 6 and 6 Pro “the fastest, smartest and most secure Pixel phones yet.”

In addition, Google says the Tensor processor will have the power needed to perform artificial intelligence and machine learning operations on the phone itself, rather than in the cloud, speeding up tasks like speech recognition and certain software-powered photography tricks. A new Titan M2 chip in its security core should offer better threat protection, too.

The move away from the Qualcomm chips previously used in the phones follows the lead of Apple, which has long preferred in-house-designed horsepower for its iPhones. It credits the A-series chips with boosting power efficiency and battery life.

So what else do we know about the new Pixel phones? Here’s a quick look.

There’s a regular and “Pro” model. So far, the main difference between the two is that the slightly larger 6 Pro has three cameras, including a telephoto lens with a 4x optical zoom. By contrast, the regular 6 has just the main and ultra-wide cameras.

The 4x lens is unique in the industry. Apple uses 2x and 2.5x zoom lenses for its iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Max, respectively, while Samsung generally includes a 3x, 5x, or 10x camera on its flagship phones, depending on the model. 

Material You. The new Pixels, which will ship with Android 12, are designed with Google’s new hyper-personalized user experience in mind. Material You, announced at the Google I/O developer conference earlier this year, will debut on the new operating system. It’s designed to give users more control over how their phones and apps work and look together, creating a more seamless experience.  

A new look and fun colors. What would Pixel phones be without a slightly wacky color or two? The 6 comes in metallic pink, sea green, and black versions. You can get the 6 Pro in a bright gold finish, silver, or black.

Google says the Pro sports a light-polished aluminum frame and the 6 has a matte aluminum finish. 

With both models, Google has redesigned the camera housing, dumping the square-shaped box that concealed them on the Pixel 5 in favor of a bar that goes across the top of the phone and provides more space for new sensors and lenses.

Bree Fowler

Bree Fowler

I write about all things "cyber" and your right to privacy. Before joining Consumer Reports, I spent 16 years reporting for The Associated Press. What I enjoy: cooking and learning to code with my kids. I've lived in the Bronx for more than a decade, but as a proud Michigan native, I will always be a die-hard Detroit Tigers fan no matter how much my family and I get harassed at Yankee Stadium. Follow me on Twitter (@BreeJFowler).