Google Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro Review
- Great, distinctive design
- Standout cameras, especially on the 6 Pro
- Speed performance
- Battery life good but not exceptional
- Fingerprint scanner sometimes slow
What are the Google Pixel 6 and Google Pixel 6 Pro?
Google doesn’t just make Android, the software that almost every smartphone apart from the iPhone uses. Once or twice a year, Google also releases its own hardware, too, the Pixel series of phones. Recently, these have been affordable, mid-market handsets but this year Google has gone in another direction.
As the company puts it, this is the first time it has announced both a premium phone and a flagship phone at the same time. Both are still keenly priced (£599 and £849), so quite a lot less than most rivals at this level.
And Google has taken a leaf out of Apple’s book and built these phones using their own processors, for the first time.
Like earlier Pixel phones, there’s a big emphasis on software, with features Google is reserving for its own handsets, not other Android phones, like a quick way to delete photobombers from your latest shots.
And while Google Pixel phones have always excelled at photography, these phones, especially the Pro, take this to a new level.
The look of the Pixel 6 is distinctive and different from other phones. Not so much from the front, though the curved edges on the long sides so the screen slopes a little is different from most recent flagships. No, it’s when you turn it over that the phone is unmistakably a Pixel 6. The camera panel, usually a square, circle or oblong is here a wide, raised bar that stretches the full width of the phone. There are two cameras on the Pixel 6 and three – a first on a Pixel – on the Pixel 6 Pro.
... distinctive and different from other phones
There’s a small, glossy strip above it and a wide expanse below, in a slightly differently colour.
In the Stormy Black versions I’ve been testing, there’s a mid-grey top strip and a much darker grey for the rest of the phone, interrupted only by the Google G logo in black. Stormy Black is common to Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro.
The other colours are Sorta Seafoam and Kinda Coral on the Pixel 6 and Cloudy White and Sorta Sunny on the Pixel 6 Pro. Sorta Sunny is my favourite, an orange top bar at the top and milky yellow below the cameras. All look attractive and classy and the phones feel good in the hand, too – though the larger Pro may be too big for some. Still the curved edges make it easier to hold.
That said, the glass back, though very strong (Corning Gorilla Glass 6), can make the phone feel slippery when you’re holding it. So, even though this phone is cheaper than rival smartphones, you’re probably going to want to protect it in a case.
The Pixel 6 has a 6.4-inch display while the Pixel 6 Pro screen measures 6.7 inches. Both have OLED screens with adaptive refresh rates so that they are consistently a smooth experience. The Pixel 6 can refresh at up to 90Hz, while the Pro goes to 120Hz. You can turn off this dynamic refresh rate if you wish, but it works well.
Both phones look great, though the Pro is better: while the pixel density on the Pixel 6 is 411 pixels per inch, on the Pixel 6 Pro it’s 512ppi. This is about as high a resolution as you’ll find on a smartphone, higher than any iPhone, and really only beaten by phones like the Sony Xperia 1 III which has a 4K display.
Additionally, both have HDR support to make the right content look its best and offer high contrast levels and accurate colours.
The screens here are very bright, with a helpful autobrightness control that’s worth using so you’re not adjusting it. But this screen is easily bright enough to be easily readable in even strong sunlight.
The front-facing camera peers through a circular cut-out in the top of the screen. In previous Pixels this was at the top left, but here it’s centred, which looks better.
This is about as high a resolution as you’ll find on a smartphone
The fingerprint sensor – mounted on the back of the phone in earlier Pixels – is now found in the display itself. It’s in a good position too – on many phones, the under-screen scanner is placed too low to be found easily.
Rest your finger on the screen and it unlocks, though perhaps not quite as quickly as on some rival phones. In fact, the slow fingerprint unlock is one of very few times the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro are anything less than speedy.
Nowadays, when deciding which phone to buy, the camera is a crucial factor. Google has really amped up the pixel counts on the wide camera this time around, with a 50MP sensor on both phones. The ultra wide is a more modest 12MP, but with slightly bigger pixels on board.
The Pixel 6 Pro adds a telephoto camera with a 48MP sensor. The focal length is longer here than on most phones, the equivalent of 4x zoom of the wide camera.
And it really makes a difference: suddenly you can get in much closer when you’re at a distance, handy for wildlife or sports shots, for instance. It also has optical image stabilisation, as does the wide camera, so you can take steady shots even when you’re not feeling so steady, or when you’re on the move.
While some phones offer extensive advanced features (Sony is particularly good at this), many phone owners simply want to pull the phone from their pocket and take a picture – instantly and without effort.
The Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro are excellent point-and-shoot cameraphones, ready to go in an instant (just double-press the power button to be taken straight to the camera) and taking great shots with zero effort.
And just as important as the decent lenses and sensors is the software that powers the camera. Google, remember, used computational photography to create portrait images with bokeh effects from one lens when most manufacturers used two. Which wouldn’t have mattered if the results were poor, but they were excellent.
So, the features in this camera use software – and leverage the power of the Google Tensor processor – to deliver strong results.
Low light shots are strong, no mean achievement in itself and Night Sight, which brightens really dark scenes without resulting in artificial-looking shots, is as impressive as it was on last year’s Pixel 5.
... a quick way to delete photobombers
Magic Eraser is a neat innovation on Pixel 6 and 6 Pro. If that perfect picture is marred by someone who walked into shot at the wrong moment, you choose edit and Magic Eraser. The software is smart enough to guess exactly which element of the picture you’d like to change and if you agree, it’ll erase them instantly, and pretty effectively. If you zoom in too much you might be able to see some rough edges or shadows which now refer to someone who’s gone but, overall, the effect is good. If there’s some other part you’d like to tweak, rub that part of the picture with your finger and the phone will do the rest.
Then there’s Motion Mode, which is also creative. It lets you take long exposures and it’ll gently blur parts of it in ways that are often quite pleasing.
Software is also important in something called Real Tone. Skin tone is a tricky enough thing to get right but it seems that some phones tend to expose better for lighter skins, a result of algorithms as much as anything. Google says that it’s been able to ensure that all skin tones come across faithfully here, which can only be a good thing.
Like many cameras, the HDR capabilities here are terrific, making skies more dramatic without losing realism, adding enough shine to a regular British autumn day to make it look cheerful and inviting.
Video recording is good, with 4K recording at up to 60 frames per second on the rear camera on both phone models. The latest iPhone 13 Pro and Pro Max phones can do more with video, but this is a decent camcorder.
Overall, the subtle but effective manipulation of images here is outstanding, keeping Google’s reputation for photographic excellence intact and keeping it at the forefront of smartphone cameras, alongside the iPhone 13 Pro Max and Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra.
Google’s first-ever smartphone chip is the Tensor. It’s designed so that software and hardware are perfectly optimised to work together. But where Apple, which has used its own chips in its mobile devices more or less from the first iPad, has ensured year after year that its processors are the most powerful on the market, the Tensor is not quite the benchmarking leader. In Geekbench 5 scores, it’s behind several leading phones, but benchmarks never seem to have much to do with actual phone usage, in my experience.
... the slow fingerprint unlock is one of very few times the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro are anything less than speedy
The Tensor is very fast indeed, and the hardware never stalls or dawdles (that occasional fingerprint sensor issue aside), providing a highly enjoyable user experience, whatever you’re doing.
The Pixel 6 chip is 80 per cent faster than last year’s Pixel 5, which was a speedy phone itself. The advances here mean that if a text message arrives in a foreign language, the Live Translate feature instantly puts it into your preferred tongue, with one button press (and back again if you want to practise your Spanish, for instance).
The Pixel 6 and 6 Pro are both available in two storage capacities, 128GB and 256GB. It would have been good if there had been a 512GB option, on the Pro especially, or if there was the option to add a supplementary memory card. Google doesn’t make a habit of putting in a card slot for additional memory so this is no surprise, but a higher storage capacity, seeing as this is Google’s first flagship phone as it calls the Pro, would have been neat.
Still 256GB should be enough for most users. The 256GB models only come in certain colours, Stormy Black on Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro and Sorta Seafoam on the Pixel 6 only.
Android 12, the new software, comes installed on these phones and it looks great, with a clever system which applies colour settings throughout the phone interface, from icons to wallpapers to accents. It’s a cute extra. Google has said there will be three more software updates for this phone, so you’re good up to Android 15, and there’ll be five years of security updates, too.
The battery on the phone is good, lasting a full day on both models. If you really push the phone hard, you may struggle to see much juice left at bedtime, but average users should find there’s enough battery here.
It charges fast, but you need a fast charging plug to make the most of this, and note that, like Samsung and Apple, Google doesn’t put a charger in the box. There’s also wireless charging which inevitably is not as fast.
Google Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro Review
These are good-looking phones with a lot going for them and they show Google on a great path. Google’s return to making a premium phone instead of an affordable one is hugely welcome, especially since the pricing is still remarkably keen. The Pixel 6 at £599 is one of the best-value premium phones around and the Pixel 6 Pro at £849 is £200 cheaper than the iPhone 13 Pro Max.
Google’s cameras have always been good but these are head-and-shoulders above anything they’ve done before and in unison with impressive software are enough to put them in the top rank of cameraphones.
... head-and-shoulders above anything they’ve done before
Performance is very fast, only occasionally let down by a slowish fingerprint sensor, and battery life acceptable.
Altogether, the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro are not just Google’s best phones but among the best from any maker, and the dovetailing of software and hardware makes them the slickest Android phones yet.
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