The fall’s product launch onslaught may have slowed down, but now we’re looking ahead to next year. A new Pixel 6 may be joining the lineup, according to 9to5Google. A leaked Pixel 6a spec sheet reveals the mid-range phone’s capabilities, and though it looks like the Pixel 6a will look like its pricier siblings and run on Google’s custom Tensor ship, it might pack in the Pixel 3's outdated camera hardware.
Earlier this week, leaked Pixel 6a renders showed that the forthcoming phone shares a similar design to the rest of the lineup. The 6a appears rectangular and includes the Pixel 6’s signature sharp corners. There’s also the black camera bar on the back, which houses a few lenses and flash.
However, the camera hardware on the inside is not the latest and greatest. The Pixel 6a could use a Sony IMX363 sensor, the same one used in the Pixel 3 and every release up to the Pixel 5a. That means the 6a won’t offer the same camera performance as the Pixel 6, because the latter has a much larger image sensor that allows it to capture so much light.
But Google has shown that it can do wonders with camera software, and the fact that the Pixel 6a might have the Tensor chip inside it bodes well for its capabilities. The Tensor Processing Unit, or TPU, drives all the machine learning smarts of the Pixel phones. While camera performance wouldn’t be quite the same as the top-tier Pixel 6 Pro, for instance, it might be almost as capable—the same way previous A-series Pixels managed to impress at their middle-of-the-road price points.
Google could also use the Pixel 6a to push its on-device language processing capabilities, which are made possible with that TPU chip. And I imagine there might be mention of all the things Google Photos can do as a result of that hardware helper, like Magic Eraser, which technically works on other Pixel devices if you sideload a particular APK for Google Photos, but which relies on the TPU chip to perform its replacement processing.
Perhaps the most exciting part of the Pixel 6a including Google’s chip is that the company could offer extended software update support—even longer than the three years provided to past devices. Google has promised that the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro will have software update support for up to five years, made possible by that homegrown chip. Imagine paying only $400 for a phone, which is how much the A-series have historically cost at launch, for a smartphone that lasts you five years.
This is all to say: Even if these rumored specs are not set in stone, it sounds like Google’s most affordable smartphone may be getting a meaningful upgrade—even if the camera isn’t quite as good as we hope.