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Google Pixel 6 hands-on: Bigger, bolder, and more divisive than expected

If you were hoping for Google to continue its focus on launching smaller devices, we've got some bad news.

Published onOctober 19, 2021

Google Pixel 6 against lamp post
C. Scott Brown / Android Authority

Over the past few months, the hype train has been rolling hard for the Google Pixel 6 series. When I first saw the vanilla Pixel 6 (pricing starting at $599) in the flesh, so to speak, it honestly seemed like old hat. Since I’ve been following along with the rumors, leaks, and official announcements this entire time, the phone seemed very familiar immediately, even though it was my first time actually seeing it.

However, the Pixel 6 still has some surprises in it. After using it for a bit, I’m astonished by how many risks Google has taken with its design and overall feel. Honestly, I’ve never used a phone quite like it before. That’s a big win, as far as I’m concerned, but it invariably is going to ruffle some feathers. After all, any time a company strays from the pack, there’s bound to be a ton of criticism.

You might not know yet which side of the fence you fall on. Hopefully, I can give you some of my early thoughts on the Google Pixel 6 and you’ll be a bit closer to picking a side.

Looking for our thoughts on the Pixel 6 Pro? Check out our hands-on impressions at the link.

Google Pixel 6

A big, hefty boi

Google Pixel 6 in hand in front of flowers
C. Scott Brown / Android Authority

Right off the bat, the Pixel 6 is not a small phone, nor is it a light one. Its dimensions of 158.6 x 74.8 x 8.9mm put it in the same league as the OnePlus 9 and Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus. Its hefty 207g weight makes it a few grams heavier than the iPhone 13 Pro. For the sake of comparison, the Pixel 6 is 27% heavier than the Pixel 5.

In other words, if you were hoping Google would continue to offer a more compact/light experience along the lines of the Pixel 5 and Pixel 4a, that is not how it ended up — the Pixel 6 is hefty.

It does feel nice in the hand, though. The matte finish around the edge feels soft to the touch and immediately recalls the Google Pixel 4 series. The matte finish here is helpful as it gives you a better grip on the phone so you feel less concerned about it sliding out of your hand.

The chunky design also recalls the squared-off edges of most Galaxy Note phones, although not nearly as drastic. Most importantly, it doesn’t feel cheap. You might think its sub-$600 price tag would mean the phone would feel like a mid-ranger, but that’s not at all the case. The Pixel 5 — which launched at a $100 higher price — feels like a toy compared to this.

OK display

Google Pixel 6 sceren standing on a table
Eric Zeman / Android Authority

The display on the Pixel 6 is nothing fancy. It has a respectable 1080p resolution, a good-enough 411 pixels-per-inch, and a decent 90Hz refresh rate. It’s not going to win any display awards, but that’s fine. The Pixel 6 Pro has the display that pulls out all the stops, after all.

Get caught up: All Google Pixel phones released so far

The bezels surrounding the display, though, are really, really thick. The pictures we’ve seen online leading up to the official launch of the phones haven’t adequately shown just how thick they are. When you put the phone next to the OnePlus 9, for example, you can see just how beefy the bezels are on the Pixel 6. This is an aesthetic thing that only some people will actually care about. But for those who do, the display bezels here could be a deal-breaker.

The thing that might make you look the other way when it comes to the bezels is the fact that the display is flat. While curved displays are certainly nicer to look at, Android’s navigation gestures simply work better with flat displays. So far, navigating around the phone has been a total breeze, which I mostly chalk up to the display being nice and flat.

Covering the display is Gorilla Glass Victus, which is still currently Corning’s top-of-the-line mobile product. The back of the phone is the much-older Gorilla Glass 6. Both the front and back glass feel great, and it’s nice to know that, even at the Google Pixel 6’s price point, Corning’s strongest glass is protecting the front.

Let’s talk about the camera bump

Google Pixel 6 camera closeup
Eric Zeman / Android Authority

Google’s design decisions for the back of the Pixel 6 series likely aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. Myself, I quite like the three-tone aesthetic, with the top bar being a shade darker than the rest of the back and a giant black camera module separating them. It’s a unique design that pulls no punches, and I appreciate Google’s ambition. It also reminds me of the Nexus 6P, which isn’t a bad thing.

Still, there are some downsides to this design. The camera module sticks way out and makes the phone very top-heavy. This could cause wrist fatigue for some folks since the phone will constantly be pulling down as you use it one-handed. I have no idea how much the camera module itself weighs, but it feels like a large percentage of the phone’s full 207g.

The jutted-out module also will make cases tricky. We don’t have a case to put on the phone yet, so I can’t say for sure, but I don’t think most slim cases are going to be able to protect the module. This will make it so that, even if your phone is in a case, your camera module will still be very susceptible to breaks. Obviously, some cases will be more protective than others, but it’s something to keep in mind.

See also: Our guide to picking the best case for your new phone

Overall, the back of the phone is probably going to be the most divisive aspect of the Google Pixel 6. On one hand, it’s a bold statement that looks wholly unlike any other device on the market. On the other hand, it may prove to be more cumbersome and fragile than it’s worth.

Oh, and also the camera itself

Google Pixel 6 camera bump offset
Eric Zeman / Android Authority

There are two lenses on the back of the Google Pixel 6. There’s a 50MP wide-angle lens paired with a 12MP ultra-wide-angle lens. This is a similar setup as we saw on the Google Pixel 5 and Pixel 5a, but the hardware involved is a huge step up.

In fact, this is the first time in multiple generations that Google has stepped away from using a years-old 12.2MP main lens. On paper, the 50MP lens should produce better photos, which is a huge deal. When you consider Google’s ability to make an old 12.2MP lens produce stunning imagery using software smarts alone, what could it be capable of with this newer, better lens?

The Google Pixel 6 camera is a huge upgrade but lacks one big feature.

However, the Google Pixel 6 lacks an integral lens — a telephoto camera. For that, you’ll need to upgrade to the Google Pixel 6 Pro. Without a telephoto lens, the Pixel 6 will need to rely on digital (aka lossy) zoom likely with some help from Google’s Super Res Zoom software. If you’re the type of person who likes to take shots from far away using pinch-to-zoom, this might not be the best camera for you.

Unfortunately, we haven’t had a chance to put this camera through the wringer. Stay tuned for our full review of the Pixel 6 for camera samples and analysis.

Buttons, ports, and speakers

Google Pixel 6 USB C Port and speakers
C. Scott Brown / Android Authority

As with most Pixels, the hardware buttons are all on the right side of the phone. The power button is on top with the volume rocker underneath. This is the opposite of how Samsung, Xiaomi, ASUS, and others do it. Meanwhile, Apple, OPPO, and OnePlus put the power button on the right side of the phone and the volume rocker on the left.

Obviously, Google’s been formatting its buttons like this for years, but it stands as another example of Google going against the grain. If you’ve never owned a Pixel before, it might take you a bit of time to retrain your muscle memory on where to go for which button.

Buttons and ports remain mostly unchanged from previous Pixels.

Also, the buttons are quite recessed into the body of the device. In my brief time with the Google Pixel 6, I found it a little difficult to figure out which button was where because it’s not easy to feel the separation between them. I’m confident I would get used to this, as it’s not so bad that my brain wouldn’t be able to figure it out. It’s just another curious design decision on a curious phone.

The SIM tray is on the bottom right of the Google Pixel 6. It can only accommodate one SIM card, but the Pixel 6 also supports one eSIM, which makes it a dual-SIM phone — as long as your carrier supports eSIM.

Google Pixel 6: Hot or not?

5646 votes

On the bottom of the phone, you’ll find a standard USB-C 3.1 port. It’s capable of charging the phone at speeds up to 30W. However, you’ll need to buy a compatible charger separately, as there isn’t one in the box. It’ll also need to be a Power Delivery PPS standard adapter to get the full charging speeds.

Flanking the USB-C port you’ll find two speaker grills that act as the right channel for stereo sound. The left channel comes out of the earpiece speaker at the top of the display.

Other internal hardware and software

Google Pixel 6 in hand with red home scren
C. Scott Brown / Android Authority

The star of the Google Pixel 6’s internals is the brand new Google Tensor chipset. This is the wildcard of the phone. Considering this is Google’s first-ever attempt at creating mobile silicon, there are a lot of questions about its power, its energy efficiency, and longevity. We haven’t had the phone long enough to test this out, so stay tuned for more.

See also: What you should really expect from Google Tensor

Outside of Tensor, the phone has a good enough 8GB of RAM. Our model has 128GB of internal storage, with no ability to expand it, but there’s a 256GB model for folks who need more room.

The battery is pretty hefty at 4,600mAh. That’s about the same capacity as the battery inside the Google Pixel 5a, which blew us away when it came to battery life. Theoretically, we should see similar battery life with the Pixel 6, but Tensor could throw a wrench into this. I’m excited to see how our testing pans out.

The phone can charge that battery wirelessly. If you have a normal Qi-compatible wireless charger, you’ll see 12W of speed. If you upgrade to the Pixel Stand (2021), you’ll get 21W of speed, which is pretty fast. The phone can also charge in reverse, which would allow you to charge some earbuds or a smartwatch by leeching power from the Pixel 6.

Finally, Android 12 comes pre-installed on the Google Pixel 6. It’s not stock Android 12 because it has Pixel-exclusive features and tweaks, but it’s pretty close. We’ll have more on this in our full Pixel 6 review.

Google Pixel 6 specs

The specs of the Google Pixel 6 are impressive, especially when you factor in its sub-$600 price. We’re going to save our opinions on how all these specs work together to create a cohesive (or non-cohesive) whole, but for now, check out this table with all the necessary info.

Google Pixel 6
6.4-inch OLED
20:9 aspect ratio
FHD+ resolution
2,400 x 1,080
90Hz refresh rate
HDR support
24-bit depth

Gorilla Glass Victus front
Gorilla Glass 6 back
Google Tensor
Titan M2 security
Internal storage
128GB or 256GB
UFS 3.1
Battery and power
4,614mAh (typical)
21W wired charging
USB-PD 3.0 (PPS)
21W wireless charging (w/ Pixel Stand)
12W Qi wireless charging
Battery share

No charger in box
- 50MP main
1.2 μm, ƒ/1.85, 82-degree FoV
1/1.31-inch sensor
- 12MP ultra-wide
1.25 μm, ƒ/2.2, 114-degree FoV
Laser AF

- 8MP single
1.12 μm, ƒ/2.0, 84-degree FoV
4K at 30/60FPS
1080p at 30/60FPS

1080p at 30FPS
Stereo speakers
Triple mics
Bluetooth 5.2
No 3.5mm port
In-display fingerprint
Titan M2 chip
5 years security updates
Water resistance
Buttons and ports
USB-C 3.1 Gen 1
Power button
Volume rocker
Dual-SIM (single nano and eSIM)

No expandable storage
No 3.5mm port
Wi-Fi 6E (802.11ax)
Bluetooth 5.2
NFC support
[5G Sub-6GHz] Model GB7N6
GSM/EDGE: Quad-band (850, 900, 1800, 1900MHz)
UMTS/HSPA+/HSDPA: Bands 1,2,4,5,6,8,19
LTE: Bands B1/2/3/4/5/7/8/12/13/14
5G Sub-6: Bands n1/2/3/5/7/8/12/14/20/25/28
No 5G mmWave

[5G mmWave + Sub-6GHz] Model G9S9B3
GSM/EDGE: Quad-band (850, 900, 1800, 1900MHz)
UMTS/HSPA+/HSDPA: Bands 1,2,4,5,6,8,19
LTE: Bands B1/2/3/4/5/7/8/12/13/14
5G Sub-6: Bands n1/2/3/5/7/8/12/14/20/25/28
5G mmWave: Bands n257/n258/n260/n261
Android 12
Pixel UI
Dimensions and weight
158.6 x 74.8 x 8.9mm
Stormy Black, Kinda Coral, Sorta Seafoam
In-box contents
1m USB-C to USB-C cable (USB 2.0)
Quick Switch adapter
SIM tool

No charger in box

(*France has charger and headphones included per local laws)

Google Pixel 6 hands-on: The early verdict

Google Pixel 6 Propped Outdoors
C. Scott Brown / Android Authority

If someone handed me the Google Pixel 6 and said, “This is Google’s new flagship phone,” I would believe it. If you ignore the fact that the bigger, more powerful, and much more expensive Google Pixel 6 Pro exists, the Pixel 6 looks and feels like a premium device.

The problem is that it doesn’t look or feel like any other premium device out there. Some will say that it feels disjointed because of its chunky design and huge camera module. Others will argue its thick display bezels and flat display give away its status as being closer to a mid-ranger than to a flagship. For me, the phone feels like what it is: a bold statement from Google. Each of those aspects of the phone are a part of that bold statement. After five years of Pixel devices, Google is finally ready to stop playing around with the idea of putting its stamp on smartphones and start to actually put its stamp on smartphones.

The Pixel 6 is a bold statement from Google.

There’s obviously a lot more we need to talk about here. The software, the camera quality, and especially the Google Tensor processor need to be examined in-depth to give a full idea of what this phone can do. Aesthetically, though, the Google Pixel 6 is likely to be a love-it-or-hate-it affair for most buyers. That’s a good thing, too, because Google’s been playing it safe for way too long now.

google pixel 6 press image sorta seafoam
Google Pixel 6
The more affordable Pixel
The Google Pixel 6 features a 6.4-inch FHD+ display and runs on the all-new Google Tensor SoC. It has an upgraded camera system, exclusive software features, and offers some of the best hardware Google has ever produced.

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