Google (GOOG, GOOGL) is finally getting serious about its smartphone business with the release of its new Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro. The phones, both of which are available Oct. 28 and start at $599 and $899, respectively, are Google’s first attempt at trying to match the capabilities of premium smartphones like Samsung’s Galaxy S21 and Apple’s iPhone 13 blow for blow.
We’re talking custom chips, top flight cameras, and software features powered by Android 12 that make using your smartphone a lot easier.
That’s not to say that Apple (AAPL) fans are going to switch. They’re likely locked in for good at this point thanks to the company’s ecosystem of apps and accessories. Samsung users, on the other hand, well, they’ve got an excellent new option available to them.
Powerful new Tensor processor
Sleek new Android 12 interface
Fantastic camera and camera capabilities
A premium look
Google has generally outfitted its Pixel phones with an understated design. But the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro get a new look with an embellished camera area that juts out as a horizontal rectangle from the phone’s rear, and a display that cascades over the phones’ edges.
The Pixel 6 gets a 6.4-inch panel, while the Pixel 6 Pro has a 6.7-inch display. Like Samsung’s phones, Google has chosen to go with a pinhole-style selfie camera that looks like someone punched a small hole in the top of the phones’ screens.
The Pixel 6’s screen is an OLED model with a dynamic refresh rate of up to 90Hz. Basically, the display can refresh up to 90 times per second depending on the on-screen action. The Pixel 6 Pro, however, gets an LTPO OLED display with a 120-Hz refresh rate. LTPO is a type of screen technology that allows the panel’s refresh rate to change dynamically, so if you’re playing games, the refresh rate will jump up to 120Hz. If you’re reading a static page, though, the refresh rate can drop down to as low as 10Hz. Both Samsung’s Galaxy S21 Ultra and Apple’s iPhone 13 Pro offer adaptive refresh rates, as well.
The Pixel 6 and 6 Pro also get in-display fingerprint readers. I typically prefer face unlock or a rear fingerprint reader that’s easier to physically locate by touch. But Google has added a bright light that shines through your finger when you’re using the sensor that makes it far more user friendly.
Tons of Android and AI features
Since the Pixel and Pixel Pro 6 are Google’s first real attempt to take on Samsung and Apple, the company loaded them up with myriad new features.
Let’s start with Android 12’s Material You user interface. An all around upgrade of the operating system, Material You lets you change the home screen and lock screen using any photo of your choice, and then will automatically match the color scheme of that photo across the entire OS.
A photo of a wine glass, for instance, changed the scheme to bright greens, blues, and greys. You can, of course, choose from preset backgrounds if that’s more your speed
Google has also added new calling specific features. For instance, if you type in a toll-free number, the screen will show you how long the average wait time for the line usually is across seven days. There’s even an option for it to transcribe automated menu, and one that lets you tell the phone to stay on hold for you via Google Assistant. Assistant will then tell you when the hold is over and you can get back on the line.
Voice assisted typing also gets an upgrade, and translation is now available across the device. You can also add live captions that provide you with on-screen captions for anything you’re watching or listening to.
A new privacy dashboard lets you see what apps are accessing things like your contacts, camera, microphone, calendar and more. And if you don’t like that an app has access to something, you can easily revoke it.
Big camera changes
Both the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro get new wide angle, and ultra-wide angle cameras, while the Pro model also gets a telephoto lens that features an up to 4x optical zoom. Images taken with the Pro were crisp and colorful. Hues were more subdued than those found in shots taken with the iPhone 13 or S21 Ultra. And, of course, Google's excellent low-light mode called Night Sight, is again a standout feature, capturing images that otherwise shouldn't be possible with a smartphone camera.
AI features powered by Google’s new custom Tensor chip include Magic Erase, which is just as impressive as it sounds. The option lets you circle objects in your photos and automatically remove them as if they were never there. I’ve used it to remove a turkey that was walking down the road from a shot and a wine glass from a photo. It's truly wild to see each time.
That said, it’s not perfect. You can’t remove massive objects that are the main focus on the shot, such as a person or tree without creating a large blur in your photo.
Then there’s the Motion Mode, Face Blur, and Real Tone features. Motion Mode lets you add a hint of motion to shots with things like streams, moving cars or ferris wheels to make the image appear as though it was taken using a long exposure.
Face Blur removes the blur around faces for things like photos of kids who don’t like to sit still. Real Tone, meanwhile, helps ensure that photos taken of subjects with varying skin tones actually appear as they really do, something that has, unfortunately, been a problem with smartphone cameras in the past.
Performance and battery life
This is the first go for Google’s custom ARM-based Tensor chip, and it worked incredibly well during my testing. Swiping through apps, and navigating the operating system was super smooth and hiccup-free, while games like “Asphalt 9” and “Call of Duty” ran buttery smooth.
As for battery life, the Pixel 6 Pro is a beast. It ran through an entire day of use, including streaming much of Thursday Night Football on the Yahoo Sports app (shameless plug), scrolling through social media, tapping away in Slack, and checking emails, and still had plenty of juice left to get me through until about 2:30 p.m. next day.
Should you get it?
With the Pixel 6 Pro, Google has married both excellent software and hardware to create a smartphone that’s easily among the best around. If you’re an Android fan looking to upgrade, you can’t go wrong here. As for iPhone fans, it may be worth a look, too.
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