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The Google Pixel 6's killer feature — it’s the price

Google Pixel 6 camera module
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The Google Pixel 6 launch spent a lot of time talking about the Tensor processor and what it means for that phone as well as for the Pixel 6 Pro. And since this is a Google event, there was a lot of energy devoted to new camera capabilities built on Google's knack for computational photography.

But as impressive as all those changes appear, that's not the reason I think people are going to pay more attention to the Pixel 6 than they did for previous Pixels. This time around, the most appealing thing about the Pixel 6 is its low price.

The Pixel 6 debuts at $599 for a 128GB phone powered by a Tensor chipset and offering an impressive dual camera display. You also get a 6.4-inch display with a 90Hz refresh rate. If you want a bigger screen that refreshes at 120Hz, along with a triple camera array, then you can turn to the Pixel 6 Pro for $899.

How the Google Pixel 6 price compares to other phones

To put those prices in context, the Pixel 6 measures up nicely on paper to phones like the Galaxy S21 and iPhone 13, but it's significantly cheaper than both of those devices — $200 cheaper in fact. True, you can get an iPhone 13 mini for $699, but even that's $100 more than the Pixel 6's starting price. And Apple's phone not only has a smaller screen, the mini's refresh rate is stuck at 60Hz.

Consider also that Google charged $699 for the Pixel 5 when it launched that phone a year ago. The Snapdragon 765G powering that devices didn't pack a lot of punch relative to other flagships, and we'd expect that Tensor to easily outpace that chip. So it seems like Google is charging less for a more powerful phone.

Even the more expensive Pixel 6 Pro compares favorably to the competition based on price. At $899, the Pixel 6 Pro costs $100 less than the Galaxy S21 Plus and iPhone 13 Pro — two devices that also offer telephoto lenses and 120Hz adaptive refresh rates.

Pixel 6 pre-order deals add on to that value, with Google throwing in a pair of Pixel Buds A-Series earbuds with your order. T-Mobile will let you claim a Pixel 6 for free with an eligible trade-in (though you will have to sign up for the carrier's most expensive unlimited data plan).

One Google Pixel 6 price caveat

There's a pretty big caveat to that price, though, and it helps put the Pixel 6's low cost into context. While you can get a $599 Pixel 6 unlocked through Google, that version won't work with high-speed mmWave-based 5G. While 5G compatible, the unlocked Pixel 6 can only access sub-6GHz 5G bands, which aren't as faster as mmWave.

To reap the benefits of mmWave, you're going to have to buy a version of the phone that works with those kinds of networks. To that end, Verizon mmWave-based Ultra Wideband network is super fast, and it's selling a version of the Pixel 6 that can connect to mmWave. Unfortunately, it costs $699, or about $100 more than Google charges. AT&T also has a mmWave-ready version of the Pixel 6, but it's even more expensive at $739.

Google Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Put another way, it looks like would-be Pixel 6 owners are being asked to prioritize a lower price or faster 5G connectivity. That seems like an unfair trade-off to make and helps explain why consumers don't seem excessively excited about 5G. 

Then again, mmWave isn't for everyone. As fast as Verizon's high-speed 5G network is, it's only available in parts of 87 cities; the rest of Verizon's nationwide 5G coverage is notably slower. T-Mobile's 5G speeds may not reach the heights of mmWave-based networks, but they're fast enough to qualify as the fastest median download speeds for 5G in Ookla's latest test results (opens in new tab). T-Mobile also reaches the most people with its 5G network, and it's only charging $599 for the Pixel 6.

That's why I still think the Pixel 6's most attractive feature is its price. Yes, if you're dead set on having a phone that works with mmWave, you'll have to pay more (though Verizon and AT&T both have deals to lower that cost). But for the vast majority of people, the version of the Pixel 6 that's available at the $599 starting price will tick all the boxes of what they're looking for in a phone — at least on paper.

Google Pixel 6 price outlook

A phone's value is determined by more than its price tag, and we still need to test the Pixel 6 to see how its Tensor processor and revamped cameras hold up against the competition. But for $599, the Pixel 6 looks to already be off to a good start before our testing gets underway.

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Philip Michaels is a Managing Editor at Tom's Guide. He's been covering personal technology since 1999 and was in the building when Steve Jobs showed off the iPhone for the first time. He's been evaluating smartphones since that first iPhone debuted in 2007, and he's been following phone carriers and smartphone plans since 2015. He has strong opinions about Apple, the Oakland Athletics, old movies and proper butchery techniques. Follow him at @PhilipMichaels.