Pixel 6 first look: Google’s new chip and new cameras, starting at $599

by in a on October 24, 2021

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Thematically, Google has aimed to make the Pixel 6 work well for more people. Part of that means making the cameras work better for people with different skin tones and improving voice recognition to easily identify different speaking patterns and accents.

Of the two phones, the $599 (£599) Pixel 6 is the more affordable model. It’s priced to compete with the iPhone 13, the Samsung Galaxy S21 and other midtier Android phones such as the current Motorola Edge. For more information on the Pixel 6 Pro, check out my comparison below or read our first impressions of the Google Pixel 6 Pro by my colleague Andrew Hoyle. (Pricing for Australia hasn’t been announced, but the price in the UK, which has similar tax, converts roughly to AU$1,100.)

Google Pixel 6

The Pixel 6 has one of the most eye-catching designs of 2021.

James Martin/CNET

The Pixel 6 design highlights its camera bump strip

Google used 100% recycled aluminum for the body of the Pixel 6. The sides have a matte finish and overall the Pixel 6 has an IP68 rating for water and dust resistance. The Pixel’s defining physical feature is its horizontal camera bump strip. It would be easy to say the camera strip was inspired by Robocop’s visor, or the visor on Cylons from Battlestar Galactica. But Google said it wanted to make a unique camera bump that celebrates the camera system. So instead of a square in the corner the designers went for a strip.

Google Pixel 6 camera bump

Instead of a square in the corner, the camera bump on the Pixel 6 runs horizontally across the back of the phone.

James Martin/CNET

In person it looks like a piece of a black mineral that has been cut, shaped and polished into a camera bump that keeps your phone level so it doesn’t wobble. The camera bump houses wide and ultrawide cameras (more on those in a moment).

On the front of the Pixel 6 is a 6.4-inch display covered in Gorilla Glass Victus with an under-display fingerprint reader. The screen has a 90Hz high refresh rate, which should make animations look smoother and feel more responsive.

Tensor defines the Google Pixel 6

The brains of the new Pixel don’t come from Qualcomm. Instead the phone’s powered by a brand-new chip called Tensor. It’s the first processor designed by Google and it’s been custom-made for the Pixel. Google said that it’s 80% faster than the Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G chip found in last year’s Pixel 5

Google wanted to go farther with software and computations and hence created the Tensor chip. As much as the camera bump strip defines the design, Tensor defines the Pixel. It allows for on-device AI like faster, more accurate speech recognition and image processing.

I asked about the possibility of seeing a Tensor chip in another device and while Google declined to comment, the company did say that this was not a one-off. 

Pixel 6 camera gets better at skin tones with Real Tone

The main camera on the Pixel 6 has a wide angle lens and a 50-megapixel sensor, which is the largest sensor ever in a Pixel camera. The camera uses pixel-binning to combine multiple pixels together to create a 12.5-megapixel photo. The results are brighter photos with better details and more accurate colors. Google claims the new main camera can capture 150% more light than the main camera on the Pixel 5.

There is a new ultrawide camera with a 12-megapixel sensor and a 114-degree field of view. Around the front is an 8-megapixel selfie camera.

Google Pixel 6 sample photos

These are three photos Google provided us with that were taken with the Pixel 6.

Google

But if there’s one thing Google Pixel cameras are known for, it’s software and computational photography. Google designed the Pixel cameras and computations to be more accurate no matter your complexion with Real Tone. For the past 18 months Google has partnered with directors, photographers and cinematographers like DP Kira Kelly and colorist Alex Bickel, known for their beautiful depictions of communities of color. The idea was to improve the Pixel’s cameras and algorithms in two ways.

The first is detection. Google wanted the phone to be able to identify a face, no matter how light or dark someone’s skin is or how complex the lighting is. The second part is working with engineers to improve the aesthetics of how photos were rendered. When a subject has a darker complexion, the algorithm adds more nuance to midtones and undertones.

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