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Snapdragon 8 Gen 3’s on-device AI demands the question of why Google Tensor exists

Google Tensor has always pitched itself on AI, and when it launched in 2021, it blew away the competition. But, now, the Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 is showing off truly incredible on-device AI capabilities, and it really demands the question of if Google Tensor should still exist.

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In the Pixel 6 series, Google Tensor made its debut and, as we explained at the time, it was all about bringing “AI breakthroughs directly to Pixel.” And that’s absolutely something the chip did. Since the first Tensor chip, we’ve seen Google really double down on AI features for Pixel phones, especially with Tensor G3 and the Pixel 8 series.

However, all of those AI features came under fire since the Pixel 8’s launch as some have been noting that most of the AI features that Google touted with the Pixel 8 don’t actually run on device. Magic Editor, AI wallpapers, and others all depend on an internet connection, with the former offloading the job to the cloud as it requires a full backup of the photo to Google Photos.

Some are trying to turn that into a whole debacle, but it’s really important to remember that Google never explicitly said these features were running on-device. The Pixel 8 has these AI features, and it will have a lot of new on-device AI features coming too, most of which are coming in an update later this year.

However, Tensor G3’s seeming inability to run (or Google’s choice to skip) some of these AI tasks on-device was really put to shame by this week’s reveal of the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 3. Android’s new flagship chip puts out quite the show just on raw performance, but Qualcomm clearly had a heavy focus on AI with this new chip. Demos shown off included a new “Photo Expansion” feature which could literally generate more to the image, all on-device and in seconds.

The Pixel 8 series can’t even generate abstract AI wallpapers without an internet connection, and even then it takes quite a lot longer than expected.

So, why does Tensor still exist? Honestly, it’s hard to think of valid reasons. Tensor ranks drastically lower when you compare raw power, and not just on benchmarks, as you can feel the difference in real-life applications quite easily. Plus, issues with thermals still persist, though thankfully to a much lesser extent on Tensor G3 in the Pixel 8 series, and Google’s chip is considerably less power efficient to boot.

There are still some arguments for Tensor. With Google having control over the chip, it allows the company to focus in specifically on the AI applications that it wants to ship on Pixels. But, if Qualcomm has all this power in AI, and Google keeps offloading tasks away from Tensor anyway, that point feels more than a little bit undermined.

The strongest argument for Google Tensor, at least for now, is the support timeline. There’s no doubt that Google’s increased control over the chip process played a big role in expanding the number of years the company can provide updates for its phones, with Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro beating every single Qualcomm-powered device by a considerable margin in this area. And that’s nothing to ignore. Longer support is a big deal, and if that alone is a reason for Google to stick with Tensor, I’m all for it.

But, it’s rather clear that Google’s main pitch for Tensor is AI and, after seeing Qualcomm’s demos this week, it’s harder than ever to accept that pitch.

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