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Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro unleashed — Welcome to a new era for Google phones

Pixel 6 Pro in Sorta Sunny and Pixel 6 in Stormy black on a wooden table
(Image credit: Google)

After months of leaks and partial announcements from Google, the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro have finally been unveiled and appear ready to usher in a new era for Google phones.

The move to Google’s custom Tensor chip, the introduction of a more powerful camera system than Google has ever used before, and some aggressive pricing signals Google's renewed intentions to try to make waves in the phone market.

Google is also leveraging its advantages with the promise of five years of Pixel updates, rivaling the iPhone's software support for the first time in years. Also, the introduction of a new Pixel Pass subscription plan looks to draw in Google fans with a single subscription for many Google Services along with a new Pixel every two years.

This is easily the biggest bet Google has ever made on its hardware, so here’s a look at everything there is to know about the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro.

Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro: Price and availability 

With the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro, we knew Google was returning to the flagship market and expected flagship pricing, but it turns out the company is building on that “value proposition” foundation that it spent the last couple of years establishing. 

The Pixel 6 starts at an almost unbelievable $599 for the 128GB base model with 8GB of RAM and a 6.4-inch OLED display with a 90Hz refresh rate. The Pixel 6 Pro jumps up to $899 for its starting price with the same 128GB of storage, but 12GB of RAM, a new telephoto lens and a 6.7-inch LTPO OLED display with an adaptive 120Hz refresh rate. 

Both phones are a good value, but the Pixel 6 stands out at $599, which undercuts any recent mainstream flagship phones. Only the Asus ZenFone 8 has come in that low. The iPhone 13 mini and Galaxy S20 FE mark the low-end among Google’s biggest competitors and both start (at least at launch) at $699. 

We’ve seen Google put considerable marketing behind the Pixel 6 already and this pricing is a clear indication that Google is ready to make a serious play for the U.S. smartphone market. 

In the U.S. the new Pixel Pass is a subscription option for the Pixel phones along with several of popular Google services. It allows you to automatically upgrade to a new Pixel every two years bundled with a subscription to YouTube Premium, YouTube Music Premium, Google Play Pass, and a 200GB Google One storage plan. This is available either through Google Fi or the Google Store.

Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro specs 

Pixel 6Pixel 6 Pro
Displays6.4-inch FHD+ (2400x1080) OLED at up to 90Hz6.7-inch QHD+ (3120x1440) LTPO OLED at up to 120Hz
5G supportYesYes
CPUGoogle TensorGoogle Tensor
RAM8GB12GB
Storage128 or 256GB128, 256 or 512GB
Rear cameras50MP wide-angle f/1.85; 12MP ultra-wide f/2.250MP wide-angle f/1.85; 12MP ultra-wide f/2.2; 48MP telephoto f/3.5
Front cameras8MP f/2.011.1MP f/2.2
Battery capacity4614mAh5003mAh
Water resistanceIP68IP68
ColorsStormy Black, Kinda Coral, Sorta SeafoamStormy Black, Cloudy White, Sorta Sunny
Size6.2 x 2.9 x 0.4 inches6.5 x 3.0 x 0.4 inches
Weight7.3 ounces7.41 ounces

Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro: Design

The design of the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro is going to be contentious. The Geordi La Forge visor look of the rear camera array will no doubt please Stark Trek: The Next Generation fans, but others may be turned off by it. There’s no denying that it is massive and it’s been years since a camera array spanned the full width of a phone (RIP Nexus 6p), but I’m a fan for a couple of reasons.

The first is that it gives the Pixel a unique look and profile that will make it instantly recognizable, which is huge from a branding perspective. You can’t mistake the Pixel 6 or Pixel 6 Pro for any other phone on the market. From a more utilitarian standpoint, the camera module sits nicely on a table or desk when you place it down on its back, something I have sorely missed with all of the upper-left aligned camera arrays of the last few years.

Pixel 6 Pro

(Image credit: Google)

The other elephant in the room with the Pixel 6 design is the size. Both the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro are large phones, a fact our own Phillip Tracy recently lamented. The junior member of the team still features a 6.4-inch display, making it the largest Pixel phone ever released (by display size) if it wasn't being released alongside the 6.7-inch Pixel 6 Pro. Naturally, those big screens are going to mean big chassis’ and the Pixel 6, at 6.2 x 2.9 x 0.35 inches, and Pixel 6 Pro, at 6.5 x 3 x 0.35 inches, certainly fit the bill. For those coming from the Pixel 4XL, the Pixel 6 is almost identical in size, but just a hair shorter. Given the size disparity, it is a bit surprising that the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro are so close in weight at 7.3 ounces and 7.41 ounces, respectively.

Both phones feature the same IP68 dust and water resistance certification, which means they can be dunked for up to 30 minutes in around six feet of water. Corning Gorilla Glass Victus protects the display of each phone, so we should see similar results in the inevitable drop tests, and overall durability should be roughly the same.

Pixel 6

(Image credit: Google)

Other than the size discrepancy, the two phones are almost identical. The camera array of the Pixel 6 is slightly higher on the phone than the Pixel 6 Pro, either due to internal engineering or to more evenly balance the larger device. Both phones have a smooth and glossy finish on the back with a two-tone finish above and below the camera array. The back of the Pixel 6 is covered in an edgeless Gorilla Glass 6 with an alloy frame wrapped around it, while the Pixel 6 Pro upgrades to edgeless Gorilla Glass Victus and a polished alloy frame. It’s a simple detail, but the polished frame also wraps the camera array and adds a more high-end look to the phone.

Both feature a limited array of buttons and ports with just the USB-C at the bottom and the power and volume up and down located on the right side. The Pixel 6 has a traditional flat screen, while the Pixel 6 Pro display has waterfall edges for a more premium look and feel. 

In my opinion, the Pixel 6 wins when it comes to the color options available; the Sorta Seafoam and Kinda Coral pop, while the Stormy Black gives you a safe and staid option if you prefer that look. The Pixel 6 Pro plays it safer with Stormy Black, Cloudy White, and Sorta Sunny. The two-tone finish on all of them helps to give even the more basic color options a bit more appeal.

Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro: Displays

Display size is another differentiator for the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro because they come in at 6.4 inches and6.7 inches, respectively. So there is no small pocketable option here, it’s a question of whether you want a screen that is large or gargantuan. 

The Pixel 6 features an FHD+ (2400x1080 pixel) OLED with Google’s “Smooth Display” that offers up to a 90Hz refresh rate. It offers HDR support, a high brightness mode, over a million-to-one contrast ratio and full 24-bit depth for 16 million colors.

The Pixel 6 Pro one-ups its smaller sibling with a QHD+ (3120x1440 pixel) LTPO OLED with Google’s Smooth Display offering up to a 120Hz refresh rate. Just as we’ve seen with the Galaxy S21 Ultra and the iPhone 13 Pro and 13 Pro Max, the LTPO OLED adjusts from 10Hz up to 120Hz based on the content you are viewing. The Pixel 6 Pro otherwise matches the Pixel 6 with HDR support, high brightness mode, over a million-to-one contrast ratio and full 24-bit depth for 16 million colors. 

Pixel 6

(Image credit: Google)

While many have a hard time discerning the difference between a 90Hz and a 120Hz panel, the adaptive refresh rate of the Pixel 6 Pro could prove important when it comes to battery life as we saw with the iPhone 13 Pro models this year.

We’ll be testing the displays ourselves for an in-depth look at the performance of each, but based on the specs alone, both should be good options for those who like to watch videos on their phone.

Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro: Cameras

Inside the Pixel 6's massive rear camera array is a set of entirely new sensors, something that we haven’t seen from Google in years.

The primary wide-angle in both the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro is a 50MP Octa PD Quad Bayer with an f/1.85 aperture and 1.2µm pixel width. While Google doesn’t identify it outright, this is likely the rumored Samsung ISOCELL GN1, which should be a tremendous leap forward from the Sony sensor Google was clinging to for the last few years. This new sensor is 1/1.31”, making it one of the largest in any smartphone on the market. If Google can apply the same level of computational photography prowess with this camera as it did to the aging 12MP, it may be able to retake its mantle as the best smartphone camera on the market.

The Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro also share the same secondary ultra-wide sensor. This takes a step back to 12MP from the 16MP of their predecessor, but with larger 1.25µm pixel width, the same f/2.2 aperture, and a wider 114-degree field of view. As such, it is better in almost every other regard and should yield sharper results in low-light conditions.  

Pixel 6 Pro

(Image credit: Google)

Rounding out the similarities between the two phones, each offers laser detect autofocus, optical and electronic image stabilization, a spectral and flicker sensor (helps with pulsing light from LCD screens, LED lighting, etc…), and Google’s Fast camera launcher.

The Pixel 6 Pro adds a third lens for the first time on a Pixel phone, and it’s a doozy. The new 4x optical telephoto lens of the Pixel 6 Pro offers an impressive 48MP, nearly matching the primary lens. It doesn’t match that sensor in other regards with a 0.8µm pixel width, an f/3.5 aperture, and a half-inch image sensor size, however, it is a unique telephoto diverging from the lower megapixel, but higher optical zoom that we have seen from Samsung. Google claims it can deliver Super Res Zoom at up to 20x. We’ll need to see in testing how this holds up against Samsung’s 100x Space Zoom.

Turning to the front-facing cameras, the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro differ here as well, and in a somewhat strange fashion. The Pixel 6 offers a superior aperture at f/2.0 compared to f/2.2 on the Pixel 6 Pro, but the 6 Pro comes out ahead on pixel size at 1.22µm versus 1.12µm. It also has a higher resolution at 11.1MP to 8MP and a wider field of view at 94 degrees to 84 degrees, which is helpful for group selfies. 

Pixel 6 Pro Magic Eraser

(Image credit: Google)

That’s the hardware, but Google also made numerous additions to the camera software with a wealth of features that I can’t wait to test out. These include Magic Eraser, which will make unwanted elements in your photos disappear, so say goodbye to photobombers. Face Unblur will help recover photos of kids or anyone else who has trouble holding still for a photo and give you a crisp capture of their face even in motion. Real Tone is a new feature added to the core algorithm that is meant to improve the representation of a range of skin tones with greater nuance. Finally, Motion Mode creates dynamic shots of moving objects either by applying a blur to the background via Action Pan or blurring the subject of the phone with Long Exposure.

Video hasn’t typically been a strength for the Pixels, so it will be interesting to see if this new hardware can help turn things around. The video specs for both Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro are identical with fairly standard 4K at 30 or 60 frames per second and 1080p at 30 or 60 fps. The Pixel 6 Pro has the edge when it comes to front-facing camera videography with 4K at 30 fps and 1080p at 30 or 60 fps, while the Pixel 6 is stuck with 1080p at 30 fps.

Software again may be the key to unlocking more from the Pixel as a video tool given the inclusion of Cinematic Pan, Slo-mo at up to 240 fps, 4K Timelapse with stabilization, Astrophotography timelapse, a host of new stabilization options including a 1080p Active video stabilization for more adventurous videos. Again, we’ll be putting all of these new tools through their paces soon.

Google Tensor chip

(Image credit: Google)

Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro: Tensor chip 

While the cameras drew considerable attention, the biggest change for the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro is the introduction of Google’s Tensor chip. This represents the company breaking away from Qualcomm’s Snapdragon for the first time. We’ll need to run the phones through the gamut of our tests and real-world usage to get a feel for it, but here’s what we know about Tensor so far.

Google claims these are the fastest Pixels ever and that’s a safe bet after last year’s Pixel 5 dropped to a mid-tier Snapdragon 765G processor. The Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro deliver up to 80% faster performance than the Pixel 5 according to Google, which doesn’t put them anywhere near the current Snapdragon 888 or Apple’s A15 (or even A14 Bionic), but it’s still a significant jump from last year.

However, the real question with Tensor is what else Google has built into the chip as it presumably optimized the CPU for certain tasks. This includes advanced on-device AI for faster and better speech recognition and improved image processing. Tensor has a new custom image processor that helps to unlock some of the Pixel’s new camera features that I mentioned above.

Tensor also introduces a new security core that works in tandem with the Titan M2 security chip to protect the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro. Finally, Google claims Tensor will help to deliver all-day battery life by adapting to your usage.

Pixel 6 Pro

(Image credit: Google)

Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro: Battery life and charging 

After perennially coming up short on battery life, Google appears to have learned its lesson with the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro, which feature substantial 4614mAh and 5003mAh batteries, respectively.

Google claims this will be enough to deliver “Beyond 24-hour battery life” and up to 48-hours of battery life if you use Extreme Battery Saver. Naturally, we’ll have to see how this does in our battery testing and our daily usage during our reviews, but the specs and claims from Google are encouraging.

Charging also gets a nice little boost with support for up to 30W fast charging. The bad news is that Google isn’t including its 30W USB-C charger in the box, so you’ll need to buy it separately or find another 30W USB-C charger with USB-PD 3.0 support in order to enjoy those new speeds. Google indicates that both phones can get up to a 50% charge in about 30 minutes with this new charger. It’s no OnePlus Warp Charger 65, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Both phones also support Qi wireless charging, fast wireless charging, and battery share if you have a pair of wireless headphones or a Qi-compatible smartwatch that you need to top up on the go.

Pixel 6

(Image credit: Google)

Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro: Support

Google’s improved software support is significant enough to warrant its own section. The Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro both come with a minimum of five years of security updates. That’s up from three years on the Pixel 5 and it finally puts Google back at the pinnacle of Android software support where it belongs.

There is one caveat here: the company is less forthcoming on how long the phones will receive major OS updates. Only security updates are guaranteed, beyond that it simply notes that “Updates may also include feature drops and other software updates.” This should still be worth a victory lap as security updates are the most concerning and feature updates frequently come from app updates rather than major OS updates anyway. While Apple still reigns supreme with its six years of updates, this move from Google essentially erases support as a meaningful advantage for the iPhone.

Pixel 6 Direct My Call

(Image credit: Google)

Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro: Software 

The Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro run near-stock versions of Android 12. You can check out that review for a deeper look at the visual and functional overhaul that our reviewer said makes Android “a joy to use again.” 

However, the Pixel always has a handful of additional tricks up its sleeve, so here’s a look at some of those new features.

If you have to call a business, for example, a tech support line, the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro can take some of the pain out of it with Wait Times, Direct my Call and Hold for Me. These features will show you optimal times to call a particular business, transcribe automated menu options for you, and notify you when someone picks up your call after putting you on hold.

Assistant gets a nice power-up for voice typing, allowing you to just say “Hey Google, type” when you are in a messaging app, and it will let you dictate and send messages completely hands-free.

Live Translate is more impressive than ever with the ability to translate messages (11 languages) or media (5 languages) on your phone in real-time. The camera mode using Google Lens will translate anything it sees in 55 languages offline and 104 languages when online. Using Interpreter Mode, Assistant will translate back and forth for you in up to 48 languages online.

Pixel 6 Pro

(Image credit: Google)

Outlook 

The Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro represent a massive investment of time and money from Google and the fact that it has dramatically undercut the competition with its aggressive pricing shows just how serious the company is about making this work. 

There are some areas of concern with performance not matching top flagships, but we’ll have to see it in action to determine whether that’s a problem or if Google has a different set of priorities. I’ve said repeatedly in my reviews that the top Android flagships and iPhones are more powerful than anyone needs them to be; Google may have found a balance of enough power while delivering a variety of other optimizations.

As a longtime Pixel user, I’m excited to put these phones to the test as they represent Google’s vision for its smartphones. I have high hopes for these phones. At the same time, Google is throwing many ambitious ideas together for the first time and that can also be a recipe for disaster. Here’s hoping that isn’t the case for the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro.

Sean Riley

Sean Riley has been covering tech professionally for over a decade now. Most of that time was as a freelancer covering varied topics including phones, wearables, tablets, smart home devices, laptops, AR, VR, mobile payments, fintech, and more.  Sean is the resident mobile expert at Laptop Mag, specializing in phones and wearables, you'll find plenty of news, reviews, how-to, and opinion pieces on these subjects from him here. But Laptop Mag has also proven a perfect fit for that broad range of interests with reviews and news on the latest laptops, VR games, and computer accessories along with coverage on everything from NFTs to cybersecurity and more.