If you’ve been around here for any amount of time, you know I’m a sucker for FPS (first-person shooter) games and am especially fond of both the Team Death Match and Battle Royale genres. There is no shortage of games that take full advantage of these characteristics and – not surprisingly – I spend most of my gaming time on my phone in titles like PUBG New State, PUBG Mobile, Fortnite, and Call of Duty Mobile.
When news of the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro began to crystalize around the end of the year in 2021, I was pretty excited to see that Google had decided to go with a set of CPU cores in the Tensor SoC that would rival the power and graphics present in the best chips we had from Qualcomm and Samsung at the time. While past Pixels were always on the back end of processor update cycles, Tensor gave me hope that Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro would break free from that mold and be phones that weren’t just good at AI and ML, but at games and graphic-driven tasks as well.
Alas, no matter how many comments I left in the Google Play Store on different games, it has been painfully clear up to this point that developers aren’t overly concerned with their games running well on the Tensor SoC. It’s a similar situation we see with Chromebooks where there isn’t enough user volume to justify the time or energy needed to optimize an app for a particular processor. Most games target Snapdragon chips and Apple’s mobile processors and simply move on.
For example, while PUBG Mobile is playable, you can’t turn on high frame rates on anything but the lowest graphic settings. PUBG New State is better, but there’s some serious lag that can happen during matches whether the graphics are cranked up or turned all the way down. And Call of Duty is the best of the group, even though a few of the larger TDM and battle royale maps exhibit some serious lag when things get intense. For what it is worth, my previous phone – the OnePlus 8T – and its Snapdragon 865+ processor never had any of these issues with any of these games. Clearly this is a matter of optimization.
Finally, we have a contender
With the recently-launched, long-awaited Apex Legends Mobile, however, it seems things are changing a bit. I don’t have a technical confirmation on this, but I can tell you that this game runs like an absolute dream on the Pixel 6 Pro and I couldn’t be happier about it. As I tend to do with any game I try, I immediately went to the settings menu in Apex and cranked every setting to the max allowed just to see what I was starting with.
For the Pixel 6 Pro, that meant everything turned up to the max with exception to the graphic quality. It can be set to “Extreme HD” – one notch below the highest setting, “original” – and we found this to be the limit on every device aside from the M1 iPad Pro we have in the office. And that’s just fine for me. The Extreme HD combined with the Ultra frame rate, adaptive smoothing, dynamic shadows, anti-aliasing, refraction quality, bloom and vegetation settings all turned on make for an absolutely stunning look that has yet to stutter or slow down on me even once.
I expect this sort of smooth gameplay from apps on an iPad or iPhone, and I have even come to expect it with most phones running on the latest Snapdragon SoC. But my time with Pixel 6 phones has been anything but that sort of experience, and it is so fantastic to see this hardware being fully leveraged for such a fun, engaging, and addictive game.
I truly hope that with the Pixel 6a launching soon at its lower price, we’ll see Tensor in many more hands and app developers will take the time to make sure things are fully operational for Pixel phones moving forward. If what Respawn has done with Apex Legends Mobile is any indicator of what Tensor is capable of, there’s plenty of horsepower under the hood. And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some leveling up to do.