Google Pixel 6 Pro review: The best Android smartphone? – Matridox

Google’s $899 flagship is an excellent smartphone, but with enough shortcomings to steer some people away from buying it, it’s difficult to say whether it’s truly the best Android smartphone available.
The Google Pixel 6 Pro is regarded as one of the best (if not the best) Android smartphones currently available, and that’s a very bold statement. While many argue it offers the best Android experience you can get, others have highlighted contrasting viewpoints which highlight a number of bugs and stability issues the device is plagued with. This applies to the standard Pixel 6 as well, but I don’t have any experience with that device.
What I do have experience with is the Pixel 6 Pro, and I’ve been using it for the past week and a half. This phone, priced at $899, fits the mold for what I’ve wanted from a Pixel phone for years. A high-end design, a custom processor that competes directly with Qualcomm’s latest and greatest, upgraded camera hardware, and a silky smooth version of Android. At least on paper, this phone sounds like it could be a smash hit.
During my review process, one question kept coming to mind: is this really the best phone the Android market has to offer? In all honesty, I’m really not sure. It’s a very compelling package, one that you’ll likely enjoy if you do eventually buy it. However, certain areas fall flat where they shouldn’t, and the bugs people talk about are definitely present.
By no means is the Pixel 6 Pro a perfect Android smartphone, but it’s surprisingly close.
The thing that really struck me about the Pixel 6 Pro is how well it’s designed. Google, for what feels like the first time in the Pixel phone’s entire history, didn’t hold back this generation in terms of looks. The company’s very first Pro-grade smartphone is a stunner no matter how you look at it, especially in the Cloud White finish.
Everything from the stainless steel rails to the satisfyingly clicky buttons make for an experience that can be summed up in two words: flagship-level. For years, the Pixel hasn’t garnered much attention in the looks department simply because Google didn’t make the phones attractive. They were much more utilitarian than shiny objects you can admire. This time around, the company flipped the script and delivered something worthy of showing off.
To differentiate itself from the competition, Google decided to take the idea of a camera bump and make it a huge bar that spans across the back of the phone. It’s very reminiscent of the Nexus 6P from 2015, and it’s the most unique part of the Pixel 6 Pro’s design.
I actually think I prefer it over traditional bumps like on the iPhone, mainly because it sits flush on tabletops so your phone doesn’t rock when you text. Some might be turned off by its somewhat polarizing appearance, but it’s not like you’ll be looking at it often. I’m a fan of the look, especially since it gives Google the opportunity to have a two-tone finish on the back.
The size of the Pixel 6 Pro can easily be an issue for people. After all, it has a 6.7-inch display. While it’s definitely bigger than I typically prefer, it’s not terribly big where it’s straight-up impossible to use with one hand. I have slightly larger than average hands, and utilizing the infamous phone-shimmy to reach the top of the screen isn’t an issue. However, if you’re not a fan of big phones, you probably won’t appreciate this one.
My biggest gripe with the Pixel 6 Pro’s build is just how damn slippery it is. This phone wants to slide out of every pocket I put it on, slip down every soft surface I set it on, and slip out of my chapped hands every chance it gets. Luckily, not long into my review, Spigen sent over a box of their cases for me to check out. I’ve been using their Liquid Air case which is low-profile and adds much-needed grip to the device. I’m definitely a fan of this case, and if you’re cool with a standard black finish, you should pick it up. (Note that Spigen didn’t sponsor this review in any way – I genuinely like their products.)
The rest of the Pixel 6 Pro’s design isn’t much to write home about. There’s a USB-C port on the bottom, plenty of plastic-coated antennas for 5G, and a hole-punch cutout for the selfie camera.
What is worth writing home about is the display. The Pixel 6 Pro sports a 6.7-inch 3120×1440 AMOLED panel which has great color reproduction, clarity, and brightness at around 500 nits. My favorite part is the 120Hz refresh rate which makes everything silky smooth. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: if it has 120Hz, there’s a good chance I’ll be buying it.
To the aversion of some, the 6 Pro comes with curved edges which make the side bezels seem smaller than they really are. Beyond aesthetics, there’s no function to the curves, and I’m actually slightly confused as to why they’re here in the first place. Many users have voiced their displeasure for curved edges, citing accidental screen touches due to poor palm rejection as well as shadowing on either edge when watching full-screen videos. The shadowing effect is hard to avoid (thank you, laws of physics), and I’ve seen it myself when watching content on the device. However, I didn’t have any issues with palm rejection.
Another area where users have expressed frustration with the Pixel 6 Pro’s screen is underneath it. There, you’ll find the device’s only biometric security option: a fingerprint sensor. Unlike Samsung’s phones which use ultrasonic sensors, Google’s implementation uses an optical reader which is slower and less accurate. After a few software updates, the company has been able to improve the quality of the sensor itself, but in my testing, it’s still pretty hit-or-miss.
If you have anything on your finger (whether it be dirt, natural oils, or sweat), there’s a strong chance the reader simply won’t recognize your print. I assume it would be even worse if I took it kayaking and tried to unlock it while my thumb was covered in salt water. Bottom line, it’s by no means a great in-display fingerprint sensor.
I’d also like to mention the speakers on the Pixel 6 Pro. They’re very good, so good that they’re able to rival Apple’s speakers on the iPhone. You get a reasonable amount of low-end without much distortion at high volumes. If you can find those two qualities in a set of stereo phone speakers, you’ve got a winner, and the 6 Pro is definitely a winner in this case.
The Pixel 6 Pro is all-new on the outside, sure, but perhaps the most notable “new” thing in the device is Google’s Tensor processor. It’s the company’s first in-house SoC (system-on-a-chip) and sends the strongest signal in the Android market that Qualcomm isn’t as fundamental to delivering a great smartphone experience as once believed.
Built in conjunction with Samsung, the Tensor chip allows Google to have much more granular control over hardware optimization for its software, enabling more advanced features while maintaining efficiency and performance.
It’s similar to the formula Apple has followed for years with its A-series chips for the iPhone, which are widely regarded as some of the best-performing processors on the market. So naturally, the question on everyone’s mind is whether Google’s chip can compete with the latest A15 Bionic or Qualcomm’s flagship Snapdragon 888. As many other reviewers have said, it indeed can.
That’s not to say it’s a 1:1 comparison to either chip. The Snapdragon 888 is proven to be less powerful than the A15 despite it remaining plenty powerful, and Tensor falls slightly behind both of them. However, only when you run benchmark checks will you notice these differences. In day-to-day operation, I couldn’t tell the difference between any of them.
For context, in conjunction with the Pixel 6 Pro, I’ve used Samsung’s Galaxy Z Flip 3 and Apple’s iPhone 13 Pro. I’ve switched between the devices to see if I could spot any notable difference in performance, and I honestly couldn’t. All three are very fast, fluid, and capable of handling anything I threw at them.
This is impressive since my expectations for Tensor were relatively high. Google has spoken very highly of the chip in its marketing citing its advancements in machine learning, security, and performance. To see it manage similar day-to-day performance as more established chips is a feat that’s not only impressive, but important for the Pixel line as a whole. This chip was a big gamble for Google, and for it to excel in the performance category is a big win.
The processor isn’t alone in delivering great performance, either. Google included 12GB of RAM on the Pixel 6 Pro, a first for any Pixel phone. And that’s the story of this device’s specs: Google finally went all-in. After years of playing things conservatively, it’s now just gone ahead and included twelve whole gigabytes of RAM in a phone, up to half a terabyte of storage, a huge battery, etc.
This is what I’ve been asking Google to do for years. Add premium hardware, make it look as sexy as the competition, and price it accordingly. At least when it comes to performance, the company did exactly that.
Obviously, general performance doesn’t tell the whole Tensor story. It also helps power many of Google’s machine learning- and AI-based features like the Google Assistant, voice typing, dictation, camera processing, and security.
In practice, all of this is true. The Google Assistant is blazing fast, typing with your voice and dictation in the Recorder app are scarily accurate, live language translations are available in more apps, the camera is capable of more complicated photography and videography (more on that later), and the new Tensor security core paired with the Titan M2 chip and TrustZone give the phone “the most layers of hardware security in any phone.”
Notably, none of these features are mind-blowing or smartphone revolution-driven. Rather, they focus on quality of life aspects of the device to enhance the experience and make the Pixel phone unique. I was curious as to whether any of the improvements Google touts in the AI and ML sectors of Tensor would be noticeable, and I’m happy to report they are.
Running on the Pixel 6 Pro is Google’s big Android 12 release, one of the most significant upgrades to the Android operating system since its inception. It comes with the company’s Material You user interface, sleek animations, and a revitalized view of what it means to use an Android phone.
Paired with the huge 120Hz display and impressive performance of Tensor, I’ve found Android 12 to be nothing but delightful to use. It takes a minute to get used to with its more airy UI elements, but it’s definitely a solid upgrade from Android 11 and makes the Pixel 6 Pro feel more friendly to use. I especially like how the accent color can be based on the wallpaper you pick, providing a consistent theme across the OS to better reflect your personality.
There are some quirks I’ve found with the new OS, particularly when it comes to Google Pay and toggling Wi-Fi. You have to jump into a separate menu to disable Wi-Fi from the Internet shortcut in Quick Settings, and there’s no easy way to fire up Google Pay with the press of a button. These are the only two areas of Android 12 that I found were better in Android 11, but neither are dealbreakers by any means.
By far, the biggest advantage to this software are the early upgrades you’ll receive. Google’s Pixel phones are always first in line for the latest updates to Android, and the Pixel 6 series doesn’t change that. Google also says it’ll support the Pixel 6 series for five years through software updates, although you’ll only receive three year’s worth of major system upgrades (all other updates will come in the form of security patches). Regardless, this is much better than the previous three-year limit Google used to inflict on its handsets when it came to software support.
For the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro, Google has finally moved away from the ancient 12.2MP Sony IMX363 main camera it’s been using since the 2018 Pixel 3, replacing it with a new 50MP Samsung GN1 sensor along with an upgraded 12MP ultra-wide lens. Meanwhile, the Pro gets an all-new 48MP 104mm telephoto lens with 4x optical zoom. Both phones received an 11.1MP selfie camera.
With this amount of new hardware paired with Google’s advancements in post-processing, expectations couldn’t have been higher for these cameras leading up to their release. Would they be better than the iPhone 13 Pro, widely regarded as the best camera system on the market? Will Google finally reach Samsung’s level of camera hardware versatility? Could the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro retake the crown for the best smartphone camera?
As far as I’m concerned, none of that happened. Instead, we got a camera system that’s consistent and better than past Pixels, but won’t be taking the throne from any of the leading smartphone cameras, which is kind of a shame.
Google’s post-processing plays a big role in the aesthetic of photos taken with the Pixel 6 Pro. Colors are vibrant with punchy contrasts to boot, much like many other Pixel phones that came before it. The 50MP main camera uses pixel binning to produce more traditionally-sized 12MP images which blend in extra detail captured by the larger sensor. The results are photographs that feel a bit sharper and higher-end, in a way, compared to past Pixels. You also get lots of natural depth of field since the 50MP sensor is so big.
Meanwhile, the ultra-wide lens takes overall quality down a few notches, producing softer images compared to the main lens and not offering as wide an angle as competitors at 117-degrees. The telephoto camera, I found, was notably useful with its 4x optical zoom. Even zooming to 20x hybrid zoom isn’t bad, but it’s obviously no 100x Space Zoom like on the Galaxy S21 Ultra.
However, these images aren’t exempt from the downfalls of Google’s photography practices. When shooting in situations that demand good HDR performance (e.g. an alley), the Pixel 6 Pro tends to bring shadows up and highlights down a bit too much, leading to photos that come off as unnatural. The same thing happens when shooting in low-light, where everything gets an unnecessary exposure boost. I included an example of this below, where full auto mode produced the photo on the left while I manually adjusted the exposure before capturing the photo on the right.
Compared to other phones like the iPhone 13 Pro, the Pixel 6 Pro tends to oversaturate colors like reds and blues. This results in inaccurate magentas and ultra-vibrant blues that look more like what come out of lower-end Samsung phones than past Pixels.
With the available hardware on the Pixel 6 Pro, one wouldn’t think Google needs to overcompensate in the post-processing department as it tends to. Because it does, it’s led to the general opinion that the Pixel 6 Pro isn’t as good as many thought it would be, which in effect gives a leg up to Apple and Samsung for continuing to provide the best smartphone cameras you can get.
That’s not to say the Pixel 6 Pro takes bad photos. I wanna be abundantly clear here: this phone takes fantastic pictures, whether you’re shooting in direct sunlight or pitch-black darkness. However, over the past couple of years, Apple and Samsung have raised the bar for what it means to have a flagship smartphone camera system, and the Pixel remains just below that bar. Not bad by any means, just not as excellent.
In the video department, Google didn’t make much progress this generation. It applies the same HDR effects it does to photographs thanks to the horsepower in Tensor, and there’s finally 4K/60fps support. But compared to the Pixel 5, I didn’t see any major steps forward in terms of quality that would prompt me to say “the iPhone has a new competitor for king of smartphone video.”
Where the Pixel 6 Pro has an edge over the competition is its software-based features that are also powered by Tensor. By far, my favorite one is Magic Eraser which can erase unwanted objects or subjects from your photos with ease. It’s obviously not as capable as removing objects or subjects in a professional photo editor like Photoshop, but for what it’s worth, it’s a nifty tool to have available.
Google also includes Action Pan and Long Exposure, two separate modes found in the “Motion” tab in the camera app which can replicate those types of photos with a press of the shutter button. These features are all very fun to play with and were the highlight of my experience using the Pixel 6 Pro’s cameras.
I wish I could sit here and write about how insane the battery life of the Pixel 6 Pro is. After all, this phone has a massive 5,003mAh cell inside it. I realize the screen’s big and fast, but I expected the processor to handle efficiency particularly well. Unfortunately, it doesn’t.
Granted, the Pixel 6 Pro can last a full day. That’s not a problem. But when you have a 5,003mAh battery, you kind of expect to eek out two full days of usage. Instead, the phone’s only capable of one, with the device regularly draining to 35-40 percent before I hit the sack.
To put this into context, the iPhone 13 Pro Max and its 4,352mAh battery is consistently proven to last at least two full days on a single charge. It has a similarly sized 6.7-inch display with a slightly lower resolution and more powerful chip, yet still manages to punch above its weight when it comes to battery life.
By no stretch of the imagination is the Pixel 6 Pro a failure at endurance, but it struggles to keep up with the big dogs.
The Pixel 6 Pro comes with fast charging, but it’s been proven that it can’t quite reach the 30W Google says it can. The phone also doesn’t come with a wall adapter in the box, requiring you to either purchase a new one for $25 or use one you already have. It’s for the same reason Apple and Samsung began omitting the brick from their phone boxes: an environmental effort to reduce waste and ship phones more efficiently. Regardless, it’s still a bit of an inconvenience.
You also get wireless charging at up to 23W, but that requires you to buy a second-generation Pixel Stand which retails for $79. I’ve been using one with my Pixel 6 Pro, and I’ll be publishing my full thoughts on CNN Underscored. I’ll link back to that review once it’s live.
The Pixel 6 Pro isn’t a perfect phone, and that’s been proven by the cameras, battery life, and fingerprint reader. But a certain controversy surrounding the device stands as another reason you might consider not buying it: bugs.
It’s not a new Pixel phone if there isn’t a set of unexpected software bugs or performance hiccups. Like clockwork, Google seems to always slip up a bit with the rollout of its latest Pixel whether it be a screen issue, a battery life blunder, or a sticky software situation. The 6 Pro, for example, has been accused of many different things from random app crashes to serious display failures, some of which have been patched in updates that arrived soon after the device went on sale.
In my own experience, I have seen some weird things happen. There were a few times the Google Assistant would trigger without me prompting it to, and the keyboard would pop up without a typable text box for miles. The refresh rate would also regularly drop to 60Hz while I was scrolling, which makes its typically smooth experience feel incredibly choppy.
One of my biggest issues with the phone is the slow camera app, which is by far the most inconvenient. I’ve been dealing with Pixel camera apps for years and their reluctancy to perform at their best, but I feel like this particular camera app shouldn’t be as slow as it is. This is a brand new phone with a custom processor from Google, custom software from Google, and custom firmware optimizations from Google. How the company didn’t recognize any issues with the app before shipping the phones is beyond me, because it’s very bizarre.
We’re talking two to three seconds for the app to open; stutters virtually every time I try to switch the lenses; and winter solstice molasses when it comes to viewing a photograph I just took and, shortly afterward, returning to the viewfinder. It’s disappointing, to say the least, to see this type of performance from such a high-end smartphone’s camera.
Fortunately, I didn’t experience any random system failures, reboots, or UI crashes during my testing, but it’s clear to me that the software isn’t as polished as it should be. The monthly security patch updates for the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro can’t come soon enough – Google really needs to iron out these bugs.
Looking past the bugs, let’s answer the question: is the Pixel 6 Pro the best Android smartphone?
The short answer? No. The Pixel 6 Pro is a great smartphone, however. Its large screen, fast performance, good battery life, and great camera quality make for a device certainly worth buying, and its $899 price point helps if you’re deciding between it and something more expensive.
By definition, some may argue the Pixel 6 series are the best Android phones you can buy thanks to them being first in line for major Android upgrades. But if you want the most polished and stable smartphone, you’ll want to look elsewhere.
For everyone else, I really do think you’ll enjoy the Pixel 6 Pro. It’s one of my favorite phones I’ve ever reviewed, despite the annoying performance and stability issues. Google really has a nice package here.
If Google can fix the bugs I and many others have reported (and there’s no guarantee of that), I’ll reconsider it for the “best Android phone you can buy” title. Otherwise, it’ll remain in my mind as a “great Android phone with some issues.”
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