Google’s cut-throat Pixel 6 is a force to be reckoned with
- Great price
- Astonishing cameras (again)
- Tensor chipset makes a strong first impression
- Odd design
- Disappointing battery life
- No face unlock or microSD slot
There isn’t much that wasn’t already leaked about the Google Pixel 6 prior to launch, but here’s confirmation of one key fact. Somehow undercutting all of this year’s high-end flagship launches so far, the Pixel 6 is an absolute bargain with very few compromises.
Appearing alongside the more expensive Pixel 6 Pro, the regular Pixel 6 is still what Google is calling its “premium tier” Pixel for 2021. Weirdly, it also says it’s a phone that has “just the right amount of everything”, but that really doesn’t do the Pixel 6 justice.
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Google Pixel 6 review: What you need to know
That’s because, despite the price, the Pixel 6 doesn’t lack key features. The flag-bearer for the newest version of Google’s mobile operating system, Android 12, the Pixel 6 is as good as it gets. It’s filled to the brim with flagship trappings, with a handful of one-of-a-kind extras dotted along the way.
The most important thing to note is that the Pixel 6 is the very first handset to be powered by Google’s in-house Tensor chipset. Ditching Qualcomm and avoiding Exynos and Kirin, Tensor promises a handful of performance and efficiency improvements over last year’s mid-range Snapdragon 765G, and it represents a bold new future for Google.
The company is again focusing its efforts on strengthening the Pixel’s camera capabilities. The rear camera is now a 50MP affair (up from 12.2MP), complemented by a 12MP ultrawide unit and a 12MP selfie snapper on the front. The camera’s new “Magic Eraser” tool now allows you to remove objects and people from the image just by circling them in the edit, too.
Elsewhere, the Pixel 6’s 6.4in AMOLED display is slightly larger this year, supporting a maximum 90Hz refresh rate and HDR10+ playback. It comes with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of internal storage as standard, and while there’s also supposed to be a 256GB option, this doesn’t seem to be available to buy in the UK at the time of writing.
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Google Pixel 6 review: Price and competition
There’s no doubt that the Pixel 6’s killer feature is its cut-throat price. Starting at just £599 for the 128GB version (I don’t yet have prices for the elusive 256GB model), the Pixel 6 is remarkably cheap. Put it next to the iPhone 13 (£779) and Samsung Galaxy S21 (£769) and I’m sure you’ve already made your mind up.
But you should put your wallet back in your pocket for just a second. There’s also the Pixel 6 Pro to consider, which adds a slightly larger (6.71in), 120Hz display into the mix, with a boosted resolution (3,120 x 1,440) alongside a third 48MP 4x optical zoom camera and a bigger battery. You get all this extra stuff for £250 more (£849).
At the other end of the price scale, there’s the Pixel 4a, which at just £299 is half the price of the Pixel 6. It’s an older phone and it doesn’t share the Pixel 6’s high-end features (it lacks 5G, for a start), but the Pixel 4a is a strong contender if money is tight.
Google Pixel 6 review: Design and key features
The Pixel 6 looks up to snuff and isn’t all that different in size compared with the Pixel 6 Pro, with a screen that’s a mere 0.3in smaller. Of course, this means that it’s still a gigantic slab of a handset – measuring 159 x 75 x 8.9mm (WHD) – and it’s not the lightest of phones, either, tipping the scales at 207g.
I’m not sure everyone will get on with the whacking great “camera bar” that stretches across the full width of the phone and adds a considerable amount of thickness, but everything else about the Pixel 6 feels suitably high end.
There’s glass at the front and rear, which is quite a departure from the recent plastic-bodied Pixel phones, and both panels are constructed from Corning’s toughest phone glass yet: Gorilla Glass Victus. There’s also IP68 dust and water resistance, as well as an optical under-screen fingerprint reader in a change from the rear-mounted fingerprint sensor of recent Pixels.
On that note, the Pixel doesn’t support face unlocking for the second year running. I’m sure there’s method to Google’s madness, but at a time when we’re already familiar with throwing our phones up to our faces to unlock them, its absence feels strange.
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Elsewhere, the Pixel 6’s wired charging speeds have been upped to 30W, delivering 50% of charge in just 30 minutes. Wireless charging has also doubled to 21W, and the Pixel 6 supports reverse wireless charging. As for colours, at launch the Pixel 6 comes in Stormy Black (pictured here), Kinda Coral and Sorta Seafoam.
Google Pixel 6 review: Display
Like its predecessor, the Pixel 6’s AMOLED display has a variable refresh rate of up to 90Hz, with a resolution of 2,400 x 1,080 and support for HDR10+ content. It’s larger in size, though, measuring 6.4in from corner to corner to the Pixel 5’s 6in. The notch-placed selfie camera cutout now sits in the middle of the screen, switching positions from the top-left corner of the previous phone.
In terms of colour performance, the Pixel 6 is near faultless. With a measured Delta E (colour accuracy) of 1.73 in sRGB with the phone’s Natural display setting selected, colours looked pretty much bang on, with only a few minor inconsistencies in some greyscale tones. Switch over to the Adapted or Boosted display modes and these dial up the colour saturation to a considerable degree.
The Pixel 6’s screen gets plenty bright in sunny conditions, too, reaching a peak luminance of 490cd/m² with a torch aimed at its ambient light sensor and the phone’s auto-brightness setting switched on. It doesn’t lack brightness when viewing HDR10+ material, either, hitting a peak of 758cd/m², which is 13% brighter than last year’s model.
Google Pixel 6 review: Performance and battery life
Perhaps the most intriguing upgrade to this year’s Google phones is the least visible. Inside the Pixel 6 resides the first Google-produced processor: the Google Tensor. This is an octa-core part that looks similar in makeup to the Snapdragon 888. Built on a 5nm manufacturing process, it has a pair of 2.8GHz ARM-X1 cores for running high-performance jobs, two “medium” 2.25GHz ARM A76 cores and four low-power ARM A55 efficiency cores running at 1.8GHz.
According to Google, Tensor delivers “up to 80% more performance than Pixel 5”, which runs on a Snapdragon 765G. In typical Google fashion, the search giant says its AI features enable better performance across a slew of machine-learning-specific tasks.
These include the ability to do on-the-fly translation, the “most advanced speech recognition ever” – complete with the ability to insert punctuation – and a handful of clever new computational photography tricks for the camera. You can now remove distracting objects and features, such as overhead electrical cables or people in the background, from photos in post with a dab of the finger. More on this new feature in a bit.
While this isn’t something I can test, Google is also promising a boost to security, thanks to a dedicated “Tensor Security Core” that works in tandem with the Titan M2 security chip to protect your PINs and passwords.
What I can test, however, is whether the Pixel 6 lives up to Google’s lofty performance claims. Running the Geekbench 5 test, which scores both single- and multicore CPU performance, the Pixel 6 scored 1,031 and 2,843 respectively. Compare those figures to the Pixel 5 and we’re looking at a roughly 75% increase in raw speeds.
So how does Tensor compete with the competition? Looking at the comparison, single-core speeds are matched with the Snapdragon 888 and Exynos 2100, but Qualcomm and Samsung’s top-end mobile chipsets both outperform Google’s in regards to multi-core processing. The Apple A15 Bionic found inside the iPhone 13 is still top dog in both metrics.
The Pixel 6 also gets a significant leg up when it comes to gaming. In the GFXBench onscreen Manhattan 3 test, the Pixel 6 achieved an average frame rate of 79fps, which, if you take a look at the graph below, is almost three times faster than last year’s phone. Blimey.
On the other hand, battery life isn’t the Pixel 6’s strong suit. Lasting just a bit longer than the Pixel 6 Pro, the regular model topped out at just 18hrs 34mins in our video-rundown test, which represents a stamina decrease of 19% compared to 2020’s Pixel 5 (22hrs 54mins). You’ll be charging the phone more often, which is a shame.
Google Pixel 6 review: Software
It isn’t just the hardware that’s seen a significant overhaul. The Pixel 6 also comes with Android 12, which brings with it a radically updated look and feel, courtesy of Google’s new “Material You” design language.
This sees new pastel colour-themes and revamped pull-down menu icons, alongside a host of other new features. The most noticeable change in visuals is that when you change your wallpaper, certain icons will pick up on the overall colour tone and reflect that.
Other improvements within Android 12 include changes to widget settings, a one-handed mode and a new AppSearch feature. This allows you to search for stuff within an app in the phone’s settings menu, rather than launching the app itself.
Not only do you get all of these changes, but Google is also promising anyone buying a new Pixel 6 or Pixel 6 Pro five years of security updates. That’s a vast improvement on Google’s previous phones, with which it “only” promised three years of updates.
Google Pixel 6 review: Cameras
Like last year, the Pixel 6 has a dual rear camera setup, although this now consists of a 50MP main camera that captures 150% more light than before and a 12MP ultrawide camera. Note that the sensor on the main camera is a whopping 1/1.3in in size (bigger than the iPhone 13 Pro Max’s main camera sensor) and has pixels that are 1.2um wide.
This means that the Pixel 6 lacks the tertiary 4x telephoto zoom camera of the Pixel 6 Pro. The Pixel 6 does have a “2x” setting in the camera app, but this is simply a digital zoom and nothing more – if you want optical zoom, you’re going to have to pay an extra £250.
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The good news is that what you get for your money still sets the standard for the industry when it comes to smartphone photography. Detail capture has been seriously improved, capturing skin textures and wavy hair in portrait photos almost exactly as your eyes might see them. Skin tone is pleasingly neutral as well, and there’s a good amount of definition separating my subject from the artificial bokeh blur in the background.
The Pixel 6’s new “Face Unblur” feature also works tremendously well. When it detects a face in the frame while shooting in portrait mode, the ultrawide camera captures an image with a faster shutter speed than the primary lens as soon as you press the button. The Pixel 6 then combines the two pictures in an effort to reduce blur on a moving subject. Here’s the final image after telling my fiancée to spin around for a bit.
There’s also a lot to be said for the way you use the Pixel 6’s camera. Shutter delay is non-existent (the iPhone 12 Pro is painfully sluggish by comparison) and you can tap the shutter as many times as you want in quick succession without the Pixel 6 throwing a fit. The camera app is effortlessly simple to use, too.
I was impressed with the Pixel 6’s HDR implementation. At sunset with the camera facing towards the sun and my subject subsequently backlit, the Pixel 6 did a superb job at dimming the light and cutting through the shade without introducing too much visual noise. As you can see from the picture below, however, lens flare is still a bit of an issue.
How about that Magic Eraser tool? In a word, it’s magic. If a stranger, overhead cable or lamppost is photobombing what would otherwise be an Insta-worthy picture, all you’ve got to do is edit the image, select Magic Eraser in the Tools section and draw an outline with your finger around what you want removed. The Pixel 6 then takes care of the rest in a couple of seconds.
It’s really quite effective at removing stuff, too. In the below examples, I’ve removed both a lamppost and a skyscraper, and while it’s not completely seamless – you can see some clues where they’ve been deleted – the Pixel 6 got rid of what I wanted rather well.
As ever, the Pixel smashes the competition when it comes to low-light images. Night Sight pictures lack the unnaturally warm tint provided by the iPhone 12 Pro, with subdued colours and plenty of detail even in really dark conditions. It’s also exceptionally fast at taking these pictures.
Finally, with the Pixel 6 you’re still getting 4K video at up to 60fps fully stabilised and footage is rock-steady with plenty of detail. However, I did notice some screen flickering when panning towards and away from sunlight, almost as if the Pixel 6 was struggling to decide which level of exposure to go for.
Google Pixel 6 review: Verdict
The Google Pixel 6 represents quite a departure from recent Pixel phone launches. Not only is it unashamedly premium in its design, but it costs the same amount as the Pixel 5 did at launch, is significantly faster and comes with improved cameras and a revamped UI.
At such a reasonable price and with such a tempting array of features, Google has a winner on its hands. Aside from the “love it or hate it” design, the only real fly in the ointment is the Pixel 6’s battery life, which comes in well under its competitors. But it’s hardly a deal-breaker at just under 20 hours.
If you can stomach the stamina hit and you’re after the (almost) best that Android can currently muster, Google’s Android-waving Pixel 6 is a firm choice that’s well worth the money.
|Google Pixel 6 specifications|
|Google Tensor (2×2.8GHz, 2×2.25GHz, 4×1.8GHz)|
|Screen resolution||2,40 x 1,080|
|Screen refresh rate||90Hz|
|Front camera||8MP (f/2.0)|
|Rear camera||50MP (f/1.9), 12MP (f/2.2) ultrawide|
|Dust and water resistance||IP68|
|3.5mm headphone jack||No|
|Wireless charging||Yes (21W)|
|USB connection type||USB-C|
|Storage options||128GB; 256GB|
|Memory card slot (supplied)||No|
|Cellular data||5G, 4G|
|Dimensions (WDH)||159 x 75 x 8.9mm|
|Operating system||Android 12|