Google Pixel 6 Pro Review: Fantastic everyday phone with an undeniable Exynos inspiration
The Google Pixel 6 Pro is the most beautiful Pixel smartphone ever made. It launched as a part of the Google Pixel 6 series, with Google Tensor, a chipset made by Google. It also debuted with the latest and greatest version of Android — Android 12. Google Tensor is the company’s debut in smartphone chip-making, and the Google Pixel 6 Pro is packed with all of the Google goodness you’ve come to expect from a Pixel. Machine learning-powered features, clean software, and fast updates, it’s got it all.
The most exciting part of this device for me is Google Tensor, and I expect that’s the same for a lot of people. Last year’s Pixel 5 with its Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G chipset left a sour taste in many people’s mouths, with many stating that it wasn’t good enough for a flagship smartphone. Tensor, being an entirely new chipset, has nothing and everything to compare to, and even then, the company has already said it isn’t focused on benchmarks.
Even better, the Pixel 6 Pro has the company’s first major camera upgrade in a long, long time. Google had stuck to the same IMX362/IMX363 since the Google Pixel 2, and the sensor was beginning to show its age when compared to recent flagship smartphones. The Pixel 6 Pro packs the Samsung GN1 50MP sensor, and it fares a whole lot better than anything Google has done previously.
About this review: I received the Google Pixel 6 Pro for review for IrishTech from Google Ireland on the 20th of October, 2021. Google did not have any input into the contents of this article.
Google Pixel 6 Pro: Specifications
|Specification||Google Pixel 6 Pro|
|Dimensions and Weight|
|RAM and Storage|
|Battery & Charging|
Google Pixel 6 Pro: Design
The Google Pixel 6 Pro features a pretty unique design, with the camera visor on the back standing out when compared against the competition. It houses the phone’s 50MP Samsung GN1 primary camera, the 12MP ultra-wide camera, and the 48MP telephoto camera. It also has some other important camera hardware there too, like the microphone and the flash. Admission: I actually prefer this camera bump when compared to other phones with a large camera bump on one side, as it going across the entire device means that it won’t rock on a desk when using it. It also looks like the visor on Thomas Bangalter’s Daft Punk helmet, which is pretty cool.
The display is curved and the phone itself is thick, making it rather unwieldy to hold in one hand. It’s also pretty slippery, and the Stormy Black model that we have is very much a fingerprint magnet. I’d definitely recommend getting some kind of case for it, as this is a difficult phone to properly grip on to. The back of the Stormy Black model is dual-tone, with the top part of the device above the camera visor being a lighter gray than the part below it.
The front of the phone is unimpeded aside from the front-facing camera thanks to its uniform bezels, making it a pleasure to use and look at. It’s somewhat “boxy” in its design at the top and bottom, and it’s reminiscent (for me anyway) of some older Samsung Galaxy Note devices. I think part of what gives it that feel is the squared-off bezel on the top and bottom, and I really, really like how it looks as a result.
There’s also a speaker grille at the top of the display that serves as an earpiece or stereo speaker. The earpiece is fine for calls, though the sound comes out upwards rather than outwards. That means that I need to tilt the phone slightly to properly hear the person on the other end, though it’s really not a big deal and something I naturally fell into very quickly. The speakers themselves sound pretty good, and they get quite loud.
I’m a big fan of the Pixel 6 Pro’s camera design, and it definitely does something to iterate upon the formulaic glass slab that we see each and every year. I don’t really care about camera bumps, but I know many people do and this is about as good as it gets if a smartphone is going to have one. It’s big, but it’s not much thicker than other offerings from other companies.
The buttons are tactile and clicky, though I’m slightly disappointed that the power button no longer has a fun and unique color. The placing of the buttons is also kind of strange — the power button is above the volume rocker, making it slightly awkward to take a screenshot. The SIM card tray is also on the left-hand side and the USB-C port is on the bottom, beside the speaker grille.
The Google Pixel 6 Pro has a 6.71-inch, curved 120Hz OLED LTPO display that’s interrupted only by a hole-punch camera in the top middle. The hole is not too big so you won’t notice it in general usage. The Pixel 6 Pro’s screen gets pretty bright, up to 800 nits with auto-brightness on, and is more than capable on a bright Irish day. Disclaimer though: A bright Irish day is still considerably darker than most bright days elsewhere.
To be honest, I don’t think it’ll be an issue on really bright days though. I do wish it could get a little bit brighter just sitting indoors, but it’s not a major complaint, and it’s completely visible under direct sunlight which is what matters most. On the other hand, the Pixel 6 Pro’s display also gets really dark—perfect for using the phone in dark rooms or at night! There’s an “extra dim” option too if the display’s lowest brightness isn’t low enough for you.
Haptics-wise, these are the best haptics I’ve used in an Android phone, and are nearly on par with the iPhone 13 Pro that I’ve also been using recently. The fingerprint sensor is accurate and quick, located under the display. Thanks to the incredible haptics, it’s easy to feel for it when you’re not looking at the phone and want to unlock it.
Google Pixel 6 Pro: Camera
If Pixel smartphones have mainstream recognition for any particular feature, it’s definitely because of their cameras. Google has long maintained more or less the same camera hardware for several years now, and the Pixel 6 series is a massive departure from that comfort zone. The company has taken the plunge on the Samsung GN1 sensor, jumping from the IMX363 that has been a mainstay of Google for years now. Google’s photographic capabilities on the Pixel 5 were some of the best in the business, though the sensor really showed its age in low light and non-ideal scenarios. With an upgrade to a larger, all-around better sensor, Google’s ready to try and take the throne once again. The Pixel 6 Pro has been a pleasure to use in pretty much all situations that I encountered, and the Google Camera software yet again demonstrates its superiority over other camera stacks.
If the Samsung GN1 camera sensor sounds familiar, it’s because it’s the same camera that powers the Vivo X70 Pro Plus. Given how amazing some of the photos produced by the Vivo X70 Pro Plus have been, we know how capable this sensor is. It measures 1/1.31 inches, it has a 1.2μm pixel size, an f/1.85 aperture, and an 82-degree field of view. Google also employs Quad-Bayer pixel-binning on this camera, giving a real resolution of 12.5MP. There is no option to take a high-resolution 50MP photo in the camera app from what I can see either.
As for the telephoto camera, it’s a 48MP periscope setup, allowing for 4x optical zoom and up to 20x digital zoom. The regular Google Pixel 6 variant drops the telephoto and instead employs the company’s Super Res Zoom on the main sensor for up to 7x zoom.
The one thing that bothers me about the camera experience is the same problem that has bothered me on every Pixel smartphone. It’s the fact that there isn’t a dedicated gallery app—instead, you need to use Google Photos. Google Photos feels quite bloated for just quickly looking at pictures I just took, so I felt the need to install a third-party gallery app. I realize I might be in the minority when it comes to this, though, so if you’re used to the Google Photos app, then you won’t have any issues with it on the Pixel 6.
The Google Pixel 6 Pro’s camera is a definitive improvement over the Pixel 5, but it still has a number of issues that I hope the company addresses. For example, it’s not possible to take an astrophotography photo on the ultra-wide-angle camera or the telephoto, and you can’t film in 4K 60 FPS on anything but the primary sensor, either. Both additional cameras can be recorded using 4K 30 FPS or below. There’s sadly no auto-focus on the ultra-wide camera either, but it’s extremely quick on the main sensor. There’s also a pretty bad lens flare in a lot of photos where there’s a light source, and at times the auto-focus fails to work without tapping on the screen.
Google Pixel 6 Pro: Main Camera
The Google Pixel 6 Pro has a fantastically capable primary sensor, though as already mentioned, has issues with lens flare when there are other light sources. The point-and-shoot ability of the camera is unrivaled in my testing against other devices, as I can quickly double-tap the power button and have a photo taken within two seconds if the auto-focus works correctly. Most of the time it does, but there have been some occasions where it frustratingly requires me to tap the screen before I can even take one.
Google Pixel 6 Pro: 4x Telephoto
The Google Pixel 6 Pro’s 4x telephoto camera is obviously much, much better than what came with the Pixel 5. The Pixel 5 used the company’s Super Res Zoom to capture a 2x zoom photo, though there was no actual telephoto camera to work off of. While the results were decent considering the phone didn’t actually have a telephoto camera, the Pixel 6 Pro’s telephoto is much, much better. I was really impressed with some of the shots that I got in the above album.
Google Pixel 6 Pro: Video Footage
The Google Pixel 6 Pro does an excellent job in video and has a marked improvement at night time thanks to the company’s HDRnet algorithm. At times the video can look janky and imperfect, but it’s leaps and bounds above what the Pixel 5 once was. If what you really want is a smartphone for video filming, though, then I’d wait and see if the company releases a software update before taking the plunge. It’s fine and works well most of the time, but switching between zooms can be janky. The audio also seems to crackle sometimes, though the quality is quite good when it doesn’t.
Google Tensor and Performance
Google Tensor is the company’s first custom mobile chipset, and it’s made specifically for the Google Pixel 6 Pro. Google has been known to make custom chipsets in the past when what’s available on the market doesn’t cut it. Even YouTube runs some of Google’s custom silicon, and the company called it a “VCU” — a Video (trans)Coding Unit. Google said in the Pixel 6 series announcement that when it came to mobile AI processing, it had been “held back for years” from what it had wanted to do. In an interview with Ars Technica, “Google Silicon”, the group responsible for mobile chips at Google, more or less reaffirmed that stance.
“Open up your camera and you have a live view and a lot of really interesting things are happening all at once. You’ve got imaging calculations. You’ve got rendering calculations. You’ve got ML [machine learning] calculations, because maybe Lens is on detecting images or whatever. During situations like that, you have a lot of computation, but it’s heterogeneous,” Phil Carmack, Vice President and General Manager of Google Silicon told Ars Technica.
Heterogeneous means that all of it runs on different parts of the chipset at the same time. The difference between Tensor and any other Qualcomm chip is that Tensor is made for the software, and the software is made for Tensor. This chipset isn’t being used anywhere else, and it’s specifically created for use on the Pixel 6 series.
Tensor, according to Google, was uniquely developed and optimized. The company says that all of the individual components of this chip are optimized as one cohesive unit, rather than individually optimized parts working together. In other words, the chipset is aiming for operations to be divided evenly across the entire chip with all parts working together. Google also mentioned that optimizing individual parts may grant better peak CPU and GPU speeds which will look great in benchmarks, but they “don’t always reflect real-world speed”.There is definitely some merit to what Google has said about Tensor. In contrast, a chipset like the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 is designed to be used on many devices and is sold to a wide swathe of device manufacturers. The software can be tailored to the hardware, but the chipset will never be designed and tailored specifically to the manufacturer’s vision if it deviates from what Qualcomm provides. With that, it becomes clear what Google hopes to achieve. Benchmarks don’t matter so long as the user experience is good. If it’s just as good in real-world use as competitors that may score higher on CPU-bound tests, then who cares?
Google Tensor has the following components:
- 2x Cortex-X1 cores
- 2x Cortex-A76 cores
- 4x Cortex-A55 cores
- 1x Tensor Processing Unit (TPU)
- 1x Low-power “Context Hub”
- 1x Titan security chip
- 1x Image Signalling Processor (ISP)
The TPU is Google’s integrated machine learning engine and is custom-made by Google for running the company’s own machine learning algorithms. It’s tailored specifically towards the company’s needs and wants for a smartphone. In the case of the ISP, key algorithms are now part of the chip itself, rather than part of the software to be translated and executed on the chip. One of the most interesting parts of the chip is the Context Hub, which enables low-power ambient AI features like always-on display and Now Playing to run all the time without battery drain.
Tensor appears to have ties to Samsung’s Exynos range of chipsets, which we heard about a few months before its release. “Whitechapel” was apparently the internal codename for the Pixel 6 series’ chipset, and it later leaked that Samsung had been working on a chip internally with the same codename, the Exynos 9855. For context, the Exynos 2100 is internally known as Exynos 9840, and the Exynos chip expected to power the Galaxy S22 is apparently the Exynos 9925. I have also found references to Exynos in some of my device’s system files after some digging, and the modem, according to my baseband, is G5123b. The Exynos Modem 5123 is the same modem that’s paired with the Exynos 990 in the S20 series, suggesting that this is a modified version of it.
App Opening Speed Benchmark
Mario Serraferro and Mishaal Rahman created an app launch speed test script using Android’s ActivityManager shell interface to measure how long it takes for the main Activity of 9 applications to launch from a cold start (ie. when not in memory). I modified this test for the Google Pixel 6 Pro. These 9 applications are Google Chrome, Gmail, Google Maps, Messages, Google Photos, Google Play Store, Slack, Twitter, and YouTube. We launched these 9 activities for 10 iterations (and killed each app between launches) to reduce the variance. Please note that Google Messages had a few issues with this test. On a number of occasions, it took over 1500ms to launch, and on others, it was completely fine in our testing. Anecdotally too, all apps launch quickly and I’ve never felt that an app is taking too long to load versus the experience I’ve had on other devices. These results are very good.
UI Stutter/Jank test
The Google Pixel 6 Pro has a 120Hz refresh rate display, but how well does the phone actually maintain 120 FPS? I’ve perceived the Pixel 6 Pro to be incredibly smooth, without too many “micro stutters” or noticeable frame rate drops. While the phone will lower the refresh rate to 60Hz when a video starts playing, I tested scrolling through Facebook or Twitter, and videos in the feed do not drop the refresh rate to 60Hz. This means you can scroll on social media and not have jarring switches between 60Hz and 120Hz all of the time. If you notice it happening in apps anyway, you can enable an always-on 120Hz mode in the developer options.
To quantify how well the Google Pixel 6 Pro can maintain 120 FPS in real-world scenarios, we ran a modified version of Google’s open-source JankBench benchmark. This benchmark simulates a handful of common tasks you’ll see in everyday apps, including scrolling through a ListView with text, scrolling through a ListView with images, scrolling through a grid view with a shadow effect, scrolling through a low-hitrate text render view, scrolling through a high-hitrate text render view, inputting and editing text with the keyboard, repeating overdraws with cards, and uploading bitmaps. Our script records the draw time for each frame during the test, eventually plotting all the frames and their draw times in a plot along with several horizontal lines representing the target frame draw times for the 4 common display refresh rates (60Hz, 90Hz, 120Hz, and 144Hz.)
The results show that the Google Pixel 6 Pro is extremely smooth. The top set of graphs are from the Google Pixel 6 Pro, whereas the bottom set of graphs are from the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra. The Google Pixel 6 Pro still mostly maintains a 120Hz refresh rate, whereas the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra renders a lot of frames that can’t even be displayed. The Pixel 6 Pro maintains 120Hz pretty well, meaning that it’s actually slightly more efficient, though can also drop below 120FPS on more occasions.
Sustained Performance and Thermals
The Google Pixel 6 Pro performs well, but sustained performance is important too. The Google Pixel 6 Pro can get quite hot, but I believe that’s as a result of software. I found a number of problems in the software of my Google Pixel 6 Pro, and one particular problem I noticed was “com.google.android.gms.persistent” draining my phone’s battery. It appeared to be triggered on occasion after leaving Chrome open in the background for a while, though I didn’t have enough time to confirm whether this was definitely the cause. Every time my phone started to heat up and the battery began to drain, I noticed that this background process was using a ton of CPU. Other than that, thermals have been great, with the phone occasionally heating up but also dissipating heat quickly through the glass back.I ran the CPU Throttling Test to see how it held up in sustained performance, and it slowly throttled over time. I couldn’t get any real thermal readings from the Google Pixel 6 Pro (the “Temperature: 50C” in CPU Throttling Test is wrong), but Ampere reported that the phone reached 40°C (104°F) but it was still comfortable to use. It maintained a respectable average of 190 GIPS (billion instructions per second), and it throttled to 75% of its max performance over half an hour. This is a pretty good test and shows that the Google Pixel 6 Pro can withstand heat and still perform decently well. I have never noticed any kind of thermal throttling in normal usage of my phone.
For contrast, take a look at the below tests. These are the throttling test results from the OnePlus 9 Pro, the OnePlus Nord 2, and the Google Pixel 5.
The Google Pixel 6 Pro completely outclasses the Pixel 5 and is on par in terms of throttling when compared to the OnePlus Nord 2. It’s clear that in terms of throttling percentage, the Google Pixel 6 Pro is still behind the likes of the OnePlus 9 Pro, but it’s still a perfectly respectable result.
I was confused by what appeared to be aggressive thermal throttling, and I investigated further by taking a look at the logcat of the Google Pixel 6 Pro.
Pixel thermals logcat
10-25 12:14:50.423 1566 1591 I pixel-thermal: usb_pwr_therm2: 39.719 degC 10-25 12:14:50.427 1566 1591 I pixel-thermal: VIRTUAL-SKIN: 43.0128 degC 10-25 12:14:50.430 1566 1591 I pixel-thermal: Power rail S4M_VDD_CPUCL0: power threshold = 200, avg power = 769.427 10-25 12:14:50.430 1566 1591 I pixel-thermal: Power rail S2M_VDD_CPUCL2: power threshold = 200, avg power = 1187.83 10-25 12:14:50.430 1566 1591 I pixel-thermal: Power rail S3M_VDD_CPUCL1: power threshold = 200, avg power = 239.408 10-25 12:14:50.430 1566 1591 I pixel-thermal: Power rail S2S_VDD_G3D: power threshold = 200, avg power = 53.2134 10-25 12:14:50.430 1566 1591 I pixel-thermal: Sensor: VIRTUAL-SKIN request tpu_cooling to 2 10-25 12:14:50.430 1566 1591 I pixel-thermal: Sensor: VIRTUAL-SKIN request thermal-cpufreq-1 to 8 10-25 12:14:50.430 1566 1591 I pixel-thermal: Sensor: VIRTUAL-SKIN request thermal-cpufreq-0 to 5 10-25 12:14:50.430 1566 1591 I pixel-thermal: Sensor: VIRTUAL-SKIN request thermal-cpufreq-2 to 11 10-25 12:14:50.431 1566 1591 I pixel-thermal: VIRTUAL-SKIN-CHARGE: 43.0128 degC 10-25 12:14:50.431 1566 1591 I pixel-thermal: Power rail POWER_FOR_CHARGING_THROTTLING: power threshold = 500, avg power = 2566.64 10-25 12:14:50.431 1566 1591 I pixel-thermal: Power rail POWER_FOR_CHARGING_THROTTLING: power threshold = 500, avg power = 2566.64 10-25 12:14:50.431 1566 1591 I pixel-thermal: Power rail POWER_FOR_CHARGING_THROTTLING: power threshold = 500, avg power = 2566.64 10-25 12:14:50.431 1566 1591 I pixel-thermal: Sensor: VIRTUAL-SKIN-CHARGE request dc_icl to 3 10-25 12:14:50.431 1566 1591 I pixel-thermal: Sensor: VIRTUAL-SKIN-CHARGE request wlc_fcc to 4 10-25 12:14:50.432 1566 1591 E pixel-thermal: a Thermal callback is dead, removed from callback list. 10-25 12:14:50.432 1566 1591 E pixel-thermal: a Thermal callback is dead, removed from callback list. 10-25 12:14:50.432 1566 1591 E pixel-thermal: a Thermal callback is dead, removed from callback list.
I believe that there is some aggressive thermal throttling happening around 39°C, which isn’t excruciatingly hot and may be contributing to some of the problems that I’ve been facing. For reference, the OnePlus 9 Pro was found to reach as high as 42.3°C in our review when under load. We need more time to investigate this problem for sure, but the thermals on the Google Pixel 6 Pro are problematic when under load, though it handles normal usage generally fine.
Gaming Performance and Storage Speed
Genshin Impact is one of the most intensive games on Android, so I tested it at its highest possible graphical settings at 60 FPS. The severe drops were always at loading screens, and I tested the game in both 1440p and in 1080p. Median FPS was a lot more improved on 1080p, but it still struggled to produce a consistent 60 FPS.
We can see that the Google Pixel 6 Pro appears to thermal throttle heavily in the case of Genshin Impact, and I noticed this in my own results, too. As the phone heated up, our testing software also detected a drop in energy usage, suggesting that less power was getting to the CPU and GPU. Still, these results are respectable and are perfectly fine if you’re going to engage in light and casual gaming. You can drop the graphical settings in Genshin Impact a small bit for consistent and smooth gameplay.
Interestingly, the MAD* is much lower when playing on 1440p. This is likely because of how loading screens affected our tests in 1080p.
*Why we calculate MAD
We calculate MAD (Median Absolute Deviation) to replace Variance. Why? For different FPS ranges (i.e. 60 FPS vs. 144Hz games), Variance becomes less intuitive. The formula for Variance has errors (distances of samples from sample mean) grow quadratically, so for 144Hz games, the sum of errors quickly explode. Our MAD statistic is much simpler: We calculate the collection of absolute errors from the mean (not median, for our case), then grab the median of the collection. In the context of games, we can interpret this as “the middling value of all the FPS fluctuations”. As a quick example, if we have a sample of [49, 60, 51, 52, 60, 60, 59], the sample mean is 58.5. So the absolute errors become [9.5, 1.5, 7.5, 6.5, 1.5, 1.5, 0.5], and the median of that collection, our MAD value, is 1.5. This means that our game is running at 58.5 FPS on average, and half of frame fluctuations are equal to or lower than 1.5. Since the mean FPS in our samples is typically super close to the target FPS, then MAD gives us an approximate idea of what most framedrops look like.
It’s also worth mentioning that to test Genshin Impact in 1080p maxed out, I needed to reduce the display size using adb. I used the following adb command to decrease the display size to 1080p. The phone’s UI became broken when playing in 1080p, so I don’t recommend doing this.
adb shell wm size 1080x2340
Titles like PUBG and Call of Duty: Mobile run perfectly, and emulation performance has been excellent too. If gaming is your prerogative, however, then this isn’t the phone for you and you should look more towards something like the ASUS ROG Phone 5. It keeps up to par with most modern flagships for sure, and games like The Simpsons: Hit & Run in Dolphin Emulator impressed me thanks to their performance, though it’s not going to be on-par with a gaming phone that has its own built-in cooling fans. Keep in mind that the Mali GPU drivers will perform worse than Qualcomm’s Adreno drivers in emulation too, though the situation has been improving.
Interestingly, I ran 3DMark’s Wild Life test and got a score of 6222. This is an intensive GPU test that iPhones have dominated for years, and places the Google Pixel 6 Pro as the best of all Android phones in peak GPU performance. The Google Pixel 6 Pro should be great at gaming, yet the apparent thermal throttling when under intense load appears to significantly mar the experience. Its peaks aren’t the Pixel 6 Pro’s problem, far from it, it’s the sustained performance that is. Benchmarks should only ever be used as a guideline, but given that Google has said it hasn’t focused on benchmarked performance, this is a particularly high score for an Android smartphone.
For storage speed, the Google Pixel 6 Pro is akin to any other flagship released in 2021. It’s UFS 3.1, meaning that you won’t have any bottleneck problems when it comes to launching applications quickly.
Battery Life and Charging
The Google Pixel 5 set a very high bar in battery life, and it’s a shame to report that this time around, the Google Pixel 6 Pro is only just average. Android 12’s battery stats reporting only reports stats over 24 hours rather than from the last charging cycle, though I would guess that I’m getting around five hours of screen on time daily. It gets me just about through a full day of heavy usage, but I definitely need to pay attention to the battery life of my phone quite a bit in order to taper my usage if required.
The lack of fast charging is a killer, as the Google Pixel 6 Pro only supports 30W charging. The company says that gets 50% in half an hour, which is true, but to fully charge the phone takes over an hour. Coming from the Xiaomi 11T Pro which charges to around 70% in ten minutes, that’s painful.
While I respect the dedication to a single standard in the support of USB Power Delivery, it is a bit of a hard pill to swallow when you switch to the Google Pixel 6 Pro. It’s usable, but don’t be expecting to toss this on the charger for 10 or 15 minutes and get a whole day’s use of battery out of it. It does get a little bit warm when it’s charging, but again it’s not uncomfortably hot.
However, I noticed a pretty significant problem when the phone heats up while charging. From Ampere’s temperature monitoring, if the phone gets roughly above 35°C (95°F), the battery charging speed is limited to 1A. This increases the charging time significantly, and the only way to fix it is to cool the phone down. I’ve started putting the phone on my metal laptop when charging to keep it cool, but it can, at times, be a significant problem. I charged the phone the other day while a background process was running haywire, and the phone went up about 15% in half an hour of charging. I restarted the device and then it was fine.
While the throttling of charging speed is fairly common when it comes to charging technology, this threshold is currently far too low. 35°C isn’t all that warm to the touch, and I’d expect most phones under load to reach that, especially if they’re charging. I’m hopeful that Google will increase this threshold by a significant margin because it’s probably the worst aspect of the Google Pixel 6 Pro currently.
The Google Pixel 6 Pro, just like its flagship predecessors, supports wireless charging. The charging coil is right in the center on the back and will work on pretty much any Qi wireless charger that you have lying around. It supports up to 23W charging on a Pixel Stand 2. The charging coil is in the center on the back of the phone, and that’s where you can also reverse wireless charge at 5W speed. Reverse wireless charging (dubbed “Battery Share”) will charge any Qi-enabled devices and can be useful in a pinch. Sadly I can’t seem to enable this while the phone is plugged in to charge, which is when I would use it most.
Android 12’s Google Pixel-specific features
Material You is by far the biggest change in Android 12, and I’m a massive fan of it. It’s a Pixel-exclusive currently, though the company intends on making it available in a future Android version as part of AOSP.
For the uninitiated, Android 12’s Material You update is one of the biggest UI changes to Android in years. It’s very likely the biggest change since 2014’s Android 5.0 Lollipop release when Google first unveiled Material Design, the company’s branding for its design language. Google’s design language has evolved over the years, and to reflect the latest iteration’s emphasis on personalization, Google has rebranded it to “Material You,” but it’s internally known as “monet.”One of the key features of Material You is the aforementioned “monet” theming system, which automatically generates a color palette for the system based on the user’s wallpaper. According to Google, a color extraction engine employing a clustering algorithm with Material color targets determines the dominant and less dominant colors of the user’s wallpaper. A palette generation algorithm then creates a rich palette of 5 colors — 2 neutral and 3 accent colors — as well as 12 shades of Material color that are used to determine the hues closest to the user’s wallpaper. These color values are saved in an index that apps can call through an API, allowing them to theme their UI as well.
Material You looks fantastic on the Google Pixel 6 Pro, and I personally love how it looks. There have been quite a few complaints about “wasted space” across the UI, though I think that design-wise, Material You is a big step forward for Android. It looks a lot nicer than before in my opinion, and I’m really excited for it to roll out to more devices in the future. The fact that apps can (and do) theme around it helps a lot too, as it helps the phone feel more cohesive.
The Google Pixel 6 Pro brings a litany of new wallpapers and live wallpapers that you can pick from. This is the biggest selection of Pixel-exclusive wallpapers to launch yet, and there’s something for everyone. It’s especially great for integration with Material You, as you can get pretty much any color out of Google’s selection.
Game Dashboard on the Google Pixel 6 Pro is a new addition, and it has a few features that other manufacturers have had in their Android variants for quite a while now. There are three quick shortcuts that can be added to a floating bubble — screenshot, screen record, and an FPS counter. There’s also built-in integration for streaming on YouTube Live, and some games can be optimized directly from within the Game Dashboard. You can access it by swiping from the top of the screen or the bottom of the screen when in a game, and I’ve found that the bubble will occasionally show up in other full-screen apps too like YouTube.
Android 12 on the Google Pixel 6 Pro has a number of cool features when it comes to multi-tasking. Not only can you share information from apps in the multitasking menu, but the app that you’re switching from actually continues running in the background too. If you open up the camera app and then enter the multitasking menu, the viewfinder continues while scrolling through applications on your phone. Apps can also share information specifically through the multitasking menu — for example, you can copy the URL of the page you last visited in Chrome through a button surfaced over the app itself. You can copy text shown on-screen from the multitasking menu, too.
Snapchat’s full integration isn’t here yet, from what I can tell. However, Google announced that a ton of features would be coming over the next few months. I did notice I can use the ultra-wide angle camera in Snapchat, but that’s the only unique feature I’ve spotted that my other devices don’t have. Photos do come out nicer too, suggesting that it’s actually using the camera hardware and processing for photos taken.
Set-up woes and other bugs
The Google Pixel 6 Pro had a number of issues when setting it up, though I need to preface this section in saying that our unit is running early, pre-production software. In fact, even when turning on and setting up the phone a pop-up warned me of exactly that. The security patch level is also November 2021, quite far ahead of the official release of that security patch. As a result, I don’t know how much of this will affect retail units, but it’s my duty as a reviewer to report it in case it’s a widespread problem.
When setting up the phone, I transferred my data from my OPPO Find X3 Pro. The phone was configured as normal, but some things didn’t transfer over. For example, my home screen didn’t transfer, and instead, the default home screen was used. I then received a software update that I downloaded and installed.
I rebooted my phone, and after a few minutes, I lost the signal to my carrier. A pop-up started appearing and reappearing telling me that a service relating to carrier signal had stopped working. I couldn’t fully read the message before my phone restarted and brought me to a factory reset screen. I restarted my phone, the phone booted up and sat on my lockscreen. The signal indicator disappeared and reappeared, and then the phone kicked me back to the same factory reset screen again. This happened a number of times and forced me to factory reset eventually. Since factory resetting the device, the problem hasn’t come back.
Since then, however, I have run into other problems, too. Occasionally I get a pop-up telling me that System UI has stopped responding, even though my phone feels and looks fine. I’ve also had problems trying to pair my device to Bluetooth products, often taking multiple attempts. There are also the overheating and battery drainage problems that I’ve already mentioned too, though that may be a problem with Chrome itself. The Google Pixel 6 Pro also falls foul to delayed notifications sometimes, though it’s generally consistent in delivering notifications within 30 seconds of my iPhone 13 Pro.
Again, I want to stress that these problems might be caused by the fact that I’m using a pre-production build. These issues may not affect the retail version that ships with Pixel 6 Pro units, and I’ll be sure to come back to this section and edit this review if that is the case.
The Google Pixel 6 series has lots of AI-packed features, too
One of my favorite Google Pixel-exclusive features is “Now Playing” song identification. Ever been in a shop, and a song starts playing and you scramble to open up Shazam on your phone? Maybe I’m a bit of a music nerd, but it’s happened to me quite a few times. Now Playing uses the microphone to listen for music around you in an attempt to identify everything that it picks up. It works entirely on-device, so nothing is ever sent to Google’s servers. This is also why it may not identify every song—it works by downloading a regional database of songs that are then compared on-device to whatever is playing around you. When it finds a match, it displays it on the lockscreen, always-on display, and saves it in a Now Playing section in your sound settings.
You can verify it’s not sending anything to Google servers by testing it entirely offline. I turned off both mobile data and Wi-Fi to test whether or not it would identify a wide range of music that I put in a Spotify playlist and played in order. To my surprise, it recognized a sizable chunk of the songs that I played. I was surprised by some that it missed, but others I kind of expected for it to miss. For all of the songs that were recognized, they were recognized within a minute. I was quite surprised the Pixel 6 Pro recognized them, but that goes to show that it works regionally. Bell-X1 is an Irish band, and Kojaque is an Irish rapper.
The difference this time around is that Now Playing also lets you add a button to your lockscreen so that when you tap it, it can identify what’s playing. It’s pretty much a built-in Shazam and does send some audio to Google’s servers to identify what’s playing. This is really only for use when your phone doesn’t seem to have whatever song is playing in its offline database. I also noticed that once you used this button, songs were then recognized offline too, as the song was presumably added to the offline database stored on the phone. Any song that wasn’t identified correctly was identified when tapping the now playing button.
I also noticed that on the Google Pixel 6 Pro, the display of music on the lockscreen is delayed. Once you press the power button or turn on the display, the song that’s currently being detected changes immediately. Otherwise, it appears to take a while. In comparison, my Pixel 5 is much quicker to change on the always-on display.
Google Pixel 6 Pro music identified
|Public Service Broadcasting – Go!||✓|
|We Were Promised Jetpacks – This Is My House, This Is My Home||⨉|
|Soccer Mommy – yellow is the color of her eyes||⨉|
|Wolf Alice – Silk||✓|
|Modern Baseball – Your Graduation||✓|
|Gorillaz (ft. Elton John & 6LACK) – The Pink Phantom||✓|
|HUNNY – Televised||⨉|
|Gender Roles – Always||⨉|
|Tigers Jaw – Chemicals||⨉|
|Tame Impala – Yes I’m Changing||✓|
|ILLENIUM – I’ll Be Your Reason||⨉|
|Soulero – We Used To Talk For Hours||⨉|
|Tiny Little Houses – Drag Me||⨉|
|Bell-X1 – Eve The Apple Of My Eye||✓|
|Car Seat Headrest – Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales||✓|
|Kanye West – Bad News||✓|
|Måneskin – Somebody Told Me||✓|
|Ashnikko (ft. Princess Nokia) – Slumber Party||✓|
|Nujabes (ft. Shing02) – Luv (sic) pt3||✓|
|Diamond Eyes – 23||✓|
|Empathy Test – Monsters||⨉|
|Modest Mouse – Lampshades on Fire||✓|
|Alle Farben & Younotus – Please Tell Rosie||✓|
|Joji – Like you Do||✓|
|bbno$ – i remember||✓|
|Kojaque – Politicksis||✓|
|Slaughter Beach, Dog – 104 Degrees||⨉|
Voice typing is something that Google touted as being much improved and faster than typing in its announcement, and so far, that definitely seems to be the case. I was greatly surprised by its voice recognition ability, and in some instances, I can definitely see it being faster and more convenient than typing. However, I noticed in louder environments (outside, for example), it appears to struggle a little bit.
Quick phrases for Google Assistant
Google’s “Quick Phrases” for the Google Assistant puts the Assistant on standby whenever you receive an incoming phone call or an alarm/timer has gone off on your phone. If you can’t reach your phone at the moment you receive a phone call, the Assistant will wait for you to say “Answer” or “Decline” to pick up or decline the phone call. Similarly, when an alarm or timer has gone off, you can say “Stop” or “Snooze”. In either case, you won’t have to precede the command with “Hey Google” anymore. It’s pretty useful, and an easy way to dismiss an alarm when waking up in the morning.
I’ve also found that the Assistant is extremely convenient to use on the Pixel 6 Pro, and quality of life changes like these encourage me to use it a lot more. I decided to take an afternoon nap the other day and realized I had forgotten to set an alarm. I was able to ask Google to set an alarm, then say “continue playing my video”, and it went back to YouTube to continue playing what I had been watching. I was impressed, as it was context-aware and knew what I meant.
Magic Eraser is more or less the same as the context-aware heal within Adobe Photoshop, but it works extremely well at times. This is one of the hallmark features of the Google Pixel 6 Pro, and it’s been a blast to play around with it. The best example I’ve found is from the above two photos. I took a picture of a friend with the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra earlier this year, and Google Photos let me use Magic Eraser on it
What I found most amazing about the two photos above is that the Magic Eraser algorithm clearly recognized that it was a rock behind my friend. It filled in some of the design and also modified the shadows, completing the rock. It’s obviously not perfect and you can spot some artifacts, but at a glance, it works really, really well. This level of removal works well for social media, especially for removing photobombers and the like as people will obviously not be pixel-peeping. Google Photos will suggest to remove people when you scan with it.
I tried to work out its limitations and quickly found them.
While Magic Eraser handled the mask and the drink to the left perfectly, it failed at removing my friend at the top of the photo. I kind of expected that to happen, but I hoped that it might even fill her out with just white to fit the rest of the table. It didn’t, but that was a bit of an extreme test case anyway. You can even see that it took part of the handle of the blue spoon to fill in the area, suggesting that Google’s algorithms couldn’t quite detect what was happening.
Google’s suggestions in the Google Photos app only really seem to point out people right now. You open the photo you want to use the Magic Eraser on in Google Photos, select “Tools”, and tap “Magic Eraser”. It will then analyze the photo and make suggestions if it has any, or you can circle things you want to be removed.
The Google Pixel 6 Pro is the best Pixel smartphone in years
Aside from thermal problems when under load, the Google Pixel 6 Pro is my favorite Pixel smartphone in a long, long time. The custom Tensor chip enables the company to do so much more than it previously could, and the AI-powered features are as good as ever. I’m a huge fan of the improved voice typing, and Now Playing is still one of my favorite Pixel-exclusive features. With the promise of fast updates (though only three years of major OS upgrades), you’ll get the latest and greatest Android version first for a number of years to come, too.
The Google Pixel 6 Pro beside the Google Pixel 5
Is this the Pixel smartphone for you? Maybe, but if you’re an avid gamer then I’d hold off for now. There are still some software problems that really need fixing, and it’s hard to tell what problems might be as a result of pre-production software and what problems are just inherent to the Pixel itself. The camera is a desperately needed upgrade, and performance outclasses last year’s Google Pixel 5 in basically every way imaginable.
When it comes to Google Tensor, it’s a fantastic first chip from the company, and we’re looking forward to seeing how Google improves on it in both software and in future hardware iterations to come. There are obviously some issues in thermals and sustained performance, but none that should affect most users.
What’s funny about the Pixel 6 Pro is that it appears to have a lot of the hallmarks of an Exynos flagship — great everyday performance, but numerous issues when it comes to gaming. It’s still significantly better than the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra in gaming performance when it comes to the likes of Genshin Impact, but it’s still a poor gaming experience overall. Google Tensor definitely has some relation to Exynos as well — I was able to find direct references to “Exynos” in system files on my device, and as already mentioned, the modem appears to be an Exynos 5123 modem, too. It’s unclear how much of this chip Samsung was actually involved in, but there is an Exynos inspiration for sure.
To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with an Exynos connection. I absolutely adore the Google Pixel 6 Pro, and I definitely see myself using it as my daily driver for a while to come yet. However, hardcore gamers and benchmark fanatics may not enjoy it nearly as much as I do. I’m not a smartphone gamer, nor do I care for benchmark results, and the chipset is perfectly capable in the Google Pixel 6 Pro. The biggest and most annoying issues that I faced were the mediocre battery life and the throttled charging speed. The phone got me through a day, but it was annoying at times to deal with.
If you’re looking for a smartphone packed with useful features with quick updates, then the Google Pixel 6 Pro is heavily worth considering.