Tue. Jul 23rd, 2024

Google’s latest Pixel 6 phones are fun.

Just look at their design, both within and without: There’s the two-tone color scheme on back that seems as if it were pulled from an inspiration board filled with Starburst fruit chew hues. There’s that eye-catching rear camera module, now so fanciful and conspicuous as to be immediately iconic, which was likely the intended point. Their Gorilla Glass-sandwiched bodies are free from blemishes in the form of unsightly fingerprint sensors and front-facing notches. They’re impossibly thin yet rounded and smooth, and feel appropriately soft and light in hand as phones should be. They even run a version of Android that lets you carry that exterior color therapy right through to your icons, menus, and even some core apps.

The Googliest of Google phones.
Credit: molly flores / mashable

They’re also strangely intimate phones due to the way their kawaii-style customization and easy breezy artificially intelligent assistance forges a bond with the end user.

Oh, and did I mention that they’re priced to sell unlike other recent smartphone flagships? The base models of the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro start at $599 and $899, respectively.

Yes, the Mountain View-based search giant may have entered this smartphone arena before with many hardware firsts — the T-Mobile G1, Nexus One, and original Pixel all come to mind — but somehow this is the first true “Google phone.” With Tensor inside, Google’s in-house designed system on a chip (SoC), the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro aim to deliver a cheerful, top-down vision of how machine learning and AI can remove the friction from our increasingly digitally connected lives.

These Pixel phones hinge on the concept of convenience made “fun,” but is that enough to wean iPhone loyalists off of their blue bubbles and cause Samsung devotees to defect from their ever-expanding Galaxy?

Turning lewks

Google’s Pixel line is somewhat known for ushering in a limited-edition colorway for each successive flagship release, a tradition that goes all the way back to the Really Blue variant of the original phone. But somehow, this year’s Pixel 6 and 6 Pro have managed to make color less of a collector-focused impulse buy and more of a signature standard intended for everyone.

In keeping with the cheeky naming scheme of years past, Google’s giving users the option of Kinda Coral (pink) and Sorta Seafoam (green) on the Pixel 6, as well as Sorta Sunny (yellow) and Cloudy White on the Pixel 6 Pro. Both models also come in the more staid Stormy Black, if you prefer your phone to be all business and no fuss.

I mean, c’mon… they’re too freakin’ cute!
Credit: Molly flores / mashable

At 6.4-inches, the Pixel 6 is the more “manageable” handset of the duo, and its serviceable specs reflect that. The flat, 1080p display runs at 90Hz, much like the previous two flagship Pixels, and its Tensor chip is buffered by 8GB of RAM. For a real jump in quality, though, you have to consider the Pixel 6 Pro, with its huge 6.7-inch, 1440p display, 120Hz adaptive refresh rate, and 12 GB of RAM.

Storage-wise, both phones offer 128GB and 256GB options, with the 6 Pro adding an additional 512GB model so you can load it up with more photos and videos than you’ll remember taking.


What’s so great about Google Tensor? The new Pixel 6 chip, explained

On the network side, it’s no surprise that 5G is baked into both the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro as we’re now fast approaching the tail-end of 2021 and that technology is much less of a novelty than it once was. Keep in mind, however, that if you’re in the market for the faster mmWave 5G speeds, you’ll have to choose between the 6 Pro, and a special Verizon or AT&T variant of the Pixel 6.

Apart from that slight network difference, both the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro support WiFi 6E routers, wireless charging, as well as 30W fast-charging via USB-C. They’re also rated IP68 for dust- and water-resistance.

Finger that face

Without a notch on front for facial recognition nor a fingerprint reader on back, you may be wondering just how the Pixels 6 manage to bypass time-consuming (he said sarcastically) pin code entry for fancy phone unlocking. The answer? An in-display fingerprint sensor.

You never have to guess where the fingerprint sensor is with the always-on display.

After briefly abandoning the tech in favor of face unlock on the Pixel 4 (a feature I happily disabled for the duration of my ownership of the 4XL), Google wisely reintroduced fingerprint unlocking on the Pixel 5. Now, it’s back once again for the Pixels 6 but instead of occupying the traditional space on back where your pointer finger would normally rest, it’s hidden on the lower-third of the phones’ front face.

To use it, simply wake the display (or leave it in always-on mode) and you’ll find a circular onscreen prompt for your fingerprint. Once you place your finger down (whichever you happen to register and use), you’ll even see it briefly illuminate. But if your Pixel 6 experience is anything like mine, you may occasionally have to place your finger down a couple of times before it successfully verifies the print.

Place your finger and let it linger.

That said, I’ve found you can mostly avoid those false starts by letting your finger linger on the prompt for a bit longer than is intuitive. At least, that seemed to nearly remedy my hit-or-miss track record with it.

This software quirk is one of the rare issues that slows down what’s an otherwise reliably fast and fluid navigation experience (especially if you’re enjoying that silky smooth 120Hz refresh rate on the 6 Pro).

Free to be (Material) You and me

The smartphone realm has long divided its users into more or less two camps: you’re either #teamiPhone with its one-size-fits-all iOS approach or #teamAndroid due to the deeper level of customization. With Android 12, Google’s latest mobile operating system that’s making its debut on the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro, the search giant is leaning way into this personalization.

You may have heard the phrase “Material You” bandied about when discussing Android 12 and all you need to know is that it’s essentially the design language that defines the fast, fluid, colorful, and bubbly Pixel 6 interface.

Materially yours.

From the first moment you power on the Pixel 6 or 6 Pro and select your wallpaper, your phone will present you with a series of color palettes based on that choice to apply throughout the OS. This has the effect of unifying your Google app icons, notification panel, lockscreen, widgets, volume controls, as well as clock and calculator apps around a central color theme.

SEE ALSO: The best headphones for your Android devices

It may seem like an incredibly superfluous touch but it’s one that manages to transform the Pixel 6 or 6 Pro in your hand into something that feels like a partial reflection of you. Think back to your single-digit years; that time when the simple question — What’s your favorite color? — meant so much and how your response to that question also impacted your burgeoning identity.

Match your phone to your mood.
Credit: screenshot: joseph volpe / mashable

Material You on the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro is an evolution of that formative color identity. My favorite color for the past few years has been purple and I get to see that represented throughout my Pixel 6 Pro (the handset I’ve opted to use as a daily driver). You may think it’s silly, but it has a really endearing effect on my relationship to this piece of hardware.

I won’t go too into the weeds discussing everything Android 12 brings to the table but I will highlight some of the more notable features you’ll encounter on the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro below.

Lock it down

A focus on privacy is perhaps one of the least flashy ways to market a smartphone and its OS, but the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro are no slouches in this department. One of the neatest additions Android 12 brings to the table in this regard is in how it handles mic and camera permissions.

Whenever you’re using an app that needs to access either the camera or microphone, a green dot will appear in the upper-right corner of the display to indicate it’s active. If you then decide you want to restrict an app that’s running from using either one, you can easily pull down the notification pane and toggle that access on or off using dedicated buttons.

The colors you choose will even tint the calculator app.

You can go even further if you’d like and check out a full rundown of which apps have been using the camera and microphone, among other things, from the privacy dashboard. This can be accessed by navigating to Settings > Privacy > Privacy dashboard. Here, you’ll be greeted by a chart breaking down usage over the past 24 hours, as well as a list of which apps have accessed things like your location, calendar, call logs, contact, files, phone, texts, camera, microphone, and more. To toggle individual app permissions on or off, you just have to tap through the specific privacy category.

There’s also a new hub within settings that will analyze your account and device security, rate it, and even offer recommendations to beef it up.

When I first opened this, it alerted me to the fact that my Google account was still active on two devices I hadn’t used in years. I promptly clicked through and removed that access. So, thanks for that, Google.

Only on Pixel 6

Assisted living

You need only consider the Tensor chip powering the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro to know that these phones are Google’s not-so-covert shot at converting people (read: A.I. holdouts) into avid users of its Assistant.

The change Google made to the power button is the greatest evidence of this. No longer does a longpress of that button default to give you the option to power off or restart the phone. Nope. Instead, it triggers the Assistant and prompts you to say “power off” or “restart.” If you’re not down with telling your phone to shut down, you can also navigate to the notification pane to do it or hold the power button and volume up at the same time.

You’re not restricted to just those two voice options here, by the way — in fact, you can treat this shortcut like any other Assistant query by asking it to set a reminder, or an alarm, or to search for any number of things.

Press power to summon your Assistant.
Credit: screenshot: joseph volpe / mashable

The new Assistant on Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro also strips out the need for that cumbersome and dorky trigger phrase, “Hey Google,” when you’re dealing with incoming calls or the alarm. You can just bark at the phone now and say “Answer” or “Decline” for calls, and “Stop” or “Snooze” for the alarm. Although, a bit of caution here: you may not want to keep those quick phrases active for calls. If someone nearby says “Are you going to answer that?” when your ringer goes off, the call will likely be answered.

The last major Assistant addition you’ll encounter on the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro has to do with those pesky automated voice menus you encounter when trying to do anything related to business. You know, the whole “Press 1 for …” Well, that pain point has been slightly alleviated here should you opt to give the Assistant access to your mic.

Enable that permission and a real-time onscreen transcription of the menu will appear with numbered prompts specifying their purpose. It’s one of those things you don’t realize is handy until you use it. I mean, how many times have you listened to an entire menu’s worth of options looking for the vaguely worded one you need only to forget what the other menu options were? My guess is pretty much all of the time you dial a 1-800 number. That’s why this exists.

Press 2 for… wait, what? I forgot. Oh, nevermind. Thanks, Pixel 6.

Babbling fish

Google Translate has long been a trusty go-to for travelers abroad seeking to remove the language barrier from everyday interactions. The Pixel 6 and 6 Pro take that automatic translation service a little further by integrating it directly into the Messages app.

Unintentionally hilarious automatic text translation.
Credit: screenshot: joseph volpe /…

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