Google released its latest pair of phones today – the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro. They are available for immediate pre-order and will start shipping on 28 October. Within an hour, many of the model options had already become “out of stock”, with Google not willing to even accept orders for delayed future deliveries.
This has an awkward feeling of history repeating itself – Google has sabotaged itself in the past by coming out with excellent phones but inadequate/insufficient supply. Google really needs to decide if it truly wants to be in the phone business or not – if it wants to become a major player, it needs to make sure it can meet the market demand. Their excellent phones, increasingly aggressive pricing, and of course, the corporate imprimatur of the Google brand give them enormous potential, but to date, they’ve never adequately followed through to capitalize on the opportunity they have.
The most discussed and anticipated new feature was the incorporation of Google’s own CPU chips, named Tensor, into the two new phones. But this is not really something many of us will notice – other than the generic and unvaryingly predictable claims of “faster”, “more powerful”, and so on (or, to more accurately quote the claims, “fastest”, “most powerful”, etc), these days a chip is a chip is a chip – whether it be Apple’s “Bionic” chip, Google’s “Tensor”, or a third party chip from Qualcomm or anyone else. Perhaps if you’re a “high-end” obsessive gamer, the specific chip might be important, but for the rest of us, all moderate and higher standard phones include chips that are more than adequate for our purposes.
So what is new and improved and different in these two model phones? Very little indeed, and many of the items which are new seem to be as much reflections of the latest release of Android (version 12), which also came out today. The most visible changes are larger screen sizes – 6.4″ and 6.7″ diagonals, making for Google’s largest ever phones, and a stylish camera “bar” on the back of the phone with the two (Pixel 6) or three (Pixel 6 Pro) cameras and assorted other sensors in a raised bar that runs right across the width of the phone, rather than grouped in a square or rectangle in a corner.
Indeed, the appearance of the phone – and the new Android 12 OS, seemed to be one of the most important changes (and, yes, we know that appearance isn’t really all that important). There are quite nice new protective cases that are translucent to allow for the contrasting colors of the phone’s back to appear, and Android 12 now offers automatically color-coordinated themes. As a man, such things are of almost no interest whatsoever, but of course, there’s no reason to criticize either a phone or an OS for making a more visually appealing product.
There are some new camera capabilities, and of course, the Pixel phones have always been renowned for their high image quality and the processing that goes on behind the scenes to make a picture look as good as possible. We particularly liked the “Magic Eraser” that allows you to remove unwanted objects from pictures. If someone is “photo-bombing” your picture, it becomes very easy to remove them and have the phone replace them with a “more of the same” extension of the background that it guesses might have been behind the removed person or object. Perhaps this will mean fewer awkwardly cropped images on dating sites that are clearly designed to take ex-partners out of pictures! It seems Google is limiting that feature to just the Pixel 6 series, but perhaps it might back-release it in the future.
Video is now said to be better than before, with more powerful processing capabilities that can automatically adjust image quality, realtime, even with 4K 60P video filming. And, those of us burdened with hyper-sensitivity to political correctness will be delighted to know that the presentation had a complete segment about how Google has an “Image Equity” division to make sure their cameras take good pictures of “people of color” as well. Some of us didn’t even realize this needed to be “a thing” with its own department….
We liked what is said to be further improvements to the speech recognition capabilities in the phone, and the “typing with your voice” capabilities. While probably still not 100% perfect, it for sure is massively better and preferable to awkwardly trying to type on the tiny screen-keyboard when texting or emailing. (To be fair, Apple’s speech recognition is very good, too.) The phones also have great features for managing waiting on hold when calling somewhere; these features might subsequently become available on other phones too, but for now are Pixel 6/Pro exclusive.
The phones can have two SIMs – an eSIM and a regular nano SIM. They do not have micro-SD card capabilities, and neither do they have a headphone jack. With ever increasing built-in storage capacities, the lack of a micro SD card is perhaps not as important as it once was, but the lack of a headphone jack is a major omission that is close to a deal breaker for many of us. They support 5G, Bluetooth 5.2 and triple-band Wi-Fi 6e, plus a huge range of different GPS services. They have NFC, and can both be charged by, and in turn charge other devices with, Qi type wireless power.
The Pixel 6 has 8GB of RAM memory and 128GB of storage as standard, and offers an optional upgrade to 256GB for an extra $100. The Pixel 6 Pro has 12GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, with options for either 256GB or 512GB (for an extra $100 or $200).
One point of note. The new phones can support very fast charging via the newish and still little-implemented USB-C Power Delivery 3.0 specification. That’s the good news. The not quite so good news? A compatible charger is not included with the phone.
It takes some careful parsing of Amazon listings to find compatible chargers that can deliver the 30W through a single port that the new phones can accept; expect to pay about $20 or more for a charger. Google sells a charger for $25. But, of course, the phones will charge at a slower 5W – 10W rate through most other USB chargers, and in general, slower charging is better for your battery’s longevity than fast charging.
But the earlier justification of omitting a charger with a phone – “Everyone has too many USB chargers already” (plus the inevitable and insincere “We’re saving the planet” justification) no longer applies with new charging standards and higher charging rates. Few or none of us have 30W capable PD3.0 chargers already.
Which brings us to price. Google has see-sawed over the years with its pricing policy. On occasion, especially back when they sold their phones under the “Nexus” rather than “Pixel” name, they had some astonishing value phones combining high-end features with rock-bottom budget prices. But then, when they renamed the phones as Pixel, they started charging top-of-the-market prices.
More recently, starting with perhaps the Pixel 4a 5G last year, Google is moving back down to the high-value rather than the high-cost part of the market. These two new phones, with specifications comparable to the best phones from Apple or Samsung, are available at wonderful price points. The Pixel 6 is $599, and the Pixel 6 Pro is $899.
Compare that to similar Apple products – the iPhone 13, with smaller screen but otherwise generally similar, is priced $200 higher than the Pixel 6, and the iPhone 13 Pro Max, with same screen size and otherwise generally similar, is priced $200 higher than the Pixel 6 Pro. If you’re instead comparing to the latest Samsung Galaxy S21, the Pixel 6 is similar to the standard S21, but Samsung ask $200 more, and the 6 Pro is similar to the S21 Ultra, which has a $300 extra sum on its price sticker.
There is also Google’s third current phone model, the Pixel 5a, which is priced at $450, and feature-wise, a bit inferior to the Pixel 6. That gives Google a great range of products and prices – $450, $600 and $900, although the more budget-minded of us might wish for a fourth phone at the $300 or less price-point, too. You’d want to look for something like the Moto One 5G Ace or Samsung A32 5G to get down to that price point (these days, you really should – must – choose a phone with 5G capabilities).
Google is also offering an interesting new product, its Pixel Pass. This sells you a phone amortized over 24 monthly payments, plus a bundling of other Google services – phone protection/replacement, 200GB of cloud storage with Google One, YouTube Premium (ad-free videos), YouTube Music Premium, and Google Play Pass. The Pass price is $45 or $55/month, with claimed savings of up to $176 or $294 over the two year contract period.
But, these savings are only “real” if you’re likely to otherwise subscribe to these other inclusions, anyway. For most of us, at least one and possibly more of the inclusions are not things we’d ever pay for, otherwise, and so the savings quickly disappear and instead of saving money with the bundle, you’re paying more for things you neither want nor need.
One other interesting point. Google will “trade in” an older phone. We noticed the trade-in value of our lovely Pixel 4a 5G was $285 through the Google Store (for a 6 Pro, or $245 for a regular 6), but only $145 through Google’s Fi store.
Should You Upgrade to a Pixel 6 (Pro) Phone?
Does your present phone do everything you want it to do? Or do you find yourself wincing every time you turn it on, and do you find yourself wishing every day that your phone would do something that other people’s phones do?
Is your present phone feeling increasingly slow? Does it lack 5G coverage? Is it “maxed out” in terms of using up all its storage and you can’t add a (larger) micro SD card for more storage?
Does your present phone have a “tiny” screen and do you want a larger screen with a brighter clearer display, and better colors? Are you a photo enthusiast who wants the extra processing features of a state-of-the-art Pixel phone (but who doesn’t want to buy a “real” standalone camera)?
And, most of all, do these needs, in total, equate to a willingness to spend $600 or more on a phone now?
If you’ve answered “yes” to some of these questions, and particularly the last question, then yes, you should upgrade. But most of us will probably happily stay with what we currently have.
One point in particular – it is a bit confusing, at present, to understand which 5G frequency bands these new phones will support. With 5G frequency usage still evolving, we remain a bit hesitant to commit “the big bucks” to a phone which we’d hope will last several years
If you’re thinking of upgrading your phone, you of course have other makes/models of phone to compare and consider as well. But if you’re thinking of any Android type phone, we’d strongly encourage you to choose the Pixel – any of the current three models – to get the “cleanest” version of Android, free of “bloat ware” and irritating competing software loaded onto phones from other manufacturers (yes, Samsung, I’m looking closest at you).
You also have the benefit of getting new versions of Android sooner than any other manufacturers – I updated my Pixel 4a 5G to Android 12 within minutes of its release on 18 October; other phone manufacturers might delay the release for months or even years (and, in some cases, won’t even send out OS updates at all).
Most people will find the Android 5a phone more than enough for all normal uses. But if you want to go into demanding gaming or sophisticated photography applications, perhaps the Pixel 6 or 6 Pro are better choices.
Will there be a Pixel 6a phone, too? Probably, but not for many months. The Pixel 5a was only announced in August, and with the 4a being announced in August 2020, it seems probable to guess a Pixel 6a won’t appear until about August next year. So the 5a is very much a current product too, at the lower end of the product line.