Pixel 7 and Tensor G2 - leaving Qualcomm to cuddle up with Samsung - Google's biggest mistake?

This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.
Pixel 7 and Tensor G2 - leaving Qualcomm to cuddle up with Samsung - Google's biggest mistake?
If you’re an iPhone or a Samsung user who’s ever considered switching to a Google Pixel flagship phone, this year might be the best time to do that! Of course, that’s because the nearly announced Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro phones will be the best flagships Google’s ever made. The sky is blue. But also, this time around, it doesn’t seem like Apple and Samsung have something particularly special to offer as an alternative…

The Galaxy S22 series is now relatively dated, and will be replaced by the Galaxy S23 series in about four months or so, while the much more expensive (especially outside of North America) iPhone 14 series looks and feels just about the same as the iPhone 13 series, save for the gimmicky (in my experience) Dynamic Island that’s been making headlines left and right.

So, in a way this is Google’s golden opportunity to make up some ground in the smartphone race, with the significantly cheaper Pixel 7 phones compared to most of the competition. But there’s one problem… Perhaps not exactly a problem, but certainly an asterisk we need to mention when talking about the Pixel 7...

And this is the processor that’s going to be powering the whole Pixel 7 show - Tensor G2!

Google’s original Tensor chip excelled at AI but was a CPU & GPU disappointment - what about Tensor 2?

I’m not going to beat around the bush, because for one, I’ve already discussed the original Tensor in numerous stories, which you can find in my portfolio (click on the name tag), and also, I’d like to focus on Google’s future rather than the past…

In a nutshell, I’ve been using the Pixel 6 Pro for nearly a whole year now, and I can tell you almost all the rumors about Google’s first in-house chip, Tensor, are… true!

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  • Tensor isn’t as original as we thought it’s going to be - instead, it’s made by Samsung using the Exynos 1280 as a base model (kind of how Nothing collaborate with Qualcomm to make a custom version of the Snapdragon 778G, called the 778G+)
  • Tensor underdelivers when it comes to CPU and GPU performance compared to new and even older Apple, Qualcomm and even MediaTek chips
  • Tensor happens to be super inefficient too and can get toasty quickly, which can overwhelm the camera while recording video
  • Tensor is brilliant at AI tasks, such as the Magic Eraser, real-time translation and subtitles, etc.

Will Tensor 2 fall into the same trap as the original Tensor? Here’s what to expect from the Pixel 7’s chip…

According to reliable-looking leaks and rumors coming from leaked source code and benchmarks, here’s all we know about Google’s brand new Tensor G2 (that’s officially the new name):

  • The real-world CPU performance of Tensor G2 is expected to stay relatively similar to that of the original Tensor, as Tensor G2’s more efficient core cluster will get a minor 100MHz bump, while the X1 cluster (responsible for medium and higher intensity tasks) has been bumped up by just 50MHz. According to leaked Geekbench results this might end up bringing a 10-15% better performance, but that’s just in theory

  • Tensor G2’s GPU is getting a relatively big upgrade to a Mali-G710 GPU (from the Mali G78). This is the same GPU from the not quite class-leading but certainly strong Dimensity 9000 chip by Mediatek, powering phones like the Oppo Find X5 Pro, Vivo X80 Pro, and Asus ROG 6D Ultimate. The new GPU on Tensor G2 should provide about 20% better graphics performance and efficiency

  • The TPU performance should also see a noticeable bump in power, and that’s because it’s expected to be upgraded, but also rely heavily on the new and more powerful GPU. The TPU or the Tensor Processing Unit is the centrepiece of the Samsung and Google-made Tensor chips and it’s responsible for the AI tasks that make Pixel special

  • We don’t know much about the ISP of the new Tensor G2, but we can only hope this one will also see an upgrade, since the Image Signal Processor is responsible for the photo and video-taking capabilities of the Pixel - a huge selling point for most people who buy Google phones

Tensor G2 meets Snapdragon 8 Gen 2: Qualcomm to make Google’s Pixel 7 look like a mid-range phone?

As you can see, Tensor G2’s shaping up to be a mixed bag of an upgrade for Google and the Pixel 7.

For one, the CPU performance, which is responsible for how fast the Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro will feel like in day-to-day tasks, is expected to see a rather minor upgrade. On the other hand, the GPU and TPU progress on the Tensor G2 look promising. But where things start to become worse for Google is when we quit looking at things in isolation.

As we all know, Google used to work with Qualcomm for the chips powering Pixel phones up until the Pixel 5 (2022), but decided to terminate this partnership and join forces with Samsung instead. But while Samsung’s Exynos chips have never enjoyed the best reputation amongst Android chip-makers, Qualcomm’s have been the gold standard for some time now (albeit not without their occasional misses, like the literally hot Snapdragon 810).

However, the latest Qualcomm flagship chip, the Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1 is absolutely killingit when it comes to efficiency and even overall performance (compared to Tensor). This shows in benchmarks (as seen in the image below), but also in real-world use.

Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 and an ultra-high frequency 8 Gen 2 variant might make the Pixel 7’s Tensor G2 look bad

But it gets even better for Snapdragon-powered Android flagships and even worse for the Tensor G2, because the new Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 is now expected to debut ahead of schedule (November 15)...

Due to the great success of the Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1, I expect the new Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 to make upcoming Android phones from Samsung, OnePlus, Xiaomi, Vivo, etc., even more efficient and powerful, bringing Android flagships as close to Apple’s iPhone as they’ve ever been!

At this stage, we don’t know a whole lot about the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2, but it’s certain that this one will bring an improved CPU and GPU combo. What’s more interesting is that Qualcomm might have another trick up its sleeve, and this is an ultra-high frequency variant of the 8 Gen 2!

My best guess is that this chip might be an overclocked version of the vanilla 8 Gen 2, which will boost the highest clock speed of the ultra-high frequency variant and unleash its full potential. It’s important to note that this would certainly come with more heat, which phone-makers would have to find a way to deal with.

Tensor is 50% slower than the A16 Bionic and nearly 30% slower than the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1: Should Google leave Samsung and run back to Qualcomm?

Before I shoot Google down, let me say that I’m generally happy with the performance of my Pixel 6 Pro (save for the million bugs that used to spoil the whole experience up until the Android 13 update). At the same time, I also understand that when building processors with Samsung, Google’s playing its own game. The company concentrates on two things - saving money (to make the phones as affordable as possible), and making big leaps in AI (to make a Google phone, instead of a generic Android phone).

But even if all of the above is true (and it is), I can’t look at the current Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1, the A15 Bionic, and A16 Bionic, and say I’m not slightlyjealous my Tensor-powered Pixel 6 Pro isn’t more like a Galaxy Z Fold 4 or iPhone 14 Pro Max when it comes to battery life, performance, and overall efficiency.

The truth is that the efficiency loss with Tensor has been massive, and both the Pixel 6 and especially the Pixel 6 Pro have struggled big time when it comes to battery life. So, if you ask me, yes - Google should run back to Qualcomm immediately!

But that’s not happening, as Google's Tensor 3 and Samsung's Exynos 1380 are already reportedly in the works. We still aren’t 100% sure if Tensor 3/Tensor G3 will be based on the Exynos 1380, but what’s for sure is that the latter will be used in mid-range Samsung phones, which isn’t exactly promising. Anyway, let’s hope my assessment is all wrong, and Tensor G2 turns out to be the efficiency gem we all deserve from Google…

Also, the Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro are now practically confirmed to keep the same pricing from last year, and that’s not only in the US, but worldwide, which is incredible news. And big reason of that is the fact that Google is:

  • Making its own chips, no matter how good/bad they might be
  • Willing to lose money

For example, after the last Amazon leak, we know the Pixel 7 (€650) is now set to cost practically half as much as the iPhone 14 Pro in Europe (€1,200). Future discounts will see Google’s flagships become even cheaper, and most likely make it half the price of an iPhone 13 Pro in the US too (the Pixel 7 is expected to cost $600 in the US, which is $500 less than the iPhone 14 Pro).

So, I’m really hoping this is Google’s year. But also our year. Because we deserve better than the original Tensor, Google! I mean… Samsung. Wink, wink.

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