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The Pixel 6 Is the Google Flagship We've Been Waiting For

Between its custom Tensor chip, improved cameras, new software, and a starting price of just $599, Google is throwing everything it has at Apple and Samsung.

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Google Pixel 6
Photo: Sam Rutherford

After months of leaks and rumors, Google has finally officially announced the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro. These are the Pixels people have been waiting for.

Earlier this summer, Google set the stage for the Pixel 6 by revealing its new Tensor chip, which has been custom-designed by Google to provide significantly better AI and machine learning performance, and that alone would have been a notable achievement. But Google didn’t stop there: For starting prices of just $599 for the Pixel 6 and $899 for the Pixel 6 Pro, these phones are packing premium upgrades from top to bottom.

Premium Specs at Any Price

While the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro share the same design principles and many of the same features, there are some important differences that make the Pixel 6 Pro feeling just a bit more luxurious and well-rounded. Both phones feature durable Gorilla Glass Victus in front and Gorilla Glass 6 in back, IP68 water resistance, 30-watt wired charging, NFC, Wi-Fi 6E, and support for both wireless and reverse wireless charging (aka wireless Power Share). Also, for the first time on a Pixel, Google opted for an in-screen fingerprint reader, which basically checks all the boxes for high-end phone features.

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Google Pixel 6
Google also uses Material You in Android 12 to make the Pixel 6's UI automatically match your wallpaper, which is a great look.
Photo: Sam Rutherford

Both versions of the Pixel 6 are large phones, unlike last year’s pint-sized Pixel 5. The standard Pixel 6 sports a 6.4-inch 2400 x 1080 OLED display with 8GB of RAM, 128GB of base storage, and a 4,614 mAh battery, while the Pixel 6 Pro gets an even bigger 6.7-inch 3120 x 1440 LTPO OLED screen with a 120Hz variable refresh rate, 12GB of RAM, 128GB of base storage, and a 5,000 mAh battery. You can clearly see where the extra money for the Pixel 6 Pro is going.

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On top of that, both the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro feature a 50-MP main cam and 12-MP ultra-wide cam in back, with the Pixel 6 Pro also getting a telephoto camera with a 4x optical zoom that can go up all the way up to a 20x hybrid zoom using Google’s Super Res Zoom tech. And in front, the Pixel 6 gets an 8-MP selfie camera while the Pixel 6 Pro gets a slightly higher-res 11.1-MP front-facing cam.

Finally, both phones feature full support for both sub-6GHz 5G and mmWave 5G (depending on the exact config). Google has also extended the length of security updates to a minimum of five years, which is a new high bar for any Android phone.

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Introducing the Camera Bar

Google Pixel 6
That standard Pixel 6 (left) is slightly smaller than the Pixel 6 Pro (right), but they’re both big phones.
Photo: Sam Rutherford
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The Pixel 6's design hasn’t really been a secret for months now, but Google found a way to make its latest flagship phone unique with callbacks to previous Pixels thanks to its tri-tone design and soft pastel color options (Stormy Black, Kinda Coral, and Sorta Seafoam for the Pixel 6, and Stormy Black, Cloudy White, and Sorta Sunny for the Pixel 6 Pro).

There are also a couple of subtle differences between the two that give them slightly different personalities. The standard Pixel 6 gets a matte black finish around its edges and a flatter screen, compared to the Pixel 6 Pro’s rounded, more tapered display and its polished, shiny sides.

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In back, Google is introducing what it calls a Camera Bar instead of a camera module, which services two purposes. The first is to highlight the Pixel 6's cameras while adding a bit of visual appeal and stability (this thing sits solid on a flat surface, no rocking). But more importantly, the Camera Bar on the Pixel 6 Pro is also where Google’s periscope-style telephoto lens lives, as it’s aligned horizontally instead of vertically, unlike Samsung’s Galaxy S21 Ultra.

Google Pixel 6
You can see the cavity for the Pixel 6 Pro’s periscope-style telephoto cam in the center of the phone.
Photo: Sam Rutherford
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A lot of people have had concerns that the Camera Bar, which does protrude quite noticeably from the back of the phone, will make cases hard to attach. In my experience checking out Google’s own Pixel 6 cases (which are available in hues designed to accentuate the Pixel 6's base color), there’s nothing to worry about.

Tensor Unlocks Powerful Pixel Features

Google’s Pixel lineup is always about the software, and the Pixel 6 is no different. The new features packed into the Pixel 6 wouldn’t be possible without Google’s new custom-built Tensor chip, which uses a more accurate on-device voice model while also sucking up 50% less power than before.

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The improved machine learning performance from Tensor allowed Google to add a Live Translate feature, which works across a range of chat apps including Google Messages, WhatsApp, Twitter, and more, so you can communicate more easily in other languages. Google’s Live Caption is now able to translate audio in podcasts and videos while captioning on the fly, something Google says wasn’t possible on previous phones due to excessively highly power and energy usage.

Google Pixel 6 cases
Case or no case, no problem.
Photo: Sam Rutherford
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A new dictation feature called Assistant Voice Typing not only uses an improved and more accurate speech recognition model (once again, something Google says would drain too much power with Tensor’s extra ML efficiency) to turn your speech into text, it’s also multi-modal, meaning you can talk and edit the text as it appears without confusing Google’s AI. You can even dictate emojis by saying what you want (dog emoji, cat emoji, etc.) or input commands like send, clear, stop, and more without needing to interrupt yourself to say “Hey Google.”

Google also expanded the role of the Google Assistant with a new Calling Assistance feature, which gives the Pixel 6 the ability to tell you the best times to call customer support for the largest 5,000 businesses in the U.S. in order to avoid long wait times. And if you do get put on hold, the Google Assistant can step in and monitor the call so you don’t have to, before sending you a notification whenever a real live customer service agent finally jumps on the line. Google is also debuting its Quick Phrases feature on the Pixel 6, which lets you make more commands without needing to say “OK, Google” first. And thanks to Duplex, the Pixel 6 will even help you navigate those annoying touch-tone phone menus by creating a visual UI on the phone’s screen.

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On the camera side, the Pixel 6's improved ML performance helps power more new features like Magic Eraser, a feature akin to Photoshop’s Content Aware Fill tool which will help you edit out photo-bombers with ease, while the new Face Unblur tool is designed to make it easier to capture sharper pics of fast-moving subjects like kids (but not pets). When it comes to video, Tensor even allows the Pixel 6 to process 4K HDR video on-device, which should automatically add more vivid colors and enhanced dynamic range to your clips.

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Google’s new Real Tone image processing on the Pixel 6, which the company has been working on for awhile, is designed to better capture photos of people with varying skin tones and skin types to help create more equitable and better-looking images (something Vogue might have found useful when trying to photograph Simone Biles back in 2020). Many modern cameras were originally tuned to better expose subjects with lighter skin.

Google Pixel 6
Notice the different finishes on the Pixel 6 (top) and the Pixel 6 Pro (bottom).
Photo: Sam Rutherford
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The photography features that I’m most looking forward to trying are Google’s new dedicated cameras modes for long exposure and fast action pans, which are meant to distill more advanced camera techniques into an essentially one-touch process.

In addition to Tensor, the Pixel 6 is actually packing a second Google-designed processor, the Titan M2 security chip. Not only does the Titan M2 allow the Pixel to offload sensitive authentication processes to dedicated security hardware, the Pixel 6 also features a new Security hub that helps make it easier to manage your security settings while also providing suggestions and tips on how to safeguard your data and block potential malware.

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A Smarter Pixel With Sophisticated Hardware to Match

I’ve only had the Pixel 6 for a short time, so I can’t go into too much detail about all of its many features just yet. My early impression is that after five generations, this is the Pixel I’ve wanted Google to make for years. For a long time, I’ve maintained that the best smartphone (at least on the Android side of things) would be a device that combines Samsung hardware with Google software.

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Google Pixel 6 colors
Feast your eyes on the Pixel 6's color options.
Photo: Sam Rutherford

And while it’s unclear how much of a hand Samsung may or may not have had in supplying Google with components like the Pixel 6's display or camera sensors, the Pixel 6 marries flagship-level specs and industrial design to Google’s sophisticated AI and machine learning. It’s a hugely inviting combination, and when you tack on what is unquestionably aggressive pricing, Google is taking aim directly at Apple and Samsung. The only cons I’ve noticed so far are a lack of microSD card storage, no 3.5mm audio jack, and nothing like a Pixel 6 Mini for anyone who prefers a more compact handset.

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The Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro will be available for preorder today starting at $599 and $899, respectively, before official sales begin on Oct. 28. If you’re the kind of person who regularly trades in their phone every couple of years, Google is also introducing a new Pixel Pass subscription, which starts at $45 a month (or $55 for the Pixel 6 Pro) and includes access to YouTube Premium, YouTube Music Premium, Google Play Pass, 200GB of storage on Google One, Preferred Care, and a new Pixel every two years.

Note: While Google has the Pixel 6 listed for $599, carrier pricing may vary due to built-in support for mmWave 5G, with the Pixel going for $700 from Verizon, or $740 for the Pixel 6 and $940 for Pixel 6 Pro from AT&T.

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Stay tuned for our full Pixel 6 review.