After years of edging around the premium smartphone market Google is finally going all in with their Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro phones announced on October 20th. The new phones are going completely premium, including Google launching their first mobile Application Processor (AP) the Google Tensor.
There’s two phones being released, the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro. Scott is hitting the Pixel 6 Pro review, I’ll be handling the Pixel 6 review and am keen to see the difference between the two phones.
I’ve been a big Nexus and Pixel phone user since the first Nexus One, so I’ve seen the evolution of their designs, as well as the software. Google has toyed with premium smartphone design before, but this is their first real shot.
I’ve had the Pixel 6 (and Pixel 6 Pro) for a week and a half and here’s how it went.
Pixel 6 vs Pixel 6 Pro
To start this off, let’s address the two phones. On paper, the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro share similarities in design with the very dominant camera bar spanning the rear of the phone. They are different sizes, with a 6.4-inch display on the Pixel 6 and 6.71-inch display on the Pixel 6 Pro, this also allows for a larger battery in the Pixel 6 Pro.
The camera bar looks the same, however inside they differ in some camera specs with an additional sensor with 4x Optical zoom on the Pixel 6 Pro and a higher resolution front-facing camera.
The phones share the same Google Tensor processor at their core, though have different RAM and the Pixel 6 Pro also gets a 512GB storage option.
To lay it out in an easy to see fashion, here’s the spec run down.
|Pixel 6||Pixel 6 Pro|
|CPU||Google Tensor Processor||Google Tensor Processor|
|Screen||6.4″FHD+AMOLED60-90Hz||6.71″QHD+ resolutionOLED10-120Hz – LTPO Smooth Display|
48MP Telephoto (4x Optical)
|Updates||5 Years Security Updates3 Years OS – but will try to keep it updated||5 Years Security Updates3 Years OS – but will try to keep it updated|
|Sub-6GHz only||Sub-6GHz and mmWave|
|Colours:||– Kinda Coral|
– Sorta Seafoam
– Stormy Black
|– Sorta Sunny|
– Cloudy White
– Stormy Black
The Pixel 6 is a good looking phone when you take it out of the box. Depending on which colour you get, the colour pops above and below the camera bar gives a distinctive look, as does the bar itself which spans the rear of the phone.
There’s three colours to choose from for the Pixel 6, though this Sorta Seafoam is absolutely my favourite of the three.
The camera bar – which seems to be a quiet nod to the ‘visor’ from the Huawei Nexus 6P – is quite large, though acts as quite the comfortable rest for a finger on the back of the phone -I do miss the rear fingerprint sensor though.
Spanning the back of the phone, the camera bar makes the phone stable while laying flat, and props the screen up just a touch so you can see incoming notifications.
While Google has their own cases coming, I had a TPU case (thanks to their early listing on AliExpress) on it which allows the camera bar to fade away for the most part. I found even carrying it for a little time in a pocket meant it picked up quite a bit of dust in the ridge on the back which was a little hard to clean.
Luckily the phones are IP68 dust/water resistant with Gorilla Glass Victus over the front display and a glass rear which attracts surprisingly few fingerprints. The glass is great news as it means getting a damp cloth on it for cleaning isn’t a problem.
Between the glass sandwich, the Pixel 6 has matte black aluminum rails on the sides, while the Pixel 6 Pro has lightly polished stainless steel rails. Google includes the volume rocker (below) and power button (top) on the right-hand side which is a little odd to get used to, though if you’re a Pixel user you’ll be used to this setup.
I like the slight indentation between the volume rocker and power button which makes it easier to find the correct button while reaching blindly, and the buttons all have a very satisfyingly solid ‘click’.
The Pixel 6 includes a single nano SIM card slot but support for eSIM as well.
I was slightly disappointed to see that Google has decided against a colour pop on the power button. It was a slightly distinctive flair which I feel could have been kept around for the premium Pixel tier. But it appears Google wants to be taken seriously – and to be fair the button setup and layout is quite good.
All up, the design of the Pixel 6 has a lot of the essence of previous Pixel phones. My immediate thoughts were of the Pixel 2. There’s room for improvement in the design, and while I like the utilitarian look of the stark camera bar, I also feel it could be melded with the phone a little better.
One note on Google’s design is the solid haptic feedback. It scales well for small taps or larger long presses.
The Pixel 6 is the smaller of the two phones, with a smaller display to match, but at 6.4-inch it’s still the largest (bar the 6 Pro) display that we’ve seen in a Pixel phone to date. There are minimal bezels around the top and sides but it has a little bit of a chin on the bottom. The flatter display with minimal bezel is great for stopping phantom touches and the Pixel 6 is no different.
Google has used an OLED display for the Pixel 6 which comes with a 90Hz refresh rate. While the refresh rate is good, and makes for smoother scrolling it’s not quite up to the 120Hz refresh rate we usually see on these premium/flagship phones. On its own though, the screen is quite good, though it’s dim in direct sunlight.
Colour reproduction is good, though as with previous Pixel phones you can change the temperature between Natural, Boosted and Adaptive. I tend to prefer the Natural look, but YMMV, so choose the one that you like.
Lastly, the Pixel 6 (and 6 Pro) use an in-display fingerprint reader. I’m a massive fan of the rear fingerprint reader and find the in-display option slower, especially when removing it from you pocket. In practice, against other in-display fingerprint readers it’s decently fast, though the OnePlus and OPPO phones felt faster to me and there is occasional lag every now and then as it misreads, but overall, it works pretty well.
It’s not quite ‘display’, but Google went from an under-display speaker for the earpiece on the Pixel 5, to an actual speaker on the Pixel 6. It serves as the stereo pair with the bottom firing speaker and it’s a good move as I found the Pixel 5 speaker a little muted when playing audio but the Pixel 6 has quite a decent clarity and volume for those times you just need to play some audio.
The new Google Tensor processor at the heart of the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro has been the source of much speculation in the lead up to launch. Google has revealed some of the technical details on Tensor with the chip manufactured by Samsung on their 5nm process. It includes two X1 high-performance cores for the really heavy lifting, two A76 performance cores and four A55 efficiency cores.
Tensor also enables Googles Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning models to operate locally on the phone. These AI improvements enable some great new features like realtime translation, as well as drastically improved voice dictation and more.
Long term, Tensor is still very much an unknown quantity, but in the short term we’ve been using these phones for a week and a half and impressions to date are good. There’s no sign of lag, which is just what you’d expect from a premium smartphone.
The Pixel 6 also comes with “only” 8GB of RAM as opposed to the 12GB on the Pixel 6 Pro. On a day-to-day basis you don’t notice this “lack” of RAM. Switching apps is smooth as you’d expect for a Google phone, and Android 12 runs smoothly across the board.
As the Tensor processor is brand new, it’s time to throw it up against the competition in some benchmarks. While these won’t be a true indicator of how good this processor is, it’s a good start for comparison.
There are some differences though with the modem on the Pixel 6 Pro supporting mmWave 5g, while the Pixel 6 simply supports sub-6GHz 5G. The mmWave 5G deployment in Australia is very much in its infancy at this stage, as is the sub-6GHz 5G rollout outside of larger metro areas. I still don’t get sub-6GHz 5G at home, let alone mmWave 5G. It would be nice to have mmWave 5G as the deployment speeds up, but it’s not a spec that’s broadly “necessary” just yet.
All that said, the speeds on both 4G/LTE and 5G are rock solid.
Battery and Charging
The stats for the Pixel 6 charging and power are decent. The phone includes a 4,614mAh battery promising ‘All-day battery life’ with ‘Up to 48-hour battery life with Extreme Battery Saver’.
In practice I often got a full day of use out of the Pixel 6, and often a quarter of the way through the second before needing a charge.
The Extreme Battery Saver option extends the battery life out to a good extent at the cost of functionality, so your apps won’t alert, you drop from 5G to 4G services and visual features and any other potentially battery draining functions simply stop.
The frustration for me on the Pixel 6 with Android is the lack of more precise battery stats. From the settings you can only select ‘View usage for past 24 hours’ which doesn’t include your full charge time or usage. Still, the Pixel 6 definitely offers a full-day battery life quite easily with up to 6 hours of screen on time, which is fairly impressive with the new Tensor processor.
Straight up – there’s no charger included with the Pixel 6 (or 6 Pro) – though you do get a USB-C to USB-C cable so you can re-use an old one, but with a fresh cable.
This Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro can support up to 30W wired charging, as well as up to 21W wireless charging with Google’s upcoming Pixel Stand 2 (the Pixel 6 Pro supports up to 23W), or 12W with your standard Qi wireless charger.
If you came from the old 18W charger on previous Pixel phones it will be worth checking out the 30W charger you can buy from the Google Store for $45.
Charging at 30W can get you to 50% full in just 30 minutes, or back up to full charge in a shade under 2 hours. It’s not the fastest charging, especially compared to 65W charging on some phones, but it’s faster than a number of others so it’s about on par with the flagship phones on the market.
Wireless charging works at 21W for the Pixel 6, though you’ll need to use the Pixel Stand 2 which is coming later this year. You can still use Qi chargers with support for up to 12W Qi certified Extended Power Profile (EPP) chargers. Still I really want to try this with the new Pixel Stand.
For the last 5 years, Google has used a 12MP main sensor in their Pixel phones. They’ve dabbled with both ultra-wide and telephoto secondary cameras and decided on ultra-wide for the Pixel 6, while the 6 Pro gets the entire kitchen sink with that additional telephoto lens. But, if zoom isn’t particularly important to you the Pixel 6 is probably for you.
Fundamentally the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro share the same camera system basics in a 50MP main sensor and an 11.1MP sensor with ultra-wide lens offering a 94˚ field of view.
On the front there’s also a difference with the Pixel 6 using an 8 MP sensor with an 84˚ field of view, while the Pixel 6 Pro gets a 12MP sensor with a 94˚ field of view. The punch hole notch in the display is fairly unobtrusive, and the return of a wide-angle lens lets you take those group selfies if you need.
The camera system on the Pixel 6 is fantastic. The sensor is simply massive, and at 2.5 times the size of the Pixel 5 sensor it’s going to capture a LOT more light, which means Google’s Tensor chip and Computational Photography models can really go to town. In short, it’s the upgrade to the Pixel camera system that was very much needed. As far as shots in the day go, you will not be unhappy with this camera.
Night images are also great – and I do love the AstroPhotography mode on the Pixel camera.
Let’s face it, while Google has tried in the past, video on Pixel phones hasn’t been great. The Pixel 6 changes that. Video gets a boost with HDR processing live on 4K resolution and really improves night performance as well as just making the colours ‘pop’ in scenes.
When it comes to Camera ‘extras’ the Pixel camera has them in spades. The camera app retains what you love, like Night Sight (which still has the astrophotography mode), panorama and photosphere, but there’s new ‘Motion’ modes with TimeLapse and Action Pan and new editing features in Unblur Face and Magic Erasure.
These new Motion Modes take advantage of motion in the environment that you’re taking a pic in to drive the effects. Long Exposure will ‘Add a creative blur to moving subjects in the scene’, while Action Pan ‘focuses on a moving subject and adds a creative blur to the background’.
I’ve tested both out and they add another arrow to your effects quiver when snapping shots, the big question is how many times I use them. Still, the results speak for themselves as you can see below.
The ability to remove something from a photo was teased by Google at their I/O developer conference a few years ago. Google teased the option to remove fences between you and your subject and while that feature never arrived, Magic Eraser is now available to let you remove people, cars and more from your pictures.
The actual utility is amazing. The ability to remove almost anything you want by using the auto-detect and then following up with a few manual edits can deliver an edited image that looks pretty darn good.
The Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro are the launch vehicles for Android 12. Some handsets have begun to receive the update to Android 12, but it’s these Pixel 6 phones that run it straight out of the box which will be the cleanest experience you can get.
Running Android 12 straight out of the box, our review units did receive a single update. The handsets are now on the November 5th security update.
Updates – 5 years Security + 3 years Dessert
The Pixel 6 will receive Security updates for five years, but only three years for ‘dessert’ or OS updates. That may not be a hard and fast rule though, with Pixel VPs advising they will ‘try our best to keep the Pixel devices updated’, so we may see more but don’t purchase the phone with that expectation.
Three years of OS updates is a little disappointing, especially given Google owns the processor now, which they’ve previously cited as a barrier to providing longer term updates. This is early days on Google’s first processor so we’ll have to wait and see on this one.
Instant voice typing
Google has, as part of the new processor implementation, brought a lot of AI models down to the phone. This improves things like Assistant Voice Typing – and frankly this new speed at which voice-to-text is transcribed is unnervingly fast. The new models also do a lot of contextual and nuance analysis which you can see on the fly as the words are changed as you go.
It’s a feature you need to see in action to really believe. I’ve spoken as fast as I can and it’s been essentially flawless, almost to the point I’ve finally come around to actually using voice typing, at least when not in public.
The look of Android has come a long way since it’s initial launch in 2008. The look and feel of the OS is far more modern these days, and as the platform matures Google has matured the look of Android with it. The latest effort to update the look of Android is Material You, which Google describes as ‘The next stage for Material Design’ which was introduced in 2014.
Material You essentially uses either your wallpaper, or a colour palette suggested by you to theme your phone. The colours can affect buttons, backgrounds, layouts and more across your homescreen and lockscreen, apps, widgets and more.
In practice, Material You is pretty nice. It picks up the highlights from your wallpaper and runs with it, introducing those colours into your phone in a seamless way. You can also choose to refine the colour options from those offered.
It’s not quite the free-for-all theming engine that a number of Android fans have been asking for for years, but it’s a bit of choice at least. I have the design sense of a house brick, so frankly I’m happy to take a back seat to the Google designers and let them choose sensible colour options for me.
Material You also adds in that little bit of flair that makes your phone individually yours. It works well, but I am still interested in that personalised theming option one day.
Fast phone search
The introduction of on-device ML for the Pixel 6 means there’s a lot of improvements that includes even Google’s core bread and butter: Search.
Searching your phone can be a hassle, but the search on the Pixel 6 now checks through all your Apps, People, App shortcuts, App actions, Settings, Assistant Actions and Tips. It’s also blazingly fast – but I’ve been manually searching my phone for so long that I simply forget that the phone can do it.
Like a lot of new features in Android, this one is good, but you’ll just have to remember it’s there and worth using.
Privacy & Security Dashboards
A big part of the Android 12 update was improvements to privacy and security. Google copped flack over the years for being insecure, however it’s evolved now – thanks to Google’s hard work – to the point it’s one of the most secure OS’s available.
There’s always still work to be done, and one of those things was introducing Mic and Camera alerts when they are in use, as well as adding in Quick Setting toggles to let you disable them as required. iOS added in these functions a long time ago, so seeing them on Android finally is a welcome addition.
How it works is fairly simple, with a green dot appearing in your notification bar that expands to an icon when you drag the notification panel down. You can tap on the icon and see app permissions which you can change to your personal preference.
The Mic and Camera notifications and permissions are built into the Privacy Dashboard which is now in your Settings, alongside a Security Dashboard.
The Privacy Dashboard holds a lot of power and information on what apps or services have access to what, while the Security Dashboard offers up recommendations to improve your security as well as access to all the things like Biometric authentication (fingerprint).
You won’t spend a lot of time in either section beyond changing a setting, but they are quite easily accessible and well laid out so you can find what you want (and change it) quickly.
There’s a lot of Google Assistant powered speakers in our home, and part of my sons bedtime routine is us giving him a 10-minute timer before hand. The best addition Google made in years to these was the ability to stop a timer simply by saying ‘Stop’, without the ‘Hey/Ok Google’ before hand.
Google has extended these Assistant commands to the phone itself, giving you the option to simply say ‘Answer’ or ‘Decline’. The new commands work really well for incomNo ing calls, so if you need hands-free access to phone calls this is one feature you should be excited about.
Quick Tap to Snap
Additional functionality has been added to the hardware/software combo with ‘Quick Tap’ a feature that lets you tap the back of the phone to launch a feature. It’s not quite as pleasing as the ‘Active Edge’ squeeze which let you quickly launch the Assistant, but offers more utility by letting you define which app to open when you do.
The first app up to take advantage of the feature is Snapchat who launched it on-stage at the Pixel 6 event. It works well, with Snapchat proudly announcing this is the ‘first time Snap has created a camera-mode version of Snapchat accessible directly from a phone lockscreen’.
Quick Tap works and works well. I set it up with Snapchat, and it launches the camera portion of the app almost instantly. You can use other apps if you want, and it’s pretty neat to use.
Should you buy this phone?
Google has finally done what they’ve been on the cusp of for years and delivered a premium smartphone in the Pixel 6. The phone still has a few places that Google can improve fit, finish and design but fundamentally this is a premium smartphone in every way that matters.
The Google Tensor processor is a still somewhat unknown quantity. What I do know though is that it handles everything you can throw at it, while adding in the bonus of their excellent computational photography and now on-device AI.
At this point the only dilemma most customers will have is choosing between the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro.
At $999 the Pixel 6 is a no-brainer when it comes up against the competition. It offers all the features and functions of a high-end, premium smartphone with the benefits of stock Android, regular updates and really being on the edge of what Google is doing in mobile.
The only consideration for going to the Pixel 6 Pro is if you prefer the larger display or battery, or really do want to that additional telephoto option on the camera. All those are good consideration
The Google Pixel 6 is an excellent first premium level smartphone from Google. It may have taken them a long time to get here, but it’s been worth it.
You can purchase the Pixel 6 from the Google Store online for $999, or through all three Australian Telcos and at Harvey Norman, Officeworks and JB Hifi. You can find all the details on pre-orders and pricing here.