Google Pixel 6 Pro Preview

Posted on October 19, 2021 by Paul Thurrott in Android with 24 Comments


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.

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Comments (24)

24 responses to “Google Pixel 6 Pro Preview”

  1. divodd

    Went with the non Pro, due to size, and was disappointed that Kinda Coral only comes with the 128GB option. But I'm upgrading from the Pixel 3 so this should be really great all the same

  2. Bart

    I would love to love the Pixel phone. I have had a Nexus 5X (I think that's what is was called) and really liked it. The only thing that holds me back is Google. Despite some of their services simply being the best on the market.

  3. rmlounsbury

    I ran into the 500 errors from the Google store. When those finally subsided I was able to go in and get a Pixel 6 ordered without any issues. My guess is the Pixel 6 is goin to be less popular than the 6 Pro so less order volume for that one. Delivery was right around launch day to start of November which seems to confirm the popularity theory.

    I ended up cancelling my order later in the evening. The more I thought about it the more I decided I didn't want to have Gen 1 of Google's Tensor chip. I also feel like the Pixel 5 is my upper limit on phone size and the Pixel 6 is bigger and heavier than that. So, for now I'm sticking with the Pixel 5 and hopefully in future Pixel releases Google considers adding a smaller device to the lineup (or keep the a version of the Pixel a smaller device). I do wish device makers would offer a smaller phone that has flagship specs. I get it isn't a big seller but there are plenty of folks that want flagship grade gear without having a monster phone. There are some trade offs with battery, camera modules, etc...

  4. JH_Radio

    Headphone jack? Does it have one?

  5. jhlundin

    ...Looking forward to your 'happiness report' before I pull the trigger. I generally shy away from first-generation CPUs and camera clusters to let others work out the bugs... Best, J

  6. ajgray

    Any indication whether the Pixel 6 Pro cases will impact the effectiveness of the wireless charging stand? I would hope not, but...

  7. jgraebner

    My primary job right now is performance and load testing for high capacity e-commerce sites. Reading this, I'm just sitting here shaking my head...

  8. IanYates82

    Does the pixel work with Your Phone in Windows? As good as the Samsung phones where you can launch multiple apps from your phone in their own windows on your pc, or is it just one app at a time (which is what the old Samsung phones do)?

    I'd not want to lose the multi-app capability if possible

  9. canamrotax

    My wife spent most of the day getting two pixel 6 pro ordered, impossible to do in one order BTW. We can finally replace our 3XL and 4XL units with a real modern flagships. Gun shy? Yep. Hopeful? Also yep.

  10. paul_nelson

    I have been stung too many times when buying Pixel (and previously Nexus) devices on pre-order day or as soon as they're released. I have always had to return it for one reason or another, I understand my experience maybe different to someone else's but, I am determined to wait until they have been out for a month or so and the reviews are done.

    Another reason is, I cannot get the model I want and I am not prepared to just go for a different one just to have it, even with the nice Bose Headphone offer.

  11. anthonye1778

    Went well the the Pro, Sorta Sunny color model, which also only comes with 128gb storage. Since most of my digital life is in the cloud I won't really sweat the limited storage. Google One for photos, iBroadcast for my music collection.

    But my one real worry about the phone is Google's real lack of quality control in the past. There have been a few issues with my Pixel 5, namely the issue where the screen panel was not adhered to the body of the phone, allowing all manner of dust and other particles to get into the device. The USB-C port has given me connectivity trouble as well. I hope Google has gotten it's QC act together... But as excited as I am I'll admit to also being a bit nervous.

  12. txag

    If I’m seeing it right, that camera lump is worse than any notch.

    • boots

      This is the best designed large camera bump I have seen. When using this phone on a flat surface it won't wobble around, unlike all the other phones that have their bump in the top corner.

      • txag

        I always have a case on my phone, so the camera bump isn’t a problem.

  13. tobiulm

    Sad, here in Europe the Prices are much higher. The Pixel 5 started here last year with 645,00€. No Price drop like the 100$ in US. So its again only america which got benefits. For example the really attractive pixel pass is also us only. But what holds me to buy a pixel 6 is the sice. Why in the world did they left this nice form factor they had on all older pixel devices. If you compare the 6 vs 6 pro they are nearly the same height. And only 3Gramms difference in the weight. SIlly. So apple is the onyl one who is selling non premium phablets. Really really sad. I would have prevered if the normal 6 would have been smaller.

    • ianbetteridge

      Prices are higher and many of the call-related features like call screening, wait on hold and Duplex aren't available. There are vague promises to bring them to other countries "when we can" but the company is only just delivering on features it promised three years ago. And, as always, you should never buy a product on the promise that a feature will appear in the future.

      Basically, for customers outside the US, this just doesn't look value for money.

  14. StevenLayton

    "Basically, I still want to believe."

    I hear you Mulder.

    • wosully

      Mulder....excellent and totally appropriate reference here. Thank you!

  15. eric_rasmussen

    I picked one up today too. I was really upset about the horrible ordering issues and then everything went out of stock. I closed the browser and came back a few hours later. Mysteriously, they had a stormy black Pro model available so I snagged it. It's supposed to arrive November 4-6.

    I'm super excited! I'm upgrading from a Pixel 4; I can't wait to see what they can do with this newer camera hardware! Do you know if these things also happen to be able to make calls or send text messages? ?

  16. bluesman57

    I ordered one today, too, to replace my 4XL. Managed to get it after spamming the order button about 30 times around 4pm ET.

    I was looking tonight at all the unboxing videos, and did watch one, won't mention the name, but I like the fact that you buy your own, Paul, and wait with the rest of us. You're not going to sugar coat any product failings.

  17. crunchyfrog

    Although on paper, the Pixel 6 Pro looks to be the best, I'm betting on the slightly smaller Pixel 6 as the sweet spot for price to performance. For me, basic black with 128 GB is enough. Let's hope it lives up to the hype.

    In the meantime, Google really does need to get their sh&# together on the order process. It's every bit as bad as folks are saying here and that is bad for a company that is as big as Google is. Hey, Google, if you're going to copy Apple at all, copy their order processes on launch days.

  18. brettscoast

    Thanks for the heads up Paul despite the awful pre-ordering experience lets hope the rest is smooth sailing. Look forward to your hands on experience once you have had some time with the device. The same phone will retail for AUD$1299.00 here.

  19. michael

    Ordered the Pixel 6 Pro Stormy Black 256 GB today but it wont arrive until December 3! Hope they quote outside dates and then surprise you like Apple does.