Google just revealed a surprise, cool feature that is oddly still laying dormant in its latest Pixel 2 smartphones.

Called the Pixel Visual Core, it is Google’s first custom system-on-a-chip (SOC) for consumer devices. The company described it as a "fully programmable, domain-specific processor" that is "designed from scratch to deliver maximum performance at low power". So, it's a scaled-back version of Qualcomm Snapdragon, Samsung Exynos, or Apple A chips, as it's specifically for accelerating HDR+ camera tricks.

The Pixel phones are known for taking superior shots, and Google plans to use the Pixel Visual Core - which has eight custom cores (each with 512 ALUs) and an IPU that delivers raw performance of more than 3 trillion operations per second - to make image processing on its smartphones even faster and more buttery smooth. The chip works with Google's own software to handle the company's HDR+ tech.

The result, Google said, is up to five times faster than the Pixel 2's main CPU, but it uses a tenth of the energy. Even more interestingly, Google plans to open up HDR+ to third-party camera apps, meaning you won't have to use Google's software to capture stunning HDR+ photos. Google even said new uses for Pixel Visual Core will arrive over time, as it is programmable. But there is one caveat to all this.


Pixel Visual Core is not actually being used in the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL just yet. While the chip is tucked away inside those new phones, it hasn't been enabled, and it won't be, until the developer preview of Android Oreo 8.1 arrives in the "coming weeks". That means it also won't be ready for third-party apps for a while. Eventually, Google will turn on Visual Core for everyone when the software becomes ready.

The Pixel 2 devices are already fast at processing HDR, but with Pixel Visual Core is live, they’ll probably be even more impressive at it.