Google Pixel 6. It’s been a month since it I got it and I even got it under some unfortunate circumstances. I had an issue with my Huawei Mate 40 Pro that forced me to prematurely shift to Google’s Pixel. I was very annoyed that I got just the regular Pixel 6 and not the 6 Pro but a month of using it has shown me things. The summary is it’s not as limited as I thought it was going to be. Oh, you want the full-fat details? Sure. Buckle up.
Pixel’s 1st big redesign inside and out
So clearly the highlight of Google’s smartphones is the software. However, with the Pixel 6, Google went back to the drawing board on the hardware front. They brought in a new design with a visor for the camera cluster that is a very distinct design in a world where every smartphone kinda looks like several other smartphones.
They also jumped onto the triple camera bandwagon adding a 3rd telephoto camera on the Pro version of the Pixel. And the main camera got its first hardware update since the Pixel 2! Gone is the 12MP sensor in favor of a shiny new 50MP unit which bins down to 12.5MP. Oh, and the cherry on top is Google decided to develop their own chipset called Tensor which is basically a customized Exynos processor made by Samsung.
So hardware. It’s a good size in the hand for me but they were a bit generous with the bezel so overall the Pixel 6 is bulkier than other smartphones with a 6.4-inch display. It may feel like a 2 hand device if you have smaller hands. I love the buttons, they offer a very reassuring click when you press them.
Hardware is pretty good…not bleeding edge, but pretty good
The Pixel 6 has 2 cameras on the back. A 50MP main and a 12MP wide, both of which take excellent photos and videos. The battery is a 4614mAh battery which is a very odd number. Charging speed tops out at 30W using a cable and 21W using a wireless charger. It’s also got decent stereo speakers and an amazing vibration motor that almost feels like the one in an iPhone. So you see. Nothing particularly exciting about the hardware on paper. It’s by no means mediocre but it doesn’t set my socks on fire.
Software is ridiculously good
The software is where the expression “never judge a book by its cover” comes to life in a very big way. Let me walk you through it. You have an always-on display with a clock and when you tap the screen, everything wakes up. The font of the clock’s digits gets bold and so does the date on the top left. The fingerprint graphic connects all the dotted lines and sets itself on top of a platter and the wallpaper ever so gently moves into view.
Every aspect of using this smartphone is ridiculously smooth. The display may have a refresh rate of 90Hz which is not much in a world where the standard is now 120Hz for anything flagship. But I was using a Samsung Galaxy S21FE temporarily before I got the Pixel 6. It had a 120Hz refresh rate display which felt so smooth. However, it stuttered a lot when heavy apps were being launched or when something was loading in the background which broke the illusion. It may have had a 120Hz display but it was not a consistent experience.
The Pixel 6 on the other hand does not falter at all. Everywhere you go. Everything you do. Even when you open a video in picture-in-picture mode and demon scroll in the news feed, you get your 90Hz all the time. It’s iPhone levels of consistency when it comes to the user experience. I tried abusing it, I really did. I just can’t get it to crack.
Limited buttons to push for an Android
There is also an interesting thing they did with the Pixel. They made it simple. Even when it comes to the options you have available to you. For example. Huawei will show you your charging speed in addition to telling you that you are rapidly charging. The Pixel will just tell you that you are charging rapidly and how long you have to wait till the battery is full.
You do not have the option to see your internet connection speed next to the wifi or mobile network signal icons. All you get are clean wifi and network bars when the internet is present and exclamation marks when it’s dodgy.
App notifications are in the form of a dot on the app icon. Because no one needs the pressure of seeing 3548 unread emails on the Gmail icon. You won’t even get the option to customize the system font like you can on other Android devices. That said, I have no issues at all with the system font on the Pixel. Oh and even the always on display. You cannot customize it but only turn it on or off. It does show you the essentials so time, date, your current battery situation, app icons for apps with unread notifications, and music that is currently playing if you are playing any.
Software is doing the heavy lifting so I don’t need to
So it was a very odd place for me to be. I am a pro user and I love tinkering but the Pixel 6 made me really think about whether or not it really matters that I do not have all these customization options and pro features. To question if they are necessary. Because if the phone can do the heavy lifting for me in the background and deliver the result I expect…then maybe this makes the pro features redundant.
What I am trying to say is that the Google Pixel is probably the closest Android device to the Apple way of doing things when looking at the level of control they have over your experience with their devices. They still offer heaps more flexibility than Apple but they still put in a lot of effort to control the user experience. And I can’t believe I am saying this but it actually works for even a Pro user like me. So it’s simple enough to not be intimidating for the billions of people who want a fuss-free phone but also smart enough to competently fulfill the needs of a pro user.
Some smart features
I mean speaking of smart. It can listen to the music that is playing in your environment and literally keep a list of all the songs that were playing wherever you were. So if you forget to shazam the track, no stress. The Pixel has you covered.
The voice recorder does live transcriptions on-device without needing the internet which is impressive on paper. But in reality, it was even more impressive in how good it was dictating thick African accents. It was doing a better job on some words and phrases than I could with my ears.
The image editor built into Google Photos on the Pixel is smart enough to erase unwanted elements in an image and only keep the good parts. And it can do this with any photo including photos from other phones and even photos downloaded from the internet. It works…most of the time especially if the background is simple with clearly identifiable stuff. The more complex the background is, the more it struggles with performing a clinical erase. But for simple stuff, my reliance on Photoshop has been vastly reduced so even though it is simple, it’s getting the job done.
Most fluid Android performance I have ever experienced
In terms of performance, the Pixel 6 is running the 1st generation Google Tensor chipset and this particular one has 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. There is no memory card slot, Pixel devices have never had one and it’s also a Dual sim but with a catch.
The sim slot is a single sim which means it can only take up a single physical sim. However, if you then have access to an eSim, you will be able to use this eSim as either your main or only Sim (Econet subscribers in Zimbabwe) or you can use the eSim as a secondary sim with the physical sim being the primary sim (Like what I did).
That means the only way to use it as a dual sim is to have one physical sim and one eSim. 2 physical sims are not an option because it can only accommodate one physical sim in the sim tray and 2 eSims running at the same time are also not an option because it only has one eSim module capable of activating a single eSim at any instance.
|CPU||Google Tensor GS101
|Display||6.4″ 2400×1080 pixels
FHD+ OLED HDR10+
90Hz refresh rate
|Rear Camera||50MP main camera
12MP Ultra Wide
4K video recording
(1 Physical sim + 1 eSim)
2G, 3G, 4G, 5G
A small 5G issue…Not the phone’s fault
It also supports 5G, a feature that I love because it’s not congested yet on Econet in Zimbabwe making it really reliable. However, Google Pixel devices are not connecting to Econet’s 5G network at the time of filming because of a very Apple thing that Google is doing.
See Google is enabling the use of 5G on their devices for certain networks by default. The big ones operating in the big telecoms markets. For the small and obscure networks in smaller telecoms markets like Zimbabwe, they will disable 5G by default. A way to try and manage the user experience of individuals using their devices. So for 5G to be enabled on these devices in such countries, the service provider (Econet) who is offering 5G needs to apply to Google to get 5G capable Pixels to connect to their 5G network.
Google will receive the application and request the tech guys to get a couple of 5G capable Pixel devices that they will use to run tests on the network and send the data back to Google. If the tests meet Google’s expectations, they then list the service provider (Econet) as one of the certified 5G networks and then push a carrier software update to all the 5G capable Google Pixels which usually comes packaged in a security patch. My Pixel 6 will then be able to connect to the 5G network after I have installed this update.
My fear though is that, even though Pixel smartphones are slowly becoming more popular, they are still a very very small chunk of the smartphone market. So a service provider may not really be incentivized to go through this whole process for just less than half a percent of their subscribers. Regardless, I will still shoot my shot. If anyone at Econet is reading this. I am speaking on behalf of the few Google Pixel users. Do us a solid. Get us too on your 5G network.
Performance is in spades, multitasking needs work
Ok, that aside, as I said before, it’s a solid performer. Battery life is close to a full day of heavy usage and just over a day with moderate usage. A fun little feature I saw is if you pull down the notifications and toggle curtain, it will show you an estimation of what time your battery will run out. So you can at least see if you need to charge it a bit more or if you might need to carry a power bank.
Multitasking felt a bit clunky, especially coming from a Huawei and even my brief stint with a Samsung. See it can do dual windows so you can have 2 apps open on the same screen. But the apps you intend on running in dual window mode must already be there in the recent apps list. If not, you will need to go and open the apps first, close them, and then jump into the recent apps so you can open them in dual window mode.
On most other Android devices you have an app dock that you can summon via either a floating pull tab like on Samsung or swiping in and holding from either edge like on a Huawei. This dock will have all the apps that support dual window and picture-in-picture removing the need to first have the app open before you can use it this way. It’s a power user feature used by very few people but I really miss it here. Sometimes I just want to quickly open Chrome or WhatsApp without interrupting my YouTube video or documentary on Netflix. That said, when you do enter into dual window mode, it’s again a very smooth experience. It’s just unnecessarily cumbersome getting there.
The only bug
I also noticed a weird bug with the brightness slider. So if you don’t grab it spot on when increasing or reducing the brightness, the animation of the slider to visually confirm your action will not react to your input. However, the system will have detected what you are trying to do and so the screen brightness will increase or decrease based on the action you make.
The brightness slider animation itself will maintain its position until your finger leaves the screen. Only then will the slider jump to the set brightness position. In the month I have used the Pixel 6, this is the only part of the software experience that has been found wanting. It’s properly solid everywhere else.
Cameras are glorious
The camera experience is properly world-class. A 50MP main camera and a 12MP wide angle. So starting off with the camera experience, it’s simple. You don’t even get any Pro modes for stuff like manual focus, aperture, or shutter speed. The only manual controls you get are focus lock where you can tap something in the viewfinder that you want the camera to lock onto, color temperature which just adjusts how warm or cool you want your photo to be and sliders to increase or reduce the highlights and the shadows in the image.
So it makes for a super simple and clean camera interface with no clutter. You have some most commonly used modes just a tap or a swipe away right at the bottom and the less commonly used creative modes tucked away under the modes button.
There is a button right at the top left which gives you a couple of settings specific to the mode you are in. So in night sight, you get settings specific to low light or night photography, and in video, you also get options for video resolution and frame rate and audio sources.
Fun fact, if the audio source for video is the phone’s internal mics, you can listen to your music via bluetooth headphones whilst recording a video with the phone and it will not pause your music as is the case with some other smartphones. Here are some unedited and uncompressed camera samples fresh from the Pixel 6.
Anyway, the photos are amazing as expected. The exposure is spot on all the time and it’s always very balanced. The colors are slightly on the vibrant side but really pleasing to look at. Details are plenty and the post-processing is so good that the final result is clinically perfect. There is no noise in the darker areas of the image, the bright ones are never overexposed even with the camera facing the sun.
Even in slightly challenging lighting conditions, it still does one very fine job compared to other devices. Again leaning heavily on that post-processing after it has taken the picture. I was also pleasantly surprised by the video. It shoots in HDR and I have to say everything is quite pleasing. The way it handles colors and exposure is very very good even in low light. It can handle lower light environments better than other devices I have tested. It’s not immune to graining and noise in low light but it does handle it better than other devices.
The same cannot be said about the wide-angle camera. It is pretty good in good lighting and Google even worked really hard to get it to produce images that are similar in color and exposure to images from the main camera. But when the light becomes less than ideal, the difference between the main camera and the wide is very visible. You can clearly tell when you take night-sight photos with it and compare it with the main camera.
I also noticed that because of the size of the main sensor, the Pixel 6 struggles with macro shots. It just cannot get as close to the subject as other cameras can and even if you think of using the ultrawide for that, the Pixel 6 does not support autofocus on the ultrawide so that won’t help.
That said, the quality of images and videos the Pixel 6 takes is of a very high standard. For a pro user, there are limitations here and there when it comes to how creative I can be with it but it’s only in the VERY edge cases where I am sure over 99% of the people are never going to venture. Again. It’s smart enough to be competent for someone like me to use and rarely notice its weaknesses. And when I do notice is not enough to bother me.
It’s just an all-round great package
Picture this. I am the sort of person who always looks for a Pro phone whenever I buy one. Not just pro in terms of features but pro even on the name of it. It was not an easy decision to make getting a regular Pixel 6 even though I knew a Pixel 6 Pro AND a Pixel 7 Pro existed. But I could not find a Pixel 6 Pro anywhere and the Pixel 7 Pro was out of my budget. I was spending money I didn’t have.
But a month later with the Pixel 6 and I am impressed with just how premium the experience has been. The speed of getting feature updates, the relentless fluidity and consistency of the user experience. The simplicity that is a direct result of assigning the heavy lifting to smart and powerful software such that someone like me can appreciate how it does a lot of what I want it to do, the way I want it done without breaking a sweat.
I will end with this. When I got the Pixel 6, I strongly felt the pressure to get the Pixel 6 Pro or ideally the 7 Pro as soon as humanly possible. A month later, I still feel like getting the Pixel 6 Pro or ideally the 7 Pro. But the Pixel 6’s performance and user experience has eliminated the pressure I had. It’s the best US$400 smartphone you can buy. If you are looking for a no-frills, reliable Android smartphone, Just get a Pixel. Any pixel that fits your budget. I 10/10 recommend it.