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.
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.