Information about the Google Pixel 6, Google’s flagship Android phone, has been trickling out for months via official and not-so-official channels. However, the company held a virtual event Tuesday, Oct. 19, to reveal all the details about its newest top-end devices. The Pixel 6 and the Pixel 6 Pro are up for preorder, promising some impressive new features thanks to hardware and software upgrades.
Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro options
The Pixel 6 line spans two phones: the standard Google Pixel 6 and the more advanced Pixel 6 Pro. The former offers a 6.4-inch OLED display with a 90 Hz refresh rate for smooth scrolling. The Pixel 6 Pro steps up to a 6.7-inch display with a dynamic refresh rate that can go as high as 120 Hz for smooth motion, or as low as 10 Hz to save battery when looking at static images.
Flip the phones over and you’ll find that the devices have a much different look than the previous version, or really any other modern smartphone. Google clearly put considerable thought into its two-tone colorways, one of which it described as “juicy” during the presentation. Each phone sports blocks of vibrant colors split up by the camera bar, which contains two cameras in the base Pixel 6 and three in the Pro model.
The new Google Tensor chip
With most flagship Android phones, you’d expect to find a Qualcomm Snapdragon chip inside handling most of the computing tasks. Right now, the Snapdragon 888 is a common option that shows up in devices like the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra. For the Pixel 6, Google debuted its new system on a chip that it calls Tensor. It’s a custom bit of hardware specifically designed for Google devices, much like Apple does with its M1 silicon.
During the announcement presentation, Google didn’t pull punches about its reasoning for building its own chip. More than once, the company said that off-the-shelf hardware simply couldn’t provide the sheer power required to support the company’s demanding AI tasks like advanced image processing needed for 4K 60p HDR video or real-time translation and transcription happening on the device itself with no need for the cloud.
The same Tensor chip resides in both the Pixel 6 and the Pixel 6 Pro, though the Pro offers an upgrade to 12 GB RAM to make it even speedier. The onboard CPU offers eight cores, while the GPU has a total of 20 cores in order to handle graphics-intensive games.
What can that AI do?
With oodles of AI-processing power on the device, Google has been able to ramp up some of the features it has been refining for years now. For instance, the real-time translation and transcription services happen directly on the chip. As a result, the Google Pixel 6 can facilitate almost real-time conversations. The announcement event illustrated this with a Marie Kondo interview that included both Japanese and English speaking.
The translation tech goes beyond in-person interactions, too. Google pointed out that it will allow users to accomplish things like watching livestreams in different languages with native subtitles that the phone can churn out with very little delay.
The built-in AI system can also help users bypass automated phone trees when calling businesses. The Pixel 6 can translate automated menu options into text so you don’t have to remember which number to push. It can then listen for a real human to pick up once you’re on-hold so you don’t have to pay attention the whole time. It sounds handy.
Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro camera features
After losing ground with the Pixel 4 and 5, Google hopes redesigned hardware and AI upgrades can put it among the best once again. Both Pixel 6 models offer a redesigned 50-megapixel main camera. It has a larger sensor and faster aperture (f/1.85 if you’re counting) than the previous iteration. The 12-megapixel super-wide camera also appears on both versions of the phone.
Upgrading to the Pixel 6 Pro adds a third camera to the mix. It’s a 4x optical zoom that uses folded optics and a perpendicularly mounted sensor to extend its reach. Google’s digital zoom feature now extends out to 20X.
Imaging and AI
In addition to the hardware upgrades to the imaging ecosystem, Google’s added some software tweaks. The Real Tone technology draws from a drastically expanded database of skin tones in order to make the Pixel 6 camera better at rendering people of color in a variety of settings. That’s an area in which many cameras (even those not attached to smartphones) have struggled in the past.
The new Face Unblur mode senses when a moving person might show up blurry in a frame and captures simultaneous photos with both the wide and ultra-wide cameras. The Pixel 6 can then merge the two in an effort to keep the sense of motion in the image while keeping the face sharp.
I’m interested to see what the real world results from the camera look like since the litany of AI features makes the hardware specs roughly useless when it comes to predicting overall image quality and performance.
‘Quick tap to Snap’
While it’s not necessarily a camera feature, the upcoming Snap integration does represent a rather interesting development for Google Pixel 6. The new Quick Tap to Snap feature allows users to tap the back of the Pixel 6 twice in order to jump directly into the Snap camera. There have been workarounds for tasks like this in the past, and you could create shortcuts. But, this is a direct relationship that also extends to other Snap features like faster real-time translation.
The rest of the features
Scroll through the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro spec lists and they read like high-end Android phones. Both support WiFi 6E, which has just started to become relevant in the real world. They both have Bluetooth 5.2 and respectable battery capacities. It’s difficult to really pinpoint one area in which the Pixel 6 line is truly lacking compared to its other high-end counterparts.
How to preorder Google Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro smartphones
Google has already started selling both the Pixel and the Pixel 6 Pro and the prices are surprising. The Google Pixel 6 starts at $599, while the Pixel 6 Pro starts at $899. That continues Google’s typical efforts to provide high-performance phones for cheaper prices. Look for a full review in the coming weeks.