Pixel 6 leaks: Five years of security updates, ~$749 and $1,049 price tags

Pixel 6 leaks: Five years of security updates, ~$749 and $1,049 price tags

Pixel 6 leak roundup! There are so many leaks.

Over the weekend, Carphone Warehouse posted an official-looking teaser site (it has since been taken down) for the Pixel 6. The site was full of info, the biggest news of which is that the Pixel 6 will come with “Five years of updates.” The Pixel 6 features Google’s first main SoC, the “Google Tensor” chip, and the company hasn’t been very forthcoming on why it decided to drop Qualcomm and strike out on its own in the chip market. Google isn’t designing any custom CPU or GPU cores, (though it is getting creative with the configuration) and has only alluded to a small handful of AI use-cases as selling points of the SoC.

We’ve long speculated that Google’s chip plans are really about extending Android’s support time, allowing the company to better compete with Apple, and now we finally have confirmation of that. Apple is up to seven years of support on the iPhone 6s, by the way.

Qualcomm is a major problem if you want to support a phone for longer than three years, since that’s the limit of the company’s SoC support. Some companies, like Samsung, are slightly extending that with three years of major OS updates and four years of major updates, but none of Qualcomm’s customers are really empowered to support phones for much longer. With the Tensor-equipped Pixel 6, Google has no one to answer to other than Google when it comes to the support timeline. It makes the operating system, the phone hardware, and the phone SoC, so it’s empowered to support the Pixel 6 for as long as it wants.

The Pixel 6 is getting five years of updates, but the fine print clarifies those are
Enlarge / The Pixel 6 is getting five years of updates, but the fine print clarifies those are “security” updates only.

Carphone Warehouse

It’s important to point out that the “five years of updates” claim on the Carphone Warehouse page is clarified in the fine print as “Android security updates for at least five years,” so we don’t actually know how many major Android updates the Pixel 6 will get yet. Google could offer five years of major Android OS updates (that’s still what my money is on), allowing the Pixel 6 to last until Android 17, but that’s just not what this page is promising. For now, we can only say an unknown number of major OS updates and five years of security updates.

Google has certainly done a lot of software work that could make the Pixel 6 the longest supported Pixel phone ever. Android 12 will dramatically change how new devices roll out Android’s Linux kernel with the “GKI” or “Generic Kernel Image.” Android phones all run the Linux kernel, but traditionally, there are three different forks that happen in between mainline Linux and what ships on an Android phone—a fork for Google’s “Android Common” kernel, then a fork of that for the SoC Vendor, then a fork of the SoC kernel for your specific device. This results in devices all running unique forks of the kernel, all of which are around two years old and run as much as 50 percent out-of-tree code.

With the GKI, which is expected to debut on the Pixel 6, Google’s going to cut this down to a single fork with a module system for everyone’s customizations and drivers, and it’s cutting the age of the kernel in half. It’s also running out a formal kernel update system, which will see Google ship Linux kernel updates through the Play Store. For now, it will only be Linux’s LTS kernel updates, but there are plans in the future (which may or may not come to the Pixel 6) to update the kernel. All of this work on being able to standardize and update the foundation of Android bodes well for a phone with a long life.

"80 percent faster performance" claims aren't as impressive as they seem once you realize the Pixel 5 was a mid-range phone.
Enlarge / “80 percent faster performance” claims aren’t as impressive as they seem once you realize the Pixel 5 was a mid-range phone.

Carphone Warehouse

The site also makes some claims about the Google Tensor SoC. Besides the usual claims about good photo capabilities, it says the chip offers “Up to 80% faster performance, so apps load quicker and gaming is more responsive.” This is a comparison to the previous Pixel phones, though, and keep in mind the Pixel 5 was a $700 mid-range device with a Snapdragon 765G. Google is jumping product categories from a mid-range phone to a flagship, so after sandbagging last year, claims like this are not as dramatic as they seem.

The promo site also details charging. It lists a good-but-not-great 30 W wired charging for the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro and a new wireless charging stand that is compatible with both devices. The Pixel 6 does 21 W wireless charging, and the Pixel 6 Pro does 23 W wireless charging.

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