Google Tensor has a bright future, but this puts Provisional Pixels in a tough spot

Google Tensor was a show of confidence in the future of Pixel hardware, but it also held back the lineup. That’s set to hopefully change in a few years, but in the meantime, the wait will be tough for Pixel releases.

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The Pixel 6, Google’s first Tensor-based device, was a game changer for the company’s hardware efforts. It has led to considerable growth for the lineup, with a report this week detailing that the Pixel saw a further 67% growth in 2023, mostly in the country of Japan.

But it wasn’t without problems.

Tensor has led to two problems with Pixel phones. For one thing, the software has been a bit messy since the transition. Countless updates have been delayed since Tensor took over, and we’ve encountered messy issues, like when an update decimated Pixel 6 connectivity. This hasn’t happened in previous times.

Probably more problematic, however, was the hardware effect. The gap between Tensor and Qualcomm and MediaTek chips is real and has an impact. Pixel phones can’t compete on battery life, tend to get very hot, and don’t stand up to the same standard of connectivity, although Google has made great strides with the Tensor G2.

As a report reported this week, there’s a good chance Google will fix much of this in time. The company is expected to launch Tensor G5 in 2025 as the first fully customized chip. That would come in Pixel 10 and would also be the first Tensor made by TSMC. This move alone is promising, as TSMC has been proven time and time again to have an advantage over Samsung’s processes. TSMC-made chips are generally more efficient, faster, and overall just plain better, where as Samsung-made chips, like the Exynos line, have struggled far longer than Tensor has been around.

The future of Google Tensor, with that in mind, is pretty bright. There are no guarantees, but the Google-made parts of Tensor are the best, so there is hope.

But, while we’re waiting, this puts existing pixels in a difficult position. As I pointed out in my recent Google Pixel Fold review, it’s not terribly difficult to accept or deal with the shortcomings of Tensors in current Pixels. You’re getting an objectively worse chip, but you’re also getting it at a much lower price than competing devices. But just as the Fold is a tough sell at the same price point as Samsung’s foldables, regular Pixels seeing a price hike would also make Tensor a harder pill to swallow.

In fact, Google can’t, or at least shouldn’t, raise the price of its current Pixels until this new chip is installed. It doesn’t necessarily have to, and there is nothing Truly also indicating what is happening. But with the Pixel 7a bumping up the base cost of the Pixel lineup, it stands to reason there could be hikes elsewhere as well. And, even without it, keeping the price the same also limits what Google can do to improve its devices unless it’s willing to cut its margins even further.

Now, of course, it’s entirely possible that Samsung could act together and make this issue a moot point. Tensor G3 and/or G4 may end up solving many of these problems. Samsung has made improvements, after all. And Tensor G3 also appears to be a solid upgrade.

I don’t think anyone is really going to miss out on buying a Pixel 8 or Pixel 9 with a Samsung-made Tensor chip inside; Google can’t claim the same premium as anyone else.

The good news? Every current Pixel phone will be able to hang around until the Tensor G5 debuts. The Pixel 6 and 6 Pro will stop receiving updates at the end of 2026, a full year after the release of the first device equipped with Google’s Tensor G5.

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