As much as I look forward to Apple’s big iPhone reveal every year, I’m more excited this year by what I’m seeing about the iPhone 13 is impressive. Better screens? Yep. Better cameras? Yep. Longer battery life? It’s there. ? Sign me up right now. (On second thought — nope, I’m not big on , and those carrier deals come with a lot of caveats anyway.)and with . (Here’s ) And I’ve been a happy iPhone owner for years, so this feeling is coming as a surprise. In part this feeling comes from Apple’s lackluster upgrades. Don’t get me wrong — the
But by and large, it was a sleeper year for the company in terms of the, at least. Sure, that smaller notch is swell, and holy smokes, have you seen the dramatic videos you can take with ? I adore those features, and I can’t say I didn’t feel my skin tingle when I watched them in action. But apart from the routine improvements to things like the processor and those features I mentioned earlier, there was a bevy of features that remained remarkably unchanged, like the and dimensions for starters. CNET’s Patrick Holland even said in his that the phone isn’t radically different from the iPhone 12.
Google’son the other hand, which was launched on October 19th, looks to be a doozy and seem to represent a massive leap forward for Google in terms of design, performance and features. Now that it has launched, the one thing I can see holding it back for some people is 5G. As far as we can tell, , which is the ultra-fast flavor of 5G provided by some carriers– and that’s unfortunate for a flagship phone. But if you’re not fussed about mmWave or if it’s not available in the area you live, then this might not be an issue for you.
Either way, here’s why Google’s Pixel 6 has me looking past the iPhone 13, but make sure to check back for our reviews of the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro.
Pixel 6 design: Splashy and bold
Take a look at the Pixel 6 and you’ll see it’s undergone a sweeping design transformation and glow-up. Gone are the squircle camera bump and the modest color palette of the Pixel 5. That design makes way for a camera bar that runs the full width of the phone, with splashy colorways and glossy metal highlights.
As a renowned mobile software developer, Google had previously designed its phones in a manner that let the Android mobile operating system take center stage. In the user’s eye, the hardware was meant to fade in to the background, serving as a mere vehicle to Android. But for 2021 Google seems to be doing away with that design philosophy in favor of a bolder, eye-catching look. I think the hardware of Pixel 6 is visually distinctive, and I think it’s clear that Google is playing to stand out in the competitive field of high-end phones this year.
Pixel 6 processor: Tensor SoC
But there may be more to the Pixel 6 than meets the eye. Under the hood, Google says, it’s equipped the Pixel 6 series with a custom-built system on a chip known as Tensor, which CEO Sundar Pichai touts as Pixel’s biggest innovation to date. It was designed in-house by Google engineers, meaning it’s been tailor-made for Android — much like Apple does with its own mobile processors.
Google’s kept mum on performance, and whether Tensor can keep up with Apple’s chips remains to be seen, but I think it stands a good chance now that it has more control over the design and development of its processor. Hopefully with that control, it could also, allowing you to hold onto a Pixel 6 for more years with security updates. Previous Pixel phones have been guaranteed three years of support, which is substantially less than the six years of support the iPhone 6S has received or the four years of support Samsung is now providing its Galaxy phones. Either way, this represents another “seismic break from the past,” as CNET’s Brian Bennet put it. Don’t forget last year’s Pixel 5 ran on the midtier Snapdragon 765G processor, which is a notch below the Snapdragon 865 built into flagship phones such as Samsung’s Galaxy S20, to allow Google keep a lid on the price.
Pixel 6 software: Android 12
Another thing I’m excited about is the software. The Pixel 6 ships with, making it one of the first phones to carry the updated mobile OS — and there’s lots to be excited about. You’ll be able to do cool things like take scrollable screenshots (finally!), a minute-by-minute privacy dashboard and the customizability of the OS looks lovely. But apart from that, Google has teased that the Pixel 6 series will lean heavily into AI, and the Pixel 6 could be the most AI-centric phone Google has ever made. That could translate into things like better language translation and even better computational photography for Pixel’s already excellent cameras.
Specs aside, maybe I’m more excited by Pixel this year because Apple has crossed that threshold where greatness is expected, if not guaranteed. Google, meanwhile, still has a lot to prove in the smartphone arena. The Pixel’s market share is minuscule compared to that of Apple’s iPhones. Or maybe it’s the fact that the iPhone and iOS already had an overhaul in 2017 with the iPhone X, while Pixel’s transformation is long overdue. But now Google is doing things many of us have been waiting years for — and with this new direction, I’m hopeful that Google’s Pixel series has the potential to be a heavyweight lineup.