For the last two days, the Google Pixel 6 Pro has been my main smartphone, with the Pixel 6 also in tow, and although that’s not enough time to fully evaluate it for a review, it is enough time to be seriously impressed by several aspects. Here are the best parts of the Pixel 6 Pro that I couldn’t wait to tell you about, along with a few not-so-good things that I will be looking at very closely over the next week or so as I prepare my final review.
Let’s start with what has really impressed me.
Design, materials, and colors
What an absolute breath of fresh air the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro are. A far cry from the boredom of the old Pixel models, the new phones look and feel like they cost more than they actually do. They are very different, happily, from the understated-to-the-point-of-invisibility design ethos of their predecessors.
While you may initially think these are two-tone phones, they’re actually not. The Sorta Sunny 6 Pro in our photos is cream, pink, black, and gold, and it’s lovely. What’s clever is despite using a light color palette, it’s balanced and classy enough for everyone.
The Seafoam Pixel 6 is fresh and fun, but toned down compared to the Sorta Sunny model through the use of a matte black chassis. On each phone, the chassis is metal, the back is made of glossy glass, and even though the camera module protrudes from the body quite a lot, it doesn’t ruin the style. In fact, it adds to it — Pixel 6 phones look different, interesting, and individual.
The build quality is also excellent, with all the panels and the curved screen meeting the chassis perfectly for a comfortable grip. These are without a doubt the best-looking Pixel phones Google has made and my favorite design to date.
The improved camera specs and Google’s track record mean we are expecting great things from the Pixel 6 Pro’s camera. The large 1/1.31-inch 50-megapixel main camera is joined by a 48MP telephoto camera with 4x optical zoom, plus a 12MP wide-angle camera. The main and telephoto cameras have optical image stabilization, and of course, it all makes use of Google’s famed computational photography technology.
I’m around 100 photos into using the Pixel 6 Pro, and it’s already been giving me impressive results. Color accuracy, white balance, and exposure are practically perfect, giving photos a breathtakingly natural look. It accomplishes this without compromising on HDR effects or necessitating other tweaks to make pictures pop, which helps provide that shareability we want. All the desirable versatility is also there with the wide-angle and telephoto camera.
The main camera’s large sensor adds lovely natural bokeh, the Pixel’s autofocus and tracking are still superb, and the app is well designed, fast, and easy to use. What am I looking out for the more I use it? The large sensor has trouble focusing if you get too close to your subject, and there doesn’t seem to be a macro mode onboard, but switching to the optical zoom does help alleviate problems. I’m also going to keep looking at the consistency between the main and wide-angle cameras, as it’s not great so far.
However, as you’ll see from the examples, the Pixel 6 Pro still looks to continue the tradition of having among the very best cameras found on a smartphone.
Once only available to Photoshop experts, the Android 12 feature called Magic Eraser removes those unwanted distractions from your photos, all with a simple gesture. Tap or circle the offending article in your photo, and Google’s artificial intelligence (A.I.) and object recognition technology removes it in a flash. Found in the Google Photos app, you can even see it working after you select the area to remove, as it briefly highlights the edge of whatever it is that’s about to be zapped into digital oblivion.
It’s very easy to use, and takes just a second to work, but is it any good? It’s really is, but with a few caveats. If you zoom in, you’ll definitely be able to spot some blurring and pixelation where something was removed, but it’s not all the time and depends on the object. Simple shapes are removed without too much fuss, but anything too complex will confuse it. The secret is not to go crazy and try to delete everything. I kept Magic Eraser and its effectiveness in mind when taking photos, choosing a slightly different angle based on what it can and cannot cleanly remove.
Take a look at the photo example with the blue car. I could easily remove the lamppost, the paved sections along the bottom of the frame, some items in the road, and even the window in the building in the top left of the picture. However, it had a harder time removing the two cars on the right, due to the complexity of both the shape and the background. It also doesn’t recognize the shadows as part of the object to remove, and this makes it a little messy. It’s impossible to remove the silver car due to it blending into the front of the blue car. It’s not perfect, but for the basics, like the lamppost, it’s incredibly effective.
Magic Eraser’s speed and simplicity makes it even better. You don’t have to learn anything or have any experience with photo editing, and while taking your time to make selections or redo them can produce better results, it’s not essential if it’s a basic shape. It’s easy to undo actions, and Google Photos saves the modified image as a copy automatically so you don’t lose the original.
Using Google Assistant to type, edit, and send messages is an Android 12 feature exclusive to the Pixel 6, and it’s excellent. With the command, “Hey Google, type,” the Assistant listens and transcribes what you say into your message, and will even send the message when you ask, making the process almost entirely handsfree. The best thing is that it’s incredibly accurate.
Assistant Voice Typing on the @madebygoogle #Pixel6Pro is quite impressive. I’ve used it a lot this weekend, when I couldn’t be bothered to type, and it’s really accurate.
Here’s a quick demo in WhatsApp: pic.twitter.com/25vw0631Ql
— Andy Boxall (@AndyBoxall) October 25, 2021
I’ve voice typed SMS messages, WhatsApp messages, and even tweets, but you can seemingly use it throughout the operating system, and provided I speak clearly and at normal conversational speed, it has been almost faultless, and that includes adding punctuation without me asking. I can even tell it to add an emoji, clear the last sentence, or start all over again, all without touching the screen. It’s genuinely faster than typing.
Downsides? It’s not so natural to edit messages with your voice, as you have to tap any wrongly heard message and spell it out. It’s quicker to manually change it by typing on the keyboard. However, it doesn’t happen very often, and that’s what makes the feature so impressive. The Pixel 6’s new Tensor processor plays a big part in the Assistant Voice Typing’s success.
Activating Assistant Voice Typing requires a vocal command, after activating the Assistant. There’s no dedicated Google Assistant button on the Pixel 6, with Google expecting you to use the power key instead, but this is exceptionally annoying, as is using the wake word. Use the “Hey Google, type” command in the same room as any other Assistant-powered device, and there is confusion. My Google Home almost always tells me the time after I ask my phone to type.
Enter Quick Tap, a Pixel-exclusive feature in Android 12. Two taps on the back of the Pixel 6 activates a feature of your choice, and one of the options is Google Assistant. I’ve been using this to get around using the wake word before asking the phone to type something, but there are other options if you’re looking to take a screenshot, show notifications, or open a specific app.
Quick Tap is accurate and reacts quickly enough to be useful, although the contact area on the back of the phone is quite small. There’s even a lovely haptic vibration when it’s activated. Using Quick Tap this way means the power button can still be left for power menu duties, without having to resort to using the “Hey Google” wake word when you want to use the voice typing feature.
While I’m enjoying life with the Pixel 6 Pro so far, there are a few things that require more time to fully evaluate. Let’s move on to the things about the two phones that I still need to examine. None are serious problems, but all are reasons why a full review takes time. I won’t know if these are true downsides of the phone, or just isolated issues that are quickly cured or ignored until I’ve used it for longer.
Not enough difference in size
The Pixel 6 is not a small phone, so don’t let the absence of the Pro nomenclature lead you to believe it’s the size equivalent of the Pixel 5. It’s practically identical in width — a mere 1mm difference — so despite being a little shorter than the 6 Pro, it’s no easier to use with one hand.
Both the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro are big smartphones, and both are heavy, with the Pixel 6 weighs 207 grams compared to the Pixel 6 Pro’s 210 grams. This leaves anyone wanting a smaller Google phone with just the Pixel 5a, and for me, hardly varying the size of the phone between the 6 and 6 Pro seems like a missed opportunity.
There’s also a considerable difference in the screen between the two, with the Pixel 6 using a flat screen with large bezels, compared to the curved, considerably less bezeled Pixel 6 Pro’s. Google’s decision on differentiating the two phones is reminiscent of Samsung’s approach to the Galaxy Note 20 and Galaxy Note 20 Ultra.
Battery life has never been a Pixel phone strong point. Google hedges its bets by saying the 4,900mAh battery will last for “24 hours-plus,” but so far, after two charges, the Pixel 6 Pro almost certainly can’t meet the “plus” part of this statement. It’s harsh to judge battery life after such a short time, though, as the phone has not learned my usage and app patterns yet, which can improve things after a week or so. But I don’t expect it to end up being a multiday battery winner.
The Pixel 6 Pro is a wide, heavy phone with glossy glass on the back, and it’s a slippery devil. It not only slips through my hands rather easily, but it slides around on many different surfaces, too.
Yes, it has Corning’s Gorilla Glass Victus over the screen and Gorilla Glass 6 on the back, but this isn’t a rugged phone, and one significant drop could be all it takes to crack the phone. A case should be considered essential.
I’ve been opening apps, swiping to Google Discover, and accidentally interacting with notifications, all without intending to do so. The Pixel 6 Pro’s screen is very sensitive, and not just on the curved sides either. It’s not very good at recognizing my hand on the screen when I’m just holding the phone or picking it up, which results in this accidental usage. A software update often cures this type of issue, which isn’t that uncommon on phones I use ahead of release.
Neither Pixel 6 phone has face unlock, meaning you rely on the fingerprint sensor for biometric security. Face unlock is a very helpful time-saver, and because these are large phones, unlocking using the fingerprint sensor takes a few beats too long. I’ve been using Google’s Smart Lock feature so the phone stays unlocked when it’s with me, or when I’m at home. However, it’s not always very accurate, and you still need to swipe the phone’s screen, unlike when directly unlocking with your face. Over the next few days, I want to see if this makes the Pixel 6 Pro frustrating to use, compared to phones that include face unlock.
This is a set of early impressions, based on around 48 hours use of the Pixel 6 Pro, with a short time spent with the Pixel 6, too. Both phones can be pre-ordered ready for general release on October 28, with the Pixel 6 costing $599 and the Pixel 6 Pro $849. Our full reviews will be out very soon.