The Pixel 6 may be the most important Pixel since Google transitioned from the Nexus to Pixel phones. The Pixel 5 convinced some that Google was permanently stepping away from the flagship market with budget and mid-range options like the Pixel 4a and Pixel 4a 5G as the path forward for the company.
While Google has certainly had considerable success in that lower range, the Pixel 6 appears to be the company asserting that it can still be a force in the flagship market.
We are still likely five to six months out from the release of the Pixel 6, but we already know quite a bit about the phone including the expected price, release date, specs and more.
Pixel 6: Release date
While Google may have slipped in some ways with the Pixel 5, it did not slip on its typical release date. The Pixel 5 was officially available on October 15, 2020, which is just a week off the October 24, 2019 release of the Pixel 4.
Google consistently hits right around late September to mid-October for the announcement of its new Pixel devices with the release about a week to two weeks later. At present, we have no reason to believe Google will miss that target this year.
There’s the chance that we get some teasers at Google I/O 2021 starting on May 18, but this would be more likely details on underlying features rather than a full reveal of the phone itself.
Pixel 6: Price
One of the most intriguing questions for the Pixel 6 is the pricing. There have been no official statements or credible leaks on the price just yet. Last year’s Pixel 5 dropped to a starting price of $699, down from the $799 base price for a Pixel 4.
Google made it clear in 2020 that it wanted to push the value proposition with the Pixel lineup. There’s room to question whether that goal was achieved with the Pixel 5, but the Pixel 4a and Pixel 4a 5G certainly hit the mark. During the company’s Q3 2020 earnings call, Google and Alphabet CEO, Sundar Pichai responded to a question about a move to a mid-to-low-end hardware strategy by saying, “We have definitely shown that Pixel 4a, Pixel 5 are a clear value proposition. We’ll build on that.”
The recent renders of the Pixel 6 leaked by Jon Prosser included a Pixel 6 Pro model suggesting that we will see Google competing in the higher-end flagship market again. Until we have some further details on the Pixel 6 hardware the best estimates place the phones in the $799 to $999 range.
Pixel 6: Design
While we haven’t seen any actual photos of the phone yet, the aforementioned render leak has potentially given us a look at the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro from every angle. The renders are allegedly based on actual photos of the device seen by Prosser and received additional support from another reliable leaker Max Weinbach who only disagreed with the coloring.
By far the biggest design change is the rear camera array which would give the Pixel 6 a unique look that has been lacking from the typically minimal and fairly bland design language of the Pixel. It runs the entire width of the phone approximately 10 to 20mm from the top of the phone with separate colors above and below. It slopes off gently at the corners, which presumably should make it more pleasant to handle.
Corroborating a previous 9to5Google report, the phones show a centered hole-punch camera, a change from the left alignment in all previous Pixels. The Pixel 6 will also make the move to an in-display fingerprint sensor. No word yet on whether it will also have some kind of facial recognition.
The Pixel 6 Pro is perceptibly larger and also adds a third camera lens, but the devices look otherwise identical. No details yet on the specifics of the sizes for either device.
Pixel 6: Cameras
Pixel was the easy answer for the best camera on a phone for a few years, but it faltered a bit with the Pixel 5. Now to be fair, it isn’t that the Pixel 5 is a worse camera than the Pixel 4, it’s simply that the competition got a lot better. In part, this was due to improved computational photography for Apple and Samsung, but it was also hardware stagnation from Google.
Google’s primary 12MP wide-angle on the Pixel 5 is virtually identical to that used in the Pixel 3, while both Apple and Samsung have made dramatic improvements. Google also swapped the telephoto lens of the Pixel 4 for an ultra-wide on the Pixel 5, but the Pro models from Apple and every Samsung Galaxy S now offer a trio of lenses.
Google may still have the software advantage over Apple and Samsung, but its hardware deficit makes that a moot point. If Google is going to market the Pixel 6 as a flagship it has to finally upgrade its camera sensors.
According to the renders, the Pixel 6 will stick to a pair of lenses, presumably wide-angle and ultra-wide, while the Pixel 6 Pro will get a third sensor that we assume to be a telephoto. However, there still have been no leaks regarding the actual hardware being used.
Pixel 6: Display
The Pixel 5 offered a 90Hz refresh rate, matching that of the Pixel 4, but we would expect Google to up that to 120Hz for the Pixel 6. Samsung’s top-of-the-line has now moved to 120HZ on a QHD+ resolution, but Google is more likely to stick to the FHD+ of the Galaxy S21 and Galaxy S21 Plus.
Google will certainly stick with AMOLED to allow for always-on display mode, but we’ll otherwise need to wait for more leaks to find out whether it has more up its sleeve.
Pixel 6: Performance
This has the potential to be the most interesting upgrade for the Pixel 6 because, looking back to April of 2020, a report surfaced indicating that Google was working on its own CPUs. The code-name for the chip was identified as Whitechapel and 9to5Google recently found another internal reference to this codename associated with the forthcoming Pixel. The chip is reportedly being designed in partnership with Samsung, which is responsible for producing Apple’s chips as well.
This would be an ARM-based chip that the source indicated would use an 8-core design and feature hardware optimization for machine-learning, again, much like Apple’s A14 Bionic. Further support for this rumor came from the aforementioned Q3 2020 earnings call during which Pichai said, “We are doing some deeper investments in hardware, some of it takes 2-3 years to come together” followed shortly after by “Next year you will see us lean more into…some of our deeper investments will come into play there.
In early April 2021 9to5Google claims that its staff was given access to a document that confirmed that the Whitechapel SoC is being developed with Samsung Semiconductor using a hardware and software design similar to Samsung Exynos. The document pointed to two devices codenamed “Raven” and “Oriole” launching with the SoC, previous reports have suggested these devices are coming this fall and they are believed to be two variants of the Pixel 6.
I wouldn’t count on Google going toe-to-toe with the A14 or A15 Bionic, but it’s hard to believe that Google would make this significant investment to produce something other than a flagship-class CPU. While the Snapdragon 765G found in the Pixel 4a 5G and Pixel 5 were perfectly adequate for daily tasks, they fell woefully short of the flagship competition.
One area where the Pixel 6 may surprisingly match up with the iPhone is with an ultra-wideband (UWB) processor. This is the technology that Apple uses with AirTag, but precise location tracking is just one application it can be used to improve data transfer and communication with smart home devices as just a couple more examples. Mishaal Rahman of XDA Developers claimed to have additional confirmation at the end of April that support for the USB API in Android 12 was being tested on the “Raven” device.
Pixel 6: Outlook
While Google doesn’t appear to be in any danger of abandoning the Pixel line entirely, there was reasonable concern that it may give up on flagship phones. For fans of budget phones, this probably sounds just fine, but for those who like the idea of a powerful Android flagship that receives reliable software updates, the Pixel was one of the only options on the market with Samsung its nearest competition.
We definitely need to hear more about the actual specs of the Pixel 6 to know for sure, but so far things are quite encouraging for those like me who are hoping for a high-end phone from Google again. And for those who prefer the budget options, don’t worry, it is abundantly clear that Google values that market and as long as you are in the U.S. or Japan the Pixel 5a is coming later this year. Given Google’s poor luck keeping its hardware under wraps in recent years, there’s sure to be more updates soon, so check back regularly for the latest.