Google Pixel 6 review: $999 gets you a hell of a phone

Quick verdict: From the camera and performance to the battery life, Google reminds us yet again that it can do quality at an incredible price.

Pros

  • Good price
  • Great camera
  • Excellent battery
Cons

  • No telephoto lens is a bummer
  • No Face Unlock
  • Camera bump seems too easy to damage

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Details

Display

Display Size
6.4 inches
Resolution
1080 x 2400px
Pixels per inch (PPI)
411 ppi

Camera

Video recording
4K
Front camera megapixels
8MP
Front camera aperture size
ƒ2.0

Physical Dimensions

Dimensions
158.6mm x 74.8mm x 8.9mm
Weight
207g

Connectivity

NFC
Yes
Wi-Fi
802.11 a/b/g/n/ac/ax
Network category speed
N/A

Power, storage and battery

Processor
Google Tensor · Titan M2
RAM
128GB
Operating system
Android 12
Internal storage
256GB
Battery capacity
4,524mAh

Device features

Headphone jack
Yes
Fingerprint sensor
Yes
Water resistance rating
IP68
Launch price (RRP)$0
Launch date2021-10

For the last few years Google has really pushed to include flagship features in cheaper devices. It started with the Google Pixel 3a, which completely changed the mid-range phone market... and what consumers should expect from it. And now it has pulled it off with the Pixel 6, which injects high-end specs into a $999 phone.

I am once again declaring there are ungodly forces at work here. An exaggeration? Perhaps. But can we really believe that the price tag being an upside-down 666 is a coincidence?

While the previous generation Pixel 5 also started at $999, this year hits different. With a beefier battery, upgraded camera and its shiny new Tensor processor, the Pixel 6 is taking aim at the entire market once again.

Considering the entry-level iPhone 13 Mini starts at $1,199, and launched mere weeks ago, it feels like the Pixel 6 is a figurative middle finger aimed directly at Apple.


Design

Google Pixel review

Image: Tegan Jones/Finder

Looking at the front of the device you won't see anything particularly exciting. You'll find the same mass of black, thin bezels and hole-punch camera that have become the calling card of Androids over the past few years. You'll also find a 6.4-inch FHD+ display with 90Hz refresh rate.

At first glance the rear of the Google Pixel 6 seems to be a complete redesign of the series. Over the past few generations we've become accustomed to the square camera bump adorning the rear of Pixel devices. In some cases they are nestled within a simple matte black colourway. In others they are the only neutral punctuating a vibrant orange or mint variant.

This year Google has switched out this design for a thin, rectangular block that runs the length of the device. It not only houses the camera, but splits the new 2-tone colour scheme. In classic Google fashion they have delightfully quirky names like "Sorta Sea Foam" and "Kinda Coral".

The shades themselves throw out retro 70s vibes, and I'm here for it. But it's also not as revolutionary as it first appears. If you cast your mind back to 2018 (when the flagship versions of these phones were still called XL) you'll find a similar rectangle camera block in the Pixel 3. It didn't have the same colour contrast and at the very top of the device, but the Pixel 6 feels like the natural progression of this idea. It simply has more cameras, a thicker bump and a peek-a-boo accent at the top to add some dramatic flare.

Add a glass finish and it feels like a modern and a purposeful pivot to distinguish the Pixel 6 from the likes of Apple, which have a similar square camera set-up these days.

The new camera bar is undoubtedly hot, but I do worry about damage. This is not something I ever thought I would say about a Google Pixel. As I've said in the past, they can be rugged AF.

This time around it's thanks to ultra-tough Gorilla Glass Victus on the front and Gorilla Glass 6 at the rear of the device. But that hasn't saved the bump.

Glass phones are notoriously slippery, and the Pixel 6 is no exception. I recently (and stupidly) balanced it on something that was resting on my bath caddy and it slipped right in. It was empty at the time and the result was some light chipping on the edges of the bump.

Sure, a case could help with that. But the ones I have seen floating around the Internet so far seem… particularly ugly. The unique camera array sticks out strangely and the colours that make the design so attractive are hidden. And while there are some clear options available, they are plasticky and not the nicest.

Fortunately the Pixel 6 remained tough when it comes to water resistance. It is IP68 rated once again, meaning it can be submerged in 1.5 metres of fresh water for up to 30 minutes. I tested this so you don't have to:

Google Pixel review

Image: Tegan Jones/Finder

Tell your stress levels to chill, it still works just fine:

Google Pixel review

Image: Tegan Jones/Finder


Performance

Google Pixel review

Image: Tegan Jones/Finder

Pixel performance has been particularly interesting this year thanks to Google's brand-new Tensor processor. This is the first time the company has used its own processor, previously opting for Qualcomm Snapdragons. And last year it didn't even use the best one in the Pixel 5. Yikes.

Google has been up-front about Tensor not being the quickest pony in the race. Instead, the company has been boasting about its machine learning capabilities. This helps with things like its Recording app (that can transcribe in real time) and live translations without draining the battery as hard.

The latter app is extremely cool and allows for real-time translations of multiple languages into English. Some of these are also available in offline mode. I tested it with Ukrainian YouTube and for the most part it did a pretty decent job. But it's far from perfect. I recommend reading my colleague Alex Kidman's Japanese translation adventures with the Google Pixel 6 Pro.

With the machine learning focus and Google's general penchant for software updates, we imagine that the strength of Tensor will build over time. And we certainly hope so, because looking at the raw numbers, the Pixel 6 is miles behind the competition when it comes to both CPU and GPU performance.

Fortunately, in practice I didn't notice any particular lag when it came to general use, streaming and casual gaming. But what is clear is that Tensor is a work in progress that will need to up its game in the future to remain competitive.

When it comes to screen performance, you're looking down the barrel of a 90Hz refresh rate that isn't variable. Fortunately this didn't do a number on the battery, but we'll get to that.

For regular use, it does a fine job. You can happily scroll, watch and play casual games happily. But I was both blessed and cursed to be running this alongside the Google Pixel 6 Pro, with its 120Hz refresh rate.

And look if you don't have them side-by-side (or are swapping from another 120Hz device) it probably won't matter. But this bougie binch did very much enjoy the buttery smoothness of the extra refresh rate, even when simply scrolling. It was delicious and I did notice a difference between it and the regular Pixel 6.

But what about that sweet next-gen connectivity? The Pixel 6 has a notable 5G downgrade compared to the Pixel 6 Pro. The former has a sub-6 modem, while the latter is the first mmWave 5G phone to be sold in Australia. Despite the fact that mmWave modems have been included in the last 2 generations of iPhones, those versions were not sold here.

We got sub-6 versions instead. The Pixel 6 has Samsung's Exynos 5123 modem that was used in the Galaxy S20 series here in Australia. And this is a little concerning. Not only is this device getting a slower 5G technology with sub-6, it's using a modem that is already 18 months old. So it's not exactly future-proofed when it comes to connectivity.

Now to be fair, I haven't gotten to test or compare the Pixel 6 5G speeds due to lockdown lifting at the time of this review. So I'll have to report back once I'm reintroduced to the type of polite society that is powered by a 5G connection.

That being said, it's worth remembering that it's not only modems that can impact speeds. Your provider, congestion and even software updates can make a difference. And 5G is still in the rollout phase with most Aussie networks.

But on paper it's not ideal, and you can read more about the Pixel 6 5G comparisons in our Pro review. But while it's a $999 phone and customers might not really notice right now, I do wonder what might happen a year or two down the line.

One thing the 2 devices do have in common is a lack of Face Unlock functionality. The only way to unlock either Google Pixel 6 devices is with a PIN or fingerprint scanner. And while the latter can now be found underneath the screen (as opposed to the back of the device in previous generations), this feels like the stumble that comes after a previous misstep.

This is because the Google Pixel 4 had Face Unlock, but it was removed in favour of a fingerprint sensor for the Pixel 5.

Google said the reason for this was to keep the device feeling premium, but without compromising anything. Sure, besides the biometrics.

Now to be fair, the fingerprint sensor is largely quite slick. It took me a few goes to set it up just right, but since then it has been smooth sailing. It responds quickly and it hasn't failed on me once during my 10-ish days of testing.

And while it still seems like a backwards step for a flagship device, it has gotten me to thinking about the price point. At $999 for the regular Pixel 6 and $1,299 for the Pro – these are incredible competitive price points compared to competitors such as Apple and Samsung.

So if one of the trade-offs to get it down that low is swapping one biometric for another, perhaps it's worth it. Especially when the camera and the battery are great. Although I do still find myself missing Face Unlock.


Google Pixel 6 camera

The Google Pixel cameras have generally been quite good, mostly thanks to an aggressive approach to the software. Still, it's needed a hardware shake-up for a while, which we have seen this time around.

While we are still getting the same 12MP ultra-wide lens as the previous couple of generations, the wide-angled lens has been jacked all the way up to 50MP. And it's about time. This is something we've seen from Android competitors such as Samsung and Oppo over the last year or so, so Google really needed to play catch-up.

And fortunately, it has paid off. The Google Pixel 6 does a great job in a myriad of photography situations.

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In addition to producing lovely landscape and portrait shots (with both the rear- and front-facing cameras), it also offers "motion" mode.

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This lets you do things like use a long exposure to better capture moving elements of a composition, such as running water. It can take a little patience but the results are generally lovely. It's not exactly a new feature for phones (Huawei had a similar mode in the P30 Pro a few years back) but it's still nice to see it be adopted further.

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The Pixel 6 has also introduced True Tone to its cameras. It utilises the machine learning in the Tensor processor to more accurately portray a wider range of skin tones.

If it wasn't obvious already, I am perhaps the whitest bread there is. This combined with mostly still being at home means I haven't been able to test this. But it's painfully overdue across the entire industry and the examples showed during our briefing were beautiful.

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Another interesting new feature is Magic Eraser. This is positioned as an answer to when you end up with random people or stuff in the background of your otherwise perfect shot.

All you have to do is open the editing tools in post, draw a circle around an unwanted item and, ideally, it disappears. It's a neat idea that has mixed results in practice.

I found it worked best out in the world, particularly in nature, where it has a lot of information to fill in the blank spot once you've removed something.

Here is an example of where it has worked quite well:

Before:

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After:

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While you can detect some imperfection if you look closely enough, it could easily fool your mates on social media.

However, I had less success while shooting indoors, which resulted in some cursed results indeed.

Before:

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After:

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When it comes to zoom there are no improvements on last year. Once again we have no telephoto lens, meaning it caps out at 7x zoom. But it's really not worth pushing it that far, because it looks like trash at that point.

This isn't a big deal if you don't value zoom functionality (which I personally don't) but it's still a shame to not see any upgrade in this department a year on.

If you're into night photography, the Google Pixel 6 sees the return of astrophotography mode, which was introduced in the Pixel 4.

Unfortunately the timing on this release has also made it impossible for me to test this feature. I live in Sydney and have no car so there has been no opportunity to get away from the light pollution over the last week and a half.

This is the best I could do, but hey I captured a few stars:

Google Pixel 6 review

I'll update with photos once I'm able to, but I will say this. The astrophotography mode on the previous 2 generations of Google Pixels (including the mid-range "a" series) were fantastic. Stunning, really. So I have high hopes that a couple of years and some camera upgrades have made it even better.

On the plus side, regular Night Sight mode had some good results. Again, I didn't have a lot to work with in my local area, but what I was able to snap showed a definite improvement on last year – brighter and less muddy.

Here's a sample from my living room where the only light source is from the kitchen. It turned out well, with a fair amount of light and detail. When I tried turning out the light in the next room it could barely pick up anything.

Google Pixel 6 review

I had the same outcome with this casual Psyduck I have at home because I am an adult woman. This time the light was much further down the hallway, but the phone boosts it substantially:

Google Pixel 6 review

You can also see more examples of the Pixel 6 Night Mode vs the 6 Pro here.

Here are some extra random shots I got throughout the week:

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Google Pixel 6 review

Google Pixel 6 review

Google Pixel 6 review

Google Pixel 6 review

Google Pixel 6 review


Battery

Google Pixel 6 review

The Pixel 6 has gotten a battery upgrade from the previous generation – 4,614 mAh from 4,000 mAh. And in practice, it shows.

From both my own personal experience and our general phone battery rundown tests, the Pixel 6 has performed incredibly well.

Our standard battery life test involves streaming 1080p YouTube at max brightness and medium volume for an hour. If a phone drops below 90% it's a red flag, indicating that it won't last all day. Anything above 95% is fantastic. In both my and my colleague Alex Kidman's tests, it sat between 96 and 97%.

Here's how it stacked up against its competitors, including the Pixel 6 Pro:

But what about real world experience? While Google claims a 2-day battery life, this would probably only be the case for a much lighter user than myself.

Still, I was impressed.

End-of-day results varied, depending on my screen time and what I was doing, but I have found myself to be going to bed with at least 20% battery left each day.

For example, yesterday I ended the day on 24% after being up since 5:45am. During the day I took it out on a 3 -hour walk where I utilised streamed music, took photos, used Google Maps, visited various websites and even called my mum. It was connected to Bluetooth headphones the entire time.

For the rest of the day it was used for general Internet, messaging and social media reasons, and to stream more music at the gym.

All in all, a great outcome.

And if you're a wireless charging fan, it has that functionality. The upcoming Pixel Stand charger will wirelessly charge at 30W, but I used a 12W Belkin charger for overnight juicing.


Should you buy the Google Pixel 6?

Google Pixel review

Image: Tegan Jones/Finder

In 2021 the answer to this question is a no-brainer – yes, absolutely. But there was also no Google Pixel 5 XL. It seems like Google was taking its time to reflect and refine during a time where a global chip shortage was in full swing – and probably try and work out a way to get sales back up.

The introduction of the now re-branded Pro model makes it a little more difficult to answer, especially if you're a tech goblin like me.

Having tried the two, I have found myself frothing for the Google Pixel 6 Pro. The extra camera performance, RAM, battery life and 120Hz screen are tasty. And from my perspective, the $300 premium is worth it. $1,299 is an extremely competitive flagship device. You can read our full review of it here.

But if you want to keep things under $1,000, the Google Pixel 6 is still a great device. For the same price as last year's model you get a big camera upgrade, a much better battery and a very sexy device. You will need to spend a little more if you want to get the 256GB version, but if Google has you in its cloud storage clutches perhaps you don't need to.

Whatever model you choose, you're getting a slick phone when it comes to the Google Pixel 6. The only thing that really disappoints me about it is the inability to test it against the Pixel 5a because that tech white whale still isn't coming to Australia.


Google Pixel 6 pricing and availability

Price

The Google Pixel 6 starts at $999 for the 128GB model.

Where to buy


Compare Google Pixel 6 plans

You can also buy the Pixel 6 on a device repayment plan from Telstra, Optus or Vodafone. This will split the cost of your new phone over 12, 24 or 36 months, and you'll get a mobile plan with it too.

How we tested

The Google Pixel 6 was tested for over a week as my daily driver. It was tested against the Google Pixel 6 Pro for performance, photography and battery life. The devices were provided by Google for testing.


Specifications

Display

Display Size
6.4 inches
Resolution
1080 x 2400px
Pixels per inch (PPI)
411 ppi

Camera

Video recording
4K
Front camera megapixels
8MP
Front camera aperture size
ƒ2.0

Physical Dimensions

Dimensions
158.6mm x 74.8mm x 8.9mm
Weight
207g

Connectivity

NFC
Yes
Wi-Fi
802.11 a/b/g/n/ac/ax
Network category speed
N/A

Power, storage and battery

Processor
Google Tensor · Titan M2
RAM
128GB
Operating system
Android 12
Internal storage
256GB
Battery capacity
4,524mAh

Device features

Headphone jack
Yes
Fingerprint sensor
Yes
Water resistance rating
IP68

Images: Tagen Jones

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