It looks as though Google is making a rare but very welcome upgrade for some of the best Pixel phones you can buy: it's apparently prepping a kernel upgrade to every Pixel powered by a Tensor chipset, which is the 2021 Google Pixel 6 onwards.
This comes from serial tipster Mishaal Rahman (via Android Central), who has spotted signs of the impending upgrade in comments attached to a recent Android upgrade, left by Google software engineers.
In simple terms, the kernel of a chipset is the low-level software running directly on top of the hardware – the basic code that communicates between the silicon and the Android operating system. The kernel is involved in just about everything that happens on a phone, from memory management to security checks.
In the case of Google's Pixel processors, the kernels are based on Linux. Tensor G1 and G2 Pixels currently use Linux 5.10, while the Tensor G3 Pixels (the Pixel 8 and the Pixel 8 Pro) are on Linux 5.15. It would appear that all these models, and the upcoming Google Pixel 9, will soon get bumped up to Linux 6.1.
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/DyTXg09SsPJanuary 9, 2024
As this software code is such a fundamental part of the way a phone operates, it isn't usually ever updated on existing phones: new versions require a lot of work to test and implement, so that no unexpected issues appear in the way that a handset works.
However, these kernel updates can bring with them a lot of benefits. They ensure compatibility with newer components, they help to protect against the latest security threats, and they can improve device efficiency.
There's no hint as to exactly when this kernel update might arrive, but it should make your Pixel phone better when it does. All of the improvements will be behind the scenes though – don't expect a new list of features like the ones we get with Android updates.
When the time comes, Google should roll out these kernel updates over the air, in the same way that Android updates are applied. You won't have to do anything to install them, except for resetting your phone when prompted.
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Dave is a freelance tech journalist who has been writing about gadgets, apps and the web for more than two decades. Based out of Stockport, England, on TechRadar you'll find him covering news, features and reviews, particularly for phones, tablets and wearables. Working to ensure our breaking news coverage is the best in the business over weekends, David also has bylines at Gizmodo, T3, PopSci and a few other places besides, as well as being many years editing the likes of PC Explorer and The Hardware Handbook.