The Google Pixel 5 was one of my favourite phones of 2020, combining a simple design with the best take on Android, an excellent camera, solid mid-range performance and a surprisingly good screen. But I’m a big phone guy, hence the Oppo Find X3 Pro being my everyday phone. So the Pixel 5 didn't quite do it for me.
But that could change as we’ve heard a suite of rumors that have the Google Pixel 6 tipped to return to the brace of phone sizes it’s had from its inception up until the Pixel 5. The latest tidbit comes from XDA Developers (opens in new tab), which spotted reference to the “Pixel 6” and Pixel 6 XL” in an official Android developer form.
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This reinforces the rumor that there'll be two sizes of the next Pixel phone. The “XL” suffix was used by Google from the original Pixel up to the Pixel 6 XL, so it would make sense for it to return to that naming convention, although we’ve heard Pixel 6 Pro get thrown around the leaks and rumors arena.
But regardless of its nomenclature, I’m very much up for a possible XL Pixel 6.
Pair of Pixels please, Google
Recently, I’ve got a bit tired of there being too many phones in a single handset series. There are four iPhone 12 models to choose from, a trio of Samsung Galaxy S21 handsets, and a brace of OnePlus 9 phones. Obviously each offers different features, but some are so close to each other that making the choice of which one to get, or in my case recommend, is fiddly to say the least.
But when it comes to Google phones, I’m an advocate of more sizes. First off, everyone should be able to enjoy pure Android with the Pixel Launcher on top, as it shows Android at its very finest in my opinion. It's not stock per se, but pure and unfussy; not even OnePlus can do that. So two sizes of Pixel phone democratizes Android access to people with big or small hands.
As much as I like the Pixel 5, the compact size felt a little too small for me as someone who uses their phone as a bit of a do-everything device. So I missed the option of an XL model last year.
Granted, the XL models of past Pixel phones haven't been perfect. The Pixel 4 XL with its large top bezel felt a little too clunky yet didn't deliver as expansive a display as other 2019 Android handsets. The Pixel 3 XL had dual selfie cameras in a chunky display notch, which made the phone look like it had a pair of comedy robot eyes; it was oddly distracting.
And despite my positive view of the Google Pixel 2 XL with its curved edges and satisfying hand-feel, the pOLED display wasn't great and it has some annoying audio issues. The original Pixel XL was a delight but quickly looked dated.
But going by the latest rumors and renders the Pixle 6 Pro or Pixel 6 XL looks set to learn from Google’s past and the successes of other Android phones and deliver a serious flagship phone that looks modern yet still has a few Pixel design quirks.
Size does matter
The Pixel 6 XL is tipped to use a large 6.71-inch display, and it looks to keep things simple with a single centred front-facing camera; there doesn't appear to be any fiddly radar sensor parts. If the display replicates the quality of the Pixel 5’s screen, but adds in a 120Hz refresh rate, I’ll be happy.
I find using pure Android on a big screen to be a joy; everything looks neat, simple and clear and the interplay between Google apps without any extra third-party skin or user interface elements getting in the way boosts my productivity.
Sadly, the current crop of Android flagship might offer stunning, high-refresh displays, but they do mean dealing with ‘skinned’ versions of Android. Some are better than others, but even my current favorite, Oppo’s ColorOS, still has the odd fussy element that pure Android avoids. And Samsung still has some work to do for One UI to win me over.
But a big display is just one advantage of a larger Pixel phone. The cameras on the XL/Pro model are tipped to get an upgrade over the Pixel 5. The larger next-gen handset expected to have a trio of cameras comprising a 50MP main camera, 48MP telephotos lens and a 12MP ultra wide camera.
Combine those cameras with Google’s superb computational photography and we could see the next Pixel phone knock the iPhone 12 Pro Max off the best camera phone spot. The standard Pixel 6 is only expected to use two cameras — the 50MP main and 12MP ultra-wide cameras — so as someone who likes some zooming action, I’d be rather pleased if the XL handset does indeed get a high-quality telephoto camera.
Obviously, a bigger phone means a larger battery, and the Pixel 6 XL is tipped to come with a 5,000 mAh battery; that’s to be expected these days from a large phone.
But what I find more interesting is that a bigger chassis means more scope for better internal cooling, say the use of vapour chambers such as those seen in the best gaming phones and high-end Samsung phones like the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra. Cooling could be important here as the Pixel 6 is expected to use a custom Whitechapel chipset to deliver serious raw performance to challenge Qualcomm's high-end Snapdragon chips, so room to breathe will likely be needed.
Using this logic, I can see the larger Pixel 6 being positioned as the powerhouse handset for gamers and people who want screamingly fast phones, while the smaller phone is more for people who just want a clean Android experience and a killer camera or two.
Pixel 6 Pro: Flying the flagship flag once again
Priced at $699 the Pixel 5 arguably didn't offer enough in terms on on-paper specs compared to the likes of the OnePlus 8T and Samsung Galaxy S20 FE. But the Pixel 6 XL or Pixel 6 Pro could change that, seeing Google return to making full-fat flagship phones.
If the rumors prove true, then the Pixel 6 XL could be an impressive Android flagship to take on the likes of the iPhone 13 and Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, but still retain some of the Pixel uniqueness in terms of design. It could be part of a one-two punch from Goggle, with the standard Pixel 6 aimed at the mi-range phone arena and the XL model ready to hunt for a spot on our best Android phones list.
In short, I’m excited to see Google potentially return to making XL Pixel phones. And if Google can make such a flagship phone on or below the $1,000 mark then I feel the Pixel 6 XL could be a phone of the year contender