After many leaks, official teases, and months of waiting, Google has finally given its latest Pixel phones a formal launch. The new Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro are the latest high-end phones from the company that hasn’t traditionally been able to make much of a dent in the high-end phone market. Both are available for preorder starting today, October 19th, and will begin shipping on October 28th. Google says all the major US carriers, plus retailers such as the Google Store, Best Buy, Amazon, Walmart, Costco, and others, will be selling the phones.
There are a lot of things to cover with the new Pixels, but the most important place to start is this: $599 and $899. Those are the starting prices for the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro, respectively. That pricing is aggressive compared to similar iPhones, Samsungs, or even OnePlus phones, especially when you consider that Google is providing 128GB of storage in both base models. (The 6 can be equipped with up to 256GB, the 6 Pro has options up to 512GB.)
Aggressive pricing has long been a Pixel thing, and though the new Pixel 6 and 6 Pro represent a new push from Google to make phones that are competitive with the best from Apple and Samsung, these prices are just lower than the competition. A big draw for a lot of people might be that, at the end of the day, the Pixels just cost less.
The other big thing to note with the Pixels is their new processor, a custom-designed ARM SoC (System on a Chip) that Google is calling Tensor. Google says it’s competitive with the Snapdragon 888 from Qualcomm, which is what you find in basically every other high-end Android phone available right now.
There’s a lot going on with this processor. The most important piece is that there’s a custom TPU (Tensor Processing Unit) for AI built right into the chip and many main processing pipelines. In addition, there are two high-power application cores, two mid-range cores, four low-power cores, a dedicated coprocessor for security, a private compute core, and an image processing core. The Pixel 6 pairs the new chip with 8GB of RAM, while the 6 Pro has 12GB.
There’s a lot going on with Google’s new Tensor processor
Visually, the new phones are a departure from prior Pixel phones. Though they share a common design language, that language doesn’t really connect back to the Pixel 5 or the Pixel 4 that came before. Instead, these are flashier, shinier phones, with polished metal frames (on the 6 Pro) and glossy glass backs (on both). Google is offering each phone in three different colors, but the 6 Pro’s are decidedly more “professional” (read: boring), while the regular Pixel 6 colors are clearly more fun.
I haven’t really been able to put a finger on how I feel about the new designs, but there’s something undeniably generic about them. Take the G logo off the back, and these could be phones from Samsung, TCL, OnePlus, Oppo, or any one of a number of other Chinese OEMs. Prior Pixel phones often were criticized for having a plain look that bordered on reference designs, but they all had a Google-y aesthetic to them. I’m not sure these new models have it.
By the way, Google’s rules for reviewers and influencers dictate that today, we can write about hardware impressions and specs but not provide any details on software, performance, or image quality. It’s meant to provide a sort of hands-on experience — rest assured, we will have much more to say in the full review.
The most prominent feature on the 6 and 6 Pro is the back camera housing. I call it a ledge; you might call it a shelf; Google seems to refer to it as a “bar,” but it’s an enormous protuberance that spans the entire width of the phone and houses two (Pixel 6) or three (6 Pro) cameras and related sensors in it. The bar is large, but unlike camera housings located in the upper corner, like you get on an iPhone or Samsung, it doesn’t cause the Pixel 6 or 6 Pro to rock when placed down. A case will likely help mitigate the size, as well.
A camera upgrade years in the making
That back camera housing is so prominent because, as usual with Pixel phones, the camera is one of the most important parts of these new models. Google has finally switched to a new camera sensor after using the prior one for four straight generations. Both phones have a 50-megapixel main sensor that is hard coded to output 12.5-megapixel images. It’s a much larger sensor than Google’s used before — physically larger than even the iPhone 13 Pro’s new camera sensor — comes with 1.2μm pixels, and is behind an f/1.85 aperture optically stabilized lens. Google says it captures 150 percent more light than the Pixel 5’s camera. Next to it is a 12-megapixel ultrawide camera with a 114-degree field of view, f/2.2 lens and similarly large 1.25μm pixels.
If you spring for the Pixel 6 Pro, you also get a 4x telephoto camera that’s not available on the standard Pixel 6. This uses folded optics, has 48-megapixels (also binned down to 12-megapixel output), and has an f/3.5 aperture lens. 4x is slightly longer reach than you get with the iPhone 13 Pro’s 3x tele but not nearly as far as the 10x lens that Samsung has been putting on its high-end phones (not to mention the even longer lenses companies like Xiaomi and Huawei have deployed recently).
The front cameras differ between the models, too, with the Pixel 6 getting an 8-megapixel, 84-degree field of view and the 6 Pro using an 11.1-megapixel, 94-degree camera. That translates into you’ll be able to fit more people in a selfie with the 6 Pro than you can with the 6.
The new processor enables some new image editing features, like a “magic eraser” tool that gets rid of distracting elements in your images automatically and new long-exposure and motion blur capture modes.
For video, both phones can shoot up to 4K 60fps, now complete with Google’s auto HDR image processing, or capture up to 240fps slow-mo video at 1080p. While Google has generally excelled at still image capture, it has long been behind Apple in video capture — we’ll be seeing just how far it’s come and if it’s more competitive now when we review the phones.
Turning to the front of the devices, the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro both have large, OLED displays. The 6’s screen measures 6.4 inches diagonally, has 1080p wide resolution, and can refresh at 90Hz for a smoother scrolling experience. It’s a flat panel and has slightly larger bezels all around than the 6 Pro, which utilizes curved sides on its 6.7-inch, 1440p screen to minimize the bezels. The 6 Pro also uses LTPO technology to vary its refresh rate from as low a 10Hz all the way up to 120Hz, depending on what you’re doing on the phone. Both phones’ displays are covered in the latest Gorilla Glass Victus glass and support HDR.
The screens are bright and look good, though if you turn them off-axis, you can see noticeable color shift, and there’s a visible shadow in the 6 Pro’s curves. Those are things we don’t see in the best screens from Apple and Samsung at this point.
As you can probably guess from those screen sizes, both of these phones are big. Unlike prior years where Google provided a small and a big option, there’s no real small phone in this lineup. In fact, the Pixel 6 is effectively as big as an iPhone 13 Pro Max; the 6 Pro is even larger, though its curves help mask its large footprint somewhat.
Between the two, the 6 Pro certainly feels more “premium.” Its aluminum sides are thinner and polished to a shine; the regular 6 has thicker, matte sides. And there are more rough edges to find: there’s a different radius curve for the camera bar than the rest of the phone and inconsistencies with the clickiness of the buttons in the units we’ve been able to handle so far.
There aren’t any major feature omissions this time around — a rarity for Pixel phones
Rounding out the hardware features are the things you’d expect to find on a premium phone in late 2021. Both have wireless charging (and reverse wireless charging for accessories), IP68 weather resistance ratings, in-screen optical fingerprint sensors, stereo speakers, and fast charging support. But you won’t get a charger in the box — you’ll have to either buy a 30W brick separately or use something you already have to take advantage of that last feature.
Both phones also support 5G, Wi-Fi 6E, and Bluetooth 5.2 connectivity, though only the 6 Pro and a special version of the 6 for Verizon (which costs $100 more) have millimeter wave support. Batteries are large in both models, as well: 4614mAh in the 6 and 5004mAh in the 6 Pro. We won’t know for sure until we’re able to fully review them, but the concerns of Pixel phones coming with underequipped batteries seem to be fully in the past at this point.
Lastly, the Pixel 6 Pro also has an ultrawideband chip, similar to recent iPhone and Galaxy models.
As you’d expect from a Pixel, the new models ship with the latest version of Android — in this case, Android 12. We’ve already gone in depth on Android 12, but the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro add a few new features that leverage their custom processors, such as faster on-device translation and those new AI-powered image editing features mentioned above. Importantly, Google says the new phones will get a minimum of five years of software support, longer than any other Pixel before and longer than virtually any other Android phone you can buy now.
Google really wants us to know that the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro are a turning point for the company. In an interview ahead of the announcement, Google hardware chief Rick Osterloh said “this is truly the starting line for Pixel, in that, we’ve brought together all the elements that we think we need to be a real player in this space.” We can’t tell yet whether Google will finally be a “real player” in the smartphone world with its Pixel phones, but the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro do look like its best effort yet. Stay tuned for our full review in the near future.