Pixel 6 Pro: (Very) First Impressions

The honkin' large Pixel 6 Pro, alongside a much smaller Pixel 5.

My Pixel 6 Pro arrived yesterday, and I switched everything over last night and have been playing with it since. I haven’t had enough time with it to do everything that it’s capable of, but in the time I have had it, I have formed some definite opinions and first thoughts. Let me tell you about them, with the caveat that they are first impressions, not final thoughts, and therefore may change over time. Got it? Let’s dive in.

1. Holy shit is this phone big. I went with the Pixel 6 Pro because I do a lot of photography with my phone and of the two new Pixel phones, the Pro is the one with the most complete camera package (a 50MP standard camera, a 12MP ultrawide and a 48MP telephoto with 4x optical/20x digital zoom), and I really wanted that upgrade. I got it knowing it would be large, but I wasn’t quite prepared for how large it would be, particularly in comparison to the Pixel 5 that I came to it from. You can see the difference visually between the two of them in the above picture, but what you can’t see is the weight difference (substantial!) and also the difference in how one has to navigate the world with these phones. The P5 is pocketable and designed so that you don’t really have to worry if you drop the thing. The P6P, on the other hand, is glass on both sides and feels like it’s trying to escape one’s grip. It’s the first phone that I immediately put a case on and paid for the repair and replacement warranty, because I think it’s a question of when, not if, I drop and crack the thing.

I don’t love that! I don’t regret getting the P6P, but it’s definitely the largest phone I have ever had. That’s going to take some getting used to. The standard Pixel 6 is not that much smaller, so even going “down” to that would still have the same problems, size-wise. I’m kind of hoping that when the Pixel 7 rolls around, they might have a more modestly-sized phone back on the menu. In the meantime, it’ll be a while until I’m completely comfortable with a phone this huge.

2. Is what I’m getting out of the new camera set-up worth the size/mass increase in the phone? Early indications point to yes — particularly with that new 4x optical telephoto, which makes the phone a far more capable shooter than it was before, when one had to rely on Google’s software to make a digital zoom work. Google’s digital zoom tech is pretty good, but it’s not as good as an optical zoom. Here’s an example of the zoom at 4x, with the picture otherwise unedited:

It’s pretty nice! Good sharpness, not a lot of “watercolor effect,” and nice color and clarity. I’ll have to take a bunch more pictures with it in a number of different circumstances before I come to any final decision — I haven’t even looked at the new “motion blur” options the camera offers yet — but I can say that so far I like the look of every picture I have taken with the Pixel 6 Pro. The camera, so far anyway, is living up to the billing.

(And since people will ask, I’m fine with the beefy camera bar on the back. One, it means the phone doesn’t wobble when you put it down, which is a plus, and two, I have a case on the camera which means it’s rather less prominent than it might otherwise be.)

3. The Pixel 2 and 3 had a fingerprint scanner on the back of the phone, which I loved. The Pixel 4 did not and replaced it with facial recognition, which I did not love, because it was finicky and also didn’t work with masks. The Pixel 5 returned the back fingerprint scanner and I once again loved it. Now the Pixel 6 (and Pro) have moved the fingerprint scanner onto the screen in the front and… I don’t love it. It’s more finicky and slower than the back scanner and also is light-operated, which means if you use it in bed in the middle of the night, you get zapped in the face with a bright light. Yes, very briefly, but still. I also don’t find the placement of the on-screen fingerprint scanner very convenient, although others have said they like it. The phone does feature the ability to “double-tap” the back in order to do various things, which I do like; I have it set to bring up notifications.

4. The Pixel 6 Pro’s screen is a) huge and pixel-dense, b) pretty bright, c) able to refresh at up to 120Hz. Lots of people find the latter pretty impressive, although so far, honestly, I can’t tell that much difference between it and the Pixel 5’s 90Hz refresh rate. Maybe my eyes just aren’t that sharp. Also, it really matters which apps you’re using; the Twitter Android app, for example, seems to catch and snag when I scroll through it, no matter what the screen refresh rate is. So: Meh? It’s a nice screen! It’s fine! But apparently after a certain point I just can’t tell how “fast” the screen is.

5. Battery life on the P6P so far is… fine. Not as impressive as the Pixel 5, which for how I used it really seemed to sip power, but on the other hand I charged the P6P last night and have been using it reasonably heavily in the 16 hours since then and it’s at 34%, which is… fine! Not great. But fine. Pixel battery life does tend to improve after a bit because the phone learns how you use it and tweaks power commensurately, so I expect it to improve moderately from here. But I don’t expect to be amazed with it like I was with the previous Pixel phone.

6. And that’s about it for now — there are lots of new capabilities of the P6P that I haven’t tried out yet (no one to try out the new on-the-fly Google Translate function with, for example, and I have yet to call a service number so as to employ the new “transcribe and hold for you” capability, and so on). Again, these are early impressions. After I live with the phone a bit longer, I’ll have more to say.

Should you upgrade to the Pixel 6 Pro, or its slightly smaller sibling, the Pixel 6? Well, if you’re already used to really large phones, and it’s been a couple of upgrade cycles since your last phone, and you want a very excellent new camera set-up, then either is worth your look. If you like smaller phones and/or are happy with your current phone, I’d say you’re probably fine not. Make no mistake, I’m looking forward to what my new phone can do, with its cameras and everything else. I just wish it were smaller.

— JS

21 Comments on “Pixel 6 Pro: (Very) First Impressions”

  1. I wonder when they’re going to stop calling them phones. It’s a pocket (big pocket) computer where one of the functions is a phone. Regardless, enjoy, it takes great photos. Probably better than my SLR.

  2. Gin:

    Nah, I dislike lots of things about the iPhone from a functionality point of view. Also, the top of the line iPhone is ever-so-slightly larger than the Pixel 6 Pro. So that’s a double nope from me.

    Also, I’d like not to make this Yet Another Apple vs Android Thread. I find those very predictable and not especially useful. I prefer Android generally (and Pixels specifically) but if other people like iOS and Apple, good for them.

  3. My P6 Pro should be here on Tuesday, and I’m excited. Coming from a P2XL so the size difference shouldn’t be TOO horribly major. I got my case already and it doesn’t seem all that much bigger than my current phone, but still looking forward to getting my hands on it :D

  4. Been thinking of upgrading as well. Coming from a Pixel 3XL, so similar size. But the move of the fingerprint sensor to the front just seems bad. It’s so easy to get your finger right on the sensor on my 3XL. Especially with a case, the circular cutout is a piece of cake to use in the dark. If I do upgrade, it’ll be after the prices drop or they do a sale.

  5. I have an iPhone 8 plus now. After reading your review I’m wondering about maybe getting the Pixel 5 as a replacement

  6. I also prefer the smaller form factor phones and I hope they keep getting produced. The large phones just feel ungainly. Plus, I have a tablet for the couch or games or for reading – there isn’t really anything I’d want to do on a large form factor phone that I wouldn’t rather do on the tablet.

  7. The largest phone you’ve ever had? Dude, you’re old enough to remember rotary phones!

  8. Got mine yesterday, and ironically one of the things I’m not a fan of is that it’s roughly the same length as my 3XL but narrower – that plus not having an Otterbox on it yet means it’s already tried to jump to its death once (onto carpet, so it failed miserably, plus I have the service plan exactly for this reason). I am definitely an outlier with respect to phone size so I expect a lot of people will find it either the right size or too big! (Old eyes, you know. I need that extra space for bigger fonts.)

    It has the usual set of Google features that I don’t want and had to disable, but I’m accustomed to that part so it wasn’t terrible (I still can’t figure out how to swipe away notifications from the lock screen).

    Didn’t lose anything important (that I know of) during the transfer to the new phone, that step gets easier every time and this was no exception. So far, it’s been pretty good. Looking forward to getting it properly equipped!

  9. I’m still waiting for mine to ship. I was one of the unlucky ones that had trouble ordering and it took about an hour. Can’t wait to get my Pixel 6 Pro!

  10. I wonder if some of the power drain is Android 12. I upgraded my Pixel 5 to that last week, and I noticed the power draining to almost 20% with no real activity between 7am and 10pm; previously it would still be at 80%. After a couple of reboots it seems to be mostly sane again.

    So it’s possible there might be some stuck process chewing up CPU and a reboot might help.

    (Android 12 also has an awful task switcher grey background which sometimes glitches, and the pull-down quick tiles are ugly; I’m hoping there’s an update will fix them as well).

  11. When my Pixel3 died I wanted a phone I could use one handed and, since the new pixel was months away, I said what the heck and got an iPhone SE2 and have now moved to the iPhone 13 mini. Which is nice and small. But the face unlock was alternately too aggressive or failing completely so I just spend the extra half second to enter the PIN. I really miss having a fingerprint unlock on the back.

    Don’t much care about the camera since I have a Real Camera. A Nikon Z6ii. Why no, I’m not snobbish about that at all.

  12. My Pixel 4a was slowly dying (I’m hell on batteries.) and everyone low the Pixel 6 was going to start at $999 for the low end phone. So I bought the 5a in September. Then of course the price leaked and was actually right. So I have a very nice phone that works well, and it’s depressing as hell.

  13. Thanks John, you’ve solidified my decision to keep my Pixel 5. Until it either breaks or the Pixel 7 is better than the 6

  14. Just curious what you would think about it if the camera isn’t one of the considerations. I am not a photographer and I generally only take pictures for purely practical reasons so as long as I can read it I am fine. But the biggest thing I keep hearing about all new phones is the camera that I really don’t want to spend much money on.

  15. Quick answer: The little one.

    I carry both an iPhone and Android phone, for various reasons that I won’t bore anyone with. After using both iOS and Android for many years … meh. They’re close enough nowadays that yeah, they’re both fine, just fine. Who cares.

    One of them is considerably smaller than the other, lighter, less battery life, weaker camera, all that.

    Which one ends up sitting on my desk a lot, and which one ends up in my pocket at all times? Big one on the desk, little one in the pocket. Which do I take more pictures with? Little one. Which one do I struggle with because its icons are kinda small compared to my fingertips, but use it anyway? Little one.

    Because at the end of the day, the little one is small and light enough that I hardly notice that it’s in my pocket. The big one? It’s a barge, a brick, a gravitational mass. It’s this constantly noticed lump that weighs down my pocket, makes my pants lopsided, gets in the way when I bend down, is too heavy to carry at all in shorts and sweats and any clothes without a belt.

    I’ll probably always have a big battleship-grade phone because the battery life and speed and screen and camera make it very useful for some things. And having a second backup phone can be very handy. It’s a good multitasker. It justifies its existence.

    But I will for sure always have a smaller phone, because it is an all-tasker, not perfect for some things, but more than good enough, and it is always always an easy choice to bring along.

  16. John – Pixel aside, how do you get such clear photos? Especially when zoomed. Mine generally end up fuzzy or with some motion artifact.
    Does Pixel have motion compensation software?

  17. My Pixel 6 Pro is – per FedEx – arriving Monday, and I’m coming from the Pixel 4 XL (on which I am dictating this comment right now!). So hopefully the larger size won’t be as noticeable, given that the 4XL is pretty large also.

    Have you tried the voice recognition yet? It’s supposed to be improved a bit, with the new Tensor SoC. I’m so used to saying the punctuation, it’ll be interesting to see whether the Pixel 6 can insert it all automatically. Also – do you have 5G service anywhere near you? I’m wondering if the lower latency and higher speed is actually noticable (my 4G LTE seems more than fast enough, to be honest).

    My 4 XL just upgraded itself to Android 12 a few days ago, so at least I’m ready for that aspect.

  18. 50 Megapixels is crazy overkill for that size sensor. In telescope design there is something known as the Raleigh criterion that defines the minimum angular separation of two stars resolved by a perfect lens, based upon the wave nature of light. If you take this and apply a bit of math, you can come up with the maximum resolution of a lens in megapixels. It turns out that in the case of a small sensor like in a phone the lens can only resolve about 5 or 6 megapixels.

%d bloggers like this: