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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. 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
Philip Michaels is a senior editor at Tom's Guide. He has strong opinions about Apple, the Oakland Athletics and old movies. Follow him at @PhilipMichaels.