Google’s latest high-end smartphones — the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro — are officially launching on Oct. 28. At $599 and $899, respectively, Google is undercutting the iPhones and Samsung Galaxys of the world with premium hardware that doesn’t compromise on speed, photography and ultimately using the devices day in and day out.
The new Pixels are essentially a whole new phone with a refreshing design that feels substantial in the hand. The Pixel 6 and 6 Pro lead with Google-exclusive hardware and features but really deliver a well-rounded smartphone that doesn’t break the bank.
After spending more than a week with them, we have plenty more to unpack — so let’s dive into the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro.
The who, what and how:
Who these are for: The $599 Pixel 6 is ideal for someone who wants a sleek Android phone that runs fast, takes great photos and won’t slow down for years, thanks to automatic software updates. The $899 Pixel 6 Pro is ideal if you’re looking for a phone that excels at photography with a really outstanding telephoto lens.
What you need to know: Both the 6 and 6 Pro are the first phones to feature Google’s custom Tensor processor inside. It delivers some of the most fluid and fastest performance we’ve seen in everyday use on a phone. Pair that with Google-exclusive features like call waiting and live captioning, and the Pixels really make an argument for themselves.
How they compare: Google’s Pixel 6 and 6 Pro both pack high-end features at much lower price points than the competition. And we’d go so far as to say these are the best Android phones currently on the market. Applications open faster and processes complete quicker than the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S21, and Pixels last longer on battery life. Google’s exclusive features like call waiting, transcribing and translation all provide a human element that focuses on more features for the user. The Pixel 6 and 6 Pro are flagship Android phones that can really go head-to-head with the iPhone 13 family and other leading Android devices.
Well, hello there
The Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro are the nicest-looking phones that Google has ever built. They’re not only classy with a fully aluminum and glass design, but they feel terrific in the hand.
The front is nearly all screen with minimal bezels all around. The bottom of the device features two speakers and a USB-C port. Power and volume controls live on the right side for both, and there is no headphone jack.
Flipping it over is where the design might be polarizing, when you realize there’s a rectangular strip across the top rear of the back that acts as a giant camera bump. We weren’t put off by it, and for the most part, it’s a good use of space. It contains two lenses on Pixel 6 and three on 6 Pro.
Pixel 6 comes in Stormy Black, Sorta Seafoam and Kinda Coral. We’ve been using the latter, and it’s mostly light pink with a small hint of pink and red on the top rear. 6 Pro comes in Cloudy White, Sorta Sunny and Stormy Black. We’ve been using the latter, and it’s really a dark or light gray depending on how the light hits it.
Seriously dependable cameras
Pixel 6 and 6 Pro offer some of the best mobile photography that we’ve tested, and it really makes them feel like the iPhone of Android phones.
They both start with a 50-megapixel wide lens and a 12-megapixel ultrawide lens. Both are sharpshooters, and these made it easy to just point and shoot with most shots in our testing. Furthermore, the 6 and 6 Pro quickly focus and identify what is in any given shot.
Photos captured look great and don’t skew the colors or objects in an image. Now, we’re not saying every shot is perfect, but you’re walking away with an excellent image for the most part. With a custom mode like Portrait on the wide lens, it does an excellent job with hair (specifically on dogs) with a proper amount of blur. Similarly, the dedicated Night Sight mode breathes a ton of new light into a dark shot and opts for a cooler-toned image. Both of these modes do a better job than the Galaxy S21 or Z Flip 3. You’ll find more details and clarity throughout.
The Pixel tends to be a bit more vibrant than other phone cameras. But it’s not as overly saturated as Samsung, and we’d prefer a photo shot on Pixel anytime and any day. The 12-megapixel ultrawide lens lets you frame a shot uniquely, but it isn’t as wide as the iPhone 13 or Galaxy S21. It’s not a deal breaker, but shots captured here won’t be as stark.
Pixel also relies heavily on AI to get the right shot and frame it — focusing was fast and it also worked for a range of shots. People, landscapes, animals, buildings, cityscapes — all of them were tackled quickly. There are also a few new tricks, including Magic Eraser, which can intelligently remove people or objects from a shot. It’s pretty half-baked, though, and results in a heavy amount of distortion and messed-up backgrounds. Take a look at the screen recording below and see yourself.
Now for $599, the Pixel 6 gets all of this, and it’s really an excellent shooter inside a pretty damn good phone. For $300 more, the Pixel 6 Pro adds a 48-megapixel telephoto lens into the equation.
The telephoto lens here is a much higher megapixel count, which allows for up to four times optically zooming in. So this allows you to zoom in with remarkable clarity onto an object. Take this shot of a street sign in NYC; you can see a tremendous amount of detail, including differences in the paint and materials used. It also works with “Super Res Zoom,” which is similar to Samsung’s SpaceZoom in that it uses optical plus digital to fill in the details in a highly zoomed shot. It’s hit or miss in our testing.
Google Tensor delivers fluid and smooth performance
Rather than just plug a run-of-the-mill processor from Qualcomm inside the new Pixels, Google has gone the Apple route and built its own processor. And it really allows for Google to optimize the entire experience to be the best that it can.
Google Tensor is that chip, and it’s paired with 8GB of RAM on Pixel 6 or 12GB on Pixel 6 Pro. We didn’t find the difference in RAM to make a noticeable difference in our testing, though.
The Pixel 6 and 6 Pro both feel as fast as any other Android smartphone on the market and offer faster open times than previous iterations. The Pixel 6 and 6 Pro can open the camera app and be ready to shoot quickly, which is a step above the experience on the Pixel 5a with 5G and other Android smartphones. We could easily use apps like Twitter, Instagram, Monday, Slack, Outlook, Stadia, Xbox Game Pass, Trello, Spotify, Recorder, Asphalt 9, Call of Duty: Mobile and a boatload of others with no hiccups.
As we do with every device we test at CNN Underscored, we ran the Pixels through a series of benchmarks. One standard is GeekBench 5, and this runs the phone through a series of tasks in a stress test. The Pixel 6 and 6 Pro scored in the low 1,000s on single-core performance and in the high 2,000s on multi-core tests.
While the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro really exhibited no hiccups in everyday use, this chip does fall behind others on benchmarks. The Galaxy S21 with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 inside got a 1,110 on single and 3,477 on multi-core, the latter of which is well ahead of what we got from the Pixel 6. It might be due to the way that Tensor handles tasks, especially higher-performance ones.
The last piece of the puzzle with performance is with security, and Google promises five years of security updates, along with three OS upgrades. And that’s class-leading for an Android device.
Android 12 is all about personalization
It also helps that the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro are running Android 12 in its purest form. When other devices like a Samsung Galaxy or Microsoft’s Surface Duo 2 use Android, they generally place a user interface or skin on top of it. Android 12 now offers that kind of personalization out of the box with a customizable interface called Material You. It makes Android easier to use with larger navigational inputs and the like, but it’s also really neat in that it’s designed around the wallpaper you choose.
We opted for a set of blooming flowers that evolve throughout the day. You can pick from a variety of preloaded wallpapers or upload your own. And after that, you can choose theme colors that reflect throughout the system. The latter was a bit hit or miss on our end, with some applications showing it at times and other times reverting to the regular interfaces. We especially like that it recasts core app icons, which helps them blend into the wallpaper.
Since this is a Pixel, there are many Google-exclusive features here. You can hold it up to text in a different language within the camera app and watch the device quickly translate it back to your primary language. It’s part of Google Lens, which can also be used to identify objects. Similarly, the Recorder app isn’t just a handy tool for recording conversations; it can also transcribe it to English, Japanese or German in real time.
Oh, and the coolest feature is that the Google Assistant can handle waiting on hold for you. It can also still screen your calls — this way if you’re getting a spam risk it can tell the liar on the other end that your car warranty isn’t close to expiring or needing to be purchased.
2 sizes with smooth displays
Pixel 6 features a 6.4-inch display, and Pixel 6 Pro leads with a 6.7-inch display. And they’re really very similar in size in actual daily use. Both are OLED displays, which deliver vibrant colors and sharp blacks.
Either route, you’re getting an excellent display that makes everyday tasks look vibrant and really adds a level of immersion to games or consuming content. When snapping photos and reviewing recent captures on either, we found colors to have a certain pop and shine to them, while zooming in allowed for a variety of details to be uncovered. Notably, when texting, transcribing or typing, text was sharp and inky.
Scrolling and playing games feels a bit smoother on the Pixel 6 Pro since it features a full 120Hz refresh rate, which is the more fluid standard that we’ve really found to make a difference on devices like the iPhone 13 Pro and Galaxy S21. The Pixel 6 opts for a 90Hz adaptive refresh rate, which is still better than the typical 60Hz found on cheaper phones and the iPhone 13.
The Pixel 6 and 6 Pro both feature an in-screen fingerprint sensor, and it’s the best one we’ve tested. It’s quick to read for unlocking or authenticating, with readings that are on par with the Galaxy S21 family. We’ve found that Pixel 6 and 6 Pro both fail to unlock less than those devices.
Lastly, both displays have an “Always-On” functionality. This means the screen will go black while still showing the time, date, weather, notifications and battery percentage. It’s really handy and lets you just glance at the phone for pertinent information.
All-day battery life
With Google designing and building both the hardware and software, the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro offer gains in the battery department. It’s also led to some wild battery life, so much so that our tests are still running. It’s safe to say, though, that the 6 and 6 Pro won’t have an issue making it through a day, with the latter easily making it longer than a day and being pretty close to the iPhone 13 Pro Max in our everyday tests.
As of this writing, both phones are currently running at longer than 15 hours each. With the 6 Pro reaching closer to 0%, it might be that the faster refresh rate is causing that battery to dwindle more. We will update this review soon with final results.
The Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro are the best phones ever released by Google and the best Android phones you can buy right now. For $599 with all-day battery life, a great display, smooth performance and two great lenses, the Pixel 6 checks off all the necessary boxes. For $300 more, the Pixel 6 Pro only really comes into the equation if you want a marginally bigger display or want a telephoto lens on your phone.
With Android 12 and a sleek onboarding process, we have a feeling the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro will welcome many into the Android army. But still, we don’t think there’s something here that might make you ditch your iPhone. It really comes down to personal preference.
Google’s crafted some epic hardware here, and the future of the Pixel is brighter than ever before. Let’s just hope they keep getting the prices right.