Google Pixel 6 Review

Our expert found the Pixel 6 is Google's best ever Android phone

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4

Google Pixel 6

Google's Pixel 6 handset
Google's Pixel 6.

Adam Doud/Lifewire

What We Like
  • Impressive hardware

  • Android 12 is a great upgrade

  • Very good camera

  • Extremely attractive price point

What We Don't Like
  • Android 12 is still buggy

  • Disappointing zoom

  • Poor quality pictures at night

The Google Pixel 6 is a game changer in the smartphone space, and everyone else should stand up and take notice. At $599, it's a steal.

4

Google Pixel 6

Google's Pixel 6 handset
Google's Pixel 6.

Adam Doud/Lifewire

Google provided us with a review unit for one of our writers to test. Read on for their full take.

Google has been in the smartphone business long enough to produce six generations of Pixel phones. They've all been good value and decent phones, but with the Pixel 6, Google seems fully focused on trying to create a truly great phone, rather than being content playing catchup with Apple and Samsung.

It's a very good phone at a ridiculously attractive price point, and at just $599, it's a steal. Here's why it's worth considering (even if you were thinking of buying an iPhone):

Pixel 6 rear

Adam Doud/Lifewire

Design: Head-turning

2021 has been the year of the camera bump, and the one on the Pixel 6 is so big it has its own off-ramp. Above and below that bar, you'll see two tones of color, making for a nice look. Color options for the Pixel 6 include Cloudy White, Kinda Coral, Sorta Seafoam, Sorta Sunny, and Stormy Black (our model).

This phone should withstand most scratches, but be careful with falls. The front and back of the phone are covered in a chemically strengthened glass known as Gorilla Glass, with the toughest glass being placed on the front. It's slippery to hold and can slide itself off a table if you're not careful.

Apart from creating space for the cameras, the camera bump also offers a nice place to rest your finger, helping to hold the phone in place and making it less likely you’ll drop it. In fact, the bump is so big I was able to hang the phone off signs using just the bump. 

2021 has been the year of the camera bump and the one on the Pixel 6 is so big it has its own off-ramp.

Google also claims the phone has an IP68 rating for dust and water resistance, an industry standard measurement which means it can survive in up to 1.5 meters of clean water for thirty minutes. Salt and chemicals can still affect the phone, so it'll survive in the rain, but not as well in the ocean or pool.

Performance: Speedy, with some hiccups

On the performance end, this phone holds its own against the competition. Gaming is really smooth, and I found it ran Call of Duty Mobile flawlessly, although I did run into a judder problem with a couple of apps.

IMDB and Amazon both experienced quite a bit of lag when scrolling. This manifested itself only once during my testing period, and it's hard to tell if this was a problem with the app, the processor, Android 12, or a combination of the three. The behavior has not repeated itself, so it's also possible it was a fluke, but it's definitely something to be aware of.

Connectivity: Solid everywhere

I used the Pixel 6 on T-Mobile in Chicago, Washington, D.C., and rural Virginia, running the gamut of connectivity. At times in the countryside and in the mountains, the phone lost its signal altogether, which is not uncommon for the area.

For comparison, I also carried an iPhone 13 running on T-Mobile's network. The Pixel 6 had marginally better connectivity than the iPhone, but there were times one phone had a signal and the other didn't, and vice versa. 

Pixel 6 rear

Adam Doud/Lifewire

Display: Smooth, like butter

Colors pop on this screen and it's very readable, even in bright sunlight. Text is sharp, crisp, and easy to read. You also get great viewing angles with little color change when looking at the phone screen from the side. It's right up there with other flagship phones like the iPhone 13. 

The 6.4-inch display on the Pixel uses a couple of technologies to give great pictures. First, it's an FHD+ (Full High Definition) screen, meaning it's the same kind of display as your HD TV (known as 1080p). It also uses a new screen technology known as AMOLED screen, which lights up individual pixels (the tiny 'dots' on your screen), and turns them off when they're not needed, meaning you get deeper blacks and a bigger difference between light and dark colors. 

What's most attractive about the display are technical improvements to the way it refreshes itself. Typical phones, such as the iPhone 13, will refresh the screen 60 times per second, while this phone refreshes 90 times per second, (known as a 90Hz refresh rate).

What this means is much smoother scrolling and animations when opening apps, or powering on the phone. When you're doing something that doesn't require the content on the screen to change, like reading a book, the refresh rate can drop to as little as ten refreshes per second, which saves a lot of battery life.

Camera: Neat tricks

If there is one thing Pixel phones are famous for, it's having great cameras. This being Google's flagship phone, there's quite a legacy to uphold here, so where does the Pixel 6 stand? First, let's talk about the hardware.

There are two camera sensors on the back of the phone. The first is a 50MP (megapixel) main camera and a 12MP ultrawide sensor. This is pretty standard for phones these days, and is more than good enough for all but professional photographers. That said, most flagship phones these days have a third sensor with a real physical zoom lens. That means the physical lenses in the phone are set to blow up a photo by anywhere between 2x to 10x.

Pixel 6 photograph

Adam Doud/Lifewire

The Google Pixel relies instead on a hybrid digital zoom that takes a smaller section of a photo, and blows it up, using the phone's AI chip (which is called Tensor and was made by Google itself) to fill in the gaps to make a "zoomed in" photo.

In use, it’s disappointing. The Pixel 6 has 2x digital zoom in the camera software. It can go up to 7x zoom, but things go very bad very quickly, so I'd recommend sticking to 2x zoom as your maximum. This surprised me, as I'd hope Google would be able to use AI to help out with a hybrid zoom capability, but that's simply not the case.

Pixel 6 shot taken at night

Ada Doud/Lifewire

The primary difference you'll notice between the ultrawide and main camera sensor is a distinct lack of detail in the ultrawide sensor. Things like leaves, grass, and landscape lose a lot of detail compared to the main sensor. There is no noticeable color difference between the two sensors, which can sometimes be an issue with other phone cameras.

When it comes to landscapes, even the 50MP camera doesn't capture as much detail as we'd usually like to see, although this is really only evident when you put those photos onto a huge computer monitor and blow up the photo to 100%. 

Shot on the Pixel 6

Adam Doud/Lifewire

When the lights go down, so does the quality. The main thing you'll notice is a lack of sharp focus on subjects that are moving. At night, the difference in sharpness between the ultrawide and main camera becomes even more pronounced. 

Otherwise though, photos are pretty solid. Lights in the foreground don't get overblown. Shadows are just a little grainy, but overall better than you'll usually see on a camera in this price range. Color reproduction is still quite good. As long as you're not shooting things that are moving, this camera holds up pretty well.

If there is one thing Pixel phones are famous for, it's having great cameras.

On the front the 8MP selfie camera is also a lot better during the day than at night. Again, focus is the main offender in the selfie department. For a flagship phone, Google needs to do better—we're living in a world where selfies are so common, meaning this is not a place to cut corners. 

Google has also added some neat photo editing tricks to the Android software on the Pixel 6. The most notable of these what's called a Magic Eraser that can remove unwanted extras from your photos - like people in the background, a sign, or even a vehicle from the road. Google uses AI to guess at what the background would normally look like, and often it's spot on. I ran into quite a few use cases where that feature came in handy.

Video is pretty smooth whether you're walking and shooting, or just panning across a nice scenic landscape. Transitioning from a dark area into a light area, such as emerging from under a bridge, also gives you a pretty smooth transition so the picture isn't blown out or oversaturated. At night, video quality is "social media good," meaning you can shoot decent videos with the camera, but don't have ambitions beyond Instagram or Facebook. The darks are quite grainy, but that's less evident when viewed on smaller screens.

Battery: Easy, all-day power

The Pixel 6 comes with a battery big enough to easily get you through a full day, and I found even with a lot of photography, I was still getting on average 34% in the tank at bedtime. As I was in a scenic area during my testing period, much of my time was dedicated to taking photos, listening to downloaded podcasts, and going in and out of areas with network coverage. It's likely more common usage would yield even more battery life.

My standard battery test involves navigating with the phone for 30 minutes at 75% brightness, followed by streaming Netflix on Wi-Fi at 75% brightness, followed by 30 minutes of gaming at 100% brightness. These three activities tax the phones battery the most, so I feel like it's a pretty good representation of how phones stack up against each other.

After that test, the Pixel 6 was at 81%. By comparison, the Pixel 5a came in at 83% and the iPhone 13 Pro also came in at 81%. In terms of capacity, batteries are measured in milliamp hour, which measures power over time, with the Pixel 6 coming in at 4614 mAh. However, this isn’t a great guide, because how long a phone actually lasts depends a lot on its software.

Pixel 6 showing Android 12

Adam Doud/Lifewire

Software: Great, but buggy

The Pixel 6 comes with Google's latest version of Android, which is Android 12. Additionally, Google promises three years of major operating system upgrades (up to Android 15) and five years of monthly security updates.

From a support perspective, that's pushing up into Apple territory (but not quite there). It’s an important move for Google, and future proofs the Pixel 6 far more than other phones running Google’s Android software, which are notorious for often not getting updates in a timely manner.

Live Translate is another step closer to that Universal Translator we're all looking for from Star Trek.

The Tensor chip, the first Google has built itself, allows a lot of the processing work into the phone itself which makes things faster, more reliable, and generally more capable than other chips. These capabilities are reflected in the software enhancements that are exclusive to the Pixel 6. 

Voice processing is one of the key features on the Pixel 6, as evidenced by features like Direct My Call, Assistant Voice Typing, and Live Translate. Direct My Call helps you navigate a phone tree, like when you call a customer service number. Google will listen to the voice prompts and print them out on the screen for you, so you don't have to remember what every number is. When you tap on the voice prompt, that number is pressed on the phone tree.

Live Translate is another step closer to that Universal Translator we're all looking for from Star Trek. You can speak into the translate app and it will translate the speech in real time on the phone. Someone else can then reply and it will automatically translate that text back. Additionally, you can point your phone's camera at a sign and it will translate the sign in real time on your phone screen.

Assistant Voice Typing is pretty slick. With voice typing you can simply activate Assistant by saying "Hey Google, type" and then dictate what you want to type (as long as there’s a text field on screen). During my testing, the phone was quick to pick up the ends of sentences, periods, question marks, and capital letters to start new sentences.

All that being said, the Pixel 6 is not immune to the occasional bug. The most notable was when the icon for the fingerprint sensor appeared in the wrong place on the screen, and when you pressed the icon, the actual fingerprint sensor activated and failed to read since your finger was not in the correct place. Google still has some work to do on Android 12.

Price: Amazing value

Google sells this phone starting at $599, which is really inexpensive for what it offers. You get a fast processor, amazingly smooth user experience, and a nice set of cameras. Another option to buy the phone is in the Pixel Pass, which bundles in a number of Google services such as Youtube Premium, Google One storage, and more for $45 per month.

Simply put, not only is this a phone you should buy, but at $599 it's a steal.

If you use all those services, that might be a good deal, but keep in mind if you want to use family plans for any of those services, that's not offered yet.

Pixel 6 vs. iPhone 13 mini

The closest comparison we can make for this phone is the iPhone 13. The Pixel 6 has better specifications in almost every category, and it comes in at $200 cheaper. Of course specifications don't tell the whole story. Google's Tensor chip is in its first generation while Apple has been doing this for awhile, so if you're leery of first-generation hardware (and we wouldn't blame you if you were), then you might want to wait. But otherwise, the Pixel 6 compares quite favorably to its fruity counterpart. Will iPhone owners switch? Probably not. But the Pixel 6 will undoubtedly stop a lot of Android phone owners from switching to an iPhone.

Final Verdict

An easy-to-use phone with great software and a great camera.

Not only is the Google Pixel 6 the company's most exciting phone yet, it's the most exciting phone released this year. Not only is this a phone to recommend to someone who doesn't want a Samsung or Apple, it's a phone to recommend even if they want a Samsung or Apple. It can stand toe-to-toe with any other flagship and come away smiling when all is said and done.

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Specs

  • Product Name Pixel 6
  • Product Brand Google
  • MPN GA02910-US
  • Price $599
  • Release Date October 2021
  • Weight 7.3 oz.
  • Product Dimensions 2.9 x 6.2 x 0.4 in.
  • Color Cloudy White, Kinda Coral, Sorta Seafoam, Sorta Sunny, Stormy Black
  • Platform Android 12
  • Processor Google Tensor (1st generation)
  • RAM 8GB
  • Storage 128 or 256GB (128GB tested)
  • Camera 50MP and 12MP
  • Battery Capacity 4614 mAh
  • Waterproof IP68
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