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Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro review
Google's new Pixel phones are outstanding regardless of whether you pick the full featured Pixel 6 Pro, or save a few bucks on the Pixel 6.
The new Google Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro tick all the boxes: great display, zippy processor, solid battery life and Google's now famous photography chops. We're not huge fans of the slippery glass design, and a company raking in billions should be able to afford to put a power adapter in the box, but these quibbles barely detract from such great smartphones.
It seemed for a long time that Google’s branded phones were made in a way so as to not tread on the toes of its paying partners, like Samsung. Even last year’s Pixel 5 felt deliberately smaller and less flashy than the other flagships in 2020.
The Google Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro flip this script with a design that screams premium. In fact, it does so with a design that screams “Samsung”. The slippery glass back and gentle curves around the edge of the screen, plus a move away from some of the more daring colour palettes of previous Pixels, is strongly reminiscent of Galaxy S series handsets from the last few years.
But it is below the surface where the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro really shine, and it’s hard to ignore Google’s seriously competitive pricing.
The strangest word in Google’s marketing is also the word you need to pay most attention to. Google’s new ‘Tensor’ chip is the first mobile processor developed in-house by Google for its Pixel phones, and the results are phenomenal. The Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro are hands-down the fastest feeling Android phones I’ve ever used.
Apple has had similar success developing its own processors, claiming that it’s not just that the chips are fast, but that they have complete control over the way the hardware and software communicate with each other.
Google now has a similar advantage over other Android phone makers and says that the Tensor chips are designed to focus on artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), and that this is where the company is focusing its innovation efforts going forward.
Whatever sorcery is at work under the hood, the results are noticeable when using the phone. The UI is incredibly snappy and responsive, and applications spring to life when selected. Most noticeable is the speed of the Chrome browser where new windows seem to load instantaneously.
Machine learning is also central to the outstanding photography experience you get with the Pixel 6 phones, too. Both Pixels have the same excellent primary 50MP sensor and a secondary 12MP sensor with an ultrawide lens. The Pixel 6 Pro earns its name with a third 48MP sensor paired with a telephoto lens capable of 4x optical zoom.
But the real magic happens in the second or two after you take a photo before the final image pops onto the screen. You can actually watch the original photo as it is enhanced by the photo software, from a good shot to an outstanding photo.
Google Pixel 6 Pro plans
The Google Pixel Pro 5G 128GB and 256GB models are available on a plan through Telstra, Optus and Vodafone here in Australia on 12, 24 and 36-month contracts. The 512GB model is currently only sold through Telstra. Here's a glance at the most popular plans currently available.
Google Pixel 6 plans
Like its Pro counterpart, the Google Pixel 6 5G 128GB and 256GB models are available through all three major providers (Telstra, Optus and Vodafone) whereas the top-tier 512GB storage option is only available through Telstra.
As you may have picked up on earlier, I’m not a huge fan of the physical design of the new Pixel phones. They look nice, if a tad generic, but the glass chassis is far less practical compared with the textured plastic finish we loved on the Pixel 5.
Worse yet, these are some of the slipperiest phones I’ve encountered in a long time. The number of times I’ve caught one of the Pixels edging towards the edge of a table or sofa is well into double-digits now. The number of times I failed to catch them and had them clatter to the floor is more concerning.
Which is to say, that even though you may think the new Pixel phones look great you are going to need to find an extra chunk of cash and cover up those glossy good looks with a case or cover.
And while we’re on the subject of spending extra money, you may need to buy a new phone charger too, because Google has followed in Apple’s miserly footsteps and doesn’t include a power brick in the box. There’s a USB-C to USB-C cable included, but if you don’t have a compatible charger, or you want to take advantage of the phone’s rapid charging feature, you’ll need to pull out your credit card again.
Whether you invest in a fast charger may come down to whether you think you need it, especially considering that both Pixels have great battery life. While the battery in the Pixel 6 has a lower capacity compared with the battery in the Pixel 6 Pro, both phones easily work through up to two days before needing a recharge.
The new Pixel phones come with Android 12 installed, and with it the new Material You user interface design language and a bunch of fun new features to try out. None are going to rock your world, but in aggregate they make for a more fun and intuitive phone experience. Here are a few of the highlights.
Phone themes: whenever you pick as new wallpaper, Android 12 automatically changes the colour theming across the interface. For example, if you took a photo of someone on a sunny day, the theme may include options from blues in the sky, flesh tones or green grass. These colours are then found across the phone, like in the notification panel and inside apps, like the calculator.
Magic Eraser: this is a new option in the Google Photos editing tool which helps to auto-magically replace elements in photos that you want to remove. Our success with it has varied, but it is fun to play around with.
Live Translate: Android 12 now has several cool ways to read, see and speak in different languages. A personal favourite is that you can now turn on translation in the existing Live Caption feature, so as you play media in a different language, you will see captions appearing in real-time. This is great for watching YouTube videos from around the world.
Specs: Pixel 6 vs Pixel 6 Pro
Pixel 6 Pro
1080 x 2400 pixels
90Hz Refresh Rate
1440 x 3120 pixels
120Hz Refresh Rate
|Processor||Google Tensor Octa-core|
Mali-G78 MP20 GPU
|Google Tensor Octa-core|
Mali-G78 MP20 GPU
|Storage Options||128GB, 256GB||128GB, 256GB, 512GB|
|Cameras||50MP wide angle w/ laser focus and optical image stabilisation|
12MP ultrawide angle
8MP front facing
|50MP wide angle w/ laser focus and optical image stabilisation|
48MB telephoto 4x optical zoom
12MP ultrawide angle
11MP front facing
Fast charging 30W
Fast charging 30W
|Price||From AU$999||From AU$1299|
For the most part, both the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro feel and operate like very similar phones. As you can see in the table above, the Pro model has a larger, higher resolution display with a higher refresh rate, an extra camera lens, more RAM and a larger battery. But in practice, it is hard to feel the difference.
The screens are probably the best examples. The higher resolution is hard to spot on the larger display on the Pixel 6 Pro, and the higher refresh rate, which should make scrolling animations appear smoother, switches on and off automatically, so it’s hard to know when you’re taking advantage of this feature. And when the difference in size is between 6.4-inches and 6.7-inches, it is a moot point. If I were to guess, I’d say that the Pro is only slightly larger to accommodate the extra camera hardware, and not to offer a discernible difference in size.
The extra RAM could be something that proves useful when using certain applications, but I haven’t discovered any noticeable lag when using the Pixel 6 with its 8GB RAM. The battery life experience is mostly identical, with the larger battery capacity in the Pixel 6 Pro offset by the extra power needed for the increase in screen real estate and extra pixels.
The exception to this is the versatility you get from having the extra telephoto lens and a 4x zoom option when taking pictures with the camera. The machine learning algorithms do a great job of cleaning up noise in photos taken with digital zoom, but nothing beats a dedicated zoom lens.
The Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro stand head-and-shoulders over the competition thanks to Google’s excellent new Tensor processor and its continued efforts in photography. And if you needed an extra incentive to consider a Pixel, Google has undercut the competition by hundreds of dollars.
Unfortunately, you will need to reserve some of these saved dollars and cents and fork out for a case and a fast-charging power adapter; one because the slippery design of the phone demands it, and the other because Google has cheaped out and not included it.