Google Pixel 6 And Pixel 6 Pro Review: A Bold Return To Android Flagships

Google Pixel 6 And Pixel 6 Pro: Exploring The Hardware, Camera And Android 12

pixel 6 and pixel 6 pro with boxes
Last week we gave you an early hands-on look at Google's oft leaked Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro. Even Google has teased these new Android flagships a time or two, leaning into the engineering the company has done on the semi-custom design of its Tensor mobile platform processor. Tensor is rumored to be based on Samsung's Exynos 2100 SoC with an amped-up neural processing engine, or TPU (Tensor Processing Unit) for improved machine learning performance, and a few other tweaks as well. Regardless of whether the rumblings of Tensor's silicon lineage are true, the new chip is manufactured by Samsung on its 5nm process node and looks well-equipped to deliver solid performance.

However, silicon engine performance is only one part of the equation. Google apparently pulled out all the stops on features and capabilities of its new Android 12-driven flagships as well, with everything from wireless charging to IP68 water and dust resistance on board, along with a keen focus on Pixel's usual strong computational photography chops and new AI-assisted features. And when you consider all these devices deliver on paper for their respective price points -- starting at $599 for the Pixel 6 and $899 for the Pixel 6 Pro -- it's clear Google was hell-bent on making a splash with these two new flagships. 

But do the new Google Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro live up to the hype of Tensor, and do they add up to more than just the sum of their parts and features? Let's explore, shall we?

Google Pixel 6 And Pixel 6 Pro Features And Specs

Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro specs
Find Google's Pixel 6 & Pixel 6 Pro Starting @ $599 & $899 On Amazon

And so we have the 6.4-inch display-equipped Pixel 6 and the 6.7-inch Pixel 6 Pro, both of which have very similar specs and features with a few notable exceptions. The Pixel 6 Pro's 6.7-inch LTPO (Low-Temperature Polycrystalline Oxide) Samsung-built OLED display is something special, and delivers up to 120Hz refresh rate and HDR support, while the Pixel 6's standard OLED display tops out at 90Hz, but also supports HDR. The Pixel 6 has a flat, more rectangular display than we're used to seeing on previous gen Pixels, but the Pixel 6 Pro has slight waterfall design with curved edges.
pixel 6 and pixel 6 pro top edge
Both of these displays are strapped with Corning Gorilla Glass Victus for solid durability and they support the usual Android always-on at a glance functionality for notifications and the like.

google pixel 6 and pixel 6 pro2

However, beyond their obvious differences in size and refresh rate, though the Pixel 6's 90Hz display is every bit as bright and punchy as the zippy 120Hz Pixel 6 Pro's display, it does exhibit a small bit of color shift in off angle viewing. It's not too much of a distraction, but it's definitely not quite as premium as the Pixel 6 Pro's LTPO option that is just gorgeous and buttery when using its Smooth Display option setting. Of note as well, is that the Pixel 6 Pro's display offers a QHD+ 1440p resolution versus the Pixel 6's 1080p FHD display. The Pixel 6 Pro's higher refresh rate and higher native res will come into play in terms battery life, however, and you can't dial it back to 1080p either, but we'll circle back on this topic in our benchmark testing a little later. 

pixel 6 and pixel 6 pro bottom edge

Under the hood of both the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro is Google's Tensor processor and Titan M2 security co-processor that provides trusted execution environment functionality for multi-layer hardware-based security processing. Also on board is a healthy complement of either 8GB (Pixel 6) or 12GB (Pixel 6 Pro) of LPDDR5 RAM and 128GB, 256GB or 512GB of internal storage, the latter of which is exclusive to the higher-end Pixel 6 Pro. Toss in both 30 Watt wired fast charge and wireless Qi charging in the 20 Watt range, along with Wi-Fi 6E, Bluetooth 5.2, both Sub-6 and mmWave 5G connectivity, well-equipped camera arrays (which we'll get to shortly) and relatively capacious batteries at 4,614 mAh and 5,003 mAh for the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro, respectively, and it's clear Google took a no compromise "kitchen sink" approach to these devices. At their respective price points, we have to hand it to Google for delivering the goods.

Pixel 6 And Pixel 6 Pro Design And Build Quality

pixel 6 and pixel 6 pro first look

In terms of design, materials and build quality, both devices feel solid and premium in the hand, with edgeless Gorilla Glass Victus backing on both, a polished alloy frame in the Pixel 6 Pro, and a tactile alloy frame in the Pixel 6. Frankly, the Pixel 6 feels more like a high-end handset than a $599 mid-priced phone. Conversely, the Pixel 6 Pro definitely has a Galaxy S20 kind of vibe, with its curved display and all-glass setup as well, and it stands to reason with what is likely a near-identical display to Samsung's previous-gen device.

Now, whether or not you appreciate the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro's prominent camera bar bump-outs on the back is another question all together. I personally don't mind them, but admittedly it's not the sleekest aesthetic, and without a case on the phone it's just begging to be scuffed up. Screen protector manufacturers are already selling covers for them in fact, and if you're the type to run without a case, we'd highly recommend a screen cover kit like we linked here that provides a camera cover too. Heck you could even go ala carte with just the camera cover, which might not be a bad idea even if you rock a case with your Pixel. The good news is those camera arrays deliver pretty great results, which we'll get to shortly. 

Google Pixel 6 And Pixel 6 Pro Bundled Accessories

pixel 6 and pixel 6 pro boxes and accessories with phones
Pixel 6 Cases Are An Optional $29 Accessory

In a gesture aimed at icing the cake even further, Google is currently offering a free set of Pixel Buds Series A to go with new Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro preorders. That's a $99 value to toss in on top of already competitive pricing for these new Android 12, made by Google flagships. You can see the bundled and optional accessories that came with our review units above.

In the box, Pixel 6 and 6 Pro customers get a fairly spartan offering of a USB-C synch and charge cable, along with a USB-C to USB-A adapter, the tiniest lit pack and a SIM extractor tool, but no charger. Both the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro support dual SIM capability with embedded SIM and a standard SIM tray as well. But, back to the charger -- or lack thereof -- it has been common occurrence lately with Samsung, Apple and others forgoing the cost and possible waste of a charger in their phone bundles. Would we prefer it be included? Absolutely, though again at Google's competitive price points for these new flagships, we'll give them a pass. Finally, the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro cases you see above are optional $29 adders, though there will likely be plenty of aftermarket options as well.

The Android 12 Experience: Smarter, Cleaner And More Accessible

With each new Google Pixel release we're typically treated to a new version of Android, and this time around Android 12 delivers some nice refinements and feature-adds. On board are smaller UI tweaks like new widgets and Dynamic Colors, which colors the base text and icons of the interface lightly in pale hues that coordinate with whatever you choose for your home and lock screen background picture. 

pixel 6 pro lock screen and home screen

The interface is now more enabled with search functionality as well, for quickly finding apps, contacts/people, settings, assistant actions and more. Finally, Android's material design has been buffed-out here and there with larger, more rounded and flat touch icons for controls and even a feature called Themed Icons that you can see in the right most shot above. Themed icons are flat, single color representations of primary apps like the phone dialer, the Messages app, etc. and also adapt to your theme colors as well.

You'll also notice the under-display fingerprint sensor here for both devices, and while it's a handy, nicely-integrated feature, you don't have any other choices for biometric security beyond this. And sometimes the sensor is a little finicky letting you into the device. This is something Google can hopefully work on in a future firmware update, however. 

pixel 6 android 12 software and new features

Moving on to more convenience features, the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro offer new voice commands for text messaging and dictation. Commands like Send, Clear, Stop, Delete and Clear All, offer control while text messaging for more hands-off functionality. You can also use Google Assistant to answer calls now, with Answer and Decline commands, and there are new Call Assistant features that will analyze and advise on hold times when calling a business line, and can even transcribe automated messages and menu options for you.

Finally, another handy feature is Live Translate, which will translate text messages for you from another language to your native tongue and vice versa, as well as translate media with Live Caption translation capabilities, for many video and audio media types. As you can see in the right hand shot above, a couple of nice Italian fellows were having a little chat about the pizza in New Haven. Fuggettaboutit. But we digress, Live Translate for text works fairly well but the interface takes a little getting used to, with respect to getting it to translate to or from a language to another and controlling which is input and output text at any given time. It seems like Google could streamline the functionality here a little bit in the future hopefully.

Google Pixel 6 / 6 Pro Camera Hardware, Experience And Performance

pixel 6 and pixel 6 pro cameras
Many of you likely have been itching to see what these new Pixel 6 series cameras can deliver in terms of image capture and computational photography mojo. In short, Google has done it again, and both of these smartphones have some of the most capable, accurate camera systems on the market. Both the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro share the same camera sensors and lens setups for their primary 50MP f/1.85 shooter and 12MP f/2.2 ultrawide shooters. The only difference between the two is that the Pixel 6 Pro has a dedicated third 48MP telephoto camera with f/3.5 aperture and a nice 4x optical with 20x Super-Res digital zoom feature, while the Pixel 6 has to rely on 2x optical with 7x Super-Res zoom driven by its main sensor. Speaking of which, these primary 50MP sensors are also made by Samsung (likely Isocell JN1), so there really is a lot of Samsung going on in these phones, from the display to processors and cameras. The Google-Samsung partnership was obviously strong with this new product release. 

google pixel 6 main camera interface

As usual, Google's main camera interface is clean, straight forward and optimized for point-and-shoot Auto mode efficiency. Android 12's UI again here has been refined a touch with a carat dropdown menu that exposes settings, along with the usual mode selections horizontally just below the trigger button. You also get a few new thoughtful features with Google's latest Pixels, like Speech Enhancement in selfie recording mode for noisy environments. It actually does a really good job of isolating voice audio and muting down background noise.

google pixel 6 selfie video with noise filter google pixel 6 video camera interface

In fact, on the still shooting side of the equation, however, is where most of the new features reside, like Action Pan and Long Exposure modes that capture cool blurred affects of moving objects, and of course the much rumored Magic Eraser.
 
magic eraser bouy magic eraser no bouy
Now You See It, Now You Don't - Pixel 6 Magic Eraser

Here you're looking at a shot of the 1 mile marker buoy, just outside of Bass River in South Yarmouth, Cape Cod in Massachusetts, aka one of my happiest of places, like literally, right there bobbing around on a boat, soaking up the nautical splendor.  I took this shot with a different phone this past Summer but pulled it up on the Pixel 6 and edited it with the Magic Eraser tool. Simply tracing carefully around the edges of an object with your finger to select the area or object you want to replace, activates a sort of Content-Aware fill or Patch Tool-like Photoshop feature that does a pretty good job in most cases, especially for well-isolate objects like this. However this is a more challenging shot because it was harder to isolate the red reflections on the water from the buoy, though the water does help to hide a bit of noticeable smudging. Either way it's a cool party trick that can also come in quite handy some day, if you need to oust a photo-bomber or the like that might have otherwise screwed up a good shot.  

pixel 6 pro portrait stairs
Pixel 6 Pro Portrait Mode
pixel 6 portrait
Pixel 6 Portrait Mode - On A Cloudy Dog Day Afternoon

The usual straight-up shot modes, like Portrait mode, deliver quality results as well. In the top shot with Yogi, we see excellent foreground and background isolation, along with quality depth-of-field bokeh blur. However, in the trickier flower pot shot, we do see a bit of unblurred shutter and siding on the house behind the flower, which was a bit too challenging to isolate for the algorithm. Regardless, Google's computational photography algorithms are on-point yet again with this new family of Pixels and when it comes to color, contrast and sharpness, we were thoroughly impressed. 
 
pixel 6 pro lake standard
Pixel 6 Pro Standard
pixel 6 pro lake wide angle
Pixel 6 Pro Wide Angle

pixel 6 pro 4x zoom
Pixel 6 Pro 4X Optical Zoom
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Pixel 6 2X Optical Zoom

Again, since both of Google's new Pixel 6 devices share common primary and ultrawide shooters, we're showing results from the Pixel 6 Pro exclusively in some of these shot, though results delivered from the same sensor array from either phone should produce similar if not identical results. Where things do differ, however, is in 4X optical zoom driven shots on the Pixel 6 Pro, where (as you can see above) not only do you get in close before having to resort to Super Res digital zoom, but also image quality is significantly better as well, with less noise.
 
pixel 6 pro standard selfie
Pixel 6 Pro Standard Selfie
pixel 6 pro wide angle selfie
Pixel 6 Pro Wide Angle Selfie

Another mode advantage that the Pixel 6 Pro enjoys over the Pixel 6 is Wide Angle Selfie mode, which as you can see gets significantly more of my dork wingspan into this shot. It's handy for bringing more of your friends into the frame as well, which can help diminish the dork coefficient considerably.  

pixel6 pro night sight
Pixel 6 Pro Night Sight

Pixel 6 Pro 4K60 Video Sample

Starry night shots over Hopedale Pond here also look pretty fantastic. This shot was captured with very little close proximity natural light, but the street and house lights across the pond are picked up nicely along with the night sky. Color us impressed yet again with Google Pixel Night Sight mode, and also with Pixel 6/Pro 4K60 video shooting as well. 

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Pixel 6 Pro Detailed Shot
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OnePlus 9 Pro Detailed Shot

Finally, looking at shot detail in general, our usual indoor mixed lighting shot renders excellent results as well, if only a touch muted for our personal taste in the Pixel 6 Pro shot here, versus the OnePlus 9 Pro's capture. However, some may find the OnePlus rendering a little over-saturated, and we would tend to agree there as well. A perfect color vibrance level probably resides in between the two shots, honestly, were just a tiny bit more pop added to the Pixel 6 Pro's capture it would strike a nice balance. The Pixel 6 Pro does render slightly more crisp detail here as well, however, in certain areas of the shot.

Alright, so with the pixel peeping portion of our review out of the way, let's take a gander and the performance benchmark numbers, next...

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