Google Pixel 6 Pro review: The best Android phone money can buy

The Pixel 6 Pro is the best phone Google has ever made and one of the best phones you can buy right now. With strong performance, some great software additions, a unique design and an excellent camera system, it’s got everything you’d look for in a flagship phone in 2021. 

And it offers all that at a price that, sensibly, undercuts its main rivals. The 6.7-inch base 128GB model costs $899 (£849, AU$1,299), a sizable chunk less than the 6.1-inch iPhone 13 Pro’s $999 price and even more off the $1,099 Apple wants for the larger 6.7-inch 13 Pro Max. 

Like

  • Excellent cameras
  • Solid all-round performance
  • Neat Android 12 interface
  • Attractive design

Don’t Like

  • Battery is good, but not great
  • Fast charge isn’t all that fast
  • No face unlock

While last year’s Pixel 5 was best seen as a midrange phone with some higher-end touches, the Pixel 6 Pro is premium all the way. From its glass and metal design, to its high-resolution display and its superb triple camera, there’s a lot to like here. Then there’s the Tensor processor — a chip custom-made by Google for the phone — which provides ample power for all of your daily needs, better security features, 5G connectivity and a slick Android 12 interface. Battery life is good — certainly above average — but not great, with the iPhone 13 Pro putting in a stronger performance.

Its best Android rival is the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra which does have some neat camera additions (that 10x zoom, for one thing) but it costs more and the Pixel 6 Pro offers a more user-friendly experience. The iPhone 13 Pro and Pro Max offer superb all-round use, but come at a higher price and if you’re already entrenched in the Android ecosystem, it’s likely not worth switching and buying all those apps again. 

Those looking for the best all-round Android experience should absolutely look towards the Pixel 6 Pro. 

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Andrew Hoyle/

Pixel 6 Pro or Pixel 6?

The stepdown $599 (£599, AU$999) Pixel 6 packs the same Tensor processor and lovely Android 12 software for $300 less than the Pro, but there are a few compromises it makes in order to come to that cheaper price.

It has a smaller and lower resolution 6.4-inch display that lacks the curving finesse of the Pro. Its battery is smaller, it has 8GB rather than 12GB of RAM and it lacks the 4x telephoto zoom lens found on the Pro. 

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The Pixel 6 Pro has a 6.7-inch display while the Pixel 6’s measures 6.4 inches.


Andrew Hoyle/

But it’s still a great phone that’s well worth considering. It provides many of the same perks of the Pixel 6 Pro at a much lower price, especially if you don’t care about the top-end performance offered by the flagship. As my colleague Patrick Holland put it in his review of the phone, “For the price, I can’t think of a better phone to recommend right now.”

A fresh design that stands out 

I didn’t love the look of last year’s Pixel 5. The matte, rubberized back gave the phone a more budget feel than its $699 price tag suggested. The Pixel 6 Pro is worlds apart. The rear is all glass — toughened Gorilla Glass Victus, in fact — that curves at the edges to meet the 100% recycled aluminum frame. 

The glass curves at the edges on the front, too, as does the display beneath it, making it not only look more premium, but feel like a truly flagship device when you hold it in your hand. It’s big though, packing in a 6.7-inch display, which will make it more cumbersome for some than the 6-inch Pixel 5 or 6.4-inch Pixel 6. That glass makes it slippery, too, so consider one of Google’s protective cases if you’re nervous about dropping it. 

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The Pixel 6 Pro, flanked by the iPhone 13 Pro (left) and Pixel 5.


Andrew Hoyle/

It is IP68-rated for water resistance, meaning it can withstand being in 1 meter (about 3 feet) of water for up to 30 minutes. No, that doesn’t mean you can take it swimming, but it does mean it should be able to shake off having the odd beer spilled over it by your clumsy mates. 

An interesting design choice is the large camera bar that stretches across the back. It protrudes from the phone by about 3mm, so it doesn’t lie totally flat when you put it on a table, but nor does it rock from corner to corner like phones with camera bumps just on one side (like the S21 Ultra). I like the look of the phone and it certainly stands out. One tip though: Get the Sorta Sunny orangey-peachy color, if you can find it in stock. The black-and-gray option, Stormy Black, looks rather dull by comparison. 

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The camera strip protrudes from the phone by about 3mm. As a result, it won’t lie flat on a table.


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The rear-mounted fingerprint scanner seen on the Pixel 5 has been removed, replaced instead with an in-screen scanner, which I found worked accurately and quickly most of the time, although Patrick found the Pixel 6’s scanner to be much more hit and miss in his review. There’s no face unlock ability, which is a bit of a shame, but with masks still being a requirement in many indoor areas due to COVID-19, having a fingerprint scanner is arguably more useful anyway.

Three excellent cameras

That big bar on the back hides three cameras: a 12-megapixel ultrawide; a 48-megapixel telephoto that offers 4x optical zoom; and a main camera that uses a larger 1/1.3-inch sensor, which Google says captures 2.5x more light than the Pixel 5. The cameras on the Pixel phones have always been excellent, and this new generation is no different. 

Images from the main camera lens are stunning. They’re vibrant, they’re packed with detail and there’s an amazing balance of exposure, with bright skies kept under control and shadowy areas being easily visible. 

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Pixel 6 Pro, main camera.


Andrew Hoyle/

The golden colors of the leaves have been captured beautifully here, with a rich blue sky visible behind. 

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iPhone 13 Pro, main camera.


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And here’s the same image taken on the iPhone 13 Pro. There’s little to choose between them, but if I was being hypercritical, I’d say that the white balance on the Pixel 6 Pro has resulted in a warmer, more orange tone on the tree trunk, which I think looks better. You can see how the Pixel 6 Pro’s camera really stacks up against the iPhone 13 Pro’s in my photography shootout.

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Pixel 6 Pro, main camera.


Andrew Hoyle/

This scene looking towards the beautiful Edinburgh castle is a challenging shot, with dark shadows and an extremely bright sky beyond the trees. The Pixel 6 Pro has handled it well though, maintaining a lovely exposure overall.

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Pixel 6 Pro, main camera.


Andrew Hoyle/

And it’s much the same here, with vivid blue skies, superb exposure and plenty of detail. 

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Pixel 6 Pro, ultrawide camera.


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Switching to the ultrawide lens, the scene maintains the rich colors and exposure. Zoom closer in and it’s clear it has less overall detail, but it’s still a lovely shot. 

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Pixel 6 Pro, ultrawide camera.


Andrew Hoyle/

Another from the Pixel 6 Pro’s ultrawide lens. But check out the iPhone 13 Pro’s:

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iPhone 13 Pro, ultrawide lens.


Andrew Hoyle/

The iPhone’s offers a much wider view that lets you capture more in the scene. They’re both excellent wide lenses and both do a great job in packing in those beautiful colors, but I’d like to have seen the Pixel offering a slightly wider scene.

The 4x zoom lens is amazing too, providing tons of detail thanks to its high resolution sensor. I think 4x is a great zoom level for a phone as well; it allows you to find compositions that would be beyond the reach of lesser zoom levels, but it’s not quite as restrictive as the 10x zoom you’ll find on the Galaxy S21. It’s a zoom level I feel I’d use a lot on my travels and have already taken a few 4x shots with the phone that I’m really pleased with as artistic images.

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Pixel 6 Pro, 4x zoom.


Andrew Hoyle/

This zoomed-in image is so pin-sharp I can actually read the headline on the newspaper. It’s a really impressive lens that doesn’t force you to make any kind of compromise on quality in order to achieve those zoom levels. By comparison, the iPhone 13 Pro’s optical zoom maxes out at 3x, so the Pixel 6 Pro is able to achieve a closer-up image. Which, frankly, I’d take any day over a wider-angle view.

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Pixel 6 Pro, 4x zoom.


Andrew Hoyle/

It’s handy as well for focusing your view on a smaller scene like this, capturing intimate little still-life scenes, rather than grand, sweeping vistas. The fine textures on the leaves here are extremely sharp. 

Google has thrown some extra features in too, including a tool that automatically removes people from the background in an image, which sometimes works well, and sometimes leaves a big splotch where a person once stood. Then there’s the long exposure mode, which allows you to create ethereal blurred waterscapes and the Nightscape mode, which does an excellent job of taking shots in the dark. 

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Pixel 6 pro, Nightscape photo.


Andrew Hoyle/

I’m seriously impressed with the photography abilities of the Pixel 6 Pro and there’s no question that it’s among the best cameras you can get on a phone right now. Video quality is excellent as well, with superb dynamic range, excellent image stabilization and plenty of detail thanks to the 4K resolution. 

Does Google’s Tensor processor make a difference?

At the heart of the phone is Google’s first home-baked processor, named Tensor. It’s a significant move for Google to produce its own silicon and it shows a strong commitment to remain in the hardware game — after all, you don’t go to the effort of developing your own processors as a one-off experiment.  

But it’s essentially irrelevant once you get the Pixel in your hand, as it functions just like any other phone. It’s nippy to navigate around the Android 12 interface, games like Asphalt 9: Legends and Call of Duty play perfectly, while photo editing and video streaming are handled exactly as well as you’d get from any other top-end phone right now. 

Pixel 6 Pro benchmark tests

Legend:

Geekbench 5 (single core)

Geekbench 5 (multi core)

3DMark Wild Life Extreme

Note:

Longer bars equal better performance

On benchmark tests like the Geekbench 5 processor test and 3DMark’s Wild Life Extreme graphics test, the Pixel 6 Pro doesn’t score quite as highly as the iPhone 13 Pro, but it’s up there with the Galaxy S21 Ultra (and it edged out the powerful OnePlus 9 Pro on the graphics test too). Benchmarks are by no means a direct indicator of real-life performance, but it’s good to at least see that Google’s new silicon is operating in the same ballpark as its rivals. 

No, the Tensor chip is not setting a new standard for lightning-fast performance. But it doesn’t need to; today’s phones already pack way more power than any of us are likely to need on a daily basis. Google’s push into chip production goes beyond simply creating a “benchmark beater” and a lot of the real benefits will come over time as the company develops more ways to take advantage of its own hardware.

The Tensor processor is particularly designed with machine learning, AI and speech-recognition applications in mind. There are already speech-recognition functions built into the keyboard (for dictating messages or emails) as well as real-time translation tools and improved visual language translations when using Google Lens via the camera. 

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Both the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro run the latest Android 12 software.


Andrew Hoyle/

Android 12 is lovely to use

The Android 12 interface is extremely neat and easy to use. It’s my favorite version of Android so far, offering an uncomplicated experience that even Android novices won’t take long to get to grips with. One of the bigger features that’s (for now) exclusive to the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro is the ability to create custom themes for the phone based on whatever image you have as your background. 

When you choose a new wallpaper (either one of the many built-in ones, or any of your own images saved to your phone), the phone will automatically pick out the dominant color and will use that, and its complementary colors, to change the look of parts of the interface, including some of the default Google app icons on the home screen, such as the Play Store, Gmail and Photos. It’s a nice idea, although it probably shouldn’t be the main reason you decide to part with your cash.

Security has been given a particular push both on the software and hardware side. The Tensor processor has a dedicated Titan coprocessor that apparently allows for much better on-device security, while Android 12 offers more granular control of your security and privacy settings. That includes a dashboard that shows what apps have used what information recently and handy buttons in the pull-down notification tray that turn off system-wide access to your camera and microphone. 

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Those quick-access privacy buttons might come in handy.


Andrew Hoyle/

Google has also promised that the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro will receive security updates for five years, which will mean these phones will be safer to use for longer. Many older phones are still perfectly usable from a hardware standpoint, but if they don’t have the latest security patches on board then they’re susceptible to all kinds of hacking nastiness. From both a cost and environmental perspective, being able to use our phones safely for longer is only a good thing.

Vibrant display, solid battery life and fast charging

The Pixel 6 Pro’s 6.7-inch display is pin-sharp thanks to its 3,120×1,440-pixel resolution. It’s bright, too, with vibrant colors that do justice to colorful games like Candy Crush Soda Saga or video like Netflix‘s world-dominating show Squid Game. It has an adaptive refresh rate that can go up to 120Hz when you’re playing fast-paced games, but also slows down to only 10Hz when the phone is basically sitting idle. Performance when you need it; power-saving when you don’t. 

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The Pixel 6 Pro and perhaps its biggest rival, the iPhone 13 Pro.


Andrew Hoyle/

The phone runs on a 5,003-mAh battery, which should be good for a full day of mixed use. After one hour of streaming a YouTube video at max brightness it had dropped from full to 98%. By contrast, the OnePlus 9 Pro had dropped to 90%, while the iPhone 13 Pro dropped to only 99%. After a further hour the 6 Pro had dropped to 89%, while the iPhone 13 Pro was at 93%. You certainly shouldn’t struggle to get through the day with it, but as with all phones, you can help it by keeping screen brightness down, avoiding demanding tasks like gaming or video streaming until you’re near a plug, and turning off GPS. 

It has Qi wireless charging and it supports fast charging with a 30-watt charger (not supplied), which will take the phone to 50% full in 30 minutes. That’s decent, but not really a match for OnePlus’s 65-watt fast charging, which will fully charge the device in the same time. Still, it’s fast enough to be able to give your phone a quick boost before you head out and about, and the Extreme Battery Saver mode pauses all but your essential apps to preserve the remaining juice.

Google Pixel 6 specs vs. Google Pixel 6 Pro, Google Pixel 5, Apple iPhone 13

Google Pixel 6 Google Pixel 6 Pro Google Pixel 5 Apple iPhone 13
Display size, resolution 6.4-inch OLED; 2,400×1,080 pixels; 60Hz or 90Hz 6.7-inch LTPO OLED; 3,120×1,440 pixels; 10-120Hz 6-inch FHD+ OLED; 2,340×1,080 pixels 6.1-inch OLED; 2,532×1,170 pixels
Pixel density 411 ppi 512 ppi 432 ppi 460 ppi
Dimensions (inches) 6.2×2.9×0.4 in 6.5×3.0x0.4 in 5.7×2.8×0.3 in 5.78×2.82×0.3 in
Dimensions (millimeters) 158.6×74.8×8.9mm 163.9×75.9×8.9mm 144.7×70.4x8mm 147x72x7.65mm
Weight (ounces, grams) 7.3 oz; 207g 7.41 oz; 210g 5.33 oz; 151g 6.14 oz; 174g
Mobile software Android 12 Android 12 Android 11 iOS 15
Camera 50-megapixel (wide), 12-megapixel ultrawide 50-megapixel (wide), 12-megapixel (ultrawide), 48-megapixel (telephoto) 12.2-megapixel (standard), 16-megapixel (ultrawide) 12-megapixel (wide), 12-megapixel (ultrawide)
Front-facing camera 8-megapixel 11-megapixel 8-megapixel 12-megapixel
Video capture 4K 30, 60fps (rear), 1,080p 30fps (front) 4K 30, 60fps (rear), 4K 30fps (front) 4K HDR video recording with Dolby Vision up to 4K at 60fps
Processor Google Tensor Google Tensor Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G Apple A15 Bionic
Storage 128GB, 256GB 128GB, 256GB, 512GB 128GB 128GB, 256GB, 512GB
RAM 8GB 12GB 8GB Undisclosed
Expandable storage No No No No
Battery 4,614 mAh 5,003 mAh 4,000 mAh Undisclosed; Apple lists 19 hours of video playback
Fingerprint sensor Under display Under display Rear No (Face ID)
Connector USB-C USB-C USB-C Lightning
Headphone jack No No No No
Special features 5G sub 6 (some carrier models also have 5G mmWave) support, Wi-Fi 6E, 30W fast-charging, wireless charging, Magic Eraser, Motion mode, Real Tone, Face Unblur, Cinematic Pan, 5 years OS security updates, IP68 rating for dust and water resistance, Gorilla Glass Victus (front), Gorilla Glass 6 (back), dual-SIM capabilities (nano-SIM and e-SIM) 5G sub 6 and mmWave support, Wi-Fi 6E, ultra-wideband, 30W fast-charging, wireless charging, Magic Eraser, Motion mode, Real Tone, Face Unblur, Cinematic Pan, 5 years OS security updates, IP68 rating for dust- and water-resistance, Gorilla Glass Victus (front and back), dual-SIM capabilities (nano-SIM and e-SIM) 5G enabled; water-resistant (IP68); 90Hz-refresh-rate display; dual-SIM capabilities (nano-SIM and e-SIM); reverse wireless charging; fast charging 5G enabled; MagSafe; water-resistant (IP68); wireless charging; dual-SIM capabilities (nano-SIM and e-SIM)
Price off-contract (USD) $599 (128GB) $899 (128GB) $699 $799 (128GB), $899 (256GB), $1,099 (512GB)
Price (GBP) £599 (128GB) £849 (128GB) £599 £779 (128GB), £879 (256GB), £1,079 (512GB)
Price (AUD) AU$999 (128GB) AU$1,299 (128GB) AU$999 AU$1,349 (128GB), AU$1,519 (256GB), AU$1,869 (512GB)

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