Google’s latest and most premium handsets yet, the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro, have finally arrived and they come with a number of firsts for a Pixel device. The larger of the two Pixel 6 phones, the Pixel 6 Pro, which we’ll be focusing on for this review, features a 4x optical telephoto lens, a larger 5,003mAh battery, a 6.71″ LTPO AMOLED panel that can go from 10hz to 120hz. It also features a larger 11.1MP front facing camera with a wider field of view and capable of shooting in 4K. This is all powered by Google’s brand new custom built Tensor chip which packs some seriously impressive AI smarts for improved camera capabilities and other features such as live on-device translations.
Can these upgrades, a custom built chip and Google’s AI chops really carry this phone to delivery a truly premium experience? Read on to find out.
Design & Build Quality
The Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro are undoubtably the most premium looking handsets Google has made yet, especially the Pixel 6 Pro model which we were sent for review by Google Ireland. Its sleek stainless steel frame (which, on the ‘Stormy Black’ model, is very reflective but doesn’t show up too many fingerprints) is sandwiched by Corning Gorilla Glass Victus, their strongest glass yet.
Gone is the usual rear mounted fingerprint scanner with it now being built-in to the display, like many other flagship and even mid range Android devices. Speaking of which, the Pro’s large 1440p 6.71″ LTPO AMOLED panel is stunning and offers fantastic colour reproduction, smooth scrolling, thanks to its 120hz refresh rate, and a super bright peak brightness of 800nits which is noticeably brighter than what was possible on the Pixel 5.
The two tone colour scheme on the rear of each of the colour options is also definitely striking and something I really like about this new design.
The new ‘camera bar’ on both Pixel 6 devices is instantly recognisable, which is definitely going to help these devices stand out amongst their competition. The power and volume keys also feel responsive and clicky. Overall, this is the best built Pixel phone to date and Google need to be commended for their attention to detail and finish on the Pro in particular.
Software & Tensor Performance
Powered by Google’s first ever custom built chip, Tensor, and running the latest version of their OS, Android 12, this really is the perfect phone for true Google fanatics. Seen by many as the first true comparative device to Apple’s iPhone with Google designing everything from the hardware, both inside and out, to the software, or operating system, that runs on top. When it comes to Android 12, this is the most customisable and personalised version of the OS to date.
There are hundreds of little UI touches and flourishes that make the device feel that bit more in tune with what you, the user, is trying to do with the device. The ‘Material You’ design scheme allows you to select an image as your phone’s wallpaper and it will then intuitively select the most prominent colours from the image to use throughout the phone’s UI. It’s a really nice way to help differentiate your phone from everyone else’s and adds another level of customisability to the experience.
The new Tensor chip is packing some serious power too to run the whole show, including some impressive new camera tricks (more on those later.) We installed the latest Marvel Future Revolution game, which is one of the most graphically intensive titles available right now and thanks to the Tensor chip’s two high-power Cortex-X1 cores, things ran extremely well with very little heat being generated by the device after about 20 minutes of play.
The X1 cores are then supported by two midrange Cortex-A76 cores and then four low power efficiency cores. What gives this chip its AI edge is its custom TPU (Tensor Processing Unit) or ‘Machine Learning Engine’.
Google Assistant on Tensor is also using the “most advanced speech recognition model ever released by Google” at half the power when compared to the Pixel 5. The high-quality ASR (automatic speech recognition) model is used to transcribe voice commands, as well as in long-running applications like Recorder and Live Caption while keeping battery drain in check.
Throughout our use of many of these various features, including Google Assistant to set reminders almost daily, we definitely found the experience to be noticeably faster than last year’s Pixel 5 and just that bit more intuitive in registering what we were saying.
Google launched the very first Pixel in 2016 and, thanks to its AI smarts when it came to computational photography, they quickly became the gold standard for photography on an Android device.
Fast forward to 2021 and many of Google’s competitors in the smartphone market, including Huawei and Samsung, have caught up with their own efforts in computational photography and have resulting images that are comparable to what Pixel’s have been doing for years.
Now, with the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro, Google is looking to leapfrog the competition again and, thanks to its new Tensor chip and ISP (Image Signalling Processor) we think they might have done it.
Located in the camera bar on the rear of the Pixel 6 Pro are 3 new camera sensors for a Pixel device. For the primary lens, there’s a 50MP Samsung GN1 sensor with f/1.85 aperture, the ultra-wide is a 12MP Sony IMX386 sensor with f/2.2 aperture and finally, for the telephoto lens, there’s a 48MP Sony IMX586 sensor with 4X optical zoom.
The main camera is capable of recording 4K 60fps but you’re unable to use the ultra-wide when doing so, which is unfortunate. To soften this blow, Google states that HDRNet is now capable of running at the 4K/60fps mark, which results in greater colour accuracy and the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro processes 498-million pixels per second courtesy of the new Tensor chipset. Samples we’ve recorded on the new device definitely show greater levels of colour accuracy along with much improved HDR recording, compared to last year’s Pixel 5.
When it comes to general point and shoot photography, photos captured in well lit scenes are fantastically well detailed, colour balance is great and HDR management is spot on.
The Google Camera app is also smarter at shifting the main ‘camera’ mode into ‘Night Sight’ mode automatically when things get a little darker and, unsurprisingly, the Pixel 6 Pro does a great job of capturing well balanced yet detailed shots in much darker scenarios, all that bit quicker too, thanks to the new ISP and processor power of the Tensor chip.
Speaking of which and as we mentioned early, the new Tensor chip is capable of carrying out some impressive new AI camera tricks with some of the standout examples below.
One of the new headline features that leans on AI – as so much of Google’s camera experience does – is Motion mode. This is divided into two options – action pan and long exposure.
Action pan is the sort of thing you’d use to capture something moving at speed, like a motorbike going past. Traditionally to take these shots, you’d move the camera with the bike while taking the photo, thereby blurring the background while keeping the subject sharp and in focus. Action pan recreates this by looking at the image and figuring out what should be sharp and what should be moving.
The other option is long exposure. This is the sort of thing you’d use to create blurring in an otherwise still image – light trails or fluid motion of a waterfall for example. Below is a sample of this particular new feature in action with a beach scene. You will notice a slight bit of image-shift on the sun for example so I recommend you keep the phone as still as possible when using this particular mode. Even with my shaky hands, I think the effect is very striking adds a little something extra to your average beach shot.
Both options are easy to use, you just have to select what you want and hit the button.
One of the stand out features of the new camera experience on both the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro is the Magic Eraser tool. As the name suggests, Magic Eraser is a quick way to remove elements from a photo you might not want. You can take a photo and then in Tools in Google Photos you can open it up and tidy the image.
Google Photos will scan the image to see if it can detect anything to remove, but then you can just trace your finger over the elements you want to remove. You can even pinch zoom to make those removals really precise. Here is a ‘before and after’ example of how well Google’s Magic Eraser tool works on a recent holiday picture.
The best thing about this new AI tool is that you don’t need to take photos with the Pixel 6 Pro to use this – it will work with all your pictures.
The new 4x optical zoom is the greatest level of physical zoom we’ve seen in a Pixel device to date and is only available in the Pro model. When you switch the camera over to the 4X zoom option, you can see the 48MP Sony sensor kick in to great effect. Detail is well captured and dynamic range is still well managed.
Thanks to this larger 48MP sensor, you can also use ‘Night Sight’ with the telephoto lens but you’ll just need to make sure you keep the device as still as possible to ensure the best results.
The Pixel 6 Pro packs a massive 5003mAh battery, almost 400mAh more than the Pixel 6’s 4614mAh battery. Even after a heavy day of use with the Pro, we were still clocking nearly 20% of battery left.
This impressive battery life is probably the result of a few things – the LTPO panel which can adapt its refresh rate, depending on the content on the screen, Google’s own ‘Adaptive Battery’ feature which tweaks things in the background, depending on how you use your phone day to day and finally, Google’s new Tensor chip, which is said to be very battery efficient.
We’re still in the early days of our usage of the Pixel 6 Pro but we actually expect the battery life to get even better, once it learns our usage and charging habits.
Either way, users should be more than happy with the battery life of this Pixel in particular.
When it comes to charging, both devices are capable of 30W fast wired charging and the Pixel 6 Pro is also capable of 23W wireless charging. Unfortunately, the handset doesn’t actually come with a charger so you’ll need to source one that will charge the device at its newly improved speeds.
The same goes for the first-gen Pixel Stand which isn’t capable of charging the new Pixel 6 devices at their maximum wireless charging speeds, you’ll need to wait for the new 2nd-gen version of the stand to do that. Its exact release date is still TBC.
Ever since their first tease back in August, I’ve been excited to put the Pixel 6 Pro through its paces. Having used the device for nearly two weeks now, I’m loving it more and more each day. Everything from its large 120hz OLED, comprehensive camera set up and overall AI smarts, thanks to the new Tensor chip, the Pixel line can now truly stand toe-to-toe with the very best handsets out there. And, if push came to shove, it could take the vast majority of them down.
Pricing & Availability
The Pixel 6 Pro starts at €899 for the 12GB/128GB model exclusively on the Irish Google Store. Right now, you can join the waiting list for the new device but its smaller sibling, the Pixel 6, which starts at just €649 for the 8GB/128GB model, will also be coming to Vodafone on PAYG or free on RED Unlimited Max tariff.
REVIEW: Google Pixel 6 Pro - The Smarter Smartphone
- Design & Build Quality
- Software & Tensor Performance
- Battery Life
Everything from its large 120hz OLED, comprehensive camera set up and overall AI smarts, thanks to the new Tensor chip, the Google Pixel 6 Pro can now truly stand toe-to-toe with the very best handsets out there. And, if push came to shove, it could take the vast majority of them down.