The Pixel 6 has had a tumultuous early life. Unanimously praised in initial reviews for its price, performance, and photo prowess, wider use of the phone uncovered a number of serious bugs and other issues. To make matters worse, its first handful of updates arrived late — and some units missed December's update entirely. Problems have been far from universal, but for a time, they were common enough to dominate the conversation around the phone.
Six months into the Pixel 6's tenure, though, Google's seemingly turned it around. Today, the Pixel 6 is still one of the best Android phones you can buy — and still one we heartily recommend.
With a great primary camera, fast performance, and a fun, fresh UI, Google's Pixel 6 is a triumph in the upper-mid-range space. The phone's first few months were defined by bugs and slow updates, but Google seems to have righted the ship. At $599, the Pixel 6 is easy to recommend.
- CPU: Google Tensor
- Display: 6.4" 1080p OLED, 90Hz
- RAM: 8 GB
- Storage: 128 GB, 256 GB
- Battery: 4,614 mAh
- Operating System: Android 12
- Front camera: 8 MP f/2.0, 84° FOV
- Rear camera: 50 MP f/1.85, 82° FOV (primary); 12 MP f/2.2, 114° FOV (ultrawide)
- Dimensions: 6.2 x 2.9 x 0.4", 7.3 oz
- Colors: Stormy Black, Sorta Seafoam, Kinda Coral
- Price: Starting at $599
- Image quality out of the huge new primary sensor is outstanding.
- Google's new in-house Tensor chip performs like a champ.
- Android 12 is smooth and fun to use.
- $599 is a steal.
- Fingerprint sensor is a little slow.
- Rear cameras suffer from distracting glare in some lighting.
- Selfie camera is just okay.
- Low charging speeds compared to the competition.
Design, hardware, what’s in the box
Coming from 2020's Pixel 5, the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro represent Google’s biggest generational change in hardware design since the first Pixel in 2016. Its two-tone back glass and subdued colors are nods to its lineage, but that gonzo camera bar and oversized G logo just don’t look like anything Google’s built before.
The phone also represents another Pixel first: glossy, fingerprint-loving glass on every colorway. I’d been hoping “smartphones as reflective glass slabs” would be a 2010s design trend that would eventually give way to more widespread adoption of matte finishes (like on the Galaxy S22 Ultra) — but Google apparently saw benefits in going glossy. I hate how easily this glass collects smudges, but as AP’s Max Weinbach points out, it kind of clings to the oils in your skin, which makes the phone easier to grip.
And aside from the Stormy Black colorway, the colors on offer here are light enough to hide fingerprints pretty well. The Sorta Seafoam model I’m using is even more subdued in most real-life lighting than it looks in Google’s press materials — less electric green and cyan than guacamole and cloud white. I know plenty of Pixel fans have been clamoring for bolder hues (pour one out for the Really Blue first-gen Pixel), but I think the muted tones on the Pixel 6 are just interesting enough. Plus, with the unique design language, these phones don’t need much help standing out.
The side rails are matte aluminum (or “tactile alloy,” as Google euphemizes). The power and volume buttons, nestled in a little trench on the right edge, have nice travel and are sublimely clicky — although they do wiggle a bit, if that sort of thing bothers you. Google ditched the accent-colored power button in the Pixel 6, though, which is a shame — it was part of the Pixel’s visual identity. I hope it returns with the Pixel 7.
On the bottom edge, you’ve got the microphone, USB-C port, and one of two stereo speakers. Those speakers are loud and full; they’re not going to replace a Bluetooth speaker, even in a small room, but they’re absolutely good enough for watching videos or playing games without headphones.The left edge houses the SIM card tray, and there’s another mic for noise-canceling up top.
The front of the phone is dominated by a big, 6.4-inch display coated in Corning’s high-end Gorilla Glass Victus. It’s a 1080p, 90Hz OLED panel, and it looks really nice: it’s got those perfect OLED blacks, colors are vibrant, viewing angles are great, and it gets plenty bright enough to use outdoors. It supports HDR in compatible apps, too. It’s not the 120Hz, 1440p corker Google stuck in the 6 Pro, but the jump from 60 to 90Hz is way more appreciable than the one from 90 to 120 anyway. I also appreciate that the edges aren't curved here the way they are on the Pro model.
Bezels are a little chunky and uneven by modern standards — they’re actually thicker on every side than they were on the Pixel 5, and the top and bottom bezels are thicker than on the left and right. The selfie cam cutout is smaller, though, and, being centered at the top of the phone, interferes with the status bar less than it would in the corner.
The top bezel houses a cutout that pulls double duty as both earpiece and the other half of the stereo speaker setup. Its grille is divvied up into 10 segments, and sound only comes out of the leftmost six — you can actually see that it’s filled in on the right side. It looks a little weird up close, but it doesn’t impact audio quality.
For the first time, Google’s gone with an optical under-display fingerprint sensor. I still miss the secure face unlock offered by the Pixel 4, but I do prefer front fingerprint sensors to rear-mounted ones — they’re easier to use when your phone is on a table, or a wireless charger, or in a car mount. The optical sensor in the Pixel 6 isn't nearly as fast as the top-end ultrasonic number Samsung uses in its S22 phones — you'll be waiting just a half a beat while it scans your thumb, whereas phones like the S22+ unlock practically instantly. It feels faster now than it did nearer release, at least.
On the whole, the Pixel 6's look doesn’t feel very Google as we’ve come to understand it. There’s far less of the playfulness I usually appreciate in Google hardware; the phone’s backside is still charmingly offbeat, but with the centered selfie cam and tighter corner radius, its face looks more like a mid-range Samsung phone than anything I would’ve expected out of Google (though considering mid-range Galaxies sell in the millions, that might not be entirely by accident).
The Pixel 6's look doesn’t feel very Google as we’ve come to understand it.
It’s a really well-built phone, though. The glass and metal construction feels premium in a way not a whole lot of devices in this segment do, and the haptics — a mushy sore spot on the Pixel 5 — are much improved, though I don’t think quite as nice as they were on the Pixel 4, and definitely not on par with the best stuff from Samsung, Apple, or OnePlus.
And I do have some petty gripes. The camera bar’s glass isn’t an uninterrupted piece all the way across; there are seams where the flat middle portion meets the rounded corners, which are actually plastic. That’s likely the right call — the corners of the bar are more exposed than the face, and if it were all one piece, a nasty drop on one of those corners could easily crack the entire array. But if a discrete corner piece gets damaged, it’s probably not a big deal. Still, it looks strange.
There’s also a sharp corner above and below the camera bar that collects and holds onto lint like it was designed for that purpose. But the very fact that I’m grading this $599 phone’s build quality on the same curve I would one that costs nearly twice as much demonstrates just what Google has pulled off here.
Inside the surprisingly slim box, there’s the phone, a USB-C cable and USB-A-to-C adapter, and a tiny quick start guide. Like Apple and Samsung before it, Google is forgoing the power brick this generation.
In spite of how keenly aware I am that the eco-friendly packaging, with its recycled paper and minimal plastic, is performative greenwashing, I’m not bothered by the absence of a wall wart. It’ll be a minor hassle for the uninitiated, but USB-C bricks are cheap — even Google’s 30-watt PPS adapter is just $25.
What does bother me is that it isn’t abundantly clear that a required accessory isn’t included in the box: that fact is footnote number 13 on the Pixel 6’s Google Store page and is only referenced obliquely on the phone’s packaging. That’s not a good look for Google, but it’s also not a knock against the device itself.
Software, performance, and battery life
I think we’re pretty well past the point of saying Google’s phones run “stock Android” — the Pixel experience on Android 12 has nearly as many deviations from AOSP as Samsung’s One UI does. But it’s my favorite take on Android by a country mile.
Material You is the most obvious visual distinction (though now that other manufacturers are implementing similar theming, it's not quite as unique a selling point). Essentially, it themes your phone based on your wallpaper. That might sound inane: Oh, great, my blue wallpaper will make every Google app blue. And I think that’s a reasonable take; it does seem like a lot of fuss over a change that, by design, fades into the background.
But it’s not just apps. The entire system theme reflects your wallpaper, from widgets to the lock screen to the notification shade. I’m yet to encounter an auto-generated Material You theme that looks bad, and despite what Google’s shown off, wallpapers with bold colors can generate similarly bold Material You themes — although negative space will always be a muted color for legibility’s sake. There's even a setting that changes the color of your home screen app icons to match — though it's in beta and currently only supports Google's own apps. That Android can construct a seemingly unlimited number of cohesive themes is, frankly, amazing, and I love that Google is putting such care into a feature that only design geeks are likely to appreciate.
I do wish there was better manual theme control, though. You’ll get a selection of a handful of custom Material You themes for any wallpaper you pick — how different those themes are will vary depending on how many colors there are in the wallpaper. If you don’t like any of those options, you can also pick from four stock themes that are rendered in shades of blue, green, purple, or brown. It’s better than nothing, but I wonder why those four colors are the only choices. If you want your whole phone to be red or yellow or hot pink, you’re out of luck unless you’ve got a wallpaper MY pulls those colors out of.
There’s also Google’s suite of outstanding phone call features. Call Screen isn’t new, but as a refresher: the phone can answer calls to ask the caller what they need, transcribing their response for you to read in real time and providing a number of replies you can choose between by touch. There are settings to automatically filter calls from known spammers and potentially spoofed numbers, plus unknown numbers and first-time callers. It’s probably the single software feature I miss most when I’m not using a Google-branded phone.
Hold For Me, another existing feature, lets you “hang up” during holds while the phone sits in the queue for you. When a real person gets on the line, your phone notifies you, and you can pick up and start talking right away. There’s always a chance the person on the other end of either of these types of exchange will get confused or flustered and give up, but that’s unusual in my experience, and these two features work shockingly well.
Call Screen is the single software feature I miss most when I’m not using a Google-branded phone.
New to the Pixel 6 is Wait Times, which shows how long a wait you should be in for at any given time calling a toll-free business number — kind of like Google Maps’ popular times chart, but for phone calls.
When you do call one of those toll-free numbers, another new Pixel-exclusive feature pops up. Direct My Call uses the same Duplex infrastructure as Call Screen to transcribe automated help line speech in real time. The speech appears in a text conversation-style layout, and questions that require answers are highlighted in a couple of different ways depending on whether you have to reply out loud or select a menu option. For the latter, you can choose your reply by touch — which, as Google says, should eliminate the need for requesting to hear your options again.
Direct My Call is still in beta, and it doesn’t work flawlessly — it mishears speech pretty often. But given that it highlights strings of text that may not be transcribed correctly, and that you can still listen to the call as you use the feature, you probably won’t miss much information, and I still think it’s endlessly preferable to navigating automated call menus the “traditional” way.
I didn’t expect to be excited about it, but Gboard on Pixel 6 has vastly improved voice typing thanks to Google’s Tensor chip. I’m always reluctant to dictate my texts — I’m a stickler for punctuation, even in my personal life (because I’m weird), and “hi comma how are you question mark” just doesn’t feel right to say out loud. But thanks to speech processing efficiency gains compared to the Qualcomm-powered Pixels of yesteryear, dictation is smoother and smarter than ever. You can actually speak naturally to it, and it’ll insert the proper punctuation — including commas between clauses and question marks at the ends of questions. (Google says it learns how to spell names you say over time, too, though I don't know how true that is.)
You can also pick emoji by voice: “L-O-L emoji” turns into 😂 automatically, for example. You can even give commands like “send” or “clear.” In my experience so far, it usually knows from context whether you want to insert the word or perform the command, but a few times, I’ve had it start a new sentence with the word “send” instead of sending my message.
This all happens on the phone itself; it’s not sending your dictation to a server. It’s pretty wild stuff, and as smartphones as a product category continue to mature, this sort of edgewise, incremental software improvement is going to be the path forward.
That Tensor chip powering Gboard's much-improved voice-to-text is no slouch for normal phone stuff, either. In the Pixel 6 series, Google used custom, house-branded silicon in its phones for the first time, and I’m happy to say that that doesn’t seem to have been a bad call. It's likely that going this route contributed to messy updates early in the Pixel 6's life, but it's been relatively smooth sailing since February's update.
This thing is quick.
Tensor is supposed to be competitive with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 you’ll find in basically every other Android flagship these days. That seems accurate — in real-world use, I can tell you this thing is quick. It’s got eight gigs of RAM backing its fancy custom chipset, and I’m yet to notice any pronounced slowness whatsoever. I’m a little salty the Pro model gets 12 gigs of RAM, but at this price point — again, $599 — even six gigs wouldn’t have been surprising, and as is, applications rarely get booted from memory earlier than I’d expect. Plus, having now spent weeks using both the Pixel 6 and the Pixel 6 Pro, the Pro's extra RAM doesn't seem to matter all that much anyway.
Gaming performance has been great, too. Google says it worked to ensure compatibility with the most popular games on Android, and that seems like it holds water: I tried Call of Duty Mobile, Asphalt 9, Pokémon Go, Downwell, Dead Cells, and Fortnite, and they all ran nicely — although Fortnite is a little odd.
The Pixel 6 handles maxing out Fortnite’s graphical settings just fine, maintaining a relatively stable 30 frames per second that only dips when large sections of the map are on screen (like when you’re dropping in at the beginning of a match). You won't be able to play it at any higher frame rate than that, though; even with the 60 FPS option selected in the game's settings, the frame rate sticks to 30. I have to think that's more an optimization issue than a horsepower one, but six months into the phone's lifespan, that's not a whole lot better.
Crediting its custom chip, Google’s committed to not only its historical three years of OS updates, but at least five years of security patches for the Pixel 6. When I originally reviewed this phone, I was impressed that Google had snatched the update crown back from Samsung, who was, at the time, offering three years of platform updates and four years of security patches to its premium devices. But in February, Samsung announced that it was upping its commitment to four years of OS updates and five years of security updates, again beating Google at its own game. As happy as I am that we're still seeing competition around device longevity, that also means the Pixel 6 isn't especially remarkable for how long it'll stay up to date anymore.
Battery life isn't class-leading, but it's strong. On my heaviest day of testing — we’re talking 40 minutes of Google Maps navigation, some gaming, some YouTube, taking a half-hour Google Meet video conference call, and shooting nearly a hundred photos — I was able to wring six hours and nine minutes of screen on-time out of the Pixel 6’s 4,614-milliamp hour cell. With lighter use, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see it hit seven or more. That would hardly be groundbreaking, but it’s firmly “good” in my book. Battery life doesn't seem to have changed much over the six months I've been using the Pixel 6 — it was good to begin with, and it's still good today.
My outlook on charging is a little less rosy. We were initially under the impression that the Pixel 6 would charge at 30 watts with a compatible charger (like the first-party charger Google itself sells). With a regular ol’ non-PPS 60-watt charger, I measured speeds around 18 watts when the battery was low. As it approached the halfway point, that number dropped to 15. What's worse, even Google's 30-watt charger only hits speeds of 21 watts on the Pixel 6. That's fast enough for me, but it's nowhere near the speeds competitors like Samsung and OnePlus are offering — their top phones hit 45 and 65 watts, respectively (in the US — the OnePlus 10 Pro can pull 85 watts in other markets).
The Pixel 6 also supports wireless charging up to 21 watts, but only on Google’s own second-generation Pixel Stand. It can pull up to 12 watts from other Qi-certified charging pads. Like the Pixel 5, it supports reverse wireless charging, too — I guess for whenever Google releases the next Pixel Buds (the A-Series don’t support wireless charging).
In the Pixel 6, we finally have a Pixel phone with a big camera sensor, and boy oh boy, pictures from this thing are really good. Let’s skip right to the samples:
The primary camera is a 50-megapixel shooter with a luxurious 1/1.31” sensor. For a phone, that’s huge — way bigger than the 1/2.55” main sensor Google stuck in the Pixel 3, 4, and 5 (yes, it was the same exact sensor in all three — Sony’s IMX363). Size matters for camera sensors because the bigger a sensor is, the more light it can collect at once. A bigger sensor means not only better low-light performance, but also quicker photos across all lighting conditions.
That 50-megapixel figure doesn’t mean you’ll get photos you could blow up to the size of a billboard, though. Google’s photo software uses a technique called pixel binning to effectively combine sets of four adjacent pixels into ones four times the size — a common practice among high-megapixel smartphone cameras. Here, though, there’s no option to switch to full-res, so every photo you take is going to output at 12.5 megapixels. Larger pixels mean better low-light performance, so it makes sense as a default setting — but to straight-up disallow shooting higher-megapixel photos is a bizarre choice. When I first reviewed this phone, I said I hoped Google would reverse this in software updates — it still hasn't.
To view full-resolution versions of the photo samples in this post, check out this album.
Still, Google’s AI photo magic applied to images from that jumbo camera sensor with artificially large pixels does make for excellent photos across just about every lighting condition. Excessively noisy low-light photos from the primary camera are a rarity, and in good light, a deft photographer could easily get frame-worthy photos out of this thing.
The accompanying ultrawide shooter is less impressive. It’s got a 12-megapixel sensor with a 114-degree field of view — which means it’s lower-resolution than the Pixel 5’s 16-megapixel ultrawide, but also seven degrees wider, so you can pack a bit more into the frame. Google doesn't advertise the sensor size for the ultrawide, but I’m assuming it’s not very large — a theory that’s supported by the fact that photos from the ultrawide are notably darker and noisier than the main camera. Take a look at these two sets of regular vs. ultrawide shots, each taken from the same spot just a couple seconds apart:
In the outdoor set, you can see straight away that the wide shot has darker shadows than the one from the main camera. Things are even hairier in the indoor set: that wide shot has the most noise of any photo I took during my testing, and the subject’s hand is blurrier than I would’ve expected.
Still, at this price and with a main camera this good, I can’t be too dejected about ultrawide performance; that that camera is here at all feels like icing on the cake. What I am dejected about is the absence of a telephoto shooter.
The Pixel 6 Pro has a 4x telephoto lens crammed into its camera bar. On the Pixel 6, no such luck. You can magnify up to 7x in the camera software (a feature Google charitably calls Super Res Zoom) and still get 12.5-megapixel images, but the results are… not great:
1x, 2x software zoom, 7x Super Res Zoom. See full-size album.
While the Super Res Zoom photo is technically a higher resolution than a post-shot crop would get you, it doesn’t contain much additional information. Text on the card here is about as legible zoomed in on the 1x shot as it is at the camera app’s 7x software zoom.
Personally, I would’ve preferred even a 2x telephoto camera over an ultrawide here — I find myself wanting to zoom in to take a photo an order of magnitude more often than I want to zoom out.
But I seem to be in the minority there, and some of Google’s software camera features that use the regular and ultrawide cameras simultaneously might not work as well with a different setup. I’m sure Google doesn’t want to deal with the headache that developing for two even more disparate camera arrays would cause, either.
Those software camera features are really dang cool, too. Long Exposure mimics the look of, well, a long exposure: still elements in the frame remain clear, while moving objects are blurred. Think those artsy waterfall photos you see on Instagram.
It worked relatively well on the shot of the river above — the moving water has indeed been blurred. The leaves that overlap the water from the camera’s perspective were even preserved pretty well. But the second photo had people walking through the frame, and it sort of made them look like ghosts. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; real long exposures would behave the same way. But it’s something to look out for.
Action Pan lets you ape the look of a longer exposure that tracks a moving subject — a notoriously tricky technique to pull off.
Google’s software uses the motion of the object you’re taking a photo of to calculate the angle of the blur, and it works surprisingly well on subjects like cars. As you can see from the photo of dogs running, though, it’s not too hard to confuse Action Pan’s algorithm — it has the same trouble with accurate cutouts of organic shapes as portrait mode tends to.
While we're talking about portrait mode: it’s still portrait mode.
The quality of the photos themselves here is impressive, but the software still frequently has a hard time finding edges. Check out my forehead in the example where I’m facing left below. What the hell happened there?
Night Sight is here too, of course, and it’s better than ever; those portrait mode photos of me above were also shot with Night Sight on. It can and does still look artificial sometimes — note the almost-night vision quality to the shot of the arch below — but if the camera is struggling in low light, Night Sight will almost always net you a more editable photo than you’d otherwise end up with.
It’s particularly impressive in moonlight. Just look what it was able to do with this shot:
I wouldn’t want to post the Night Sight result above to social media or anything, but those two shots were just seconds apart, and it was dark. I still just about can’t believe it, and I’m the one who took it. The new sensor really is a revelation.
The selfie shooter, an eight-megapixel fixed-focus camera, is okay. It can do portrait mode and Night Sight just like the rear cameras, but the results aren’t nearly as impressive.
Curiously, the Pixel 6 Pro has an 11.1-megapixel front camera with a wider field of view. That strikes me as a weird feature to reserve for Pro customers, but the selfie cam in the non-Pro Pixel 6 is still fine.
I would’ve preferred even a 2x telephoto camera over an ultrawide here.
It's not exactly a camera feature, but the Pixel 6 introduced a new tool called Magic Eraser to Google Photos. On Pixel 6, the app will suggest you “Remove people in the background” if it spots folks it thinks you’d prefer not be in the shot. You can trigger it manually under Tools otherwise.
It feels more or less like the healing tools we’re familiar with from photo editing software like Lightroom and Snapseed, but with a machine learning boost that makes suggestions on what you ought to remove. Sometimes, it works pretty well:
Others, not so much:
You can see some weirdness around where the subject was removed here — and the shadow is an obvious giveaway there used to be a person in the photo. But even this “bad” example is pretty impressive from a technical perspective, and I have no doubt Magic Eraser will salvage plenty of photobombed shots over the next few years.
As I see it, the camera has just one notable problem: lens flare.
In an inexplicable design oversight, the glass on the Pixel 6’s cameras causes some pretty bad glare under certain circumstances. Here’s what it looks like in action:
It’s only in specific situations, and the severity can range from “who cares” to actively ruining photos. Honestly, in the weeks and months I've used the Pixel 6 as my primary phone, it hasn't ever bothered me — but depending on what you normally take pictures of with your phone, it could be a big issue for you.
The first-generation Pixel, which also had a wide expanse of glass covering its rear camera, had a similar issue that Google eventually addressed with a software update. Unfortunately, this particular kink hasn't been ironed out yet — and six months in, it's seeming less and less likely it ever will be. But again, it's not much of a problem day to day.
Should you buy it?
Yes. I think the Pixel 6 is the best phone Google's ever built. It punches above its weight in nearly every way: performance is great, build quality is very good, and the cameras positively rip.
More than once while testing this phone, I had to remind myself that it’s not a flagship. At $599, this thing is extremely aggressively positioned; it’s so good for the money, it makes the $899 Pixel 6 Pro, a phone with more cameras, more RAM, and better and larger display, feel a little overpriced.
The Pixel 6 punches above its weight in nearly every way.
The phone got off to a bit of a rocky start, with reports of significant issues like spotty connectivity (both 5G and Wi-Fi), ghost dialing, and display problems cropping up in the months following its launch. Its early updates were also uncharacteristically slow for Google — a lot of users actually missed the December 2021 update entirely after its distribution was halted because of unresolved bugs. But we've now seen several timely updates in a row, and a lot of the little annoyances have been resolved. It's also worth noting that many users — myself included — are yet to experience any noteworthy bugs or defects with the Pixel 6 at all.
Really, the biggest reason I can think of not to buy a Pixel 6 right now is that the Pixel 6a could be announced as early as Google I/O, and we're expecting it to be very similar to the full-fat version — only smaller and with an older camera sensor. Assuming it's priced similarly to previous Pixel a phones, it sounds like an incredible deal. Until it's official, that's all conjecture — but it might be worth it to wait it out with your current phone for a little while longer anyway, if you're able.
I’m still miffed the Pro model has so many advantages over the smaller version, but stripping out some of the more premium features to keep the base model’s price low was definitely the right call. I call it the "smaller version," but there's really no small Pixel 6 — this is a big phone, which is a bit of a shock after the compact Pixel 4 and Pixel 5. But it’s a very good big phone at a very good price. If you're willing to trust the Pixel 6's future will be smoother than its first six months — and right now, signs point that way — you'll really like it. I know I do.
UPDATE: 2022/04/25 07:00 EST BY Taylor Kerns
Half a year with the Pixel 6
This review has been updated to be accurate as of late April 2022.