Google Pixel 6 Review: A Clear Winner

Pixel 6

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To say that this year’s Pixel devices have been two of the most highly anticipated Google phones to ever release almost feels like an understatement. After the good, yet somehow mediocre device that was the Pixel 5 last year, we needed a big breath of fresh air for the Pixel lineup.

Thanks to a great hype campaign by Google and steady stream of leaks from insiders, we have many people waiting for their new Pixel 6 phones to show up after an easily predictable pre-order disaster. We’re here to talk about the Pixel 6, though, not Google’s inability to take our money quickly enough.

After a week of heavy usage, is the Pixel 6 worth all of the hype? Is it the best $599 you can spend on an Android phone? Should you get the smaller Pixel 6 over the somewhat mightier Pixel 6 Pro? I hope to answer these questions for you below.

This is our Google Pixel 6 review!


What I Like

Hardware and Design

Google has had a great tendency to release phones that have a certain level of Googliness to them. It’s somewhat intangible when trying to explain what that means, but it stares you right in the face. The Pixel 4 lineup was Googley. Same with the Pixel 2 XL. And beautifully, the same goes for the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro. They look like Google phones, which makes me as a fan of unique hardware happy.

When thinking about Googliness in design, I believe it’s the combination of unique colors with a pop of black. My favorite designs from Google have all featured that shot of black, such as the 2 XL and 4 XL. These phones have that with the camera bar/hump. At first, I was unsure about the rear hump for the camera system, but it’s been fine and hasn’t caused me any grief. Plus, if you’re using a case, it’s even less of an issue when placing it down on a flat surface.

As for the Pixel 6’s size, while it feels so much larger than my Pixel 5, it’s been growing on me. However, I’m a bit worried for Pixel 6 Pro buyers. I know they, too, will likely get used to it, but it’s such a big phone. If Google could have given me this Pixel 6 body with the Pixel 6 Pro’s specs, specifically the telephoto lens and 120Hz display, it would pretty much be perfect in my eyes. I prefer this flat display, this weight, and these color options versus the Pixel 6 Pro. I ordered a Pixel 6 Pro for myself and it’ll have to be my daily driver after I return this Pixel 6 to Google, and if I’m being honest, I’m not looking forward to an even bigger phone. I really like this Pixel 6 and don’t want to give it up anytime soon. Google, can I keep this unit? Pretty please?

Specs

While it may not have the Pixel 6 Pro’s exact spec list, the Pixel 6 offers more than what I would expect from a phone that starts at $599. I have to keep reminding myself of that. This is a $599 phone. I discussed the importance of this previously.

The Pixel 6 features a 6.4″ Full HD OLED display with a refresh rate of up to 90Hz, Google’s new in-house Tensor processor, 8GB RAM, 128GB storage (also comes in 256GB option), 4614mAh battery with support for 30W wired charging and fast wireless charging (Battery Share also present), dual rear camera system consisting of a 50-megapixel wide angle shooter and a 12-megapixel ultra wide, optical in-display fingerprint reader, IP68 rating, 5G connectivity, stereo speakers, and Android 12.

For a $599 phone, that seems pretty great to me. As I mentioned, the only two things I’d bring over from the Pro are the 120Hz display and telephoto lens for added flexibility when out shooting photos. I see this device easily meeting the needs of most anyone who purchases it, so if you were concerned the Pixel 6 is underpowered in some way, you can forget that right now.

Camera

There are a few things that made the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro “highly anticipated,” with one of the main reasons being that we expected Google to include an updated camera sensor. Finally, something other than the same IMX363 sensor that’s been employed since the Pixel 3. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it, but geez. Inside the Pixel 6, we have an upgraded main 50-megapixel camera sensor, which gets binned to 12.5MP when snapping shots. While not 50MP large, the results are pretty damn good and full of detail. There’s an ultra wide sensor at 12-megapixel, too.

Both Kellen and I have been snapping photos like crazy, comparing the Pixel 6 to the Pixel 5, as well as the Pixel 6 Pro to the iPhone 13 Pro. We recommend you check those samples out. To sum it up nicely, the Pixel 6 has an amazing camera, exactly what you would expect from Google. The camera delivers exceptional amounts of contrast and true-to-life colors, without much need for added saturation levels. In addition, the camera delivers an amazing natural bokeh effect on close-up subjects, allowing me to skip using the built-in Portrait mode on the device. And of course, Night Sight and Astrophotography are included, so this phone can handle daytime and nighttime shots like an absolute champ.

Google has a new mode to play with on the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro called Motion. It’s quite intriguing, designed to capture things that are in movement. Inside Motion are two presets, one called Action Pan and another called Long Exposure. Long Exposure is great for capturing tail lights on vehicles, while Action Pan focuses on a moving subject and blurs the background. Both are pretty sweet, though, the ability to adjust the exposure of a shot should have been added years ago by Google. Oh well, at least it’s here now.

I did a few 4K video recordings, and in typical Pixel fashion, they didn’t come out too special. Watching back, colors look too muted and there’s more grey when there should be black, but the saving grace is Google’s stabilization effect. When holding the phone in your hands, you’d think the device is attached to a gimbal with how smooth panning can appear.

Google has taken its camera software to heights we didn’t think were possible a few years ago, and on the Pixel 6, there’s finally upgraded hardware to take advantage of all that software mastery. If I’m leaving the house for a hike or going somewhere tropical, so long as I have my Pixel, I know I’ll be able to capture virtually any shot I may need to.

Below are camera samples, resized for the site but not touched in any other way.

Software and Updates

Android 12 is easily one of my favorite entries into the long list of Android updates we’ve seen over the years. For me, it’s right up there with KitKat, which is probably my favorite. Android 12 focuses heavily on user customization, as if past Android builds weren’t already. Android 12 takes customization and appearance a step further, with system and app colors constantly changing based on your wallpaper, while UI elements have been enlarged to look more bubbly and inviting. It’s a great look, and on the Pixel 6, it runs amazingly with all sorts of fun features.

Without diving too deep into “what’s new in Android 12,” since we’ve written that every time there was a new Android 12 beta, I’m going to provide a few of my favorite Android 12/Pixel 6 software things. Scrolling screenshots. Face detection for auto rotation. Double tap on back of phone to trigger Google Assistant. Home controls access right from system toggles. The widgets. Material You and the overall theming options in general, obviously. And the Privacy dashboard. While Android 12 is the same Android OS we’ve been using for years and it essentially does the same stuff, this is really the most polished version we’ve seen of it. Yes, there are bugs as we’re still early in its life, but for the most part, it performs beautifully on this Pixel 6.

For the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro, Google announced that it will supply three years of Android OS upgrades and five years of security updates. That’s a first for Google and the Pixel line, and while some may have hoped for more, it’s a step in the right direction. It’s not iOS levels of software support, but it’s better than 2 years of upgrades and 3 years of security patches. We’ll certainly take it. Thanks, Google.

Performance and Tensor

One concern with the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro was Google’s deployment of their very own SoC, that being Tensor. We simply didn’t know what to expect, but Google has put our minds at ease, not only with a lot of documentation on Tensor, but with first-hand experience with Tensor in these new devices. Coupled with 8GB of LPDDR5 RAM, the Pixel 6 performs fantastically. It’s incredibly noticeable coming from the Pixel 5, which feels like a complete mid-ranger when compared to the Pixel 6. Most notably is when the phone is processing something, such as photos. On the Pixel 5, it was slow and hesitant after a photo was snapped to process and show you the results. On the Pixel 6, you snap the photo and boom, it’s ready for viewing.

In typical Android fashion, multitasking is also a breeze on this device. You can be in Twitter or Chrome one second, then a simple swipe on the bottom of your display lands you in a different app, with no stutters or hiccups to be seen. It’s been a very refreshing experience, after having used the Pixel 5 for a year. And sorry to my fellow Pixel 5 users, I don’t mean to be harsh on that phone, but it’s a known fact that in the performance department it’s not a heavy hitter. It’s good to have Google making fast, premium phones again.

Battery

With its 4614mAh battery, the Pixel 6 has been good for me in the battery department. I’ve been getting a solid 4+ hours of screen on time each day, with my usual routine being 7AM to 11PM at night. Each night I’m going to bed with around 30% battery charge left, so that is great for me.

Also great is Google’s improved charging speeds on both the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro. Finally. Google has upgraded the Pixel 6 to support wired charging speeds of up to 30W, which is nearly double what the Pixel 5 was taking in. This is a welcomed change. Wireless charging has also been upgraded, but I’m waiting for the new Pixel Stand to launch to see how that is. I don’t typically like to wireless charge my phones, but I know plenty of people swear by it. They’ll be happy with the improved charging speeds.

One thing to note is Google’s new 24-hour overview for battery stats. If you’re attempting to determine your screen on time for a day, it may no longer be helpful to check the actual battery stats section. Instead, check the Digital Wellbeing dashboard, which shows you exactly how long you’ve been looking at your display, along with other helpful insights. I clearly spend too much time on TikTok.

What Could Be Better

Display

Having the display in this section shouldn’t alarm anybody. All I’m going to say is, I wish it supported 120Hz refresh and I wish it was a tad bit brighter. That’s all. I probably said the same thing about the Pixel 5 last year. Beyond those two wishes, it’s a gorgeous and flat display, with very nice color saturation and deep blacks. I emphasize how it handles colors, because colors play such a large role in Android 12 and Material You. For a device that costs $599, I don’t think you could ask for much more.

Unfortunately, Google still doesn’t give users much control over what they’re looking at all day. In the Display settings menu, you can choose your brightness and if you want Adaptive Brightness, but beyond that, there is only a single “Colors” menu that gives you three options – Natural, Boosted, and Adaptive. I opt for Adaptive, as when looking at Google’s example photo, it’s the only option that clearly looks different from the other two. Meanwhile, Samsung lets you tweak white balance and everything on individual RGB scales. It’s much more user friendly over there, but then again, Samsung doesn’t mess around when it comes to display performance. They have the best.

And the display’s brightness. It’s still not as bright as a Samsung display, but it’s better than the Pixel 5, which as many of you may know, is very poor and not bright at all. When I look back on this review, it’ll maybe look like all I did was crap on the Pixel 5, but hopefully many of the people who read this are on a Pixel 5 and are considering an upgrade to the Pixel 6. If that’s the case, I hope all of these comparisons are helping. And to answer your question, yes, you should upgrade to the Pixel 6.

Fingerprint Reader

Poor Google. It still can’t seem to figure out a decent way to unlock a smartphone, even though it had a perfect solution last year with the Pixel 5. Come to think of it, they had a good solution with the Pixel 2 as well. Oh, the original Pixel had a pretty great way to unlock your phone, too.

Hear me, Google — the rear-facing fingerprint scanner just works and that should be good enough for you. These optical sensors are trash. When you’re unlocking your phone hundreds of times in a day, constantly having to double tap the scanner because it didn’t read properly the first time, we’re going to be pissed and complain about it. This experience, after using the true Pixel Imprint on past devices, is unacceptable.

Other Notes

  • Wife Impressions – “Phone feels pretty heavy, but not too big for one hand use. I’m not crazy about the how the camera sticks out on the back, but I can appreciate that it covers the full width of the phone so it can still lay relatively flat. I dig it and I love the color.”
  • Face Unlock – This ties into the fingerprint screen section, but I wanted to draw direct notice to it. There is no face unlock on either Pixel 6 or Pixel 6 Pro, but it’s possible Google will include it in a future update. Considering my disdain for the fingerprint scanner, let’s hope that is true.

Price and Availability

The Pixel 6 starts at $599, which is a helluva deal for a phone this good. It shouldn’t be this cheap, honestly. Google could have gotten away with charging more, but obviously, we’re glad they didn’t. If you need more internal storage, a 256GB model can be had for $699. Comparing this to other $599 phones, it’s a clear winner in our book. You’re getting a great list of specs, fantastic software support, and some unique hardware that can turn some heads. What’s not to like?

As for where you can buy it, when in stock you can find it on the Google Store, Best Buy, Amazon, the major carriers, or pretty much anywhere else popular cellphones are sold. There are no exclusives to be seen here thank goodness, so if you’re looking for a Pixel 6, you should be able to get your hands on one.

Buy Pixel 6

Videos

Unboxing

First 10 Things to Do

Gallery

The Verdict

I can keep this short and sweet. If you like Google Pixel phones, buy this phone. Whether you want the Pro model or not is on you, but this smaller Pixel 6 option is really, really good. It’s a frontrunner for me to get awarded POTY (Phone of the Year).

Besides the lame fingerprint reader, there really isn’t anything to dislike here, and at its ridiculous $599 price, I can’t think of any other phone that would be in the conversation. Maybe if the Galaxy S21 FE ever gets released, you could consider that if you’re more in tune with Samsung hardware and software, but even then it’ll be interesting to see if Samsung can keep the price low enough to make it compete against the Pixel 6. Heck, even diehard OnePlus fans have to be thinking to themselves that it might be time to get with a Pixel.

This phone’s a winner, plain and simple. I foresee it being my daily driver for quite some time.

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