Google Pixel 6 Pro review

The Pixel 6 Pro turned a page for Google

pixel 6 pro in hand on beach
(Image: © Tom's Guide)

Tom's Guide Verdict

Google has once again reclaimed its Android photography crown and goes head-to-head with Apple’s best. The Pixel 6 Pro is a powerful and capable phone and Tensor, while somewhat moderate in benchmarks, has some seriously excellent applications.

Pros

  • +

    Incredible cameras

  • +

    Tensor performs well

  • +

    Beautiful new design

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    More affordable than other flagships

Cons

  • -

    Shorter battery life than competitors

  • -

    Finicky in-display fingerprint reader

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Pixel 6 Pro: Specs

Price: Starting at $899
Android version: 12
Display: 6.71-inch OLED (3120 x 1440)
Refresh rate: 10-120Hz
CPU: Tensor
RAM: 12GB
Storage: 128GB, 256GB, 512GB
Rear cameras: 50MP (f/1.85) main, 12MP (f/2.2) ultrawide, 48MP (f/3.5) telephoto with 4x optical zoom
Front camera: 11MP (f/2.2)
Video: Up to 4K 60 fps (HDRnet)
Battery: 5,000 mAh
Battery life (hrs:min): 7:49 (Adaptive) / 7:55 (60Hz)
Charging: 23W wired (charger not included), 23W wireless (Pixel Stand), 12W Qi
Size: 6.5 x 3.0 x 0.4 inches
Weight: 7.4 ounces
Colors: Stormy Black, Cloudy White, Sorta Sunny

Editor's note: The Pixel 7 Pro launched on October 13 with a lot of upgrades in tow, such a new processor, upgraded cameras, and more. 

You get a lot with the Pixel 6 Pro. For $899, you get a large 120Hz display, triple rear cameras and a new Tensor chipset, which together make it the bargain rival of phones that cost hundreds more.

The one weakness with this new Pixel is its battery life, and to a lesser extent its fingerprint sensor which has proven temperamental at times. But if you want to make use of all of Google's ingenious software features like on-device translation or its Magic Eraser photo editor, then these are worthwhile sacrifices.

If you don’t need a 120Hz display or telephoto zoom, be sure to check out our Google Pixel 6 review. The smaller phone is more affordable with a starting price of $599, but it still has the same Tensor chip and upgraded main camera sensor.

But if you prefer a larger display and want one of the best phones for the money period, the Pixel 6 Pro is a winner. As you’ll see in this full Pixel 6 Pro review, this flagship deserves to be considered right alongside the best from Apple and Samsung. 

Pixel 6 Pro review: Price and release date

Google has kept the Pixel 6 Pro's cost below those of fellow flagship handsets. Starting at $899 for the 128GB model, the Pixel 6 Pro packs in a lot of hardware value on top of Google's excellent software design and support. In fact, we think pricing is one of the key areas where the Google Pixels beat the iPhone and Galaxy in 2021.

pixel 6 pro standing against basket with display on

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Announced October 19, the Pixel 6 Pro is available from the Google Store or Google Fi, plus AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon and Xfinity Mobile. Beware that some of the carrier prices come out higher than Google's MSRP, which appears to be related to 5G capabilities (some Pixel 6 SKUs don't have mmWave 5G, for example). 

With the Pixel 6 Pro comes the optional Pixel Pass, which starts at $45 per month. This all-in-one program gives you a Pixel upgrade every two years, device protection, a 200GB Google One cloud subscription, YouTube Premium (including YouTube Music Premium), and Google Play Pass. On paper, it's quite the deal.

Check out the best Google Pixel 6 deals right now to get the best discounts. The phones are proving to be very difficult to get a hold due to high demand, but we have a breakdown on where to buy the Pixel 6 Pro.

If you decide to pick up the Pixel 6 Pro, be sure to protect it with one of the best Google Pixel 6 Pro cases. Our Pixel 6 starter guide can help you setup the phone and explore its many features.

Pixel 6 Pro review: Design

The biggest thing about the Pixel 6 Pro at first glance is the fresh, new design. Gone is the spartan, function-over-form Pixel language that we’ve had since 2016. The Pixel 6 Pro is a beautiful device with a curved display, a glass back with three nice color options, and the camera bar that spans the width of the phone.

pixel 6 pro in hand on beach

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

I’m of two minds about the camera bar. On the one hand, I like seeing Google try something new and unique in a sea of glass and metal slabs. On the other, I think it makes the Pixel 6 Pro look rather strange, for a lack of a better word. It feels awkward to me, especially since the whole thing juts out from the phone.

Overall, I really like the Pixel 6 Pro’s feel and build quality. It’s solid and has a nice heft without being too heavy. The phone is overall narrower than the iPhone 13 Pro Max I’ve been using. While the 6.7-inch display is still too big to use one-handed, I think the Pixel 6 Pro is more comfortable to hold than Apple’s latest large phone. The curved back helps, too, versus Apple’s squared off edges.

pixel 6 and pixel 6 pro in hand with tree in background

Pixel 6 Pro (back), Pixel 6 (front) (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

One thing I dislike about the hardware is the fingerprint sensor, and my colleague Roland Moore-Coyler agrees with me. No longer located on the back of the phone (which is where I prefer it to be), the Pixel 6 Pro sports an in-display fingerprint reader. Like the Galaxy S21 or OnePlus 9 Pro, it’s fine, but I’ve noticed that it’s slower than the competition and it’s very picky about where you place your finger. 

Whereas I think the OnePlus 9 Pro or Galaxy S21 are more forgiving, the Pixel 6 Pro seems to have a smaller reader area. Google is reportedly working on a fix for the Pixel 6 range's fingerprint problems, so we'll see if that improves matters. In fact, it may have just arrived in the Android 13 beta.

We may also see Face Unlock, a rumored feature for the Pixel 6 series, arrive later via an update, for an alternative to fingerprint scanning. A recent rumor has tipped that feature to come to the Pixel 6 Pro very soon.

One thing to note, Google has partnered with iFixit to help make repairs for the Pixel 6 Pro and older Pixel phones a lot easier

Pixel 6 Pro review: Display

The Pixel 6 Pro’s display holds well against others for color saturation and color accuracy, but it falls behind on brightness. It features a dynamic 120Hz refresh rate, meaning it can go all the way down to 10Hz to save on battery, but ramp up to 120Hz for content where it makes sense.

pixel 6 pro laying flat on book

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Here’s how the Pixel 6 Pro compares to its Galaxy S21 Ultra and iPhone 13 Pro Max rivals.

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Row 0 - Cell 0 Pixel 6 ProiPhone 13 Pro MaxGalaxy S21 Ultra
sRGB (%)104110111
DCI-P3 (%)747782
Delta-E0.30.210.35
Peak brightness (nits)8421038821
Max with adaptive brightness disabled (nits)495837380

As you can see, the Pixel 6 Pro holds up very well in comparison to the iPhone 13 Pro Max and Galaxy S21 Ultra, even getting brighter than the latter. All three phones are pretty equal when it comes to color saturation, even if the iPhone 13 Pro Max has quite a lead on the Delta-E color accuracy score (where 0 is perfect).

Where I think the Pixel 6 Pro’s display falters a bit is on brightness. While it can get decently bright outside, it’s not nearly as visible as the iPhone 13 Pro Max’s ludicrously bright screen. Inside, the iPhone once again inches ahead with a higher peak brightness with adaptive brightness disabled. The Pixel 6 Pro doesn’t struggle outdoors as much as previous Pixels have, but it’s still a ways off from the iPhone 13 Pro Max.

pixel 6 pro on back at steep angle to show curved display

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

In practice, the display is excellent for playing games like Genshin Impact or the grim Back 4 Blood or The Ascent on Xbox Game Pass. Watching movies and videos is also a great experience, with enough saturation to make scenes like the harsh orange tones in Blade Runner 2049 absolutely pop. This is certainly the best display I’ve ever seen on a Pixel. Even though the Pixel 5’s or Pixel 5a’s screens weren’t bad, the Pixel 6 Pro is certainly leaps and bounds better. The Pixel 6 also benefits from specially optimized games which make use of its Game Dashboard feature to let you prioritize battery efficiency or graphical output.

Pixel 6 Pro review: Cameras

Now we’ve come to the thing that defines a Pixel: the cameras. Google pioneered what was possible with computational photography and although other phone makers have since caught up, Pixels regularly feature on our list of the best camera phones. This year, the Pixel 6 Pro ups the ante.

Google Pixel 6

Pixel 6 Pro (left), Pixel 6 (right) (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Google upgraded the hardware to complement the improved software algorithms and Tensor strengths. The main sensor is now 50MP, letting in 150% more light according to Google. The 12MP ultrawide camera has a 114-degree field of view and the 48MP telephoto sports a 4x optical zoom thanks to its folded optics. Overall, the Pixel 6 Pro can go up to a 20x digital zoom, with the AI-powered Super Res Zoom to help clean up the final images.

Among the new AI features powered by the Tensor chip, the highlight is Magic Eraser. This is an incredible feat of engineering, letting you effectively remove unwanted items from the background of your photos. It's obviously not perfect, but the Pixel 6 Pro will automatically suggest things to remove. Google says it works best on beaches and at parks.

Without further ado, here’s how the Pixel 6 Pro stacks up to the likes of the iPhone 13 Pro Max, the current king of our best camera phones list. (For more on how the two phones compare, read our full Google Pixel 6 Pro vs. iPhone 13 Pro Max comparison.)

In this photo of the pumpkins, the differences between the two photos is slight, but you can see that the iPhone 13 Pro Max’s picture looks a tad more saturated. You can see this in the scarecrow’s shirt and background in those blues and reds, plus the red building in the back. The Pixel 6 Pro’s image almost looks washed out in comparison, but this comes down to differences in post-processing. I personally prefer the iPhone’s picture here.

Heading indoors to this produce stand, the Pixel’s shot is brighter and compensates better for the harsh lighting above. The iPhone warmed things up a bit too much in response to the cool lighting, and the image is overall dimmer than the Pixel’s. I think Google’s phone wins here.

In this ultrawide landscape shot, the Pixel has a clear advantage when it comes to brightness. The scene looks more well-lit thanks to the sun off to the left. That said, the iPhone captures more of the landscape due to its wider field of view. The greenish tones to the water look a bit better in the Pixel’s image, but this is, as we’ve seen thus far, a very close race.

In these portraits of Mark Spoonauer, both phones took different approaches to the final images. The Pixel zoomed out a bit while the iPhone brought things in a little closer to focus on Mark’s face. Both phones had to compensate for the direct sunlight on the subject and both did very well, even if the Pixel compensated better in my opinion. The blur radii are very artistic, too. I think either portrait is great, but I prefer the color tones in the Pixel’s image.

This comparison between the two phones’ night modes certainly surprised me. Right away, the Pixel’s picture using Night Sight is brighter. The plant on the left is fully visible, as are the pumpkins and flowers in the foreground. The shadows remain deep, but they don’t overpower anything else in the photo, unlike the iPhone’s shot. That one is very dark, with the pink flowers on the left almost invisible.

The two selfies are quite different. The Pixel’s image has softer colors, but sharp focus on my face. It does make my hair look a bit darker than it actually is. Meanwhile, the iPhone’s selfie is brighter, but my face looks a bit too smooth. The colors look off, though, with an overall yellow-green tinge to the final image — the Pixel’s colors are more natural.

For zoom comparisons, we brought out the Galaxy S21 Ultra. Samsung went all out with zoom this year on its best phone. It can go all up the way up to 100x and features Zoom Lock, which uses AI to help keep your photos steady. The Pixel 6 Pro tops out at 20x, but sports Super Res Zoom. I decided to compare the Pixel’s 20x to the Galaxy S21 Ultra’s 20x.

Despite the blurred out license plate in the S21 Ultra’s photo, both images look similar until you really look at the background. The Pixel’s picture is a bit cleaner, while Samsung’s seems a tad blurry on that purple SUV. But all of the signage in either image is clearly legible, including the chimney sweep and Help Wanted ones. Again, I think the Pixel’s image is cleaner than the Galaxy S21 Ultra’s, but it’s a very close race. Samsung obviously has the clear advantage when it comes to max zoom, however.

Motion Mode, which includes Action Pan and Long Exposure, is great for those long exposure shots to create artistic photos that perfectly express movement. Action Pan focuses on a moving subject and blurs the background, while Long Exposure adds blur to moving objects within the scene. You can see the former above, with Action Pan on and off as this blue SUV drives by.

Similarly, here’s Long Exposure on and off. It’s a pretty cool and artistic effect, as you can see in this photo of a running fountain.