With an autumn announcement from Google on the horizon that’s likely to tell us more about the Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro, it’s not surprising that the deals on the Pixel 6 range are getting better and better.
The questions now are whether the Pixel 6 is worth it. Is it good value? Should you wait for the Pixel 7? Is a Pixel 6 Pro more up your street?
Well, there’s a lot to say about the whole range, but we’d be here all day if we looked at everything, so we’re going to dig into the Pixel 6 in particular and stay nicely in the middle of the road.
We decided to break it down, review style, so you can decide for yourself – but it’s safe to say we came to our conclusion pretty easily – so read on to find out what we thought.
Pixel 6 Design & Colours
For the Pixel 6, Google went all out and totally redesigned how the Pixel line looked. The colour choices, the camera bar across the back, and the premium materials are all new – and all combine to make a phone that feels like the high-end model in the line, even if it’s not.
Made mostly of glass – Gorilla Glass 6 on the back, and Victus up front – there’s something quite fancy about the feel of the 6 in your hand. There’s a little matte aluminium around the frame that’s quite a nice touch too, but the combination of metal and glass does make this mobile kind of heavy, weighing in at 207g. However, in my not-so-humble opinion, this adds to the high-end feel – and a noticeably lightweight phone can seem flimsy. Still, if you’re prone to butterfingers, then a case is probably a safe bet.
Around the back of the Pixel 6 is where Google have made some of the biggest changes, as there’s now a camera bar that reaches across the width of the phone, and is slightly raised to make an oh-so-handy resting place for your fingers – which if you have smaller hands, is undeniably a brilliant move. However, if you prefer your camera to sit discreetly on the back of your phone, you might not be so keen on this new addition – but for the camera specs, it’s worth getting used to.
It's also worth mentioning the fingerprint sensor on the 6, which is now in-display, and has been a bit controversial. On the one hand, plenty of other big brands do this and have been doing it for years to great applause. On the other hand, the rear-facing sensor was incredibly convenient, since most of us handle our phones in a similar manner and our index finger naturally lands on the exact spot the previous sensor was located – so minimum effort was required. The new sensor is fine if you like that sort of thing – but it’s one less unique thing that the Pixel 6 has going for it.
If a phone that looks the part is a priority for you, choosing the Pixel 6 gives you a couple of colourful options – though if you ask me, black goes with everything. Just saying.
Stormy Black (which is actually grey across the top) is probably the most popular choice, as many of us dress our phones up in cases anyway. But if you want to express your vibrant side, Sorta Seafoam is a mild-mannered pistachio green-blue shade that pretty much conjures up images of the ocean (no surprise), with a pastel yellow-green bar across that top that complements it quite nicely. As for Kinda Coral, the name tells you everything – a soft peachy pink for the main body, with a lovely orange accent bar across the top. No matter which you pick, you’re winning.
What’s the Google Pixel 6 camera like?
Google’s range of Pixels hasn’t varied much in its camera specs for a few years now, so it’s nice to see that the Pixel 6 has levelled up quite a bit. The 50MP main camera is a huge step up from the Pixel 5, and it’s backed up by a secondary 12MP ultra-wide camera and a whole host of fancy software. It’s not quite as top-of-the-line as the Pixel 6 Pro, which also has a 48MP telephoto lens, but it’s more than enough for the casual photographer.
If you’ve used any of the Pixel phones before, you’ll be familiar with the way Google likes to throw in a ton of post-processing trickery to improve your images. This is still true with the Pixel 6, only this time the photos are great quality to start with, as the 50MP lens is perfect for capturing every little detail.
Taking pictures in bright light outdoors is particularly good on this phone, as every colour is captured true-to-life, and even dark areas look clear and crisp. We’ve also got to mention the Super Res Zoom software in the Pixel 6, which means your zoomed-in images are generally impressive, as are night-time shots due to Night Sight letting in up to 150% more light than the Pixel 5.
Fancy Google Features
Since Google haven’t exactly been subtle about some of the fancy software on the Pixel 6, we thought it was only fair to take a look at the latest clever feature that’s actually surprisingly helpful. Yes, we’re talking about Magic Eraser.
Magic Eraser is pretty much the same as Healing in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom (or just Spot healing in Photoshop) – but it’s included as standard as part of the camera’s software. It essentially lets you cut out and “magically” disappear unwanted elements in your shot. This can be done automatically by the tool in the photo editor, or you can manually select the area you want to erase.
It’s a handy tool a lot of the time, although if you’re trying to edit a busy shot it’s a bit less reliable – the software needs empty space in the image to “imitate” for it to work well, so cutting one particular person out of a group shot is going to be tricky if there’s no background for Magic Eraser to draw from.
Google also added a couple of motion-based modes to the camera app, which are smart software versions of things you can do with a pro camera. One that we particularly enjoyed messing around with was Long Exposure Mode, which is exactly what it sounds like – it’s the equivalent of leaving the shutter open for a little longer, except you can’t control how long for. It results in images that help you to see the “movement” in an image. For example, this would be great for shots of moving lights such as cars or moving water to capture both the stillness and movement of a water fountain or river.
Another fun feature is Action Pan, which is clever but not quite on par with Long Exposure Mode. It allows you to (kind of) add a motion blur to a shot, but many users have reported that it can be hit and miss, and some shots come out a bit blurry.
Face Unblur is a feature that is both great for parents and terrible for pet parents. When you can’t get your kid to sit still, this is a handy tool that sharpens up and unblurs their face in the finished photo – but unfortunately, it doesn’t work on cats or dogs. This is a shame, as if you have a pooch or a feline friend around the house, you’ll know they’re notorious for not staying put when you need to snap a pic.
How good will my selfies be?
Not too different to earlier Pixel phones, the 6 has an 8MP selfie camera that’s not likely to blow your socks off but does have some nifty software improvements that make the 6 more impressive than expected.
Most of us have gotten used to a front-facing camera that makes us look as good as possible (within reason), and that’s often to do with the way these cameras treat the background of our selfies. Portrait mode on the Pixel 6 has this down to an art and has shown some major improvement in blurring out the background and making our faces stand out in this kind of shot, which means we look great and we don’t have to worry about wisps of our hair disappearing, or our head looking like it’s floating in the shot.
What about video?
While there are other phones out there that offer you great video features and camera specs, you can’t argue with the great value of the Pixel 6, particularly if you’re a vlogger on a budget.
Showing considerable improvement upon the Pixel 5, the 6 has a couple of tools that are useful for chatting over video – such as Speech Enhancement, which lowers background noise – but is more notable for its 4k video at up to 60fps on the rear camera, and 1080p at up to 60fps on the front-facing cam.
Okay, so how big is it? What’s the display like?
In a nutshell, the Pixel 6 screen is fantastic – 6.4-inches of OLED display, resolution of 2400 x 1080, and a 90Hz refresh rate. Not bad. However, if this is a key part of your decision-making, the Pixel 6 Pro is a slightly better choice.
But we’re not here to talk about the Pro. The standard Pixel 6 has a full HD+ resolution that’s hard to argue with, and most casual users wouldn’t even notice the difference between the two models. There are some slim bezels surrounding the display, which are subtle and understated, and don’t detract from the whopper of a screen if you’re using your mobile to stream TV shows, films or play online games. It’s good and bright at up to 800 nits in high brightness mode, and you’ll have no trouble seeing the screen even in direct sunlight.
The 90Hz refresh rate keeps everything looking and feeling as smooth as can be, and if you want to adjust the colours and saturation on your screen (or keep it dim if you prefer), you can do so with a quick visit to the settings.
So, what about this Google Tensor chip?
This is one of the most exciting things about the Pixel 6 and the current range from Google – the all-new Tensor chip.
A system on a chip (SoC) made by Google specifically for Google phones, the Pixel 6 was the first release that featured this little powerhouse – though of course it’s now also in the Pixel 6 Pro and Pixel 6a.
However, it’s still a pretty cool feature, and it’s the reason the image processing and machine learning of this phone are so good – because that’s exactly what it was made for. Most users with a Pixel 6 have said it’s fantastic at getting everything done without overloading, allowing you to easily switch from app to app without judders, hiccups or problems of any sort – even when gaming,
The Tensor chipset is a smart little number that’s processor-intensive and incredible when it comes down to its capabilities. According to Google, text-to-speech (which takes place entirely in the Tensor Processing Unit) has improved by 18% since the Pixel 5. Speech-to-text in Gboard is faster than ever before, and the 6 is also an effective translator during live videos – again, all through this one chip.
For those who were wondering about the previously mentioned image software on the Pixel 6, you might be interested to hear that the Tensor shines here too – as it’s entirely responsible for auto-focusing, incorporating live HDR+ tone mapping, balancing low light in videos, and processing just about everything the camera does. Spend five minutes snapping a couple of photos, and you’ll quickly see it’s quite a lot.
However, since we like to be upfront about these things, it’s worth mentioning that the 6 wasn’t built to win in speed tests – and with this being the first iteration of Google’s Tensor chip, we’re honestly okay with it. The phone functions perfectly for everyday use, and most of us aren’t going to go out there and put our mobile under crazy pressure just to test its performance. So, we say who cares? As long as it gets the job done.
What’s the battery like?
Google has been a bit hit and miss on battery life in the past, with early Pixels impressing plenty of users (namely me), and others like the Pixel 4 being a huge disappointment. However, the Tensor chipset and a good-sized 4614mAh batter have combined like Batman and Robin to make sure the Pixel 6 delivers this time.
Pixel phones all feature Google’s Adaptive Battery, which takes a long hard look at how you use your mobile on a day-to-day basis and then works out where to direct energy and where it can be saved. Because of this, the good-sized battery in the Pixel 6 has been reported by most users to last at least a day with normal use, often going well into the following day without the need to charge up. And in extreme circumstances, Extreme Battery Saver can get you through the last few, desperate hours by halting everything except the absolute essentials.
The Pixel 6 is also pretty fast when it comes to charging and can reach 50% in around half an hour. Nevertheless, you’ll likely find that the last 20% or so will take longer just because Google has cleverly slowed down that last little bit to keep your battery from degrading too fast – which is quite considerate, really. No charger in the box, though.
Nifty Pixel-Exclusive Features
As you’d expect when you buy a phone made by Google and powered by Google software, there are a couple of perks that are exclusive to Google users that no other Android phone features. Have we said Google enough yet? We wrote about a few of the cool Pixel features a while ago, but there are a few new ones, too.
One of my favourites that’s been around for a while now is Now Playing. This is exactly what it says on the tin – it picks up on songs playing nearby and displays the track name and artist on the lock screen of your phone. And I should mention it’s helped me win a couple of cheeky music rounds in the pub quiz if nothing else.
Google’s always been handy when it comes to translation, but Live Translate on the Pixel 6 is now better than ever thanks to the hard work of the Tensor chip. Whether you use it to read museum captions on holiday or chat to your mates in another language using Android Messages, it’s fast, it’s effective and it’s seriously clever. And with Live Caption, you can even chat in real time over video (or watch videos on YouTube) without language being a barrier.
A new addition to the Pixel 6 software is Wait Times – which if you’ve ever sat for hours on hold will be an absolute game changer. It tells you how busy a business phone line is at any one point, without the need for you to call them and wait to find out – and users have found it to be pleasantly dependable.
In a similar vein, Direct My Call takes the joyless task of waiting for an automated call centre to explain which number for which department, and transcribes it for you. You don’t even have to wait for the machine to finish explaining – it’s just right there as a menu item on your screen. And if you absolutely have to hold but are at the end of your lunch break, Hold For Me lets Google Assistant do it for you.
So, is the Pixel 6 really worth it?
The short answer? Yes.
There might be a couple of things that other phones can do a tiny bit better, and there might be a few fancier features on the Pixel 6 Pro, but it’s hard to argue with the cost of the Pixel 6 and the value for money – especially now that the handset has come down so significantly in price.
If you’re in the market for a new phone, and you like to have the very latest models, then the Pixel 7 is almost here, and you could consider waiting. But the deals on the Pixel 6 are hard to argue with, starting at £24 a month on O2 with 30GB of data.
The camera, performance, display, battery, and the all-new Tensor chip from Google are pretty fantastic on the 6, and though there might be a few improvements on the 7, for now, the 6 is a safe bet, well-reviewed, and overall, a great option.