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Google releases final Android 8.1 beta with support for Pixel 2’s hidden imaging chip

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Photo by James Bareham / The Verge

Google has released the final preview build of Android 8.1, a small update to Android Oreo due out next month. There isn’t a ton of new stuff in 8.1, but there is one big update coming for Pixel 2 owners: support for the phone’s “Visual Core,” an imaging chip Google included but wasn’t ready to activate at launch.

The chip has been sitting dormant, but as of today, developers can start to try it out. The Visual Core is enabled in the final 8.1 preview, allowing camera apps that use the correct API to capture shots using Google’s HDR+ and to do so using the dedicating imaging chip, which should speed things up.

You can download Android 8.1 right away by signing up for Google’s beta program, though we wouldn’t recommend doing it on any device you rely on day to day (I’ve gotten stuck with some frustrating bugs — and once you’re in the beta, you have to wipe your phone to get out of it). But if developers start playing around with Google’s imaging chip this month, there should be apps ready to take advantage of it when 8.1 is released widely in December.

The Visual Core is the first processor Google has designed for a consumer device. The chip is a dedicated image processor, so when it’s enabled, it should allow the phone to shoot photos quicker than it does today. The phone is already pretty fast, so the bigger news may be that other apps will be able to take advantage of it, letting third parties get the benefits of Google’s clean HDR+ images.