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The Pixel 6 Pro is an exciting evolution for the series that makes Google a true competitor to Apple and Samsung. Find out why in our full review.
The Pixel 6 Pro has returned in 2021 with a bold new look – but there’s more to the handset than a visual overhaul. Performance is smooth, the display is fantastic and the camera is still a major selling point for the series. It may not be totally perfect – the phone is quite large, and slippery in the hand – but its an still impressive handset that marks one of the best premium Android alternatives to the Apple iPhone.
The Google Pixel 6 Pro doesn’t really feel like a Pixel phone – and that’s intentional. It’s bigger, heavier and more powerful than its predecessors, and it unashamedly distances itself from the more budget-friendly models of the recent past.
It’s got a great display, silky smooth performance, a versatile camera setup and an appealing new aesthetic – representing not only a high-water mark for the series but Google’s best attempt yet at making a true competitor to the Apple iPhone.
Google Pixel phones have followed a similar pattern in recent years – offering a pure Android experience and an impressive AI-assisted camera at more affordable prices than Apple and Samsung. With the Pixel 6 Pro, Google has shaken up its own rule book – confidently ditching some traditional features while upping the cost.
After spending a week with the smartphone, we can confidently say that the strategy mostly succeeds. The Pixel 6 Pro is an exciting evolution for the series. Of course, it’s not perfect, but we didn’t find too many deal-breaker issues.
This year, there are two devices: the Pixel 6 (from £599) and the Pixel 6 Pro (from £849). There’s also the Pixel 5a 5G, but that isn’t available in the UK, so the only alternative is the Pixel 4a, which was released in 2020 and started from £349.
We have used the handset as our daily driver for days now, and in this review, we will break down its features, design, camera setup and more. Check out our Google Pixel 5 review and Google Pixel 4a 5G review to compare with the prior models.
Be sure to follow our coverage of the Google IO 2022 showcase on 11th May, which may be used to unveil the new mid-range Google Pixel 6a smartphone.
It’s fair to say there is a buzz surrounding the new Pixel series – with a lot of attention focusing on the new look that sees the camera module spanning the full width of the phone, separating the back of the frame into a two-tone colour design. In the same year that Apple played it safe with the new iPhone 13, it’s a welcome sight.
But there’s more to it than just meets the eye – the Pixel 6 Pro is running on Google’s new chip – Tensor – and performance was very smooth during our testing. That is aided by the OLED screen (1440 x 3120), which boasts a refresh rate of up to 120Hz, and a triple camera setup that makes taking striking photos look effortless.
There are some issues, but none ruined the experience. It boils down to this disclaimer: the phone is big and often slippery. Unlike the standard model, the Pixel 6 Pro doesn’t have the matte aluminium finish running along each side, so it’s a little tough to grip. The plus side is that the screen bezels are dramatically reduced.
Price: The Google Pixel 6 Pro is priced from £849.
The Pixel 6 Pro is Google’s flagship smartphone for 2021. It was launched on 19th October alongside the Pixel 6. The Pro variant looks very similar to the base model but has some enhanced specs, including an added telephoto lens, higher resolution screen, higher refresh rate, slightly better battery capacity and faster charging. It is bigger than the standard handset (6.7-inch display over 6.4-inch display) and comes with a higher price tag, too. Essentially, it is Google’s take on a true flagship.
While much of the conversation surrounding the Google phone may revolve around its increased price point – it’s still pretty affordable for a flagship handset.
For example, the iPhone 13 Pro Max retails from £1,049 in the UK, while Samsung’s S21 Ultra 5G is £1,199. The standard iPhone 13 is more of a direct competitor to the 6 Pro, priced from £779. The Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra flagship retails for £1,199.00.
The Pixel 5 cost £599 when it was released in October 2020. For comparison, that year’s standard iPhone was selling for £799. Google was in the routine of also releasing an even more affordable option with its A-series of handsets (the Pixel 4a is still on sale from £349), but the latest model, the Pixel 5a, isn’t currently available in the UK.
So the Pixel 6 Pro is clearly a set-up compared to its predecessor, but when judged against the rest of the industry, it’s actually a competitive price point. Some Google fans may not like the increased pricing, but we don’t feel short-changed by it.
Booting up the handset for the first time, the vibrant OLED display is the first feature that you will encounter. And it’s one that will continue to amaze during your time with the phone – the 120Hz refresh rate means scrolling is incredibly smooth, and it’s very responsive to the touch, providing really good haptic feedback with every press.
In many ways, Android 12 is the star of the show. The new UI – Material You – lives up to its name by providing adaptive wallpapers that match colour schemes across apps and an experience that’s totally free of bloatware or unwanted software.
The Pixel 6 Pro feels faster than older models, too, with the new Tensor processor seemingly working hard behind-the-scenes to boost performance and managing the phone’s many AI capabilities, including Live Translate, which can decipher foreign text from an image in real-time via your camera, or from text sent through a variety of messaging services such as WhatsApp, Twitter and Facebook Messenger.
Those AI modes extend to the camera, too. We loved the “Magic Eraser” mode in our testing. This is able to airbrush unwanted people or items from your photos, even suggesting which parts of the picture should be removed. This happens in real-time. It doesn’t always work and close up, you can often see a blurred artefact where the removed section once was, but it’s a really neat feature to have on-device.
A Motion Mode that’s now in the camera instantly spruces up your images by adding an artistic motion blur to either the subject (Long Exposure) or a background (Action Pan). It’s perfect for capturing a scene with moving cars – using Action Pan will keep the vehicle in focus while adding a swirling blur to the surroundings. Or, using Long Exposure on a waterfall will make the flow look very smooth – a desired photography technique. This happens on the device and in real-time – another nice addition.
The stereo speaker setup on the 6 Pro is also surprisingly strong – with a great level of bass coming through the mix, complementing Spotify or Netflix binges. If you’re listening without headphones, the speakers go louder than you probably need.
In some popular Pixels, including the Pixel 3a and Pixel 4a, Google had used a rear fingerprint scanner that became somewhat synonymous with the handsets – but that is not found in the latest series. The Pixel 6 Pro now has the scanner under the main display. Once set, it proved to be fast and responsive at reading our thumbprint.
The Pro handset comes with 12 GB RAM and either 128 GB or 256 GB of storage.
The Pixel 6 Pro has 5G connectivity, so if you are in a 5G-ready area, then you will be able to take advantage of faster internet speeds and downloads. Even in 2020, this is a feature that’s in most flagships, although full 5G is still rolling out in the UK.
The 5003mAh (typical) battery on the 6 Pro will easily last a full day of use – and we found in our tests that with the adaptive charging modes enabled and usage not too heavy, it can last closer to two – which is fairly normal for a modern flagship.
Using the smartphone’s own battery metrics in our testing, when the handset was at 96%, it was described as having “about one day and 16 hours” remaining.
The adaptive battery mode extends battery based on usage, while the adaptive charging mode preserves the battery’s longevity by limiting how much power is given to the handset if it’s left connected for long periods of time – overnight, for example. In that case, it bases how much power it needs on the time of your morning alarm.
The main downside to the 6 Pro as a package is that a Type-C 30W wired charging brick needed to access the fast charging modes – opening up the ability to go from 1% to 50% in half an hour – is sold separately and will add another £25 to the price.
Like the previous Google phones, the Pixel 6 Pro supports wireless charging of up to 12W on Qi devices. We placed the phone onto a UNIU wireless charging stand that can handle up to 15W, and it went from 33% to full in about four hours. 12W is not spectacular, but it still beats the iPhone, which maxes out at 7.5W for Qi chargers.
Our review unit heated up slightly when it was on charge via a wall socket for longer periods of time but not to the degree that it became a major concern or issue.
In all previous Pixels, the camera has been a standout feature. This continues with the Pixel 6 Pro. Whatever magic Google is doing behind the scenes appears to be working – the handsets make mobile photography appear effortless.
There’s now a triple camera setup: a 50 MP main lens, a 12 MP ultrawide and a 48 MP telephoto. The front-facing camera takes pictures at up to 11.1 MP, but it’s more flexible than many, taking ultrawide selfies and video at up to 4K resolution.
One of the Pixel’s strengths appears to still be how it’s complemented by Google’s AI, which not only offers the new modes such as Magic Eraser and Motion Mode but has an uncanny way of processing images to make them look great with a click. The autofocus on the main lens continues to be strong, too, with a really nice subtle blur effect appearing behind subjects when you bring the subjects up-close.
When opening up the camera, you will see multiple modes along the bottom. Night Sight lets you take snaps in dark conditions, Motion opens up the new AI modes, Portrait lets you take slightly closer images of subjects, Camera that gives you full control over zoom levels and Video lets you shoot in up to 4K and up to 60 frames per second. In the Video section, you can also select slow motion or time-lapse.
Like with all previous Pixels, the camera and its AI software work hand-in-hand to create great images at ease. With the addition of 4x optical zoom, you get some extra versatility with the Pixel 6 Pro. The camera remains a big selling point, and it’s great to see that a “real tone” feature that accurately captures a diverse set of skin tones appears to have been a priority from Google – as it can’t be turned off.
The design of the Pixel has changed. It’s the camera module that will get the most attention. While the Pixel 5 had its camera setup bundled into a square on the top left of the rear, the Pixel 6 Pro gives the technology more room to breathe by putting the lenses into a large black strip that protrudes ever so slightly from the frame.
The strip separates the colour scheme into two – with one colour above the strip and the other below it. Despite poking out from the frame, placing the handset on a desk or flat service doesn’t result in any major wobble, which was an initial concern.
The screen itself now curves around the edges of the phone, with only a small black bezel between the display and the sides. The only major intrusion on the front is the pinhole camera. On the right side of the Pixel, the volume controls are placed right where you naturally hold the phone, so it’s intuitive, and above that is the power button. Aside from the SIM port on the left side, there are no other buttons.
In the hand, the Pixel 6 Pro feels larger than the standard 6 model, despite the size difference appearing negligible on paper. (The 6 Pro is 3-inches wide, while the 6 is 2.9-inches). This very small amount makes the Pixel 6 a little bit harder to navigate with a single hand, and we did sometimes have to awkwardly stretch our thumb to reach an app that was on the far left of the display. When mixed with the slippery curved sides, there’s little argument: the Pixel 6 Pro is harder to hold than prior models. A case does solve this problem but adds significantly more chunk.
In fact, this could be one of the biggest sticking points of the handset as a whole. Both the Pixel 6 and the Pixel 6 Pro are large, and there’s no “mini” style variant on the market – so it’s go big or go home this year for Google fans. Anyone with smaller hands or limited reach may have difficulty using the devices.
In honesty, we miss the matte sides for the additional grip but understand why Google felt that a curved display and smaller bezels took priority.
We do think it looks really good, though, and it feels premium – which couldn’t always be said about the previous iterations of the series. The camera strip module gives the Pixels a unique look that stands out, but it retains a minimalist aesthetic overall. It lacks a 3.5mm jack, so that’s a warning for fans of wired headphones.
We tested the Stormy Black variant (which is closer to a two-tone graphite/grey), but there are two other colour schemes available: Sorta Sunny and Cloudy White. The rear thankfully has a fingerprint-resistant coating, and we can confirm that throughout our week of testing, the handset smudges were never a significant problem.
The screen is a 6.7 inch OLED that can handle refresh rates of up to 120Hz, thanks to a technology known as low-temperature polycrystalline oxide, or LTPO.
This is not found on the standard Pixel 6, which offers a refresh rate of up to 90Hz. In short, the LTPO tech lets the Pixel 6 Pro dynamically change refresh rate based on how the phone is being used. For example, when scrolling the web, it can use the full 120Hz, but it can also go as low as 10Hz if you need to save on battery.
The QHD+ display on the Pixel 6 Pro is fantastic. In testing, brightness, clarity and smoothness were all great, and it produced really good haptic feedback when it was pressed. From YouTube videos to flicking through Instagram – zero complaints. Like the rear, the Gorilla Glass seems to give protection against fingerprints, too.
The Pixel 6 Pro has returned in 2021 with a bold new look – but there’s more to the handset than a visual overhaul. It’s a great Android phone that showcases Google’s ambitions to offer a true flagship while still not charging quite as much as Apple or Samsung’s high-end models.
If you can afford the £250 extra and want the highest-end version of the latest Pixel line-up, we don’t think that you will be disappointed with your purchase. However, if budget is a concern at all, then you should probably be focusing your attention on the £599 standard model.
While there are some better specs on the Pixel 6 Pro, we are not 100% sure why there is such a difference between the two handsets in terms of cost, and you can still enjoy having the unique new look with the standard model. In any case, the Pixel 6 Pro camera is great, its performance is smooth, and the display shines. While it will feel too big to hold for some and is slippery without a case, we were ultimately very impressed with the handset. For perhaps the first time in this premium category, smartphone rivals may actually have something to fear from Google.