Google unveiled its latest smartphone, which contains the tech giant’s first self-designed computer chip.
The Pixel 6 contains Google’s “Tensor” processor, which is said to enable new phone features powered by artificial intelligence and machine learning.
It is also the first phone in the series with a “Pro” model, designed to compete at the high end of the market.
“The whole goal when we started was to get to this point,” said Rick Osterloh, head of Google devices.
“Really, this is our original vision that we are finally able to realize after building a lot of capabilities in both technology and product development capabilities,” he told the BBC.
Google owns and operates the Android platform, which is used by almost all mobile phone manufacturers except Apple. But the high end of the Android market has been dominated by other smartphone brands like Samsung, whose phones can cost more than £ 1,000.
Google’s Pixel line has often been valued in the middle of the market.
But the new Pixel 6 will retail for £ 599 / $ 599, while the Pro model will cost £ 849 / $ 899, bringing it closer to the price of competing high-end devices.
That’s the same introductory price for the base Pixel 5 model, which, Google said at the time, was designed for “an economic downturn”.
“Obviously, there is a lot of technology and these are certainly expensive, but we are trying to offer users good value despite being flagships,” said Osterloh.
Both Pixel 6 and Pro are standard form factor smartphones with a striking horizontal bar across the top of the back of the phone.
That bar holds all the camera lenses and sensors, instead of putting them aside in a popular camera “bump” on many modern models.
Both versions have a 50 megapixel (MP) main camera and a 12 MP ultrawide camera. The Pro model has an additional 48MP camera, which gives it a 4x optical zoom.
The Pro model also has more memory, a higher resolution screen, and a faster screen refresh rate of up to 120hz – or 120 screen updates per second, which can make animations and fast movements smoother.
Modern smartphones rely heavily on “computational photography” to take good, clear photos. It is what gives each phone manufacturer their own distinctive “look” to their photos.
“Pixel has long been known for amazing photography, which is really a function of our ability to make improvements to the camera experience based on artificial intelligence and machine learning,” said Osterloh.
“With this new platform, with Tensor, we have literally designed the platform to be able to support the most cutting-edge work we have in all aspects of AI.”
One of them is what Google calls “magic eraser,” a system where the Photos app will detect distractions in the photo like someone walking in the background and try to remove them. The company says it can also be used for things like power poles or cables, and users can manually select the things to remove and the automatic system.
Another new feature is “face blur”.
When taking a photo with the rear camera, all available cameras will be used and multiple versions will be taken. So, if a person is constantly on the move, as in the example of a child from Google, the camera will attempt to correct a blurry face by combining all the data and try to figure out what the non-blurry version should look like.
The new processing power in its latest chip means the technology can now be applied to videos as they are being recorded, giving them the same kind of style as Pixel’s fixed cameras.
Asked if the new features will arrive on other Android phones, Osterloh said: “Many of them will be just Pixels.”
He said that while it is possible that some may be available on other devices, “many really require this custom architecture and therefore are likely to be on products running Tensor only for the foreseeable future.”
Processing on the device
Google had first teased the existence of Pixel 6 and Pixel Pro in August – along with its Tensor processor.
Until now, it has been using chips designed by the chip company Qualcomm. But it says the Tensor chip is up to 80 percent faster than the 2020 Pixel 5, as well as being energy efficient.
A significant advantage of its new chip, says Google, is that it can do more on the phone itself, without being connected to the internet, particularly via Google’s popular virtual assistant.
For example, it claims that voice transcription, which the Google Assistant now uses, will be faster and more accurate. Users can say “Ok Google, type” instead of tapping a button and they can also use voice commands to send messages. The voice system can be used simultaneously with the text keyboard.
Google’s recording app also uses the fastest processor to transcribe audio recordings in real time as they are made, even when the phone is not connected to the internet.
It also means that Google’s live translation features are faster than before, as most of the processing is done on the machine itself.
But that doesn’t mean Google Assistant will work perfectly offline for privacy activists.
“To be really useful, you have to assume it will use the cloud,” Osterloh said.
“The speech recognition portion of that workflow will happen on the device … [and] all the dictation “.
But most people ask for weather, sports scores, or other types of information that need to be retrieved from the internet.
“We are moving more and more workloads from the cloud to the device, we are trying to do it … to make sure that the user has the best possible performance. But certainly this also points a direction for privacy.”
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