For the past week or so Dan and I have been testing out the Pixel 6 and the Pixel 6 Pro.  We have both been avid users of Pixel and Nexus phones for a long time now but unlike Dan I have rarely used a Pixel phone for my daily phone for an extended period of time.  

I have always found phones from manufacturers such as OPPO and OnePlus to offer much more of what I want — a multitude of options so I can truly make the phone my own.  This year Google has finally released a phone that is truly a premium flagship.  They don’t seem to have cut corners when it comes to manufacturing and the software promises to be on point — promises being the operative word.  

Read on to see if this promise came to fruition (if it is possible to say after all of seven days).

Premium hardware in a Pixel?

The Pixel 6 and the Pixel 6 Pro share a lot of the same hardware and therefore I’ll refer you to Dan’s Pixel 6 review for a lot of the technical information around the chipset — he’s already written it so no point me reinventing the wheel.

I love opening the box of a new phone.  The first time you lay eyes on a new phone often takes your breath away — this time was no different.  The Pixel 6 Pro we received from Google was the Stormy Black version and while not as colourful as the other variants it is still a stunning design.  There is a difference between the grey above the camera strip and the grey below and it looks classy.

The side of the Pixel 6 Pro is a polished aluminium unlike the Pixel 6 where it is more Pixel 4-like — polycarbonate (plastic).  This adds to the stylish nature of the phone in a big way.  The buttons on the side no longer feature the accented colours that Google Pixel phones have in the past and while it is nice to have that Google hallmark on the phone, I can see why they didn’t.  The colourful power button makes it less stylish and bit more like a toy, less business-like.  

The Pixel 6 Pro (and 6) is Google’s signal to the world that they are finally serious about all things Pixel — high quality camera hardware, their own custom chipset, no longer skimping on RAM (there is a very decent 12GB onboard the Pixel 6 Pro), a nice shiny cover around all that hardware and some of Google’s newest AI software on-board.  

While we are on the hardware side of things let’s talk about this camera bar.  It’s big, it’s wide and it sticks out a long way but inside it is the three cameras that Google is hanging their hat and camera chops on.  The folding camera/periscopic camera needs more room but it does deliver 4x optical zoom and some high-quality images.  For those that don’t use a case such as me you will notice the dust build-up next to the camera bar due to its size and thus the difficulty cleaning it.  That corner is perfect for dust to hide.  Not a huge deal but it does detract from the overall look of the phone.

For the first time Google has included an in-display fingerprint sensor in a Pixel smartphone.  The fingerprint sensor uses their Pixel Imprint and is not as fast as some on the market, nor is it as consistent as some on the market.  I had to retrain it a few times before it became as consistent as I have come to expect from an in-display fingerprint sensor.  Even then it isn’t as quick as some, but you can be sure that with Google’s security behind it, it is as secure as possible.

More to the display than just big and beautiful

The display is big and beautiful and curved on the sides — as so many manufacturers prefer in their premium phones as it adds to the premium look of the phone.  It is 6.7-inches in size which is big — phones just keep getting bigger and bigger but we seem to be getting used to it.  The display is QHD+ resolution and capable of 120Hz refresh rate which does not kill the battery like you would expect due to the LTPO nature of the display.  This allows the software to ramp up from 10Hz for some content all the way to 120Hz for others. It adjusts this on the fly to help save battery while still optimising your experience with the display.  

After using the phone for a week I can say although I would have preferred a less curved display it is an experience that is on a par with anything else I have used this year.  You can change the colours to suit your preferences of course but Google prefer a more natural colour tone rather than the super bright and vibrant colours that others opt for.  I like somewhere in the middle of all of that and with the Pixel 6 Pro you can have what you want.

Performance only seen in Pixels

We were wary of this being the first generation of Google’s Tensor chipset but I can say those fears we had of it being not up to scratch were unfounded.  The chipset works as well as any other I have used in a smartphone — whether it’s Google’s software or the chipset itself but the combination of the two flies.

In the first impressions article I talked about the Pixel Experience and after using it for a week or so I can say that that Pixel Experience is present and then some. Google has improved their software adding so much more AI-based software and that just adds to the experience.  The new animations when turning the display off are great, the smooth transition from one app or screen to another are really something else.  No other manufacturer comes close.  They are smooth without being slow which makes the phone feel extremely responsive but not stuttery.

Software: Google at their finest

I discussed Material You in the first impressions post last week and a week later I remain impressed — although my Lakers purple has been translated as a pink by the OS.  The good thing is that all I have to do is change the wallpaper and it changes the rest of the theme of the OS to match.  Google has really done an excellent job with Material You and if other manufacturers adopt something similar in the future Android will benefit more than you think.

Assistant voice typing is possibly my favourite new software feature in the Pixel 6 Pro.  It is faster than ever and more accurate than ever.  It is amazing just how fast it keeps up with your voice.  You can also now pause your dictation and say either clear or send the message.  You can also use voice commands to stop the dictation, insert emojis (eg. “heart emoji”) and also spell out specific words that Assistant may not know.

I find myself using this much more than I ever did.  You can also use Assistant to start voice dictation which is a very nice touch:

“Hey Google, type”

For once the real word operation works as well as it does in the demos you see online.

Live Translate is a new feature which uses Google’s Tensor chip’s AI capabilities to automatically translate other languages into your language.  I tested it out first by having a friend send me something in Spanish. A popup within the Messages app (it does work in a lot more apps but not all) popped up asking if I wanted to translate the message from Spanish to English.  To do so I needed to download the Spanish language pack — while there I also downloaded Simplified Chinese, German and French.  The Spanish translation worked after downloading the language pack for it but it only worked a couple of times but then stopped.

I had a friend send me something in Chinese, another in German and my daughter in French and not once did it either translate or offer to translate it.  We are running pre-release software though so I am hoping that the release of the phone will bring a new update that will make this work better — or even work at all.

The new Pixel 6 Pro also brings new Quick Phrases to the OS.  We have seen them on Google/Nest Home devices but not you can say Stop, Snooze, Answer, or Decline to have the phone respond accordingly. Hopefully not too many of us will oversleep alarms with this new feature.

One of the best things about Assistant is how helpful it can be when you have forgotten things yourself.  Google has now incorporated all the Assistant features into a widget — the At a Glance widget.  It will show information that you need when you need it.  It is designed to show you weather, alerts, travel (flights etc from Gmail), upcoming appointments and commute times.  I found it extremely useful but let’s face it, it will be a lot more useful once we can actually travel and get out and about in the big bad world. 

The Camera is amazing and its software pure wizardry

The Pixel 6 Pro comes with a triple rear camera– 50MP main sensor, 12MP ultrawide and a 48MP telephoto sensor with 4X optical zoom — more than Google has ever done with its smartphones.  Considering how good their images have been with two or less cameras you would expect the triple rear camera to be amazing — you’d be right.

Any phone can take decent photos in bright daylight these days and of course the Pixel 6 Pro has no issues here.  The colours are true to life and not overblown or over processed like some manufacturers prefer.  Google has always presented photos (and their display) like this, and they should be congratulated for it — true reproduction is the perfect way to capture the moment.

Part of this is Google’s new Real Tone which tunes the AWB, AE and stray light algorithms to ensure that Google’s camera system, including all the AI features, work for everyone, of every skin tone.  

The two main camera features I tested out were Motion Mode and Magic Eraser.  

Magic Eraser I showed last week in the first impressions post.  It uses AI to remove objects from the background of an image — you can also manually circle what you want removed.  This works extremely well and although it is not perfect you do need to pay close attention to the small image artefacts to see where something was removed.  Just how good is Magic Eraser then?  It’s amazing — here are a few samples from my old albums I went through — yes, you do not need to take the photo with your Pixel 6 Pro to have Magic Eraser work, the image just needs to be on the Pixel 6 Pro.  Dan also has some over on his Pixel 6 review which are simply wizardry at its finest.

Motion Mode is more of a photographic tool that can aid in the appearance of an image — it blurs the background.  You can use it when the object is moving or when the background is moving — “Action Pan” and “Long Exposure”.  As you can see below the effect works extremely well, although you do need to know that you are going to do this and have the camera set on this to start with — it would be nice if Google’s AI produced this photo for those it may be useful for automatically.

Other improvements include Face Unblur where the software will automatically unblur a face that was a tad blurry to start with.  Google says it only works with human faces at this stage although Dan’s cat was a decent example.  For those of you who have shaky hands this is something that will definitely come in handy.

SuperRes Zoom is also included once again and when combined with Google’s telephoto lens on the Pixel 6 Pro it produced some amazing pictures.

I think it’s safe to say that Google hit the ball out of the park with this camera and it will set the standard in computational photography going forwards.

Battery and charging is an improvement

The battery in the Pixel 6 Pro is a 5,000mAh battery — not too shabby.  It provides a full day, even with a lot of tethering, streaming basketball games, YouTube etc but unfortunately Android 12 no longer keeps truly accurate battery stats so we cannot give you a screen on time for these phones.  Suffice to say that even with extremely heavy usage I was able to get a full day out of it.

Part of this is because of the battery size, part due to the LTPO display which ramps the refresh rate up or down as required to save battery life, and partly due to the Adaptive Battery setting which learns which are your favourite apps and only uses power on those rather than wasting power on ones you never use. 

Google has upped the charging this year, including support for 30W wired charging which is much better than some manufacturers but still pales in comparison with the 65W we are seeing on some phones here in Australia.  Also included is 23W wireless Qi charging in the Pixel 6 Pro but you’ll need the upcoming Pixel Stand 2.0 to get those speeds at this stage — until third party manufacturers make Qi chargers that support these speeds.

Should you buy it?

If you read any of the above you should be able to see that this phone is damn near perfect. It runs a version of Android that is pure Google and is something that needs to be used to be fully believed. The hardware, for once, has not cut any corners with a big, bold LTPO display with 120Hz refresh rate capabilities, a new Google-designed and made Tensor chipset which helps to deliver the best Google’s AI has to offer.

The camera system finally has some decent hardware and even though it only has three cameras in the rear camera setup, it produces near perfect pictures no matter what the lighting scenario. The software included in the camera system and on the Pixel 6 Pro is also something that needs to be seen to be believed.

The Pixel 6 Pro also supports both Sub 6 and mmWave 5G which although not everywhere at this stage, makes the phone incredibly future proof. Add in the promise of three years (and possibly more) of Android version upgrades and five years of security updates you can be sure that the phone will be up to date and secure a long way into the future.

You would expect a phone with all of this to cost a premium price but not this year. Not sure how Google has done it but the Pixel 6 Pro starts at $1,299 for the 128GB version (which is likely enough for nearly all of you) and heads up to $1,599 for the 512GB variant. There are a multitude of locations to purchase the Pixel 6 Pro, including all the carriers and most of the larger retails, online and instore.

I said last week that Google’s Pixel phones have never lasted awfully long as my daily phone. This year that is now going to change. At this stage, the Google Pixel 6 Pro is the best Android phone on the market.