Tue. Jul 23rd, 2024

Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central

The Google Pixel 6 has captivated my attention since August when Google finally gave in after months of leaks and confirmed its flashy design and the Google Tensor chipset that would be powering it. After years of stagnation, it looked like Google was finally ready to get up off the bench and actually compete with Samsung, Apple, and OnePlus. However, I had to tamp down my enthusiasm and remind myself of Google’s track record so far.

See, for as long as we’ve had Pixel phones, there’s always been a fatal flaw. The Pixel 1 and 2 had huge bezels, the Pixel 2 XL had screen issues, the Pixel 3 had serious software bugs, and the camera had gotten stale. The Pixel 4’s battery was horrifically bad, and the Pixel 5 went mid-range, giving us the same basic internals as a $500 phone for $700 (and was discontinued when the $450 Pixel 5a launched with the same guts). I panicked over what the Pixel 6’s flaw might be, but after a week with the phone, I’m thrilled to report that I haven’t found an Achilles Heel on it.

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Google has finally delivered on its promise of a proper flagship phone and did so with a very competitive price, one of the best photography systems in the mobile market, and best of all, Tensor’s AI optimization. Google Assistant is finally as fast as you are for so many tasks, including instant voice typing, translation, and applying its secret sauce to your photos. While there’s a lot to love, there’s still a few minor quirks you’ll have to keep in mind before you pick up the new best Android phone.

No phone is perfect, but the Google Pixel 6 comes pretty darn close.

Google Pixel 6

Bottom line: After years of fatal flaws and stagnant design, Google has finally given us the shock-and-awe upgrade we’ve been waiting for. Tensor’s AI prowess makes most Assistant features feel magically fast. Major camera updates for both hardware and processing give us significantly better photos, especially when photographing people of color and moments of action.

The Good

  • Smooth, fast performance
  • Phenomenal camera upgrade
  • Material You is beautiful and cohesive
  • Call Screening is the best spam filter ever
  • Flashy design with fun colors

The Bad

  • You’ll either love or hate that thick camera bar
  • Screen could be brighter
  • Bezels might feel big to some

Google Pixel 6: Price and availability

Source: Alex Dobie / Android Central

Google debuted the Pixel 6 on October 19, 2021, and opened preorders the same day. The phone goes on sale on October 28 in the United States, Canada, Australia, Japan, Taiwan, Ireland, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom. In addition, the phone will also launch in Italy, Singapore, and Spain in 2022.

There are no stated plans for if and when the Pixel 6 might launch in South America, and it seems that the Pixel 6 is skipping India altogether, just as the Pixel 5a did this summer. Google gave issues with global supply chains and the current shipping crisis as the reasons for this, but maybe if Google can get production up the way they want, we might see it launch in more countries next year.

The starting price of the Pixel 6 is $599, with 128GB of storage and support for sub6 5G. You can move up to $699 to get 256GB of storage, and the Verizon model of the Pixel 6 with mmWave 5G support also starts at $699. Given that there’s no microSD slot, carefully consider how much storage you need for your Pixel 6, especially considering how much storage 4K videos can take up.

Google Pixel 6: Daring design

Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central

The Pixel 6’s design has been an open secret for the better part of 2021, so much so in fact that in August, Google finally gave up on trying to quash the leaks and just revealed the design and the color options in a teaser announcement. The design is head-turning for a number of reasons, from the two-tone coloring of the back panels to that big honking camera bar across the top to the flat 6.4-inch screen up front that meshes with the black bumper to make it seem like the Pixel 6 has huge bezels.

A flat screen makes even slim bezels feel huge.

So, let’s start by getting that screen and bezels out of the way first: the bezels are 3mm on the top and sides while being 5mm at the bottom. The bezels on the Pixel 6 Pro are 2mm on the top/sides and 3mm on the bottom, by comparison, but the Pixel 6 Pro has a curved screen, so you don’t notice them nearly as much. The S21, for example, has top/side bezels just under 2mm, with a bottom bezel of about 3mm.

Source: Alex Dobie / Android Central

So, the bezels don’t feel big to me — especially since I’ve been on the Pixel 5a these last three months — but if you’ve been spoiled by curved screens and “infinity” edge-to-edge screens, you may notice it at first. But, of course, once you slap on a great Pixel 6 case, you won’t see them anyway, and the slightly thicker bezels mean you have fewer chances of accidental screen touches (like my Pixel 6 Pro keeps having even with Google’s case on).

Device name Google Pixel 6
Chipset Google Tensor
Memory 8GB
Storage 128GB or 256GB
Display 6.4-inch, 1080 x 2400, OLED, 90Hz, 500 nits
Rear Camera 50MP, ƒ/1.85, 1.2μm (wide-angle)
12MP, ƒ/2.2, 1.25μm (ultra-wide)
Front Camera 8.0MP, ƒ/2.0, 1.12μm
Battery 4614mAh
30W Fast Charging
12-23W Wireless Charging
5W Reverse Wireless Charging
Security Titan M2 Security Chip
In-screen fingerprint sensor
Weight 207g
Water and dust resistance IP68
Colors Stormy Black, Kinda Coral, Sorta Seafoam

Moving on to the actual display itself, we have a 6.4-inch OLED touchscreen with a 90Hz refresh rate and 1080p resolution. I’m fine with the resolution and the refresh rate on the 6 — I’m not a 120Hz snob, and 2K resolution would just mean more pixels to render, and more battery wasted lighting them — but you’ll notice the 500Hz max brightness if you’re outside in full, unadulterated sun. Once you’re in any sort of shade, cloud cover, or the sun is nearing sunset, the screen looks great, and it always looks good indoors. If you’re going to be outside with this phone for prolonged periods every day, you might need to look elsewhere for screens in the 900-1000-nit range like the Galaxy S21.

The color range on the display is vibrant and vivid, and HDR content on the Pixel 6 looks astounding even for darker shows like The Witcher. While Alex Dobie experienced a little lag in Automatic brightness on his display, it performed normally on mine, and I had no complaints with its results outside the darkest of pitch-black rooms. I wish the screen could automatically activate the new Android 12 accessibility toggle Extra Dim when you push the slider all the way down, but at least there’s a Quick Setting for it.

Source: Alex Dobie / Android Central

Under this screen is an optical fingerprint sensor, a first for the Pixel line. While Nick Sutrich said it’s one of the only things he actively disliked in the Pixel 6 Pro review, I’m inclined to disagree. The sensor here works just as well as the in-screen sensors on the Galaxy S21, OnePlus 9, and other recent models. I think the fingerprint recording setup might be a tiny bit confusing to some as Google moves the recording dot around the sensor’s range of view as you keep repositioning your finger. Still, once it’s set up, it’s worked like a champ for me, honestly even a little better than the S21’s ultrasonic sensor. Of course, as with all things fingerprint-related, your mileage may vary.

Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central and Alex Dobie / Android Central

Moving from the front to the sides and back, the Google Pixel 6 gets a matte black bumper rather than the shiny gold/silver of the Pixel 6 Pro, and I’m honestly very happy for it. The black bumper merges with the screen edge better, and it combines with the back camera bar to give some separation and contrast to the non-black colorways like my Kinda Coral beauty. It helps the top accent pop against the pastel backplate.

While the front of the phone may be flat, the backplates curve to give the phone a more rounded and pleasant feeling in the hand. As a shiny, smooth backplate, the Pixel 6 will pick up smudges and oils from your hand quite easily, but it has a fair grip in your hand. The same, however, cannot be said when you set it on a table with any sort of tilt to it. Whether you set it face down or face up, the Pixel 6 will slide if given any slant or momentum, which is again why I highly recommend at least a clear case for the Pixel 6 to avoid scratches on dirty desks or, heaven forbid, it sliding right off a table to the floor.

Source: Alex Dobie / Android Central

That camera bar across the back has made the Pixel 6 one of the most distinctive phones on the market. While the slope and edging around the module itself should offer those upgraded sensors protection, there’s no denying that the bump will catch your fingers, table edges, and pocket hems if you’re not careful. However, because the bar goes across the entire phone, the Pixel 6 sits quite solidly at a slight angle for better glancing at Twitter as you scarp down your lunch. We’ll get to how those cameras actually perform a little later, but the module itself is quite fetching. If you’re not into the Cylon look, there are plenty of cases that will turn it into a typical rectangular module while adding extra protection.

One final note on the Pixel 6’s design: buttons! This Pixel doesn’t have an accent-colored power button nor a special texturing to help you separate it from the volume rocker. Instead, the space between the buttons is carved out in an adorable little half-pipe, which tells you if you need to shift your finger up or down before pressing.

Source: Alex Dobie / Android Central

Speaking of, by default pressing and holding the power button brings up Assistant, not the power menu, but you can swap that back in Settings > System > Gestures > Press and Hold power button. If you still need a quicker way to summon Assistant than tapping the search bar on the home screen or saying “Okay Google,” tap Gesture Settings > the gear icon > Swipe to invoke Assistant.

Google Pixel 6: Google Tensor and performance

Source: Alex Dobie / Android Central Google Tensor makes Magic Eraser smooth, accurate, and entirely on-device.

This is the first phone running Google Tensor, the first system on a chip that Google designed itself. Usually, we’d expect to see some significant bugs or glitchiness out of a brand new chipset. However, Tensor has been butter smooth more than 99% of my review period, and that half a percent had to do with app data that was improperly transferred from my old phone.

The Pixel 6 has 8GB of memory, and for most of my multitasking, that’s been more than enough. Memory management didn’t even shut down YouTube Music in the background while I was taking 4K video! That may not sound like a big upgrade, but previous Pixel owners know that memory management has not been great on several different models.

I’ve played my normal games with no lag and no touch or speed issues. Even when popping back and forth between four apps while on a Google Meet call, the only problems I experienced were from the onset of an unexpected Spectrum outage. The only area I’ve seen any slowdown is with Android Auto on my infotainment screen, but the Pixel 6 is still smoother with wired Android Auto than the Galaxy S21.

Source: Alex Dobie / Android Central

Of course, general performance is only half the issue when it comes to Google Tensor; the other half is the lightning-fast AI processing for Google Assistant and other Pixel features. Google claimed that the extra on-device AI oomph from Google Tensor would allow it to instantly do complex operations like instantly transcribing and translating videos or having words appear on the screen the moment you say them with Google Assistant voice typing on Gboard.

Now, voice typing lost its appeal to me back around the era of the 2013 Moto X: it was possible to have a voice typing feature, but good luck getting any sort of accuracy or speed. Heck, some voice services still have trouble with accuracy today, like Samsung’s voice-to-text engine on the Galaxy Watch 4. So I swapped back to Gboard — I’m a SwiftKey fan, the swipe punctuation is just so handy — and tested it once… and then I kept using it again and again.

Voice typing on the Pixel 6 is instant and addicting.

Google Assistant has leveraged a decade of me barking orders at Google Now, my Google Home, and seven years of phones into voice typing that knows my hesitation, accent, and most of the terms I use regularly. I could curl up in bed, tap through Twitter replies and DMs, then just tap the mic and talk. Punctuation is easy to insert, and you can even insert some emoji on the Pixel 6, though sadly, not every character is…

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