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The Pixel 6 feels like the first real, premium Google phone

Pixel 6 Pro
Pixel 6 Pro (Image credit: Google)

The Pixel series started with a simple premise: the best of Google in a phone. But Google's journey from Pixel 1 through to Pixel 5 has been anything but smooth. As we broke down in our 'Pixel Imperfect' feature around 18 months ago, each of the first four generations of Pixel flagships was undone by basic hardware oversights. Whether it was the Pixel 2 XL and its lackluster screen or the Pixel 4 with its famously terrible battery life, there was always something holding these flagship Pixels back.

So the Pixel 5 was a break from the norm. Cheaper, with killer battery life and a (largely unchanged) camera, the Pixel 5 remained competitive at its aggressive price point. Despite its less powerful CPU, the Pixel 5 is the best Pixel yet, but it's not the true flagship many enthusiasts were hoping for.

And, with Google having apparently pivoted away from traditional flagship phones in 2020, many of us were left wondering what's next for the Pixel brand. The conventional wisdom seemed to suggest it might stay in the relatively safe mid-range space?

The reality, it seems, is quite the opposite. With the Pixel 6 series in general, and the Pixel 6 Pro in particular, high-end Pixels are back. And if the early details revealed by Google are anywhere near the mark, these phones look poised to make the first five generations of Pixel look like boring trial runs for the first real Google smartphones.

Google unveiled the design and core features of the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro in a Pixel teaser today. While Google only revealed the processor and the camera configurations, the details point to a high-end phone likely accompanied by a high-end price tag. The vanilla Pixel 6's flat screen, larger bezels, and dual camera suggest a lower price point, but there's little doubt that the 6 Pro will seek to challenge the best Android phones of the moment.

This year's Pixels will challenge the best phones from Samsung and OnePlus.

At the center of the most Googley Google phone yet will be the firm's new Tensor processor, a.k.a. GS101, a.k.a. Whitechapel. While specs haven't been confirmed, the Google-designed chip reportedly uses a tri-cluster design with two ARM Cortex-A78 cores, two A76 cores, and four A55 cores. That could put it behind the Snapdragon 888 and Exynos 2100 in terms of raw horsepower, especially in single-threaded tasks. But, as AC's Jerry Hildenbrand writes, Tensor doesn't need to score top marks in synthetic benchmarks to power the most premium Pixel yet.

Google is said to be working with Samsung LSI on the chipset. The [Google Tensor] could be fabricated on Samsung's 5nm node, just like the Snapdragon 888 and 780G, as well as the Exynos 2100. The 5nm node should deliver additional efficiency gains, and we'll have to wait and see how the Pixel 6 holds up in this area.

There's more to this than just CPU cores, though. Tensor could save power by passing on the Cortex-X1 cores used in Qualcomm and Samsung's latest offerings and make up the difference in superior AI performance. Google has dabbled in custom chips in Pixels in the past, with its Pixel Visual Core, Pixel Neural Core, and Titan M security chip. Even before the recent Pixel 6 announcement, XDA's Mishaal Rahman had reported that a dedicated TPU (Tensor Processing Unit) will indeed be coming to Google's next-gen chipset, likely a distant descendant of the Neural Core, last seen in the Pixel 4 series.

In short, even without trailblazing single-core performance, Tensor could enable AI features that simply aren't possible on rival Android phones. And thanks to a leaner CPU cluster, it could do so while saving power compared to high-end Snapdragon.

Google is keeping the exact specifics to itself for now, but a Tweet from the @MadeByGoogle account paints the broad strokes. "The highlight of Tensor is that it can process Google's most powerful AI and ML models directly on Pixel 6," the account says, "You'll see a transformed experience for the camera, speech recognition and many other Pixel 6 features."

Pixel 6 Portfolio

Source: Google (Image credit: Source: Google)

It's also important to note that, with Qualcomm out of the picture, Google would have almost full control over how long it wants to support the Pixel 6 series in the future. At the very least, we'd expect Google to match the four years of security updates now promised by Samsung flagships. Tensor could allow for a much longer support lifespan, perhaps even matching some iPhone models.

After a year of boring Pixel designs, a breath of fresh air.

The Pixel 6 Pro's design also screams "premium" — a refreshingly punchy aesthetic after an incredibly dull year in Pixel hardware designs. With a 6.67-inch screen diagonal, the Pixel 6 Pro lands comfortably within "big phone" territory — the first large-screened Pixel in two years. Dual stereo speakers are also reportedly present, meaning the dual-tone paint job isn't the only Pixel 2 XL throwback feature in the new model.

Pixel 6 Pro camera

Source: Google (Image credit: Source: Google)

Pixel processing magic with newly upgraded hardware.

If you're like me, though, the main attraction of the Pixel 6 Pro will be its camera setup. The Pixel's main rear camera has seen only minor upgrades since the Pixel 2 series and is long overdue a major overhaul. Google's Rick Osterloh has confirmed that's exactly what's coming, with the decidedly chonky new camera bar around the back of the Pixel 6 accommodating much larger sensors that wouldn't be able to fit in a traditional square camera bump.

And in a post on Twitter, the company has confirmed the presence of a 4X super-telephoto shooter in the Pro model. AC understands a 50-megapixel sensor will be used in the Pixel 6's main camera, a serious upgrade from previous models.

Google Tensor

Source: Google (Image credit: Source: Google)

Google's new Tensor chip is also sure to be a big deal for photography. In addition to greater raw horsepower to process the output of that 50-megapixel main camera, its machine learning prowess could represent an enormous leap forwards for image processing. One particular area where machine learning will help is video processing.

Speaking to The Verge, Google hardware boss Rick Osterloh revealed that Tensor enables the same HDR+ processing performed on still shots to be applied to every frame of 4K video from the Pixel 6. HDR video in itself is nothing new, but Pixel HDR applied to ultra-high-definition footage could make the Pixel 6 as revolutionary for video as the Pixel 1 was for photos.

Google Pixel 5

Source: Hayato Huseman / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Hayato Huseman / Android Central)

The first couple of generations of Pixel cameras were years ahead of their time in terms of computational photography. But the competition has gotten better at fancy AI photo processing quicker than Google has been able to update its camera hardware. The Pixel 6 Pro looks set to combine Google's legendary postprocessing with its biggest hardware upgrade ever. The results, especially for the main camera and telephoto, could be something very special indeed.

A true Google flagship phone is something Android nerds have been craving since the days of Nexus phones. And with the Pixel 6 Pro, that elusive combination of Pure Android, fast updates, top-end specs, and an industry-leading camera could finally be here.

This is perhaps the first real Pixel flagship. And Google, it seems, is finally trying to build the premium smartphone that only it can make.

Alex was with Android Central for over a decade, producing written and video content for the site, and served as global Executive Editor from 2016 to 2022.

37 Comments
  • The 6pro is definitely the phone I've been waiting for? My 4xl has been great but with Google making it's own chip & Samsung backing them, yep this is the one?
  • I'm curious of the Passport design. I have fond memories of my BlackBerry Passport, though, I do realize it won't look anything like that.
  • I loved my Passport SE but how is this device even remotely like a Passport?
  • Approximately when would the next Pixel release?
  • Usually September/October
  • Thank you, much appreciated
  • "930" has been shown in numerous images as either a time or a date - many are inferring that to be September 30 launch date, which certainly fits in line with release timeframes for prior generations.
  • How many chickens do you have? Ignore the fact that they're still eggs and just tell me.
  • $1000 price tag which will put it out my range.
  • No notch, no camera bump. Google gets we don't want ugly.
  • Please tell me you're being sarcastic...
  • A big year for Microsoft and Google. Nice!
  • I'll be honest, I've always liked the Pixel phones and its UI, it's my dream phone because of its simple UI which is elegant and a fantastic camera that does all the work with Google's mind blowing computational photography behind it, I think my Pixel 2 XL was the most impressive camera to this day and only my iPhone 11 Pro Max comes close to matching it in camera and I loved getting that update notification on my Old 2 XL and to this day it remains my best Android experience and I wish I never sold it after just 3 months in 2018 when I was in a bad place and had an addiction but since I've been clean and a few phones later, the Pixel is the phone I enjoy the most and call me weird but I always got excited when I saw the system update notification pop up on my 2 XL , no other phone gives me that feeling and after seeing the Pixel 5, its actually a really great phone, especially after the lacklustre Pixel 4 series. I think the Pixel 6 series will be the Pixel that Google's always wanted from the start and will get st least 4 years of software and security updates. With that said I'll most likely get the Pixel 5 and retire my S20 FE which is a good phone in its own right but One UI isn't my favourite and isn't how I like my Android experience as its top cluttered for me and I actually don't like Samsung's default icons but I still like One UI though but not as much as I like the Pixel and that's the absolute truth, can't wait to get my Pixel 5 and get Android 12.
  • Looks like a good phone. They just need to price it right. Needs to be about $200 cheaper than Apple and Samsung's flagships. People are willing to pay a premium just to be able to say they own an Apple or a Galaxy. That isn't the case for Google.
  • The Pixel 6 pro will be my next phone.
  • Pixel 6 Pro just looks amazing!!! Fall can’t come soon enough
  • $700 or less, or go home. The "a" series Pixels have shown that the pure Google experience isn't worth all that much more.
  • But now you're gonna be paying for the hardware which is something google was always lacking in. I'm sure these are gonna be pricey.
  • But the hardware is still being subsidized by user data, the collection of which is the point of any Pixel phone. No other phone has its hooks as deeply ingrained in your data as a Pixel, purely for advertising purposes; pictures, every word you type, every place you visit, every app you use.... The Pro needs to be no more than $750.
  • Thanks Alex for a great article.
  • I just need to know it's gonna have a huge battery and killer battery life for the missing piece of the puzzle and I'm in. You know this is gonna be the most expensive Pixel yet too with a painful price tag
  • Pixel 6 will b 4614mAh and the Pixel 6 Pro will be 5000 mAh. It will have all-day battery life especially an inhouse chip
  • What do u mean by top end specs
    If this so called in house chip is expected to compete 780g
    And leaked specs suggest only one of the cameras will have last years sony sensor
    Other two in pro models will have 16 mp same and 5 mp like good old days ultrawide and 5x periscopic zoom respectively
    Why cant they go like mi 11 ultra all three with 50 mp latest camera hardware?
    I have been pixel user since og
    And i have used pixel 2 , 3 and 4
    Used 5 didnt buy it cause my 4 is faster than 5
    Just battery issue is there but i use another pixel for backup at same time
    Why cant Google can offer all in one smartphone
    I have been dying to see that one since after lg nexus 5 ....
  • I’ll be getting the 4a 5G over the Pixel 6 as I don’t want to spend a grand on a phone and Google’s mid range phones are more than good enough plus I need a bigger screen so I’m opting to get the 4a 5G over the 5 as it’s almost the same as the 5 anyway. Let’s hope Google both the same amount of cameras in both models of the Pixel 6.
  • Too bad they ruined it with that horribly obtrusive hole punch selfie camera. Why would you put it right in the middle of the screen? I've used Samsung devices with centered hole punches and always been very upset and distracted by it when gaming or watching videos. Looks like my next phone is going to be an iPhone.
  • You're distracted by a little hole punch but not by a big huge notch?
  • I'd rather have a hole punch than a notch, I don't watch anything full screen on my iPhone because of the notch, I happily do that with my S20 FE and will do so again with my Pixel 4a 5G which I'm getting this fall.
  • Why no green color or any excited color for my next flagship pixel 6 pro Why do you want to make 1 thing missing everyyyytine..... Google
  • Not paying for 700.00 to 1,000 for a phone... This is 2021/22 your not the only fish in the pond...
  • That camera bump bothers me.
  • My only experience with an in-display fingerprint sensor is with the one that I have on my Galaxy Tab S6, and it is not great. Since they have decided on scrapping Soli and face unlock, I really hope the fingerprint works well on the Pixel 6 series. I am still excited, and I can't wait to see what this 6 Pro can do, and will be comparing it to my Pixel 4XL. EDIT: I totally forgot about my OnePlus 7 Pro's in-display fingerprint sensor. That one works well, so maybe there's hope after all.
  • This thing is just fugly. Giant hump, weird coloring. If I could run android on the iphone 12 pro I'd be bursting through the apple store wall like the Kool aid man to get one
  • The Pixels up until the 5 were premium phones or at least in price tag and had the premium specs that mattered but they all had one major flaw, it was the speakers with the original Pixel and the display with the Pixel 2 XL, which I think was the same with the Pixel 3 and then it was the poorest battery life with the Pixel 4 and the Pixel 5 was the first phone without any real flaws experience for the gap in the display and the camera looking a little dated, I think Google will nail the Pixel 6 series this year and will be back to doing what Google does best, having the camera by a wide marginand a great software experience.
  • The big camera bump is worrisome for me, I understand you'll be fine if you just lay your phone with the camera facing up, but I'll appreciate it if phones are sturdy as they can possibly be. Functionality aside, from an aesthetic perspective I actually like this phone? It wins in looks purely by looking different than other flagships in the market. When I first saw the s21 I didn't even realize it was a Samsung until someone told me, I thought it was some Xiaomi phone or any of the other Chinese devices that largely look the exact same.
  • If it has long use battery to match a long life OS upgrade policy, this is one I might stay Android for. The OS is OK when you get long-term OS support, and the battery is the only thing that really gets old for me. Even if you don't like the colours, there is some actual useful design in the overall product, not just style.
  • I'll still super happy with my 4a 5G Pixel. I'll wait until next year when the prices drop to pick up the 6.
  • I really like the 4a 5G and is the phone I'm most likely to get before the end of the year but I'd be lying if I didn't say that I wasn't interested in the Pixel 6 Pro, it would be my first choice.