Android 8.1 is just weeks away and comes with a Pixel 2 hardware upgrade

We expect Android updates to improve the software of our devices, but if you have a Pixel 2 or Pixel 2 XL then Android 8.1 will actually improve the hardware.

Or, more specifically, it will activate a currently dormant image processor chip called the Pixel Visual Core, at least for developers.

It’s Google’s first custom-designed co-processor for consumer products and it’s been built specifically to improve HDR+, letting it run five times faster and at less than one tenth the energy that it would take to use HDR+ with the main chipset.

So in other words it will make HDR photos faster to shoot and less battery-intensive. 

Google plans to ultimately enable the Pixel Visual Core for third-party apps too, meaning you’ll be able to take advantage of it even if you don’t use Google’s camera app.

And because the Pixel Visual Core is programmable, more uses for it will be enabled over time, with Google promising that the Pixel 2 will continuously improve as a result.

Available in the coming weeks

In the same blog post Google revealed that Android 8.1 itself will be launched in developer preview mode in the coming weeks, and that Pixel Visual Core will be enabled along with it for developers, with a wider release set for a later time.

Obviously the final, public release of Android 8.1 will be later, but we probably won’t be waiting too long for it, and if you have a Pixel phone you’ll be among the first to get it. 

What, if anything Android 8.1 will add other than the Pixel Visual Core remains to be seen though.

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James Rogerson

James is a freelance phones, tablets and wearables writer and sub-editor at TechRadar. He has a love for everything ‘smart’, from watches to lights, and can often be found arguing with AI assistants or drowning in the latest apps. James also contributes to, and and has written for T3, Digital Camera World, Clarity Media and others, with work on the web, in print and on TV.