- The Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro smartphones come with a new and impressive industrial design.
- The smartphones are powered by Google’s in-house Tensor SoC that leverages AI and ML to enable rich new experiences.
After officially announcing its Tensor processor in August this year to power the Pixel smartphones, Google has now launched the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro models. Marking a departure from the mid-range hardware in last year’s Pixel 5, the new Pixel 6 series brings top-notch hardware while focusing on performance, photography and AI smarts. With the Pixel 6 starting at $599 and the Pixel 6 Pro starting at $899, what improvements do they bring over the Pixel 5? Let us deep-dive to see what Google has on offer with the new Pixel smartphones.
Pixel 6, Pixel 6 Pro: Stunning Design, Upgraded Camera Sensors
Since the first Pixel, Google has always done a terrific job when it comes to industrial design. The same continues with the Pixel 6 series featuring a thick, symmetrical camera bar that puts the camera front and center. The dual-tone design language offers a sophisticated look and feel, making the Pixel 6 smartphones stand out from the crowd.
The lower half of the back below the camera bar has a lighter color shade, whereas the upper half has a darker color shade. These color accents make the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro look stunning.
Moving to displays, the Pixel 6 comes with a 6.4-inch FHD+ AMOLED screen with 90Hz refresh rate. The Pixel 6 Pro, on the other hand, comes with a bigger 6.7-inch QHD+ display with 120Hz refresh rate. Both panels offer a variable refresh rate that can automatically adjust based on the on-screen content.
In terms of configuration, the Pixel 6 has 8GB of RAM (LPDDR5) and two on-board storage options to choose from – 128GB and 256GB (UFS 3.1). The Pixel 6 Pro has 12GB of RAM and three storage options to choose from – 128GB, 256GB and 512GB. It is good to see Google keeping with the current memory trends and offering more on-board storage, especially as it no longer offers unlimited Google Photos storage.
Moving to photography, the new Pixel 6 series gets big camera upgrades. The Pixel 6 comes with a dual-camera setup, featuring a 50MP wide primary camera having f/1.9 aperture, laser auto-focus and OIS. Using a quad bayer filter that combines four adjacent pixels into one, the camera outputs 12.5MP images. The Pixel 6 also comes with a secondary ultrawide camera of 12MP resolution and field of view of 114 degrees, which is a little less compared to the 120 degrees in the iPhone 13 series, and 123 degrees in the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3.
The Pixel 6 Pro comes with a triple rear camera setup, where it shares the primary wide and secondary ultrawide sensors with the Pixel 6. The third is a 48MP f/2.5 aperture folded telephoto lens for periscope style zoom. Having a focal length of 104mm, the camera allows for up to 4x optical zoom, and 20x digital zoom with Google’s ‘Super Res Zoom’ feature. Upfront, the Pixel 6 comes with an 8MP selfie camera, whereas the 6 Pro model comes with an 11MP front shooter. There are a bunch of camera features that the Tensor processor unlocks, which we will talk about in a bit.
Besides still photography, Google has also focused on the videography aspect with the Pixel 6 devices. Both smartphones can record 4K 60fps videos from the rear cameras, and 240fps slow-motion videos, along with 4K timelapse and cinematic pan. The Pixel 6 front camera can record 1080p videos in up to 60fps, whereas the Pixel 6 Pro can record 1080p 60fps and also 4K 30fps videos.
Rest of the specifications include dual SIM support with one physical SIM and one eSIM. Connectivity-wise, both Pixel 6 smartphones support 5G (Sub-6GHz and mmWave), Wi-Fi 6E, Bluetooth 5.2, wireless charging and IP68 certification for water and dust resistance. The Pixel 6 has a 4,610mAh battery, whereas the Pixel 6 Pro comes with a slightly larger 5,000mAh battery. Both support 30W fast charging and 20W wireless fast charging. Both Pixels ship with Android 12 out-of-the-box.
In terms of pricing, there is almost a $300 price delta between the Pixel 6 at $599 and the Pixel 6 Pro at $899. Although the pricing is still aggressive compared to the other latest Samsung and OnePlus flagship devices, limited differentiation between the two variants makes the Pixel 6 Pro a hard sell.
In the US, the Pixel 6 variant will compete in the affordable premium category, which saw a huge uptick in demand last year driven by the Galaxy S20 FE. US carriers are already offering good trade-in value and other promotional deals on the purchase of a new Pixel 6 device. In such a scenario, the Pixel 6 can gather strong momentum ahead of the holiday season, given it is able to maintain a strong supply at the time when the industry is facing severe shortages,” said Hanish Bhatia, senior analyst at Counterpoint Research.
Google Tensor Processor: Unlocking Smart AI and Computational Photography Experiences
Besides the new industrial design and upgraded camera hardware, the custom-built Tensor SoC is one of the big talking points of the new Pixels. Building its own custom processor speaks a lot about Google’s ambition towards becoming a vertically integrated player like Apple or Samsung, and it makes sense too. This allows Google to develop its own processor baked with impressive AI capabilities to differentiate itself from the competition. Another benefit is that the device and chipset launch timelines can be in sync, unlike earlier where the Snapdragon-powered Pixel would get outdated within a month with Qualcomm launching a new 800-series chipset in December.
“Designing own chipset gives full control to smartphone makers like Samsung and Google to add their own customizations while reducing dependence on chipmakers. Through Tensor, Google aims to have full control of the entire stack from chip to OS to middleware to cloud. Depending on the success of the in-house designing of the Tensor SoC, Google can also scale it to other products such as Google Assistant-powered smart speakers and Nest devices for edge inferencing,” said Tarun Pathak, research director at Counterpoint.
Talking about the Tensor SoC in detail, Google has made some interesting choices. Made on Samsung’s 5nm process, the Tensor SoC uses ARM’s Cortex CPU cores in tri-cluster 2+2+4 configuration:
- Two Cortex-X1-based performance cores clocked at 2.8GHz.
- Two Cortex-A76-based medium cores clocked at 2.2GHz.
- Four Cortex-A55-based efficiency cores clocked at 1.8GHz.
- 20-Core ARM Mali-G78 MP20 GPU
Google says that the Tensor SoC offers up to 80% faster CPU performance and 370% faster GPU performance over the Pixel 5.
The Google Tensor SoC also comes with a Tensor Processing Unit (TPU) for Machine Learning (ML) tasks, and an advanced image signal processing unit (ISP) for computational photography improvements. There is a Context Hub that enables low-power activities such as always-on display, now playing and assistant, and other ambient experiences. Alongside the Tensor Security core is a Titan M2 co-processor. Google says the Pixel 6 devices have most layers of hardware security.
“While there will be some apprehensions around the new Google Tensor chip, Pixel users will be able to get firsthand experience of Google’s AI prowess powered by its on-board TPU. Further enhancements in computational photography with more accurate skin tones, reduced image blur and new features such as Magic Eraser and Motion Mode, are expected to remain key selling points for the device,” added Hanish Bhatia
Google highlighted some of the breakthrough AI and ML features it is bringing to the Pixel 6 devices with the new chipset. In photography, it is bringing features like Magic Eraser, Face Unblur, Motion Mode and Real Tone.
How many times have your perfect photos been ruined by photobombers? After clicking a photo, the Magic Eraser tool will let you remove unwanted people/objects and fill in that place to look like they never existed. This is not a new feature. We have seen a similar implementation in Nokia Lumia devices before, and even in the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S4 (Drama Shot). While that was years ago, the latest implementation is likely to reflect improvements in AI and imaging since then.
There are times when we click photos of children where they are not able to stand still, resulting in blurry faces. The Pixel 6 takes two images simultaneously from the main and ultra-wide cameras. The ultrawide camera uses a faster exposure to reduce blur. The ML then fuses the sharper face from the ultrawide camera, thus offering a blur-free photo. Next is Motion Mode, which takes several photos, then determines the subject, figures out what is moving and adds static blur to the background. All this without needing fancy equipment to capture long exposure shots.
But one of the most interesting features is Real Tone. The AI systems on most smartphone cameras are designed keeping lighter complexion people in mind, or to make people with a dark complexion look brighter. Google, using ML and computational photography, improves exposure and white balance to better represent people of every skin tone.
With the Tensor SoC, Google is also making typing much faster on the Pixel 6 with the speech-to-text mode. From understanding the accent and dialect to isolating the voice, a lot of things play an important role in making natural language processing more robust and accurate. With the Tensor SoC, Google says voice typing is much faster and effortless.
Now, when you call a bank’s customer care, you have to wait till you connect to the executive, hear the menu options carefully and so on. Google aims to improve that experience by showing the expected wait time before you dial the number. Also, the IVR menu options will be transcribed and shown on the screen, so you can simply tap and select the right option.
Google has also included a Live Translation feature that works in the messaging app. If you want to reply to someone in Japanese, you can simply speak in English and the app will then translate it to Japanese. You can then hit the send button. This does away with the need to open a translation app, copy-paste the text in the message box and so on. This translation feature is also available in WhatsApp, Google Chat, Instagram, Twitter and other apps.
Lastly, there is also an interpreter mode that enables a live translation feature, helpful when taking interviews or traveling. All these features are a great improvement on paper, and it will be interesting to see how these work in real life.
- The Pixel 6 series is a big upgrade in terms of design and hardware compared to previous Pixel devices.
- Google is betting heavily on new capabilities offered by the Tensor SoC as a way to differentiate its offerings from the competition.
- The starting price of $599 for the Pixel 6 makes it an attractive option for those who want to try out the best of Google’s hardware and software improvements.