It has been some time since Google has sat at the same table as the big boys of the smartphone industry. Their Pixel line has laid right along the premium mid-range line, never quite reaching the same flagship-level as the Samsung-s or the Apple-s. Their latest additions though, the Google Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro, are the company’s newest attempt to close the gap.
Key to this is Google’s transition away from third-party SoCs (system on a chip) to using their very own custom one — which they have dubbed Google Tensor. And with Tensor, a slew of improvements have been mooted, bringing the Pixel closer to the competition.
But before we go deeper into what Google’s Tensor chip can do, let’s start with what first impressions the Google Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro give off.
Design and Build
Aesthetically, the Google Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro differentiate themselves from the crowd with their design. While camera bumps off at one side have become the norm in smartphones, the Pixel phones’ implementation is rather unique in comparison.
At the back, the camera bump runs horizontally across the length of the phone, housing all the cameras inside. It’s a nice implementation that ensures that the phones won’t rock when left on a table. This also grants a two-toned colour scheme for the Pixel phones, with the bottom side contrasting with another colour used in the little area left at the top. By virtue of being a bigger phone, the Pixel 6 Pro also has a slightly larger area on top.
For both the Google Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro units (who wear the same Stormy Black variant), the darker black from the bottom half contrasts nicely with the lighter grey at the top — it looks visually pleasing. Unfortunately, Singapore does not offer as much colour variety as what is available in the US. For instance, the Pixel 6 Pro only has a muted white finish (Cloudy White) as its alternative. Luckily, the regular Pixel 6 carries a much brighter lime green look (Sorta Seafoam) for you to choose from.
The material used on the back of both phones is glass, and it gives off a premium feel to anyone handling it. However, they are also a magnet for fingerprint marks, so if you don’t want to be constantly wiping down the phone, be sure to have a case on it.
Google Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro have great tactile buttons on the side; they get really clicky, and the feedback is very satisfying whenever you are pressing down on them. Though, you might need some time to get used to their placement as I did. Google curiously placed the volume rocker below the lock button, which threw me off quite a bit during the initial days of my use.
Pixel 6 Pro is the larger of the two and measures at 6.7-inches. The screen on the Pro also curves over at the sides — it looks good visually but keep in mind that curved screens are more prone to getting damaged, especially if you do not have a phone case on them. Meanwhile, the smaller Pixel 6 is 6.4-inches. This time, it is a regular flat implementation for the screen.
I also want to preface that these phones are made for big hands, particularly the Pixel 6 Pro. My hands are probably on the smaller side, and it was quite the hassle to use with only one hand, courtesy of the combination of the big screen size and its weight. The smaller Pixel 6 wasn’t as uncomfortable, but I will still hesitate to use it one-handed if I don’t have to.
Both phones use OLED panels for their screens, but there are a couple of differences between them. For one, there’s the resolution. The Pro version has a slightly higher resolution of 1440p, while the regular Pixel 6 is 1080p.
Resolutions aside, both phones have excellent screens. Colours appear bright and vivid on display, and the images are crisp and sharp — watching media on these phones is an absolute joy, and the OLED certainly plays a role in that.
The refresh rate is another aspect that separates the Pixel 6 and its Pro sibling. The Pixel 6 goes up to 90Hz, while the Pixel 6 Pro can handle up to 120Hz. To be frank, there’s no discernible difference between the two, at least to my eyes. Either way, the faster refresh rates on both make the user experience feel great with the snappiness and smoothness when scrolling through on the phones.
As mentioned earlier, the new Tensor chip is the heart of both phones. In terms of the experience of using the phones daily, both run assuredly fast and responsive. Navigating around the UI and switching between various apps did not bring about any instance of slowdown or lag that I could discern.
Speaking of the UI, Google Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro include the new Material You UI as part of the latest Android update. The UI is more visual than technical, with the phone adapting the interface style to the type of background you have chosen. It nonetheless is very appealing to the eye, with the UI elements nicely colour-coordinating to your wallpaper. Plus, it makes customisation more convenient.
But Tensor brings more to the table than just improved power—a lot of Google’s A.I. features have also been enhanced as well. So if you’re a frequent user of things like Live Transcription or Live Translate, you’ll find that they work faster than before.
One thing I did notice while using the Pixel 6 phones is that even without doing much heavy workload, the phones would get pretty hot at the back. Not enough to cook an egg, but enough to feel uncomfortable (especially in the Singapore weather).
Overall, the experience of Google Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro’s user performance feels more like a refinement rather than real major innovation. Granted, these improvements are significant for the user experience and those entrenched in the Google ecosystem, but I wouldn’t say these changes have been world-changing for the phone’s performance. However, it is a promising debut for the first iteration of Tensor.
In terms of sound, both phones have booming dual speakers that can get plenty loud without audio getting muffled when the volume is at the higher end. Don’t expect it to replace dedicated speakers though; there’s a lack of punchiness in the sound, so listening to music isn’t as good as it can be.
The camera system is another aspect of the Pixel 6 phones that the new Tensor chip has enhanced.
With Google Tensor, users now have access to a couple of cool new camera features. At the top of the list is Magic Eraser. It essentially is Pixel’s very own Photoshop tool, allowing you to remove any wanted objects or people in an image. All you have to do is either circle or colour in the subject that you want ‘erased’.
It works surprisingly well. For some photos that have been edited with the Magic Eraser tool, you’d be hard-pressed to distinguish where the change was made. But, of course, it only works to a certain extent. The more things you have interfering within the image’s background, the harder it is for the A.I. to do the work. Shadows for instance, are a constant menace in that regard. The best-case scenario would be to have a photo with a consistent background and only a few things within the frame.
The other touted camera feature is Motion Mode. Motion Mode itself comprises two functions — Action Pan and Long Exposure. Action Pan helps focus on a moving object while bringing a motion effect with a blurred background, making for a dynamic motion shot. Meanwhile, the Long Exposure feature adds blur effects to moving objects, so you’ll be able to mimic those images of light streaks filled highways without a tripod.
Just like the Magic Eraser, they are easy to use, and they also come out looking quite nicely as well. So it’s another valuable tool for Instagram fans.
While Tensor has improved the camera feature set, Google has also upgraded the cameras physically. The primary sensor for both phones is now larger than its predecessor, which helps to capture more light in the environment. The Pro version also has an additional new 4x telephoto camera included with the phone.
The Pixel phone line’s cameras have always received much lauding, and the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro continues the trend. Images come out sharp, and colours are expressive, especially for bright tones. Likewise, the night mode makes low-light photography look like you’re capturing in the day with the details in the environment kept in the image, no doubt helped by the bigger camera sensor.
Pixel 6 Pro’s telephoto camera is also particularly helpful in capturing things in the distance. The 4x zoom can go pretty far, but the image still retains detail and appears clear. The Pro also has a selfie camera with a wider field of view, so you’ll be able to fit more people in the frame.
I wasn’t able to test the video shooting too much, but it is an upgrade over previous Pixel devices overall — with 4K resolution/60fps included as one of the shooting options.
Both the Google Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro have decent battery lives, lasting close to two days with normal usage (web-browsing, social media, video streaming). However, the Pro model in particular, is more of a surprise considering it has a high 120Hz refresh rate in play.
While the phones support fast charging, you’ll have to use your own brick or make a separate purchase as the box doesn’t come with one. However, once you get your hands on one, you can expect a full charge to finish around the 1-hour 45-minute mark.
Wireless charging is also supported on both Pixel 6 phones if you prefer convenience to speed.
Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro brings Google much closer to the big smartphone players. Their new Tensor chip brings noticeable improvements and tricks to separate the Pixel phones from what you can find in regular smartphones.
Admittedly though, these improvements still do not take the Pixel phones to the high bar of a flagship just yet, but it is on the precipice. Nevertheless, Tensor is an excellent first step, and I’m eager to see what the next iteration can bring to the table.
Photos by Brandon Neo of the DANAMIC Team.