Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro review: Google’s new smartphones take on the best Android smartphones of 2021 – Mark Kavanagh
I was super excited to get the opportunity to test both the Google Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro as the new smartphones are the high-spec devices that Pixel fans have been waiting for.
This review covers both handsets as the differences are minimal and it is based on a couple of weeks’ use.
I’m still testing the smartphones but so far I’ve been impressed with my experiences with them.
Ultimately, this is a complete reboot of the Pixel line.
I was a huge fan of the heavily criticised Pixel 4XL ‘flagship’ and used it every day for months. Google followed that with a mid-range device Pixel 5 that went in a completely different direction.
Now the tech behemoth has taken another shift in approach and delivered two handsets with a completely new design and a unique processor.
Some observers have dubbed the Pixel 6 Pro the company’s first proper flagship although I would class Pixel 4XL in that category.
I’d compare the way these devices are pitched to the OnePlus 9 Series. Pixel 6 competes against the OnePlus 9 and has a similar spec sheet and price point, coming in at €649.
While Pixel 6 Pro competes against OnePlus 9 Pro with high-end specs such as the 120Hz QHD+ display for €899.
Design and build
The standout design feature is the unique camera bar which I think looks fantastic but that’s obviously a subjective view.
One clear fact to emerge from early use is that the phone does not wobble when placed on a table – for example, when trying to text.
This can be an almost impossible task on some phones with camera bumps placed on just one half of the phone’s rear.
Pixel 6 has the toughest Gorilla Glass Victus protection on the front but uses the slightly older Gorilla Glass 6 protection on the rear.
Whereas the Pro model has Victus on both front and back.
The 6 Pro has a tactile alloy frame that looks and feels more premium than the polished alloy frame used on Pixel 6.
This is one of the areas where the phones differ in a substantial way.
Both handsets use a 50MP Quad Bayer primary wide angle sensor with a large 1/1.31in sensor, large 1.2µm pixel width and f/1.85 aperture. It has an 82-degree field of view.
The phones employ pixel binning to combine four pixels into one. This delivers consistently brilliant 12.5MP resolution images in my experience so far. Consistency has always been an appealing factor in Pixel cameras.
From my initial tests I would rate this shooter as one of the two best smartphone cameras currently available, alongside iPhone 13 Pro.
It can capture more light than a lot of other smartphone cameras. In some lower light conditions, I have found it actually outperforms the iPhone.
The Pixel handsets also share the same 12MP ultrawide camera which has no autofocus but delivers pleasing images consistently. The lack of autofocus means you won’t be using it for macro shots.
The ultrawide has an f/2.2 aperture, large 1.25 µm pixel width and 114-degree field of view.
Both phones feature an LDAF (laser detect auto focus) sensor.
Pixel 6 Pro boasts an extra rear lens, a 48MP telephoto with a 1/2.0in sensor, 0.8 µm pixel width and an f/3.5 aperture. It is capable of 4x optical zoom and delivers crisp images with plenty of detail. The telephoto camera has optical image stabilisation too.
The Pro has also got an 11.1MP selfie camera with a slightly narrower aperture than the 8MP front camera on Pixel 6. Neither of these shooters has autofocus.
The 6 can capture 4K video on the rear camera but caps out at full HD video on the selfie camera so it’s not going to have huge appeal for vloggers. Pixel 6 Pro’s front camera can shoot 4K video at up to 60fps.
One of the key areas that the firm has been pushing is that its combination of hardware, software and artificial intelligence represents different skin tones more accurately.
The camera software also includes a new Magic Eraser tool. This allows users to remove unwanted objects or people from the background of photos. It’s not perfect but it is fun and will no doubt be a talking point. It’s not a uniquely Pixel feature, it’s part of the Google Photos app in Android 12 which other brands will be introducing in the coming months.
Another new Android 12 feature is Motion Mode which can simulate Action Pan photos with movement or long exposure effects like blurred water.
In everyday use so far, I have found the Tensor chip combined with the Android 12 OS delivers a fluid and zippy experience.
Tensor is a custom-developed SoC (system on a chip) that’s the world’s first to feature two Cortex-X1 big cores in its processor rather than one.
The SoC also sports two Cortex-A76 cores mid cores and four Cortex-A55 for the least power-hungry tasks.
Benchmark tests that I have carried out indicate that neither phone is as fast as the year’s most capable Android devices which I compared it to: OnePlus 9 Pro, OPPO Find X3 Pro, ASUS ZenFone 8 Flip and ASUS Rog Phone 5.
The phones do get warm when used for gaming.
Pixel 6 Pro has 12GB of LPDDR5 RAM compared to the Pixel 6’s 8GB LPDDR5 RAM and while the extra RAM does deliver better benchmark scores, I don’t think the average user will notice the boost in everyday use. Both photos are more than capable for multitasking and intensive gaming.
Google’s new Titan M2 security chip is in both smartphones, and the firm said it will help protect users from phishing attacks and other security threats.
Google’s new Material You design on the Android 12 OS is a refreshing change that enables you to customise your handset to your own unique look using a colour scheme and theme based on the wallpaper you choose.
I love the Always-on display (which differs depending on your chosen wallpaper and theme) and includes Now Playing information.
There are lots of improvements and enhancements on the new OS.
Exclusive to the Pixel 6 series is Live Translate, the ability to translate text as you type. Translation is handled on the device rather than in the cloud.
This means the Pixel handsets can convert whatever you are writing into 48 other languages (including English, French, German, Italian and Japanese) instantly.
The phones can also translate messages that someone sends to you. They can detect when text in a chat app, such as WhatsApp or Snapchat, is in a different language to your own native language and will offer a translation.
The feature should come in handy for chatting with friends from other parts of the world who have a different mother tongue and might not understand all the nuances of your language.
Live Translate should also prove useful when travelling, especially to somewhere with limited WiFi and mobile data connectivity.
Google Assistant smarts are at their best on these devices.
When you get an incoming call, just say ‘accept’ or ‘decline’ without having to say Hey Google.
This is similar to the way you could say just ‘stop’ or ‘snooze’ for alarms and timers.
But I am saying this as a tech reviewer and the differences may not be as noticeable to an average user who won’t have both devices to make comparisons with.
The Pixel 6 has a 6.4in FHD+ screen with a 90Hz refresh rate display, while the Pixel 6 Pro sports a larger 6.7in QHD+ screen with a 120Hz refresh rate and clever LTPO tech that aids battery life.
They both have a 20:9 aspect ratio and support HDR.
They are fantastic screens on which to binge an Amazon Prime or Disney+ series.
Google has boasted 24-hour battery life is possible on both devices but that depends on what you are using them for.
It’s too early to accurately assess battery stamina (from my experience that takes a couple of weeks) but I’ve not been disappointed with the endurance on either phone so far.
However, neither handset’s power pack has yet lasted as long as the current battery king, iPhone 13 Pro Max.
Recharging is with USB-C and the phones support up to 30W fast charging and wireless charging.
I was surprised that neither device has a face unlock security feature.
But I am happy with the superfast and accurate fingerprint sensors they use.
They also have WiFi 6E, Bluetooth 5.2, NFC, dual SIM trays and decent stereo speakers.
Storage on my review units was 128GB (of UFS 3.1) but there are 256GB models available.
Google said the phones will get five years of software support but this does not cover all software for the devices. What you are getting is five years of security patch updates, with three major OS updates (up to Android 15) along the way.
So the firm is not future-proofing the devices for as long as Apple does with iPhone and iPad.
The big question a lot of potential customers will be asking is whether the Pro model is worth the extra €250.
For your money, you get an extra rear camera with 4x optical zoom, better selfie camera with 4K video, 50 per cent more RAM, a more durable and premium build and a slightly larger and higher resolution screen with a faster refresh rate display.
In my opinion, that package of extras makes it well worth the price.
But I’m someone who tests new phones all of the time, a power user who wants the best specs and maximum performance.
I think the average consumer will love Pixel 6 and won’t miss the additional features that the Pro models carries.
And I believe Google knows this too, which is why the Pixel 6 is available in all Vodafone stores but the Pixel 6 Pro can only be purchased online.
Pricing and availability
Google Pixel 6 comes in Sorta Seafoam, Kinda Coral and Stormy Black colour options and is available for free from Vodafone Ireland (online and in store) with RED Unlimited Max tariff and for €649.99 on PAYG. It is also available SIM-free for €649.99 from Google Store for the 128GB/8GB model.
Google Pixel 6 Pro comes in Sorta Sunny, Cloudy White and Stormy Black colours and is available exclusively from Google Store from €899.00 for the 128GB/12GB model.