What a day. As Google’s virtual launch event for the Pixel 6 family began, I visited the Google Store online, added a Cloudy White Pixel 6 Pro, a Soft Sage Pixel 6 Pro case, and a 30-watt USB-C power charger to my cart, and then spent the next hour trying to consummate the purchase. No dice: I kept getting error messages, and I assumed that Google would simply open the floodgates when the event concluded. Which it did, a bit less than an hour after it began.
But the floodgates never opened. And for almost one hour and 45 minutes, I ran into every kind of error imaginable, with Google canceling multiple order attempts and me getting more and more frustrated as it continued. Seriously, what does a guy gotta do to throw $1000 at Google? I won’t bore you with the details, but I tried everything: Different colors, different configurations, with or without Pixel Pass, through the Google Store and Google Fi, and more. That was trading in an iPhone only complicated matters, since it added another time-consuming step to each attempt. But on and on it went.
And then, finally, blissfully, an order finally went through at 3:39 pm. It wasn’t exactly what I wanted, as certain colors and configurations kept turning up as out of stock. I ended up with a Stormy Black Pixel 6 Pro instead of Cloud White, but whatever, it will be mostly hidden in a case anyway. And at least that case was the color I wanted, Soft Sage … except that it wouldn’t arrive until December 9-10 (!) while the phone is expected late next week and the charger a few days after that. So back to the Store I went, and I ordered a Stormy Sky Pixel 6 Pro case. Which will allegedly arrive November 8-9.
Whatever. Google’s inability to handle what had to have been an expected surge in e-commerce traffic should trouble anyone who buys into whatever AI and cloud computing expertise the firm routinely touts, but I’m happy to simply put this one behind me and move on. As I write this, about three hours after finally successfully ordering a phone, I’ve just about calmed down. Yeah, it took that long. And while the process sucked, I’m happy with the outcome, and about what I heard at today’s event.
First, let’s talk money. I ordered a base model Pixel 6 Pro with 128 GB of storage for $899, and I will receive—or, should receive—$435 in trade-in credit for my 64 GB Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max. (That’s less than the $500 that Apple would have given me had I been crazy enough to want an iPhone 13 of whatever kind. But I don’t.) The case was $29. And the power adapter was $25. So the total there, before taxes and fees, is $953. Or $418 after the trade.
I feel pretty good about that. My iPhone is two years old, after all, and this is arguably the first truly flagship-class Pixel, something that can be compared to an iPhone Pro or Samsung S-whatever without a lot of mental gymnastics. More to the point, the Pixel 6 Pro has the kind of triple-lens camera system I’ve been begging Google to offer for years.
What I don’t feel as good about is the selection of available colors. For some reason, all the fun colors—Kinda Coral and the Sorta Seafoam I really want—are only available on the smaller and less expensive—and less photographically interesting—Pixel 6. At least I got a case in the greenish color I prefer.
The core specifications look solid, with Google’s first-ever processor SoC, the Tensor, the one wildcard. More on that in a moment.
The Pixel 6 Pro features a 6.7-inch QHD+ (3120 x 1440, 512 PPI) OLED display panel with a tall 19.5:9 aspect ratio, a dynamic 10-120 Hz refresh rate, and Corning Gorilla Glass Victus protection. That’s big: the iPhone 13 Pro Max also features a 6.7-inch display, but Apple’s panel offers a lower resolution and is wider and thus harder to use, especially with one hand. Plus that notch.
In a first for Pixel, the handset features an ample 12 GB of RAM, and the model I ordered has 128 GB of fast UFS 3.1 storage, though 256 and 512 GB versions are available as well. There is Wi-Fi 6E, Bluetooth 5.2, NFC, and 4G/LTE/5G for connectivity, of course, with dual SIMs (eSIM + nano SIM), stereo speakers, and USB-C 3.1 Gen 1 for power.
The camera system looks impressive and is a giant leap forward compared to the previous three or four years of Pixel camera systems, most of which haven’t moved the needle at all. The main wide lens is a 50 MP sensor with a ƒ/1.85 aperture and an 82-degree field of view, and optical image stabilization (OIS). The ultra-wide lens is just 12 MP, curiously, with a ƒ/2.2 aperture, a 114-degree field of view, and no OIS. And the telephoto lens is a 48 MP sensor with a ƒ/3.5 aperture, a 23.5-degree field of view, OIS, and 4x optical zoom, plus up to 20x Super Res (hybrid) zoom.
I expect big things from this camera system since it will, for the first time, meld Google’s computational photography expertise with some truly modern and capable camera hardware. But I have questions about that Tensor SoC, which is one of two pieces of Google custom silicon, the other being a second-generation Titan M2 security coprocessor.
According to Google, the Tensor is a hardware-based AI/machine learning (ML) platform that helps the handset unlock new camera experiences like Motion Mode, Face Unblur, and two interesting video recording capabilities: speech enhancement and HDRnet; Pixels, for all their photographic excellence, have always lagged behind in video.
Of course, Tensor isn’t just about AI and ML. It’s responsible for CPU and GPU duties and thus has to measure up, at least in passing, to the best that Qualcomm and Apple offer for competing flagship smartphones. Google says it is up to the task, but I think it’s fair to believe that any first-generation chip design like this will be, at best, somewhat competitive. So I’m curious to see where it lands, but will point out that even with a lower-end chipset like the Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G found in the Pixel 5a I’m currently using, Google is able to eke out an incredible amount of real-world performance. If the Tensor-based Pixel 6 Pro ends up performing somewhere between that and, say, a Snapdragon 888, I’ll be happy. (That may be accurate: Google claims that Pixel 6 Pro is 80 percent faster than the Pixel 5a.)
As I’ve noted in the past, I’ve had enough trouble with previous Pixels to be a bit gun-shy now, and I realize that, even if everything works just fine, the Pixel 6 Pro won’t change my life. But I’m still pretty excited about this upgrade. Digital photography is my number one draw for any smartphone, and I’m a huge fan of both Android 12, with its cool dynamic coloring, and Google’s Pixel optimizations. Basically, I still want to believe.
We’ll see. My Pixel 6 Pro should arrive next Friday, which is the day we fly home from Paris.