With my Pixel 6 Pro review still at least a week away, I wanted to check in and describe one major win and two major problems. And let’s be clear here: anyone familiar with Google’s troubled Pixel lineup won’t be surprised to discover that there are issues.
But let me quickly describe the major win first: After ceding the overall camera crown to Samsung, Huawei, and Apple—yes, in that order—in recent years, the Pixel 6 Pro marks a major comeback for Google. I’d been calling on Google to use a three-lens camera system in Pixel since before it released the lackluster Pixel 4 XL in 2019. And when the firm went back-to-back-to-back with low-end and midmarket Pixels in 2020—the Pixel 4a, Pixel 4a 5G, and Pixel 5—I was worried that Google was scaling back its Pixel ambitions and, worse, its computational photography leadership.
Well, those worries are over. It’s clear that Pixel 6 Pro offers the very best overall camera experience of any smartphone today, and while Apple still retains its many advantages with video, Google has—perhaps for the first time ever—made major strides in that department as well.
There’s a discussion to be had about value here, I guess—the Pixel 5a and Pixel 6 are both a lot less expensive than the Pixel 6 Pro and both offer terrific two-lens camera systems that provide most of what the Pixel 6 Pro offers—but come on: with its Apple and Samsung competitors costing an incredible $200 and $300 more, respectively, the Pixel 6 Pro is in a league of its own.
What’s interesting to me is that the performance of the main (wide) and ultrawide lenses remains nearly identical to that of their predecessors, despite major improvements to the underlying hardware. That is, both provide crisp, clear, and true-to-life shots with absolutely no effort on your part, with terrific night mode capabilities, and not-quite-ultrawide but also not distorted ultrawide shots. This is the same, solid, Pixel experience that fans have come to expect and rely on.
What puts the Pixel 6 Pro over the top, however, is its telephoto capabilities. I was initially unimpressed that Google wasn’t able to achieve more than 4x optical zoom using its periscope-style telephoto lens, but more experience with this lens has proven its worth. At a recent concert, I was able to obtain clear and realistic up-close shots of the band using both 4x optical and a range of hybrid zoom modes with no lag or motion blur. I’ve also started getting some decent deer shots in the morning that would have been impossible with my Pixel 5a. Yes, I tried.
Here are three shots from the (Cheap Trick) concert, the first of which indicates how far we were from the stage…
As for the negatives, I have two issues with the Pixel 6 Pro worth describing here.
The first is the in-display optical fingerprint reader, which I described on Windows Weekly last week as a “crime against humanity.” It is one of the slowest and least reliable fingerprint readers I’ve used in years, and an affront to any Pixel fan who appreciates how well the rear-mounted fingerprint readers always worked. (Every single Pixel to date, aside from the Pixel 4/4 XL, has had a rear-mounted fingerprint reader.) This is a technology that OnePlus, especially, and Samsung have long ago figured out, so we know it can work. But it works very poorly here.
The second issue is charging speed. To date, every single Pixel that Google has released has supported 18-watts of charging over a wire, which started out as “fast charging” and got less and less fast as the competition caught up and then surpassed that speed. With Pixel 6, however, Google is for the first time not providing a power brick in the box, like the competition, and it instead sells a 30-watt power brick for $25. Naturally, I bought one.
The thing is, it’s not fast. It does charge up to the 50 percent mark in about 30 minutes, which is great, but after that, charging speeds fall through the floor, and it doesn’t achieve a full charge for almost 2 hours. 2 hours! Researching this, I discovered that Android Authority uncovered that the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro can only charge to a maximum of 22 watts, which isn’t that much faster than 18 watts. (According to their figures, the Pixel 6 charges to 100 percent in 111 minutes with the 30-watt charger vs. 120 minutes with the old 18-watt charger. Hmph.) And the average charging power is just 13 watts.
This isn’t as serious as the fingerprint issue, in part because that first (and fast) 50 percent boost is what will help people stay up and running. (And this phone has had no trouble lasting a full day so far.) But Google never mentioned the actually charging capabilities of the Pixel 6, and so it’s natural that anyone would assume it was 30-watts, since that’s the power offered by the new charger it released alongside the phone. This is a Microsoft-level miscommunication.
There are many other pros and cons of the Pixel 6 Pro, of course, but I’ll cover them all in my full review. For now, I’ll just say that I’m quite happy with the phone overall. I just wish that Google would deliver an unqualified win for once. This isn’t it.