With an Amazing Camera, a Slick Design and Neat Software, Google Pixel 6 Pro Is an All-Around Winner
Updated: Oct 30, 2021
The Pixel 6 Pro is the best phone Google has ever made and one of the best phones you can buy right now. With solid performance, some great software additions, a unique design and an excellent camera system, it's got everything you'd look for in a flagship phone in 2021.
And it offers all that at a price that, sensibly, undercuts its main rivals. The 6.7-inch base 128GB model costs $899 (£849, AU$1,299), a sizable chunk more diminutive than the 6.1-inch iPhone 13 Pro's $999 price and even more off the $1,099 Apple wants for the more prominent 6.7-inch 13 Pro Max.
While last year's Pixel 5 was best seen as a midrange phone with some higher-end touches, the Pixel 6 Pro is premium all the way. From its glass and metal design to its high-resolution display and its superb triple camera, there's a lot to like here. Then there's the Tensor processor -- a chip custom-made by Google for the phone -- which provides ample power for all of your daily needs, better security features, 5G connectivity and a slick Android 12 interface. Battery life is good -- certainly above average -- but not great, with the iPhone 13 Pro putting in a more robust performance.
Its best Android rival is the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, which has some neat camera additions (that 10x zoom, for one thing), but it costs more, and the Pixel 6 Pro offers a more user-friendly experience. The iPhone 13 Pro and Pro Max offer great all-around use but come at a higher price, and if you're already entrenched in the Android ecosystem, it's likely not worth switching and buying all those apps again.
Those looking for the best all-around Android experience should look towards the Pixel 6 Pro.
Pixel 6 Pro or Pixel 6?
The stepdown is $599 (£599, AU$999). Pixel 6 packs the same Tensor processor and lovely Android 12 software for $300 less than the Pro, but it makes a few compromises to come to that lower price.
It has a smaller and lower resolution 6.4-inch display that lacks the curving finesse of the Pro. Its battery is smaller, it has 8GB rather than 12GB of RAM, and it lacks the 4x telephoto zoom lens found on the Pro.
But it's still a great phone that's well worth considering. It provides many of the same perks as the Pixel 6 Pro at a much lower price, especially if you don't care about the top-end performance offered by the flagship. As my colleague, Patrick Holland put it in his review of the phone, "For the price, I can't think of a better phone to recommend right now."
A Fresh Design That Stands Out
I didn't love the look of last year's Pixel 5. The matte, rubberized back gave the phone a more budget feel than its $699 price tag suggested. The Pixel 6 Pro is worlds apart. The rear is all glass -- toughened Gorilla Glass Victus -- curves at the edges to meet the 100% recycled aluminium frame.
The glass curves at the edges on the front, too, as does the display beneath it, making it not only look more premium but feel like an indeed flagship device when you hold it in your hand. It's big, though, packing in a 6.7-inch display, which will make it more cumbersome for some than the 6-inch Pixel 5 or 6.4-inch Pixel 6. That glass makes it slippery, too, so consider one of Google's protective cases if you're nervous about dropping it.
It is IP68-rated for water resistance, meaning it can withstand being in 1 meter (about 3 feet) of water for up to 30 minutes. No, that doesn't mean you can take it swimming, but it does mean it should be able to shake off having the odd beer spilt over it by your clumsy mates.
An interesting design choice is the large camera bar that stretches across the back. It protrudes from the phone by about 3mm, so it doesn't lie flat when you put it on a table, but nor does it rock from corner to corner like phones with camera bumps just on one side (like the S21 Ultra). I like the look of the phone, and it certainly stands out. One tip, though: Get the Sorta Sunny orangey-peachy colour, if you can find it in stock. The black-and-grey option, Stormy Black, looks rather dull by comparison.
The rear-mounted fingerprint scanner seen on the Pixel 5 has been removed, replaced instead with an in-screen scanner, which I found worked accurately and quickly most of the time, although Patrick found the Pixel 6's scanner to be much more hit and miss in his review. There's no face unlock ability, which is a bit of a shame, but with masks still being a requirement in many indoor areas due to COVID-19, having a fingerprint scanner is arguably more helpful anyway.
Three Excellent Cameras
That big bar on the back hides three cameras: a 12-megapixel ultrawide; a 48-megapixel telephoto that offers 4x optical zoom; and the primary camera that uses a larger 1/1.3-inch sensor, which Google says captures 2.5x more light than the Pixel 5. The cameras on the Pixel phones have always been excellent, and this new generation is no different.
Does Google's Tensor Processor Make a Difference?
At the heart of the phone is Google's first home-baked processor, named Tensor. It's a significant move for Google to produce its silicon, and it shows a solid commitment to remain in the hardware game. After all, you don't go to the effort of developing your processors as a one-off experiment.
But it's essentially irrelevant once you get the Pixel in your hand, as it functions just like any other phone. It's nippy to navigate around the Android 12 interface. Games like Asphalt 9: Legends and Call of Duty play perfectly, while photo editing and video streaming are handled precisely as well as you'd get from any other top-end phone right now.
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