Skip to main content

The Google Pixel 6 is a year behind other flagships — here’s how

Google Pixel 6 held in hand
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Update: Our Google Pixel 6 review and Google Pixel 6 Pro review are now live.

The Google Pixel 6 and Google Pixel 6 Pro are looking to be impressive devices at competitive prices, from the new Tensor chip to their advanced cameras. Unfortunately, when compared to other flagship phones like the iPhone 13 and Samsung Galaxy S21, Google is lagging in one key area: 5G. 

According to a report from PCMag, The Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro reportedly use Samsung's Exynos 5123 modem along with Google's custom Tensor processor. This is the same modem used in last year's international version of the Samsung Galaxy S20. While this might not seem like a big deal, considering how quickly 5G technology is evolving, it actually does put Pixel at a notable disadvantage compared to the competition. 

When dropping $600-900 on a phone, consumers usually want the latest tech to ensure that their purchase lasts as long as possible. When it comes to 5G modems, having this year's chip means netting faster and more consistent 5G speeds for the following three to five years.

The Exynos 5123 modem is about on par with Qualcomm's X55 modem found on the iPhone 12 and the U.S. version of the Galaxy S20, according to PCMag. The iPhone 13 and the U.S. version of the Galaxy S21 are using Qualcomm's X60 5G modem. 

Older 5G modem put to the test

We did an unscientific comparison between the iPhone 12 and iPhone 13 on T-Mobile's 5G network in the central New Jersey area. Our simple test, done via Ookla's Speed Test app, gave the iPhone 12 an average download speed of 32.72 Mbps, whereas the iPhone 13 sat at 58.26 Mbps. That's a dramatic improvement in 5G performance.

Upload speeds were mediocre across both the iPhone 12 and iPhone 13, with an average of 4.07 and 7.55 Mbps, respectively. But it does show that the newer Qualcomm X60, plus other optimizations around antennas, can make a substantial difference.

If the Exynos 5123 modem is a good approximation of performance with the Qualcomm X55, then Pixel 6 owners will have to deal with significantly slower 5G speeds. Of course, firmware, local networks and internal antennas can make a big difference. It's just something to be aware of for prospective Pixel 6 buyers.

I personally had been rocking the U.S. version of the Galaxy S20 FE, which also had the X55 modem by Qualcomm. And on T-Mobile's 5G network here in Houston, I found the experience frustrating. Often, speeds were so slow and inconsistent. I ended up locking my phone to 4G LTE for better overall performance. I've since switched to the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3.

Interestingly, during Google's Pixel 6 event, it did very little to show off the connectivity features of the device. We didn't get any 5G Stadia demos or other bits that could show off the phones' Wi-Fi 6E performance. Google was more interested in showing off its Material You UI design that will come packed with Android 12.

The Google Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro go on sale October 28 for $599 and $899, respectively. Just don't expect blazing 5G in exchange for those lower prices. 

Imad Khan

Imad Khan is news editor at Tom’s Guide, helping direct the day’s breaking coverage. Prior to working at the site, Imad was a full-time freelancer, with bylines at the New York Times, the Washington Post and ESPN. Outside of work, you can find him sitting blankly in front of a Word document trying desperately to write the first pages of a new book.

  • centauri0
    This article wasn't well thought out at all or was just trying to bash a phone for attention, and without any hard facts . While you state one fact on the types of 5G modems, you didn't actually test 5G speeds. 32Mbps and 58Mbps on the iPhone 12 and 13 are not 5G that's 4G. My Pixel 4 from 2019 can do over 50Mbps in the middle of nowhere on 4G. So if your iPhone 12 is only getting 32.72 something is wrong. Show us how fast the the 12, or 13 are in the 200 to 500Mbps range of real 5G speeds next time.
    Reply
  • zilexa0
    Wow Tom's Guide has really sunk to the Let's-Bash-A-Phone-Using-Misinformation level.
    My Pixel 1 even has higher speeds (~100Mbps in Amsterdam) than what is being reported here. All speeds mentioned are not even LTE-Advanced (4G) max speeds. They do not max out the capabilities of the X55 modem.

    Fact is, 5G is mostly just 4G (LTE-A) when it comes to speed. There are a few efficiency optimisations purely beneficial to the mobile network provider. Real 5G speeds are barely available in the world simply because there is no need for providers to provide that and because ther would need to install a mobile phone tower on at least every corner of every street due to the extremely high frequency and still it would only work outside, not inside buildings, since high frequencies don't penetrate concrete. That's just physics.

    Fact is also that not a single provider in the world has planned to implement what is necessary to benefit from the X60 modem, since they don't even need to max out the X55 modem.

    Be happy with that X55 modem. It allows for speeds that are sufficient for plenty of years even after the Pixel 6 is End-Of-Life.
    Apple had no reason to pay more for the more expensive X60 modem.
    Reply
  • ZacZayn
    centauri0 said:
    This article wasn't well thought out at all or was just trying to bash a phone for attention, and without any hard facts . While you state one fact on the types of 5G modems, you didn't actually test 5G speeds. 32Mbps and 58Mbps on the iPhone 12 and 13 are not 5G that's 4G. My Pixel 4 from 2019 can do over 50Mbps in the middle of nowhere on 4G. So if your iPhone 12 is only getting 32.72 something is wrong. Show us how fast the the 12, or 13 are in the 200 to 500Mbps range of real 5G speeds next time.
    Yeah..dont want to make a fuss abt this,but it getting out of control. Looks like there's a company who willing to pay for webs article to bash others product especially if they themself didnt have a strong product on the year. Cos i notice a trend especially after some product launching, some writers go all out looking for the simplest weakness of the company they dont favors. Not just here,but many established sites doings the same. I guess the guerilla warfare not only happened out in the jungle.lol. got sick after awhile as i personally dont mind criticism, but make it constructive not just a blindly nit picking as peoples can tell sooner later. Action speaks louder,makes me thinks the highly praised one actually stumbling now..we ll see..peace out
    Reply
  • Mark Spoonauer
    Thanks for your comment but you are incorrect. Both iPhones displayed 5G during the test. Of course 5G speeds can go faster but it varies based on location.

    centauri0 said:
    This article wasn't well thought out at all or was just trying to bash a phone for attention, and without any hard facts . While you state one fact on the types of 5G modems, you didn't actually test 5G speeds. 32Mbps and 58Mbps on the iPhone 12 and 13 are not 5G that's 4G. My Pixel 4 from 2019 can do over 50Mbps in the middle of nowhere on 4G. So if your iPhone 12 is only getting 32.72 something is wrong. Show us how fast the the 12, or 13 are in the 200 to 500Mbps range of real 5G speeds next time.
    Reply
  • Mark Spoonauer
    Hi no bashing going on here. The modem is literally a year older than what’s found in other flagships and we will report back on how that impacts this particular phone when we post our full review. We think people should know about this trade off now because orders are open now.
    ZacZayn said:
    Yeah..dont want to make a fuss abt this,but it getting out of control. Looks like there's a company who willing to pay for webs article to bash others product especially if they themself didnt have a strong product on the year. Cos i notice a trend especially after some product launching, some writers go all out looking for the simplest weakness of the company they dont favors. Not just here,but many established sites doings the same. I guess the guerilla warfare not only happened out in the jungle.lol. got sick after awhile as i personally dont mind criticism, but make it constructive not just a blindly nit picking as peoples can tell sooner later. Action speaks louder,makes me thinks the highly praised one actually stumbling now..we ll see..peace out
    Reply
  • TekWreck
    Mark Spoonauer said:
    Hi no bashing going on here. The modem is literally a year older than what’s found in other flagships and we will report back on how that impacts this particular phone when we post our full review. We think people should know about this trade off now because orders are open now.
    That modem makes almost no difference at all to most end users! P6's WiFi6e support is FAR more significant.
    Reply
  • TekWreck
    ZacZayn said:
    Yeah..dont want to make a fuss abt this,but it getting out of control. Looks like there's a company who willing to pay for webs article to bash others product especially if they themself didnt have a strong product on the year. Cos i notice a trend especially after some product launching, some writers go all out looking for the simplest weakness of the company they dont favors. Not just here,but many established sites doings the same. I guess the guerilla warfare not only happened out in the jungle.lol. got sick after awhile as i personally dont mind criticism, but make it constructive not just a blindly nit picking as peoples can tell sooner later. Action speaks louder,makes me thinks the highly praised one actually stumbling now..we ll see..peace out
    I agree this article headline is real cheap clickbait! The author carved out one almost irrelevant feature and tries to paste it over the whole phone line. "Android Authority" polls it as the HOTTEST CELLPHONE RELEASE OF THE YEAR, and the hottest ever for a Pixel.

    The modem mentioned is NOT EVEN A BUG or measurable shortcoming.
    Even if one or 2 serious bugs are found in the P6 line, it has SO MUCH going for it, nothing is going to stop the stampede.

    The straight value proposition is indisputable:
    The Pixel 6 is an amazing utility performance value
    The Pixel 6Pro is a superior flagship performance value

    Very simple!
    Reply
  • Puiucs
    This article was clearly written by someone who doesn't know anything about technology or is just intentionally misleading people. The new modem does nothing to speed up things, all he tested were the antenas. the difference lies in power draw as the x60 uses the 5nm process node vs the 7nm used for the x55.
    Reply
  • Bleacherboy
    To offer warnings about Pixel 6's 5G performance, you conducted a single anecdotal test between an iPhone 12 & 13?
    In an article written AFTER your site has hands-on with the actual phone?!
    Wow.
    Reply
  • BrightSilence
    Mark Spoonauer said:
    Thanks for your comment but you are incorrect. Both iPhones displayed 5G during the test. Of course 5G speeds can go faster but it varies based on location.
    Most phones display 5G when connected to a 5G capable tower. This doesn't mean they're getting 5G speeds or even a 5G connection. I just did a quick test om my Pixel 4 XL and it got 128Mbps on a 4G modem. Tom's guide did a test without the proper controls, didn't even get 5G performance, tested it on different phones and didn't bother to look up the actual difference between the modems they're comparing. News flash, the upgrade provides more energy efficiency, not more speed. And then they slap a headline on there that suggests the whole phone is a year behind.

    Tom's guide, this is why people hate journalists these days, you give journalists a horrible name. Don't do this to your valued colleagues who do take stuff seriously but get the same horrible reputation as a result.

    If the phone is still under embargo, wait until it lifts and do a proper controlled test. Or report on facts you can already find out about the difference between these two modems. Don't just make up nonsense. And yes, people are buying these phones right now, but they won't ship until after the embargo lifts. If there is a real issue they will have plenty of time to cancel their orders. But we all know there is no issue anyway, so stop using the excuse of "warning consumers".
    Reply