Google’s Pixel series of smartphones have long existed in the realm of middling, perfectly average devices that get lost in the fervor around more consistent, higher performing options. Pixel phones performed well enough to please those of us (stares at my Google Pixel 4A) looking for a device that hits all the prerequisites at a mid-tier price, but the line hasn’t broken through since being introduced in 2016.
But that all may be about to change thanks to the Google Pixel 6 line introduced this year. The Android developers unveiled the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro in October as a complete revamp of what Google-made smartphones can be.
All of the changes the Pixel 6 brings start at its foundation: the processor. Google ditched the Pixel 5’s Qualcomm Snapdragon chip in favor of a new proprietary chip, the Google Tensor. The Tensor represents an entirely new journey for the company as it has never developed a chip on its own.
But doing so powers all of the best selling points of the device, especially when it comes to app performance and the ever-important camera array. Apps open like a snap and graphical performance holds up against comparable processors even though the phone’s display received few upgrades. Combining that with it’s base 8GB RAM make the Pixel 6 a great option for mobile gaming.
Where the Tensor chip truly stars is in its ability to work alongside Google’s impressive camera array. The Pixel 6’s new two-tone design fixes the rear 50 megapixel wide-angle and 12 megapixel ultrawide lens in a tactile bar, which is pleasing to both the eye and the touch. Those cameras get a beefy roster of options thanks to Tensor that create a photosuite that will please anyone, including Long Exposure, Night Sight and Action Pan.
The most welcome additions to the Pixel 6’s photo options have to be Magic Eraser and Real Tone. Magic Eraser allows users to remove people in the background of photos by identifying silhouettes and letting you manually remove portions of them for any reason you like. Real Tone is Google’s response to complaints about phone cameras’ ability to accurately capture darker skin tones and complexions.
Tensor also helps shore up the Pixel 6’s security as well by performing much of its processing operations internally on the device instead of through heavy cloud utilization. That shift, along with improved machine learning, speeds up operations on the device itself while providing an extra blanket of data security thanks to less frequent data transfers.
Battery life is fine, but tests since the device was released have shown that Google’s promise of the Pixel 6 lasting all day on a single charge falls a bit short against real world use. It still lasts most of the day even with heavy use of photo and video apps, which is good for most users.
The only real complaints thus far focus on charging speed and the in-display fingerprint reader. A recent analysis from Android Authority of the Pixel 6’s charging speed doesn’t take full advantage of Google’s own 30W USB-C charger, maxing out at 22W. Basically, the phone’s charging speed lags behind other devices to a surprising degree, even with its makers own tools. The fingerprint sensor drew many complaints from users for being slow to read inputs or outright not reading them at all. Google recently released a patch addressing the fingerprint reader issues, though Google’s post about the patch didn’t feature any language actually explaining how it was improved.
Despite those issues, the Pixel 6 stands as the first legitimate contender Google has fielded in the phone market. It packs many of the trappings and tools of its competition with in-house tools that help it interact with Android better than the majority of devices built on the OS. And it does all that without ballooning the price tag, keeping the base model at $599.
Sales numbers will show just how much the Pixel 6 lives up to its promise, but the device itself is quickly rising as one of the best mid-price smartphones available today.
Brian Bell is a queer freelance writer covering tech, pro wrestling, esports, games, comics and TV. Find and follow him on Twitter @WonderboyOTM.