Every year, the Pixel (and before that, the Nexus) is the most hyped smartphone. Which has always been a bit puzzling to me, as the Pixel does not sell particularly well. On top of that, Google only sells it in a handful of markets. So why is it hyped so much? Well, for one, it’s the leaks. But there’s also the fact that it is Google. The Pixel is always marketed as the “Pure Google” smartphone, and so was the Nexus before that.
Google has made some mistakes with the Pixel line in the past. Like sticking with 4GB of RAM well beyond when it should have upped the memory. Or going with a mid-range chipset in its “flagship” phone. And of course, we can’t forget about the display problems with the Pixel 2 series.
This year, that all changes. Google seems to be pulling no punches with the Pixel 6. And even Google’s hardware chief, Rick Osterloh has high hopes for this phone. The entire company is calling it, its first true “flagship phone”. So does it live up to the hype? Mostly. But let’s dig in a bit more in our Pixel 6 Pro review.
The Pixel 6 design has grown on me
Google had an interesting marketing strategy for the Pixel 6 this year, essentially announcing the phone and showing renders of it back in August. This is also when it announced its Tensor SoC. So we’ve known what the phone was going to look like, for quite some time now. And at first, I was not sold on the two-toned back and the camera bar. But over time, it has grown on me.
Some of the color combinations don’t look to great in renders, but in real life, they look way better. We have the Cloudy White Pixel 6 Pro here, and it is a white and a very light gray. Which looks darker in renders, but in real life, it looks very light and pretty nice.
The camera bar is a pretty unique feature on the Pixel. But it also clearly shows off that you have a Pixel. As no other phone is doing a camera bar like this. And that’s the point. Since the beginning of Pixel, Google has made design choices that would make Pixel stand out. Especially amongst the many other Android smartphones in your local carrier’s store.
It’s also a pretty smart design choice. It allows you to have all of the cameras in that bar, and it keeps your finger from covering the cameras. While holding the Pixel 6 Pro, I often find myself resting my finger just below that camera bar. But, on the other hand, the 90-degree angle that the camera bar puts on the back of the phone, is going to be where all the dust will settle. For a lot of people this won’t be an issue, get a good case that makes it flush, and the dust won’t gather there. But if you plan to go case-less, then this is not going to be a great look.
The design on the Pixel 6 Pro is stunning. But there is one complaint here, and that’s the glass. I really wish it had a sort of matte finish on the back. Because it is going to attract fingerprints like crazy. Luckily, I got the Cloudy White version which won’t show them as much. But if you get the Stormy Black color, you’re going to see them a lot more.
A matte finish would have looked pretty incredible in these colorways too.
First Pixel with a curved display
Google picked a rather interesting time to go with a curved display. As other smartphone makers are starting to drop the curved display and go back to flat displays. Samsung has even dropped it from all of its phones, except for the “Ultra”. Now that was likely more to bring down costs on the Galaxy S21, but it’s clear that most people rather have a flat display. That’s due to the accidental touches that a curved display would cause.
But, on the Pixel 6 Pro, Google has done a good job to mitigate those accidental touches. In fact, during my time with the phone, I had zero accidental touches. That’s rather impressive. And makes the curved display a much bigger joy to use.
So what about the actual look of the display? This OLED display is pretty amazing. The colors are as vibrant as you’d expect on an OLED panel. It’s also a QHD+ display, which we have not had on a Pixel in a couple of years. So it’s good to see that back. Brightness is really good here, you can see it in direct sunlight, but also use it in a dark room without blinding yourself.
This is also the first Pixel with a 120Hz display. Google has done 90Hz on the Pixel 4, 4 XL and 5 in the past. But this is the first time it has done 120Hz. This is 120Hz LTPO display, so it will adaptively switch from 10Hz up to 120Hz, depending on what the screen is doing. This helps with battery life of course.
But, the 120Hz display is a bit jittery. I notice this mostly in the Twitter app, so I assume it’s something that Twitter needs to change in their app. As every other app doesn’t look as jittery with 120Hz on. But that also means that we may notice that some apps need to update for this 120Hz display. Which shouldn’t be the case. Since 120Hz is not new on Android – Samsung debuted 120Hz on its phones back in 2019.
Overall the display is really incredible here, and perhaps the best display I’ve used on an Android smartphone this year.
Battery life is still impressive
If you owned the Pixel 4 or Pixel 4 XL, then you know how bad the battery was on those phones. It was so bad. I was finding myself charging at least twice a day – and that was on the larger model. With the Pixel 4a series and the Pixel 5 last year, Google stepped up and added in huge batteries into those phones. The Pixel 5 had a 4080mAh capacity battery, which sounds small still, but given the size of the phone, it was pretty massive.
In my Pixel 5 review last year 6-7 hours of on-screen time pretty consistently. That was a huge upgrade from the Pixel 4 XL, which might be dead at noon.
Now, fast forward to the Pixel 6 Pro, it has a 5000mAh capacity battery. Which is the largest ever in a Pixel, and is on par with the Galaxy S21 Ultra. It’s also a 22% increase in capacity over the Pixel 5. But let’s not forget that the Pixel 6 Pro has a much larger display (6.7-inches versus 6-inches) that is also QHD+ and 120Hz. Along with a more powerful processor.
Basically, battery life is about the same as the Pixel 5. In fact, I’ve been getting even better battery life on the Pixel 6 Pro than I did on the Pixel 5. Getting around 7-8 hours on a charge. Now because of Google’s change to the battery life screen in Android 12, it’s tough to really get a screenshot of each battery cycle. Basically, it’s a rolling 24-hour thing, like the iPhone does in iOS. So it does not reset when you charge to 100%. But just know this, battery life is good here.
Now let’s talk about charging. Google has finally upgraded the charging on the Pixel. It’s now 30W, but that charger is not included in the box and will cost you $25. But, you can use any 30W USB-C PD charger with PPS, to charge your Pixel 6 Pro at those speeds.
Finally, below you’ll see our battery cycles from the Pixel 6 Pro. It’s important to note that in Android 12, the battery screen is a rolling 24-hour history. Instead of showing your usage from the entire battery cycle. This is the way that Apple and Samsung (this changed with Flip 3) shows battery stats.
Tensor is pretty impressive
Over the past year, we’ve seen a lot of companies working on their own chipsets. Apple moved to its own silicon for its Macs, and it’s been incredible. And now Google is doing the same thing for its smartphones. The Pixel 6 Pro (and Pixel 6 for that matter) are the first to use its own Tensor SoC. Which leaves us with a lot of questions. Because we don’t know a lot about this processor. It’s not like the Snapdragon 888 which is used in almost every other flagship phone.
We believe that it is an Exynos-based processor, manufactured by Samsung. And Google says that it is on par with the Snapdragon 888. Typically, we do not run benchmarks for our reviews, as I believe that they are not good at translating to real-life performance. But for the Pixel 6 Pro, we did run Geekbench 5, and compared the scores to the Galaxy S21 Ultra running on Snapdragon as well as Exynos.
The scores were pretty similar. The Galaxy S21 Ultra with the Snapdragon 888 scored 899 in the single-core and 2961 in multi-core. While the Exynos model scored 924 in single-core and 3085 in the multi-core. Meanwhile the Pixel 6 Pro scored 1040 in the single-core and 2872 in the multi-core.
So as you can see these scores are very similar, and really you can say that they are the same, given the small gaps between them.
Now what about real-life usage? It feels just as fast as any other flagship processor out there. I noticed no slowdowns at all in day-to-day tasks. Nor in gaming. The Tensor SoC does also have 20 GPU cores, so gaming is incredible on this phone. But do not call it a gaming phone.
Android 12 brings a fresh coat of paint to the Pixel 6 Pro
The Pixel 6 Pro marks the first time I’ve used the stable version of Android 12. I have been using the betas on the Pixel 5 all year though, so I was already quite familiar with it. However, it is a bit more polished on the Pixel 6 Pro. I won’t bore you with a lot of the features of Android 12, you can read more about the best Android 12 features here.
The Pixel 6 Pro does lean in pretty heavily to the new Material You design that Android 12 brings. We’re seeing more and more apps get updated with Material You, and it’s a pretty fun feature to have. Especially since Google will usually give you a few different palettes of colors to choose from for the UI.
Many of the other features are tie ins to Google Assistant. Like the ability to wait on hold for you. Or Direct your call. Which is a great way to get through those annoying automated menus. These features are great, and will save you time. If you’ve ever called Comcast, you’ll know how annoying it truly is.
There’s also Assistant Voice Typing now. Just say “Hey Google, type” and it’ll start typing for you. It works pretty flawlessly, or as flawlessly as speech-to-text normally does with Google Assistant.
Google did bake in a few Pixel exclusives with Android 12, though a lot of them are actually inside the camera. Which we’ll talk about next.
With the new Tensor SoC and 12GB of RAM inside the Pixel 6 Pro, Android 12 absolutely flies here. It’s super smooth and the phone doesn’t even get hot. Which is impressive.
The camera upgrade we’ve all been waiting for
It’s hard to believe, but Google has used the same 12-megapixel sensor since the Pixel 2. But that ends with the Pixel 6. Google has upgraded the Pixel 6 series with a 50-megapixel main sensor, and a 12-megapixel ultra-wide. While the Pro model gets a 48-megapixel telephoto that is capable of 4x optical zoom.
On paper, it just sounds like Google is catching up to the competition. But if you know anything about Pixel and its Computational Photography, it’s a lot more than that. Google kept with the same sensor for so long because it spent so much time perfecting it with R&D, and building Computational Photography on it. Now it’s doing this with a much larger sensor that is going to gather even more data.
Google added a lot of modes this time around, really focusing on video. So let’s break down video and the stills portion of the video here.
Google has had the best camera for taking stills for quite some time. I still prefer the Pixel to any other Android smartphone, for a couple of reasons. One, it’s the only one that can really capture a pet, or anything moving, without it being blurry at all. The other reason is the color profile. As Samsung just looks a little to vibrant for me.
That’s still the case on the Pixel 6 Pro. And for most people, you probably won’t see a difference in the camera quality from say a Pixel 5 to a Pixel 6 Pro. However, since Google is using Pixel Binning here, you’re getting a lot more detail in your images. So at 50-megapixels, it pixel bins down to 12.5-megapixels. Giving you a ton of data, meaning that zooming in won’t break down the image.
Here are some photos from the main sensor, and some that are using portrait mode.
The big changes for Stills is actually mostly in post-processing. There’s two new features, Face Unblur and Magic Eraser.
Magic Eraser is pretty cool, because it means that you can take out those photobombers from your picture. Just draw a circle around the person or object and it’ll remove it. Pixel can also automatically detect things to remove. With Face Unblur, you can unblur a person’s face after you’ve taken the picture. This happens a lot if there’s a group of people and some are closer to the camera than others. Now that won’t be an issue.
Now, let’s talk about zooming. Zoom on the Pixel has always been really good, thanks to SuperRes Zoom, which debuted on the Pixel 3. But now we have a new telephoto sensor that can do 4x optical zoom, without any software. That’s going to be plenty for most people, to be quite honest. You can do up to 20x with SuperRes Zoom though if you need it. Zoomed in at 4x is actually very good. Pictures look just as crisp as with the regular 50-megapixel sensor.
Here are a few shots taken at 4x zoom with the new telephoto sensor. The shots are really impressive, and super sharp, as you can see.
Google also added a couple of features that, honestly, you’ll use once and that’s it. That includes Action Pan and Long Exposure. Long Exposure is cool but I won’t use it much. Basically, it makes a creative blur effect on a moving object behind you. So instead of having to hold still for a few minutes for a long exposure shot, it only takes a few seconds. Action Pan is similar, it focuses on a moving subject and adds a creative blur to the background. Both of these are in beta and work, okay. It’s not the best, but these are really more gimmicks than anything else.
As you can see below, it works better with vehicles moving, than with people or even pets. But, yes this is still beta. So I wouldn’t expect it to be perfect.
Overall, pictures still look amazing on the Pixel 6 Pro. The big difference here is that when you crop in on images, they don’t fall apart, thanks to the added resolution here.
And here are some more pictures taken with the Pixel 6 Pro, more auto photos instead of using these other new modes in the Pixel 6 Pro.
Google seemed to have focused a lot on videography this year. Which, it’s about time. Video is the one place where the Pixel has really lacked over the past few years.
HDR is now processed in real-time when shooting in 4K. So you can see what you’re shooting instead of waiting til after you’re done and seeing how it turned out. Google also added speech enhancement, which is going to be useful in busy environments like restaurants, games, or even CES.
Video got some much needed upgrades this year, but still lacks behind some of its competitors. No 8K support this year, but who cares. 8K video is not good on smartphones, it’s pretty terrible. And most people have no way to watch in 8K resolution anyway. You can do up to 4K60 though, which is nice.
Should I buy the Pixel 6 Pro?
This year, with Google back to two Pixel flagships, it makes it a tough choice as to whether to buy the Pixel 6 or the Pixel 6 Pro. I’d recommend reading my Pixel 6 review as well. The price difference is $300 here too. The Pixel 6 Pro is quite the phone for $899. Cheaper than the Galaxy S21 Ultra, and OnePlus 9 Pro. But the differences between the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro are pretty minimal. If you want a larger screen, curved and 120Hz screen, and a telephoto camera, then the Pixel 6 Pro is the way to go. If not, save yourself some money and get the Pixel 6.
Both phones are really good this year. And I would not be surprised if one or the other won “Smartphone of the Year” from us, here at AndroidHeadlines.