The Pixel 6 Pro is substantially cheaper than the iPhone, so is it worth picking up instead?
- Serious performance boost
- Versatile cameras
- Cut-throat price
- Brutish design
- Disappointing battery life
Not content with just undercutting the competition with its temptingly priced Pixel 6, Google has released a second handset to mull over this year. As the flashy name suggests, the Pixel 6 Pro is a big flagship aimed firmly at the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra and the iPhone 13 Pro Max.
And just like its smaller counterpart, the Pixel 6 Pro comes in at a very reasonable price. At £849 for a flagship with all the latest must-have smartphone features, Google has clearly given up trying to match its rivals pound for pound and is now targeting the more cost-conscious smartphone user.
Google Pixel 6 Pro review: What you need to know
Keeping the price as low as possible is a good move by Google, but you’re not getting something that’s short on features. The Pixel 6 Pro is absolutely stacked, and it all starts with the screen. Not only does it have a larger 6.7in AMOLED display with more pixels than the Pixel 6 (1,440 x 3,120), but it also has an adaptive refresh rate of up to 120Hz, matching its two much pricier rivals.
The Pixel 6 Pro also shares Google’s own Tensor chipset with the regular model. A first from Google, this high-end CPU is an entirely different beast to the Qualcomm-made Snapdragon 765G it replaces and, architecturally speaking, it rubs shoulders with the very best in the business.
Camera-wise, you’re looking at a 50MP (f/1.9) main snapper, which is paired with a 12MP (f/2.2) ultrawide camera and a third 48MP (f/3.5) telephoto sensor with 4x optical zoom, the latter of which is only available on the Pro. As you might expect, it comes with Android 12 pre-installed, and Google now promises five years of OS updates with every purchase.
Google Pixel 6 Pro review: Price and competition
I might have spoiled the big surprise in my introduction, but the Pixel 6 Pro’s low price is easily its best attribute. Coming in at £849 for the 128GB model – an extra £100 (£949) doubles the internal storage to 256GB – the Pixel 6 Pro finds itself in an enviable position.
However, if you aren’t fussed about the third zoom camera and are willing to drop the screen resolution down to FHD+ at 90Hz, Google’s entry-level Pixel 6 takes the top spot for affordability. At just £599 (£250 less than the Pro), it’s the same price as last year’s Pixel 5 at launch, which is quite a surprise considering the hefty list of upgrades.
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Google Pixel 6 Pro review: Design and key features
It’s a more capable phone than the Pixel 6 then, but the Pro looks and feels largely the same. Just like its smaller stablemate, the Pixel 6 Pro is quite a lump and weighs 210g, but the bigger display means it feels a touch more unwieldy in the hand. Plus, with Gorilla Glass Victus on both the front and rear, it’s super slippery. In fact, you’d do well to pop it in a case straight away – you don’t want it sliding off a surface and smashing on the floor.
The Pixel 6 Pro also has the same ugly camera housing on the rear as the Pixel 6, which takes the form of a broad raised strip of black that runs the full width of the phone. It’s different, I’ll give it that, and perhaps the phone will look nicer in one of the brighter colourways – the grey model pictured here is dull, dull, dull – but it isn’t a patch on the elegance of the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra’s brushed metal camera housing or the glass surround on the iPhone 13 Pro Max.
Everything else about the Pixel 6 Pro is a pretty standard affair. It charges via USB-C, supporting speeds up to 30W (up from 18W last year), and can wirelessly charge via any Qi-compatible charger up to 23W. It’s IP68-rated against dust and water, and has an under-display fingerprint scanner (with no face unlock option).
Sadly, however, the 3.5mm headphone jack is sorely absent again, it lacks a microSD card slot, and there’s only enough space on the Pixel 6 Pro for a single nano-SIM.
Google Pixel 6 Pro review: Display
The Pixel 6 Pro’s AMOLED display is not only slightly bigger (6.71in), but it also refreshes at a maximum 120Hz, rather than 90Hz, with a boosted resolution to QHD+ (3,120 x 1,440). The screen is slightly curved around the left and right edges of the handset, and while this doesn’t really serve any practical benefit, there’s no denying that this is a swish look.
You can expect a standout screen in terms of colour performance. With three modes to choose from in the phone’s settings menu – Adaptive, Boosted and Natural – I found the Natural display profile to be the most colour accurate, with a Delta E of 0.9 when tested against sRGB. For the uninitiated, a colour difference score of less than one is pretty much as good as it gets, making it a great choice for on-the-go colour-sensitive picture- and video-editing jobs.
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The screen gets bright too, with a recorded maximum luminance of 820cd/m² when displaying HDR content. And with an effectively perfect contrast, there’s really nothing to fault here.
Google Pixel 6 Pro review: Performance, software and battery life
Performance-wise, we’re looking at broadly the same capabilities as the cheaper Pixel 6 with Google’s new own-brand processor, Tensor, taking the reins, albeit with 12GB of RAM instead of 8GB. The Tensor is an octa-core chip that looks similar in make-up to the Snapdragon 888. 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, this delivers performance that’s 80% faster than the Snapdragon 765G-powered Pixel 5, but the company is keener to shout about the chip’s machine-learning capabilities, which power a host of AI-based features. There’s improved speech recognition and instant translation of messages, while Tensor’s new image signal processor (ISP) enables a host of clever new features for the cameras (more on that later).
What about raw speeds? In the Geekbench 5 single- and multicore CPU tests, the Pixel 6 Pro scored 1,039 and 2,926 respectively, which brings it roughly in line with Google’s performance improvement claims. It’s not quite a match for the Galaxy S21’s Exynos 2100 processor, however, and the iPhone 13’s A15 Bionic chipset still takes the top spot, but where it counts the Pixel 6 Pro is as speedy as you’d ever need it to be.
It’s the same story with its gaming capabilities. Reaching an average frame rate of 83fps in the GFXBench Manhattan 3 onscreen benchmark, the Pixel 6 Pro is well suited for any game you might care to throw at it, and you might even be able to use that 120Hz screen to its full potential, too.
An area where the Pixel 6 Pro begins to stumble, though, is battery life. Lasting for just 17hrs 22mins in our video playback test, the Pixel 6 Pro’s 5,003mAh capacity battery clearly struggles to keep pace with its large, high-resolution display. As a point of comparison, last year’s Pixel 5 lasted five-and-a-half hours longer under the same conditions.
Of course, the Google Pixel 6 Pro also comes with Android 12 on board, complete with its new colourful “Material You” design language and homescreen widgets that pick up on and reflect the colour of the wallpaper beneath.
In a surprising move, Google is promising the Pixel 6 Pro will receive a full five years of security updates – that’s quite an upgrade on the Pixel 5, which only came with three.
Google Pixel 6 Pro review: Cameras
The Pixel 6 Pro also has the flagship-standard allocation of three cameras at the rear: one 50MP (f/1.85) main camera, a 12MP (f/2.2) ultrawide and a 48MP telephoto camera with an optical zoom of 4x. The latter can reach further using Google’s digital “Super Res Zoom” and isn’t present on the regular Pixel 6, but its 20x zoom can’t match the 100x “Space Zoom” of the S21 Ultra.
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The main camera, it’s worth noting, has a large 1/1.2in sensor, 1.2um pixels and is capable of capturing 150% more light than the main camera on the Pixel 5. It’s pretty darn good, in other words, especially in low light. Almost immediately, there’s a noticeable improvement in detail capture and sharpness, with the Pixel 6 Pro’s scenic images looking spectacular in practically every instance.
The Pixel 6 Pro’s low-light capabilities are astonishing. Whereas the iPhone 12 Pro’s night-time shots suffer from an orange tint, the Pixel’s have nothing of the sort: it boosts the brightness without unnaturally tweaking the colours, with very little visual noise.
The Pixel 6 Pro’s new ISP brings with it a list of new camera-specific additions. Among them is the Magic Eraser, which allows you to select and remove objects and people from images with the swipe of a finger. This works almost too well, and while you might see some evidence of smoothing if you zoom right into an image, the ability to remove stuff with zero effort without extra image-editing tools is incredibly useful.
Motion Mode also adds motion blur to photographs automatically when the AI algorithm detects if you’re panning, and can also turn moving water into a milky blur without the need for ND filters or a tripod. Meanwhile, Google says its new Real Tone feature is better at accurately capturing and reproducing skin tones than ever before.
The Pixel 6 Pro’s recording features are the same as last year, with capture topping out at 4K 60fps, fully stabilised. Footage looks as crisp and rock-steady as ever, and I have very few complaints – there’s a bit of HDR flicker when panning across a sunset scene, but this isn’t much of a problem.
Google Pixel 6 Pro review: Verdict
The Pixel 6 Pro is quite an upgrade. With an improved camera array – including that long-reach 4x telephoto – a more luxurious build, a bigger, better screen and faster performance than its predecessor, it’s nudging into ua-flagship territory and possesses all the necessary credentials to successfully challenge Samsung and Apple’s finests.
Better than this, though, is the price. At £849, the Pixel 6 Pro, like the regular Pixel 6, is a bit of a bargain. At this late stage in the year, I can’t see any flagship phone competing with it for affordability in 2021.