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Google may be planning to ship a rare upgrade to Tensor-powered Pixel phones

A Linux kernel upgrade may be in store for older Pixels as well as the upcoming Pixel 9.
By
January 10, 2024
google pixel 8 pro lock screen in hand
Ryan Haines / Android Authority
TL;DR
  • Google may be planning to release a new major kernel upgrade for all Tensor-powered Pixel phones.
  • The upgrade could improve performance and improve long-term support in the future.
  • The upcoming Pixel 9 series is also expected to get the upgrade.

Google may be planning to roll out a major kernel upgrade for all Tensor-powered Pixel phones, including the Pixel 6, Pixel 6a, Pixel 7, Pixel 7a, and the Pixel 8 series.

Think of Android as a complex machine, like a car. The Linux kernel in Android is like the engine of that car. Just the way the engine controls how a car runs and operates, the kernel handles how the software (apps, user interface, etc.) interacts with the hardware (screen, buttons, speakers, etc.) of your Android phone. The kernel is responsible for deciding when and how long a particular app can use a piece of hardware, like the processor, similar to how an engine decides when and how much fuel to send to the car’s parts. It also manages the device’s memory. In simple terms, the kernel is the heart of your Android device.

Android insider Mishaal Rahman explains that major Kernel upgrades are rare on Android phones. However, it looks like Google is preparing to jump from Linux kernel 5.15 to Linux kernel 6.1 on all existing Pixel phones that house a Tensor processor.

There’s also evidence to suggest that the Google Pixel 9 would launch with Linux kernel 5.15 but will also be upgraded to Kernel 6.1 later.

Wow – Google may be planning to ship a major kernel upgrade to all its (Tensor-powered) Pixel phones!
Current Tensor Pixels may be upgraded to Linux kernel 6.1, according to comments left on an AOSP patch by Google engineers. Tensor G1 and G2 Pixels currently run on Linux 5.10,… pic.twitter.com/DyTXg09SsP
— Mishaal Rahman (@MishaalRahman) January 9, 2024

That said, there’s no timeline to suggest when the upgrade will come along. An image tagged in Rahman’s post on X (formerly Twitter) suggests the upgrade could come along sometime in 2026.

Benefits of the upgrade could include performance improvements on Tensor-powered Pixels. Sometimes, a kernel upgrade can make your phone run faster or smoother. It can also address heating issues or introduce some minor user-facing features. Rahman notes it could make long-term support better in the future. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean older Tensor-powered Pixels like the Pixel 6 and Pixel 7 will get extended software support. It could simply mean better, more sustainable performance over time.