Google Pixel 6 review: Don’t overlook the cheaper Pixel

Back of the Pixel 6.

Google Pixel 6

MSRP $599.00

“The Pixel 6 may be flatter and cheaper than the Pixel 6 Pro, but the software, performance, and even the screen and camera get close enough to still make it tempting.”

Pros

  • Great camera
  • Screen is colorful and vibrant
  • Latest Android 12 software
  • Years of software updates

Cons

  • Flakey connectivity
  • Fast charger not included

The Pixel 6 Pro is Google’s heavy hitter in its new smartphone lineup for 2021, but the Pixel 6’s lower price — $599 rather than $899 — makes it considerably more tempting for most people. But now that we know how good the Digital Trends’ Editors’ Choice-winning Pixel 6 Pro is, does the cheaper version still make sense given the hardware trade-offs?

Design

If you only give them a cursory glance, there’s not much to differentiate the Pixel 6 from the Pixel 6 Pro, especially if they’re both facedown. Look more closely, and it’s obvious which is which, as the Pixel 6 has a smaller section of body above the camera module compared to the 6 Pro. If the light’s right, you’ll see the Pixel 6’s camera module doesn’t contain a periscope zoom camera, either.

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Pick the Pixel 6 up, and the flat screen design gives it a more “classic” in-hand feel, and there’s actually better grip than with the curvy Pixel 6 Pro. I haven’t had to juggle the Pixel 6 as much as I did with the Pixel 6 Pro, and I’ve generally felt less likely to accidentally drop it. The Pixel 6is made of glass and metal, though, which means it still slips about on many surfaces. It’s also quite substantial at 8.9mm thick and 207 grams.

In fact, it’s barely any smaller than the Pixel 6 Pro — just flatter — and this introduces a bit of a problem. While the Pixel 5 was compact by modern standards, neither Pixel 6 phones are svelte, and if you’re looking for a pocket-friendly, lightweight Google phone to replace your Pixel 3 or Pixel 4, then there’s nothing in the Pixel 6 lineup for you. It’s the Pixel 5a (if you’re in the U.S. or Japan) or going for a different brand altogether.

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

The color of the phone in my photos is called Seafoam, and the minty tone is very pretty indeed. I’ve used the phone for a few weeks now, and it has spent time inside and outside of bags and pockets, but not been treated too badly. I have noticed a few surface scratches on the Gorilla Glass 6 rear panel, which can be felt with your fingertip, but they’re only seen when the light catches it in the right way. Oddly, the Pixel 6 Pro hasn’t collected these marks, despite being made of the same materials.

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Pixel 6 Pro (left) and Pixel 6 (right).Pixel 6 Pro (left), Pixel 6 Andy Boxall/Digital Trends
Pixel 6 Pro (left) and Pixel 6 (right).Pixel 6 Pro (left), Pixel 6 Andy Boxall/Digital Trends
Bezel comparison of the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro.Pixel 6 Pro (bottom), Pixel 6 Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

I would have liked the Pixel 6 to be smaller to really be a clearer choice from the Pixel 6 Pro, but otherwise, the design is a winner. It has character and visual appeal, the body-wide camera module looks cool, and the colors are inspired, stupid names aside. It’s a very different and welcome approach this time around compared to Google’s dreary designs on previous Pixels.

Screen

The other defining design aspect of the Pixel 6 is its screen, which is flat compared to the curved Pixel 6 Pro. It measures 6.4 inches and has a 20:9 aspect ratio and a 2400 x 1080 pixel resolution, plus a 90Hz refresh rate. It supports HDR and has an always-on screen. This is a lower specification than the 6 Pro, but in reality, the two aren’t that different.

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Before going into more detail, it interestingly does not seem to suffer from the same problems I encountered with the Pixel 6 Pro’s 120Hz refresh rate. Scrolling is smoother in the apps, which were problematic on the Pixel 6 Pro at 120Hz, although maybe not quite as smooth as on other phones. It still doesn’t feel quite right, but is considerably better than the Pixel 6 Pro.

The refresh rate issues were the only blight against the Pixel 6 Pro’s screen, which is otherwise glorious. So, can the Pixel 6’s lower-spec screen keep up? It’s obviously not quite so pin sharp due to the lower resolution, but you do have to go looking for the difference. Watching video shows it’s a tiny bit cooler than the deliciously natural and warm Pixel 6 Pro screen, but it takes a few minutes of careful study to see the difference.

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

The screen is really beautiful and a high point of the Pixel 6, but it’s not flawless. It’s let down by the bezels and the overall flatness. There will be those who don’t mind the flat screen, but for me, it (along with the 20:9 aspect ratio) makes it look cheap and aged, and the bezels are quite substantial, especially on the chin. The auto brightness can be dim-witted, and the overall brightness isn’t that high, either. I can still see it in sunlight (well, the U.K.’s mostly pitiful sunlight), but it requires maximum brightness, making me question its ability if I went to a place with proper sun.

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

The in-display fingerprint sensor is more reliable and slightly more accurate than the one in the Pixel 6 Pro. I’ve not had to reregister my fingerprint in an effort to make it work more consistently, and I’ve been able to use the PIN less as well. Google says enhanced security measures make the sensor slower to use than some others, but I’ve had different experiences across both phones, so I’m not sure whether this is really the case. For me, the Pixel 6’s fingerprint sensor is better to use and live with each day than the one on the Pixel 6 Pro.

Camera

If you want Google’s best camera, you have to buy the Pixel 6 Pro, but the Pixel 6 still has the same main 50-megapixel, f/1.85 aperture camera and 12MP wide-angle camera with a 114-degree field of view. It does not have the 48MP telephoto zoom camera. The selfie camera is also different, with the Pixel 6 making do with a fixed-focus 8MP camera in the hole-punch cutout.

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

With the same main camera, you’d expect photos to be identical between the two phones, but there are some unexpected differences. Not better or worse, just a slight change in color tone and balance — and not all the time. However, in all my comparisons, it was the Pixel 6 Pro that took the better photos, suggesting it’s more than just changes in the light, angle, or environment. Take a look at the gallery below to see what I mean.

There’s no real need for concern, though, as the Pixel 6’s main camera is excellent. Take a look at our Pixel 6 Pro review for more details on it and the wide-angle camera. The Pixel 6 has the same Action Pan and Long Exposure camera modes as the Pixel 6 Pro, and you can use Magic Eraser in Google Photos, too. Its lower price means a telephoto camera hasn’t been included; Google’s digital zoom, which shoots at up to 7x, on offer instead. It’s decent for a digital zoom, but the 6 Pro’s optical telephoto camera is of better quality, which makes it more versatile.

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How about the selfi

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