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Google Pixel 6 second opinion review: Imperfectly wonderful
Google’s Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro turn a new page for the company’s smartphone hardware ambitions. The Big G isn’t completely leaving behind its affordable flagship experiment — the Pixel 6 is one of the best value for money options available — but with the slightly more expensive Pixel 6 Pro, Google is returning to the premium tier and catering to the enthusiast market as well.
I’ve had the pleasure of taking both phones for a spin over the past few weeks. They’re certainly more alike than not, but they do exist with slightly different buyers in mind. The Google Pixel 6 Pro is, obviously, the definitive edition of Google’s latest vision, but the Pixel 6 isn’t as far behind as the price tag might imply.
Both models already earned Android Authority’s coveted Editor’s Choice award, which tells you just how popular these phones are around the office. But how do the little details fair after a few weeks of use and which of the two should you spend your money on? Stick with our Google Pixel 6 review second opinion to find out.
New design, both inside and out
If you’re bored of the same old look and smartphones with frankly stagnant aesthetics, the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro are the breath of fresh air you’ve been waiting for. Not just in terms of the funky new colorways — Android 12 also marks a major departure from the look and feel of Android OS’s gone by. I’d rate these two alongside the Oppo Find X3 Pro as the best-looking phones of the year, and I’d lean towards giving the Pixel 6s the trophy.
If you're bored of the same old look, the Pixel 6 series is the breath of fresh air you've been waiting for.
The horizontal camera housing stands out from the crowd and the Pixel 6 Pro’s polished alloy frame adds to the premium look. Not everyone likes curved display edges but they work for me on this one, owing to the Pro’s gargantuan size. The regular Pixel 6 has straight edges with a tactile alloy frame that makes the phone feel fatter. It looks boxier and a bit cheaper too — think Galaxy S20 FE and you’re in the right area.
While these phones are so much better looking than previous Pixels, they aren’t without some caveats. The protruding camera housing collects dust and is easy to dent. The Pixel 6 Pro’s huge 6.7-inch size and glass back also makes it incredibly slippery, verging on completely unusable in one hand. Despite Google opting for Corning’s latest with Gorilla Glass Victus on the front, back, and camera module, I’m not sold on the scratch resistance specifically of the cover glass. The Pixel 6 Pro picked up a long, albeit surface-level scratch sitting alone in my trouser pocket on the second day of use (you can see this and the dusty camera module in the photos below). The build quality is fine but not exceptional. I’d suggest you buy a nice case.
The Pixel 6 looks great but the hardware has a few small issues.
The speakers are rich and loud, but fairly bottom-heavy, making it easy to muffle the phone’s sound when held landscape. Then there’s the in-display fingerprint scanner. I don’t like it, I don’t hate it, but it’s definitely not the polished experience you might expect from a flagship phone — a feeling echoed by much of our team. Reading times are slow compared to the Pixel 5’s rear capacitive scanner and the Samsung Galaxy S21’s ultrasonic in-display model. The optical nature also results in a blinding bright flash when unlocking your phone at night. Google is already addressing this via software updates, but Google definitely needs to file this one in the “please fix for the Pixel 7” drawer.
Still, the punchy Kinda Coral and Sorta Seafoam colorways for the Pixel 6 are a delightful option to have. I’d like even more variety though, especially for the Pixel 6 Pro that comes in just Stormy Black, Cloudy White, and Sorta Sunny. Although I must say that Cloudy White is a timelessly good look.
Color customization is at the heart of Android 12 too, where Google’s Material You marks a major aesthetic departure from Android 11. Color extraction pulls out the key colors from your wallpaper and applies them across the OS, widgets, and supported apps, as seen below. You can override this option if you like, but it’s quite a nice way to keep your phone feeling fresh.
Other redesigned elements include the bubbly-looking Quick Settings tiles and a lot more white space in the Settings menu. These changes look better on the large screens of the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro than they do on the smaller Pixel 5. Re-design aside, if you’ve used Android before, all the familiar goodies are still here — a lot of it just looks different. There’s a bunch of new features too, which you can read all about at the link below.
Read more: Everything you need to know about Android 12
Overall, Android 12 is as feature-packed as ever and more customizable than before, although it’s a bit finicky in places. Navigating the settings menu to enable features like Bubbles and Live Translate is increasingly labyrinth-like, and I’m not sure why these aren’t on by default. I’ve also experienced random screen locking and broken Quick Setting tiles when rotating the screen, so Android 12 is not entirely bug-free at the moment either.
The fresh look might not be to everyone’s taste, but Google likes it enough to offer three years of OS and five years of security updates for the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro. That’s the best in the Android business, if not quite as robust an update roadmap as some had been hoping for, and it’s still some way behind Apple.
The debut of Google Tensor
Of course, the other major newly designed element with the Pixel 6 series is the Google Tensor processor. Co-designed with Samsung, the processor sports a novel Arm-based CPU layout and an external Samsung 5G modem, alongside Google’s integrated in-house machine learning and Titan M2 security smarts. You’ll find exactly the same features and performance in both the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro. Although the Pixel 6 is backed by 8GB rather than the Pro’s 12GB of RAM, this makes no discernable difference outside of extreme multitasking situations, which I never encountered during my testing.
We’ve already covered the deeper specs elsewhere — suffice to say that the Google Tensor performs every bit as well as you’d expect from a flagship processor. Sporting two Cortex-X1 powerhouse CPU cores and a 20-core Mali-G78 graphics arrangement, there’s more than enough performance on offer here for your more demanding smartphone use cases. The phone also offers exceptional battery life, which has been a concern in Pixel generations gone by. The Pixel 6 Pro took me through a full day of web browsing, video watching, and a spot of photography with some battery to spare, as did the regular Pixel 6, although neither was quite a two-day device for me.
If you’re interested in benchmarks, results come in somewhere around the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 and Samsung Exynos 2100 for single-core CPU scores, but closer to the previous generation for multi-core. Graphics-wise, the hefty GPU core count sees it outperform other 2021 flagship chipsets, depending on the workload.
The Google Tensor performs every bit as well as you'd expect from a flagship processor.
I have noticed the Pixel 6 become a little warm during 5G downloads and while recording 4K 60fps video. A stress test benchmark reveals that the phone fails to sustain peak graphics performance for as long as other leading smartphones. However, this won’t be a factor in most titles as a stress test is far more demanding than most gaming workloads. I didn’t notice any lag or slowdowns when playing Call of Duty: Mobile for half an hour, for example. But this may be something to consider if you play the most demanding mobile games for prolonged periods of time.
Of course, there’s more to a modern chipset than just performance, and Google Tensor is packed with machine learning and security components that have some tangible effects on the user experience. For starters, the Pixel 6 sports faster and more accurate text-to-speech translation and speed-to-text recognition. Live Translate also offers real-time conversion without the aid of cloud services.
Google’s machine learning smarts extend to the camera’s image signal processor, with HDR+, Night Sight, Magic Eraser, and more running on the chip to touch up your photos (more at that in the next section). If you’re big into Google’s voice features through Google Assistant and snapping pics, then you’ll be making the most of the Tensor chip’s capabilities. If not, there are plenty of other great high-performance phones out there too and I certainly wouldn’t buy this phone just for Google’s semi-custom silicon.
Google Tensor is a fine chip but the lack of 5G mmWave makes it less future-proof than some.
The Google Tensor SoC is paired with an external Samsung Exynos 5123 modem for 4G and 5G networking capabilities. Other chipsets offer integrated modems for improved efficiency. The only way to lay hands on blazing-fast mmWave capabilities is if you buy the Pixel 6 Pro in the US or the Pixel 6 directly from AT&T or Verizon. In the latter case, the Pixel 6 comes with an extra $100 premium on top. All other carriers and buyers of any Pixel 6 device in Europe are out of luck.
Related: The best 5G phones you can buy
While unlikely to be a dealbreaker for many, especially as mmWave signal availability is so limited, it’s a point worth considering if you plan to keep the phone for Google’s full five-year anticipated lifespan. By then mmWave will be more of a thing, and flagship phones from Apple, Samsung, and others are more future-proof in this regard. However, the $100 hike for the Pixel 6 will be hard to stomach for most, even if the Pixel 6 is still well-positioned against the competition even with the raised $699 asking price.
In terms of speeds on the sub-6GHz model, I tested London’s spotty coverage and hit fiber-level speeds of about 80Mbps down. Believe me, that’s pretty good for the UK but the phone did get quite warm during the download session.
What about those cameras?
You can’t review Pixels without taking a close look at the cameras and I’ve used them extensively over the past few weeks. Google has finally upgraded its camera hardware this generation, opting for a much larger main image sensor and improved ultra-wide snapper. Google’s Pixel 6 Pro sees even more upgrades, with a 4x optical zoom lens and a new selfie camera to boot. Combining Google’s machine learning smarts with some much-needed new camera hardware has produced the company’s best camera package to date, particularly in the 6 Pro. However, there are some caveats.
As far as image quality goes, the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro hammer home excellent white balance, exposure, and colors that offer just a little bit more saturation than in previous years. However, daylight pictures, extreme HDR, and general details don’t really look any different from last year’s Pixel 5. Those who had been expecting a major upgrade to general image quality may be left somewhat unsatisfied here — although the Pixel 5 was a fine shooter in daylight anyway and the Pixel 6 is equally great.
We spot more meaningful improvements over Google’s predecessor when it comes to low-light photography. While still heavily reliant on Night Sight for shooting in the dark, the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro provide cleaner-looking pictures, with less noise and much richer details in tricky conditions. The handsets’ portrait mode is also a step up, providing improved skin textures and tones along with lovely looking bokeh blur that’s correctly applied most of the time. Likewise, the Pixel 6 Pro, with its new 4x zoom camera, is competitive with the best in the business when it comes to medium and even long-range photography, thanks to Google’s Super Res Zoom algorithms. Its selfie camera is also marginally improved on the Pixel 5 and Pixel 6, particularly in lower lighting conditions.
The Pixel 6's camera is a little too close to the Pixel 5. It's the Pro model you'll want for a bigger upgrade.
By comparison, the ultra-wide-angle lens is a disappointment. While offering improved dynamic range and colors over the Pixel 5, it’s still quite noisy in lower light and suffers from noticeable lens distortion when shooting against bright light. If you regularly reach for the ultra-wide snapper, I’d probably look for a better camera phone. I’ve also noticed the odd ugly texture detail, and Google’s algorithms are a little heavy on the sharpening. Google’s camera package doesn’t always hold up brilliantly on very close inspection.
Still, the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro — particularly the latter — take some absolutely excellent snaps, as I think you’ll agree from our gallery above. If you’re big into portrait mode, the Pixel 6 is a great choice and the Pixel 6 Pro is even better if you love to zoom in. Overall, I’d certainly rate it above the iPhone 13 Pro Max, unless you’re seriously into videography where Apple still has the edge.
See more pics: Google Pixel 6 Pro camera shootout vs Apple and Samsung
However, I’m not convinced Google’s flagship camera setup is quite as versatile as Samsung’s Galaxy S21 Ultra. Although it costs $300 extra and doesn’t always take the better snap, Samsung’s flagship provides low light, ultra-wide, and zoom capabilities that are just a little more consistent than Google’s Pixel 6 Pro. Despite all that, any of these devices are an excellent pick for documenting your life and the Pixel 6 stands out as a particular bargain for a general-purpose camera.
Google Pixel 6 vs Pixel 6 Pro: The little details count
There are a few other quality of life differences between the flagship Pixel 6 Pro and the less expensive Pixel 6. For starters, the former offers an adaptive 120Hz QHD+ display and the latter a locked 60/90Hz FHD+ resolution version. Both displays look great and are perfectly crisp. The Pixel 6 Pro perhaps looks a fraction smoother when scrolling, but the regular Pixel 6 offers most of the same experience.
The Pixel 6 Pro also supports ultra-wideband technology, which the Pixel 6 does not. Use cases are niche at the moment, so again this isn’t a feature I’d feel compelled to buy the Pro model for. The Pro, however, does offer a larger 512GB storage option, should you need that much space.
Day to day, the Pixel 6 offers 90% of the Pro's experience for a fraction of the price.
These are small differences, and the phones have a lot more in common. Both sport an IP68 dust and water resistance rating, Bluetooth 5.2, Wi-Fi 6E, and fast wireless charging via the new Pixel Stand. There’s a small technical difference here, with the Pixel 6 offering 21W versus the Pro’s 23W, but this will make a marginal if any difference to charge times.
Speaking of charging, the two phones also move over to USB Power Delivery PPS fast charging. Although Google recommends using its new 30W adapter, both phones actually only draw 22W peak power, so you can get away with a lower power third-party charger. Unfortunately, both phones suffer from quite slow charge times, taking just under two hours to go from empty to full. The smaller battery in the Pixel 6 charges a bit faster but only by mere minutes. Neither phone comes with a charger in the box, so if you’re looking for a new plug, check out our guide below.
Google Pixel 6 review second opinion: Getting closer to perfection
Google’s Pixel 6 and 6 Pro are two very good smartphones, although rarely have I used handsets that are so equal parts exciting and imperfect. For everything these two do right, there’s almost certainly a caveat. The new cameras are great, the ultra-wide shooter not so much. I love the displays, but the fingerprint scanner is finicky. And while the design looks amazing, the Pixel 6 Pro is more slippery than a Teflon politician.
Overall, I like both of them and when it comes to value for money you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better buy than the Google Pixel 6. At $599 it’s more affordable than the Samsung Galaxy S21 ($799) and OnePlus 9 ($729) yet feels every bit as good to use and will receive updates for the next five years. If you’re after a flagship-tier phone that won’t break the bank, the Pixel 6 is it.
Google's Pixel 6 is an absolute bargain and the Pro isn't far off the mark either.
Perhaps the tougher question is whether the Pixel 6 Pro is worth the $300 extra. Despite a number of specification differences, the only real tangible improvements, in my experience, are with the camera’s zoom and the finer aspects of the Pro’s physical design. The Pixel 6 Pro certainly looks and feels a bit more premium in the hand, putting it aesthetically closer to top-tier iPhone and Galaxy territory. That said, the phone’s fingerprint scanner, lack of global mmWave, and the iffy ultra-wide camera shouldn’t command the same price as Apple’s and Samsung’s best. So it’s a good job the Pixel 6 Pro is $899 and not $1,000 plus, but even then I’d only recommend it over the regular Pixel 6 for those who are quite picky when it comes to design and photography.
Personally, I’m learning to love the Google Pixel 6 Pro, warts and all. Despite its flaws, it’s my favorite phone to use this year thanks to its unique design and powerful camera setup. Yet while the smaller Pixel 6 doesn’t have quite the same technological wow factor, it’s an unbelievably good buy for those looking to spend a more reasonable sum on a very capable, dependable smartphone.