Google Pixel 6 Pro: The Day After

Posted on October 31, 2021 by Paul Thurrott in Android, Hardware, Mobile with 32 Comments

A day later, I’ve mostly configured the Pixel 6 Pro the way I prefer, and I’ve started taking photos. Here are some more observations.

As noted in my initial impressions, the Pixel 6 Pro I ordered arrived Friday, the day we flew home from our most recent trip. But because of our late arrival, I didn’t even open the box until we got up Saturday morning, and by the time of that first post, I had completed the Android 12 setup experience but not configured the phone in any way. So I spent much of yesterday on the next steps.

In a bit of good timing, the other items I ordered alongside the Pixel 6 Pro happened to arrive yesterday, despite an initially disparate set of shipping predictions, including one that wasn’t initially expected to arrive until December. But all is well now: my Pixel Pro 6 Case in Soft Sage (green) and Google 30W USB-C Power Charger complete the set nicely.

I would have been nervous about taking the new Pixel out in the world without a case since it uses a typically slippery glass and aluminum exterior design. But Google’s case is a mixed bag, which is typical. In this, um, case, the issue is that the case itself is kind of slippery. But I’m guessing it will get grippier with wear, and it at least provides the protection I want. As is always the case, I’ll look to replace it with a superior third-party case once they arrive.

The power charger, meanwhile, isn’t worth discussing all that much: it simply provides the maximum level of charging power, 30-watts, that the phone supports, and is a nice step up from the sort-of fast charging capabilities of the 18-watt chargers its predecessors use. And assuming the Pixel 6 Pro works out, I’ll be selling my Pixel 4a 5G and Pixel 5a soon, along with their cables and chargers.

As for the Pixel 6 Pro itself, I started off updating all of the built-in apps and installing a system update, fairly typical for a day-one experience with any modern consumer electronics. To its credit, Google doesn’t bog down this handset, or any Pixel, with any extraneous software, and while we might debate the firm’s first-party app bundling requirements for Android, there’s no real crap there. These apps—Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Maps, and so on—and the Google Play Store are the reason that hardware makers and thus consumers pay for Android in the first place. And it is perhaps sobering to compare the quality of these apps to those more middling entries that Microsoft ships with Windows 11.

Pixels do come with some unique software and services, however, and that’s doubly true with Pixel 6 Pro, given the many special features it includes. But this is something I’ll be writing about in the future. For now, I’m focusing more on the basics.

After the phone was updated, I started installing the apps I rely on. As is usually the case, I used my previous phone—a Pixel 5a—as a guide, starting first with the apps on my home screen—I use just one—and then proceeding into All Apps for those apps I don’t use as often. Once that was done, I launched each app, in turn, signing in to whatever account as needed using Google Smart Lock, which nicely automates that process.

In some cases, I also downloaded a bit of content. For example, in Audible, I downloaded the audiobook I’m currently listening to— Julia Child’s autobiography, My Life in France–plus a few I expect to get to soon. But it is perhaps notable that I don’t typically need to download a lot of content to my devices these days. I stream podcasts, music, movies, and TV shows for the most part, and will only download that kind of thing when I’m traveling. For example, before the most recent trip, I downloaded some movies from Netflix and HBO Max to my iPad and some music and podcasts to my phone for possible use offline while on the plane. For now, this isn’t a worry.

With that done, I started thinking about the home screen layout. I’ve been using a single-screen home screen layout for a while now, shown here on my Pixel 5a.

For the Pixel 6 Pro and Android 12, I was hoping to do something a bit different and perhaps use a few of Google’s attractive new widgets in addition to the usual icons. But I ran into a few roadblocks.

First, and most confusingly, Google puts an At A Glance widget at the top of the first (and, in my case, only) home screen that displays the date, time, weather, and a Google Calendar-based event. I wanted to use one of the cool new weather widgets instead, and so I tried to remove the stock widget. But you can’t remove it, resize it, or move it to a new position. Instead, you can only toggle some of what it displays on or off. The very least it will do is take up an entire row at the top of the home screen and display the date, in a weird and truncated format (like “Sun, Oct 31”). It’s literally a waste of space if you don’t want it there.

Sigh.

With that Microsoftian bit of product design still troubling me, I looked at the remaining space available to me in my normal 4 x 5 home screen layout and found it lacking. Most of the new Android 12 widgets I’d want to use are 3 icons wide, and would thus leave room for only a single column to one side, and that could only be filled with icons. And so I toyed with using two home screens again but found that unsatisfactory. As is the case with Windows, where I pin several apps icons to the taskbar and then find the others via Start Search, I like my minimalist Android setup. And I don’t want to swipe between screens to find apps I use every day.

And so I ended up changing the home screen layout to 5 x 5, which gave me an extra column of space. And since the Pixel 6 Pro display is so much bigger than that of the phones I’d used previously—the Pixel 4a 5G and nearly-identical Pixel 5a—this layout seems to make sense.

I even found a few widgets that I think would make sense on a daily basis and could exist side-by-side above my app icons: Weather (from the Google app), which is a 3 x 2 widget, and Google Photos, which is 2 x 2. And this would work, if I could only get the Google Photos widget to appear: each time I try, it crashes and disappears. And so what I’m left with is that stupid date from At A Glance wasting space at the top and a non-resizable Weather widget. I’ll keep working on this.

I also spent some time experimenting with different wallpapers, mostly because I love Android 12’s dynamic color feature, which automatically changes the colors used by the OS theme (and offers two to four color scheme choices for each wallpaper you select).

Eventually, I settled on something I like, shown above, but I’m sure I’ll be changing that up over time too.

With the home screen and apps sort of sorted out, I turned to pairing the Pixel 6 Pro with the earbuds I use. Oddly, there are three, at least temporarily: the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds I use when traveling, a pair of EarFun Free 2 wireless earbuds that I use at the gym (and that replaced the Google Pixel Buds A-Series I tried earlier), and a set of OnePlus Buds Pro wireless earbuds that OnePlus sent for review. (I’ve not written about them yet.) There are no surprises here, of course. And I will need to pair the phone with our car as well, but I’ll do that when I go to the gym today.

Speaking of hardware, the Pixel 6 Pro is the first Pixel to ship with an in-display fingerprint reader. I’ve used several handsets with this feature, and in my experience, OnePlus still offers the best/fastest version. But the Pixel version is closer to what Samsung offers, meaning it’s good but not great. When it works, it’s fast. But I’ve had to try twice to sign in this way on several occasions already, and that’s not a good sign. I’m guessing its first-try accuracy right now is about 60 percent, maybe 70. It’s not horrible. But it’s not nearly as good as the rear-mounted fingerprint readers that Google used previously.

But the big question, the elephant in the room, so to speak, is the Pixel 6 Pro’s rear camera system, which appears to be exactly what Pixel’s fan base has been waiting for: a triple camera system that includes both ultra-wide and telephoto/optical zoom capabilities, and some overdue updates to the lenses.

I’ll get into the specifications of these lenses in my coming review, but the short version goes like this: the rear camera system features a 50 MP primary/wide lens with that pixel-bins down to 12.5 MP, a 12 MP ultrawide lens, and a 48 MP telephoto lens with 4x optical zoom and 20x hybrid/digital zoom (that I assume pixel-bins down to 12 MP). And the front camera, which is an improvement over that in the non-Pro Pixel 6, is an ultra-wide lens with 11 MP of resolution and a fixed focus.

On top of that, Google provides Pixel 6 Pro owners with a neat range of AI-based camera capabilities, including Magic Eraser (a Photoshop-like feature in Google Photos), Motion Mode, Real Tone, Face Unblur, and Unblur, on top of all the goodness that Pixel owners have come to expect, like incredible Night Sight.

I’ve only begun testing the software—Magic Eraser, for example, seems kind of hit or miss—but I did take a bunch of shots Saturday, ranging from some outdoor/clear day gimmies to trickier low light shots, and the takeaway is obvious: the Pixel 6 Pro is a Pixel and the shots it takes are exactly what anyone who has used any Pixel would expect. That’s mostly good news, though it was perhaps predictable that my $800 purchase hasn’t (yet) moved the needle that much from the quality I was getting from my previous Pixels.

The Pixel 6 Pro’s 4x optical zoom capabilities were always a bit concerning to me. Sure, it’s better than the 3.5x optical zoom that the newest iPhone Pro 13 offers, but I’ve used several Android cameras with slightly better telephoto capabilities, some of them years ago. The Huawei P30 Pro, for example, is over two and a half years old, and it shipped with 5x optical zoom. As did the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra from 2020.

Zoom test: 0.7x zoom (ultra-wide):

Zoom test: 1x zoom (main/wide):

Zoom test: 2x zoom (telephoto?):

Zoom test: 4x zoom (telephoto):

So far, telephoto isn’t all that impressive: I’m glad it’s there, yes, but it doesn’t seem much better than hybrid/digital zoom, and there is a weird pause when you switch to 4x zoom in the viewfinder (there’s 2x choice as well for some reason) where it’s using digital zoom (presumably using the main sensor) at first and then abruptly switches to the telephoto sensor. And it’s easy to quickly snap a photo during that pause and not get the benefits of the true optical zoom.

I need more time for testing, of course. But overall, I’m happy with the camera experience. It’s a step up from what I had been using, it’s just not clear yet how much of a step up.

More soon.

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Comments (32)

32 responses to “Google Pixel 6 Pro: The Day After”

  1. matsan

    Wow - reading how you spend a day setting up a new phone just makes me... sad. Is this the same Paul that I have read many times saying "don't overthink technology"?

    • igor engelen

      Normally when I get a new phone it's a restore from cloud and go. But every time there are major changes either hardware or OS I can spend many hours fiddling with it.

      When IOS got widgets I also re-thought my different screens.

      Now, this year with the Focus feature I again dumped a huge amount of time to set it up the way I wanted, but it's finished now. Good for a couple of years if nothing major changes.

      A phone is a tool sure, but there's no harm in optimising the experience/workflow.

    • Paul Thurrott

      I have to review the phone. It's a slightly different responsibility than just buying one for yourself.

      • bsobotta

        Some people are over critical.

      • JerryH

        I wouldn't worry - it takes at least 2 days to fully setup a phone these days with all of the various different apps you need for MFA and the processes you have to go through to get them moved to a new device, signing in to all the services, finding the things you want to turn off (some reviews say to turn off 5G on the Pixel 6 for instance for much better battery life).

    • mattbg

      What would be the point of a review that set the phone up in 10 minutes and put it in your pocket?

  2. BoognishMANG

    My phone arrived on Saturday, so I've had a few days with it now. A couple of points/responses, both to your article and some of the comments along with a question for you:


    I'll actually start with the question; you mentioned that you used Smart Lock while going through the (painfully drawn out IMO) process of re-signing in to all of your apps and their associated accounts. Can you talk a little bit more about that? I've never been aware of any use for Smart Lock outside of the most obvious one of keeping your device unlocked when paired to certain devices, while in certain locations, the device is detected on-body, etc.


    I haven't really used the camera much yet, so I can't speak much for or against but I will say that I feel like I'm in the minority of Android or more generally, all cell phone users when I say that in terms of what I look for and care a great deal about with my mobile devices, camera falls a ways down the list in favor of things like, oh I dunno, overall performance, Android skin, it's receptiveness/ability to be customized - support/integration with 3rd party launchers being a big part of that.


    Speaking of which, a number of commenters mentioned their use of a 3rd party launcher in Nova Prime, which is a great launcher and one that I used for years however it isn't my #1 choice of launcher anymore. That honor has since been bequeathed to Hyperion Launcher Pro (actually, strangely they call the pro/paid release Hyperion Supreme, I believe). The aforementioned customization options are the most I've ever seen in a launcher both OEM and third party. It also has excellent integrations, notably with sesame and Google Dock, or whatever the proper label is for the Google feeds to the left of the main/home screen. Since you only use a single home screen, you may not see a need for a 3rd party launcher but even if just for the ability to use icon packs (Material You's icon treatment is cool but until there's more support for it, it just makes things look disjointed vs an icon pack with tens of thousands of available icons, thus increasing the likelihood of complete or near complete coverage, of course depending on how many apps you have DL'd. Personally, I'm a bit of an app whore, so I'll never get 100% coverage but even with 500+ user apps, there are icon packs out there that do a more than passable job at theming the majority of them vs a very small fraction in the stock Pixel experience), folders and tabs inside the launcher and perhaps most useful for you in particular, the ability to change the layout to accommodate even more icons than what the Pixel 6 Pro already allows @ 6x6. There's also the ability to play around with widget padding to really maximize your space and so much more but the point is, it's a damn fine launcher. You can't go wrong with Nova Prime but if you're at all considering a 3rd party launcher, Hyperion is well worth the download and giving a shot. I've been using it exclusively for, sheesh, at least my last 4 devices, perhaps more. So like 8+ years. I will say however that Nova does a better job with tablets, as I still use Nova with mine but for my daily driver it's Hyperion all day.


    One last quick note is concerning the display, and indirectly the in-screen fingerprint reader. I saw one person mention that there choice of screen protector doesn't affect the reader much, and IMO they got lucky, as this week vary a good deal depending on the protector you choose. With an already dodgy FP reader, additionally staining it or causing any added lag time is suboptimal, to say the least. The good news is that Gorilla Glass Victus is no joke. Seriously. I'm usually very good with my phone's, as I honestly can't remember the last time I brought a screen, however that steak almost came to a screaching and tragic full stop yesterday when I struck my Pixel 6 Pro's display directly and with significant force with a pair of very heavy duty pliers. I was expecting the worst and was utterly shocked and still am completely amazed that not only did my screen not break, not crack... it didn't even leave a mark. None. Not a single scratch. Not even a speck sized indentation. My devices display is in 100% mint condition, indistinguishable from when I first removed it from the box. So when I say you'll be totally fine without a screen protector, I can back that up with supporting data, even if I'm a bit embarrassed that I can say that after less than 72 hours of ownership.


    I initially said I only had 1 question but I guess I lied, sue me 😝


    This one is for Paul or anyone else with any info on the subject, which is one that will have a significant impact on anyone experiencing less than stellar success rates with the under/in-screen FP reader if it were to come to fruition: does anyone know if facial recognition unlock capabilities might be coming to the Pixel 6 / 6 Pro? This is a big miss, IMO and correct me if I'm mistaken but didn't Google specifically say that the devices would feature it? It's for this reason that I'm hopeful it will come with a future update, especially considering how many folks are experiencing issues with the FP reader. Side note - it's possible that this is a luck of the draw situation regarding the FP reader but I attribute my mostly low rate of failure using this unlock method to not only re-adding my FP's but and maybe moreso to the fact that I entered each multiple times. You can only have a total of 5 so I've got 2 entries for my left thumb and 3 for my right, since it's my dominant hand. Just wanted to mention it in the event that someone else might benefit from a similar approach.


    Sorry for the novel but I look forward to your expanded review once you've gotten a chance to spend a little more time with it.


    Cheers,

    Paul C


    • BoognishMANG

      I guess there's no comment editing, or maybe just not for new members. Regardless, sorry for the slew of typos. Hopefully you can rest through them based on context

  3. TraderGary

    I've been a Nova Prime user for many years. When my Pixel 6 Pro arrives, the first thing I will install is LastPass and then my Nova Prime.


    As for screen protectors, I've had most of the Google phones and I've never used a screen protector. I've never had even a hairline scratch that I can detect. However, I've always kept my phone in a shirt pocket with screen facing in. With the advent of even stronger Invictus Gorilla glass, I'm not messing up the on-screen fingerprint reader with a screen protector.

    • dbonds

      The in-screen fingerprint sensor is not nearly as quick/accurate on my Pixel 6 Pro as it was in my Oneplus 7T, but I'm happy to report that the screen protector didn't make it any worse. I went with "Skinomi" - it's more of a "film" than the tempered glass I've used on my wife/kids iPhones. I bought it (via amazon) because it also included a smaller film for the rear camera(s) glass. I'm honestly more worried about that rear glass being scratched than the front, but I went ahead with the film for both - so far so good!

  4. zeromus2003

    I got mine Saturday. In regards to all the complaints Paul made about his home screen, why didn't he just install Nova as his launcher? Nova + KLWP can't be beat! My home screen looks killer!! Also how is Paul using the phone w/o using a screen protector? I am not going full time with my Pro until tempered glass comes.

  5. richfrantz

    My 6 pro is due to arrive Thursday. Will this be the one to finally take a decent picture of a full moon?

  6. bluesman57

    I'm glad to see that the case has ridges to protect the camera glass, mine is already scratched, luckily not over one of the lenses. My Google case isn't coming until the 29th, but I have a QuadLock case arriving any day.

  7. yoshi

    Paul,


    Any battery impressions yet? It seems like a mixed bag when reading reviews. Some say it's stellar, others saying it could be better. That is what's holding me back a bit from picking mine up.

  8. allen_maloy

    ahhh the Dunkin app rates pretty high in the prime home screen real estate.

  9. txag

    I still wonder about people who complain about the “notch” but have nothing to say about a major protrusion on the back of the phone.

    • Paul Thurrott

      Nothing to wonder about. Just common sense.


      It's not that major of a protrusion, for starters; the color striping on the back makes it seem bigger than it is in photos. It sits balanced on a table, unlike an iPhone. And you don't see it when you're actually using the phone, unlike a notch, which is always visible.

    • macguy59

      I don't know anyone that spends hours staring at the back of their phone. You may be the first

    • BoognishMANG

      Not to mention that with a case on the device there's really no difference between it and a camera bump in terms of overall aesthetic and the protrusiveness of the "protrusion"

  10. seattlemike

    In my experience, gimmicks like “magic eraser” are just that….gimmicks. Things I use when I first get a new phone but never use again!

  11. rmlounsbury

    You have to wonder if Google's software smarts when it comes to photography has generally rendered the sensor in the phone somewhat irrelevant? Aside from being able to capture more light to improve night/astral photography. The real value in new hardware is getting better telephoto and ultrawide lenses to make phone more flexible for a wide range of needs.


    I also found the seemingly permanent "At A Glance" wideget at the top of the home screen on my Pixel 5. I haven't been able to figure out how to turn it off and it is living in the space where widgets typically live just like Paul does with his setup. Hopefully Google allows users the option to turn it off (or it is there and I haven't found it yet).

    • wright_is

      You still need a good lens and sensor to capture the original image. The better the original image, the better the processed image will look. All the processing in the world can't accurately insert missing information. It can make guesses and might sometime produce good results, but you will always get better results, if you start with a good image.


      I have a Galaxy S20+ and the images are okay, but not a patch on what my Sony Alpha can make - but there again, a good lens can often cost more than a Pixel or even a Galaxy S.


      At the end of the day, it depends on what you are trying to achieve. Most mid-range smartphones are good enough for typical family snaps or social media, which often strips back the image quality anyway, to save on the size of the images. A high end camera will provide better images, which will be more useful for blowing up, either for looking at on big screens or printing out. Then you have "real" cameras, which have high quality lenses and sensors and can produce really stunning images for large formats. They also provide more flexibility, but it is harder work to get those good images and general snapshots with such a camera are often no better than a high end smartphone.


      It is things like real macro photography or telephoto work (300mm+) that really show the difference, plus a high quality prime lens for portrait shots - with a good photographer behind the camera.

      • rmlounsbury

        Obviously and my muse was specifically around mobile photography and not scaling up to a larger DSLR which will always be king. Optics and sensor matter but on a smartphone we are getting close to maxing out what you can stick into a thin slab of phone. I'm sure overtime sensors in smartphones will be capable of capturing more information. However, for the vast majority of people using mobile phones for photography the combo of good-enough hardware + Google's software smarts around photography get you incredibly good photos. Enough that a jump in sensor and lense form the 5/5a to the 6 is more negiligble for most.

  12. red.radar

    Looking like the pixel 6 is going to be a great value.


    But Minor nitpick, I am not certain I like how the clouds look Un-naturally close. They feel like they are at the same distance as other items in the foreground. I am guess this is the HDR processing producing this effect. Maybe It’s just me.


    The color and sharpness look great and the low light performance is amazing

  13. ghostrider

    I just can't believe how picky people are these days. Smartphone cameras are now so advanced, for 99% of people they'd need nothing else. Even a mid-range phone is good enough for most (benchmarks mean nothing these days, except for reviewers and nerds). It's clear here though that Google have upped their game massively but kept the pricing (relatively) sensible, and the abilities of the tensor chip haven't even been fully assesed yet. It's taken Google 6 long iterations, but finally they're playing with the big boys on features, performance and speed, but thankfully not on price. I swore I'd never pay >$500 for a phone, but the Pixel 6 (not Pro) could finally sway me.

    • ianbetteridge

      I think you make a very good point. I like to keep both an Android and iOS phone around (I still can't shake the bug I caught when I was reviewing tech professionally!). I've just replaced the iPhone 11 Pro Max that I was using with a new iPhone Pro 13 Max and although I can see the camera is better, it's not such a massive step up that I couldn't have hung on to it for another year (the biggest issue for me was that I was a fool and only got 64Gb of RAM in the 11, so was always running out of space now).


      And my Android phone is currently a Pixel 3XL, which still takes really good shots. If my main phone was the Android one, I *might* upgrade to a Pixel 6, but I would be more likely to wait for another year. Basically, even for someone who likes the latest stuff, the upgrade cycle has moved from one year to two and almost certainly three soon.

    • lecter

      While I agree with most of your points, I still feel that the presence of OIS in a camera is the difference between usable and unusable when the natural lighting is not that great (like, when taking photos indoors) and many non-flagship phones still don't have it.

  14. macguy59

    This may be the first Android phone that breaks my cycle of iPhones 👍🏻

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