Google’s Best In Class Smartphone Camera is About to Get Better

The Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL are about to have their visual core chipset activated. 

There is no doubt what Google has done with the camera system in their new Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL phones is nothing short of amazing, and believe it or not, it’s about to get even better. Despite the rocky launch of Google’s latest flagship phones, many issues have been fixed and others are soon to be, but the one common theme of every review out there has been the quality of the camera.

Well, it appears that even though the camera is already incredibly powerful for a smartphone offering, Google has been holding out on us. Each Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL shipped with a special system-on-a-chip (or SOC for short) called the Visual Core Chipset, but all of the phones have that chipset turned off. The reasoning is not totally clear, but the best guess is that Google needed more time to get that functionality working and rather than delaying the phone, they just shipped the Pixel’s with it disabled until they could release an update to turn it on once they got it sorted out.

Well, according to Google’s release notes for their upcoming Android 8.1 update, this visual Core chipset will finally be turned on for both the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL. So how exactly is this chipset going to improve the already really good camera? The chip was designed to help accelerate the production of Google’s HDR+ feature, which has been getting rave reviews in its current form.

It’s unclear at this point how much of a quality improvement the Visual Core Chipset will offer, if any, but at the very least the chipset will help decrease the render time for these HDR+ images. In its current form the app takes some time to render the images when you shoot in HDR+. The interesting thing about HDR+ is that Google is using computational imaging (i.e. algorithms) to improve dynamic range and reduce noise.

It is rather impressive technology, right up there with Google’s Portrait Mode that also uses computational imaging to create the blur effect without needing multiple lenses like its competitors do. Google says the Visual Core Chipset is designed specifically to accelerate the HDR+ feature, so we don’t expect to see any improvements to the Portrait Mode feature – though it would seem like a missed opportunity to improve that feature even more through hardware acceleration.

Regardless, the point is that Google’s already impressive Pixel 2/2 XL camera is going to be getting even better. Right now there is no hard launch date for Android 8.1, but Google has said it will be going out in December 2017. It will be interesting to see what other improvements 8.1 brings to the camera, but if you don’t want to wait, you could always go register for the Android Beta Program, which would give you access to install the Android 8.1 developer preview. It is a beta, so you need to be aware you are likely to run into issues here or there, however, being the final preview before the full 8.1 launch you can be relatively sure that the update will mostly be stable.

That said, given that its December, unless you are incredibly impatient, just waiting for the official public launch makes more sense for most of you. However if you are a techy and like to tinker, that seems like a fun way to get a sneak peek at the upcoming Pixel 2/2 XL camera functionality.

Anthony Thurston

Anthony is a Portland, Oregon based Boudoir Photographer specializing in a dark, moody style that promotes female body positivity, empowerment, and sexuality. Besides The Phoblographer, he also reviews gear and produces his own educational content on his website.