The latest Google Pixel phones aren’t just schmick and shiny, but also innovative, tapping into the power of mmWave 5G before it launches.
There’s a lot happening in Android phones, though this year can feel more like the interesting mobile choices have largely become part of the mid-range. With the world of 5G dipping to below the $500 mark, high-speed 5G may not be the whiz-bang feature it once was, and so flagship phones have needed to be very different to grab attention, even in the small numbers they arrived in.
Take the Oppo Find X3 Pro, which offered a big screen 5G experience earlier in the year, and tried to make things different by packing in a microscopic camera, something we found was a bit of a gimmick in our review, but was interesting nonetheless.
Samsung tried giving its flagship Galaxy S21 Ultra the support of its S-Pen stylus this year, while also offering a foldable and flippable phone, the latter of which was strong, but desperately needed better battery life.
And that has largely been it for flagship Android phones in Australia, with almost everything else focused on the mid-range or below.
Fortunately, there’s still a little more coming in high-end Android devices, and Google may well be the last company to show something off, with two devices ready for launch, continuing the Pixel range.
2021’s Pixel 6 detailed
The latest phones are the Google Pixel 6 and Google Pixel 6 Pro, two similar models focused on delivering best-in-class performance at different screen sizes, provided you like big and bigger. Much like the iPhone 13 Pro and Pro Max models, these are large phones made from aluminium and glass, arriving with feature sets built to impress, though one doing so better than the other.
First there’s the Pixel 6, a phone sporting a 6.4 inch Full HD+ display supporting between 60 and 90Hz with 8GB RAM, a minimum of 128GB storage, and Android 12.
Bigger again, the Pixel 6 Pro pushes the envelope just that little bit more, with a 6.7 inch Quad HD+ display supporting between 10 and 120Hz, 12GB RAM, and a minimum of 128GB storage, plus that Android 12 thing.
The use of Android 12 is important because like all Pixels before it, the “Pixel” serves as a showcase for Google’s latest version of Android. With Android now up to version 12, that’s exactly what it’s being used for here, with either Pixel 6 model arriving with Android 12 out of the box and ready for action, complete with customisable colourful overlays.
However that’s not the only big deal feature being launched.
A processor like the one uses on Google’s servers
The Pixel 6 and 6 Pro both include a new processor designed by Google to handle performance, efficiency, and security in spades.
Named after the machine learning technology “TensorFlow” used by Google and modelled on the chips that power its Google search servers, the Tensor Processing Unit or “TPU” essentially leverages the research used to make server-grade chips and throws it into a phone, working with AI and machine learning research to make a phone into a very capable machine.
Some of the features developed from Tensor include voice-to-text transcription, with this working entirely on the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro phone with no connection to the web being needed.
Google confirmed that its Tensor Processing Unit could handle transcription in real-time without needing to be connected, and would also do the same when it came to translating foreign languages, allowing friends and family to send you a text in a foreign language, having it translated for you into the language you speak, and then translating your words on the way out so they can read it. There’s a lot going on there, and the company says it won’t make its way back to the cloud, keeping the whole conversation completely private.
The Tensor Processing Unit comes with a bunch of parts, feature a CPU, GPU, machine learning, and a security core, with Google noting it includes more layers of hardware security than any other phone out there.
Neither model will include more cameras than any other phone out there, mind you, but they do aim to be impressive.
Cameras and AI for improvements in photography
For both the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro, Google will offer a sizeable 50 megapixel camera alongside a 12 megapixel ultra-wide. Meanwhile, owners of the Pixel 6 Pro will see an extra camera, with a 48 megapixel 4X telephoto camera featured alongside.
Both will also support some other features to the camera world, including a portrait mode that doesn’t need to use another camera for the background, an “action” image that separates the foreground from the background and blurs the back for more motion-based action shots, plus a “Magic Eraser” mode that uses similar machine learning to work out when something is unnecessary in the background and to clone it out, making it disappear. All in all, it sounds a little like having a tiny automated copy of Photoshop doing all the work.
There’s also one other big difference between the models, and it’s one that may come down to future-proofing.
While both the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro are launching in Australia with 5G, only one launches with two 5G technologies under its hood, and is a real first in the country.
Australia’s first mmWave 5G phone
The Pixel 6 Pro will also get something before any other phone in the country, launching with both the standard Sub-6 5G technology, as well as the up-and-coming mmWave 5G that has yet to go live across Australia.
With the spectrum only recently sold off, mmWave is expected to be gradually switched on as the year ends with more of the country getting it in 2022, and the Pixel 6 Pro appears to be ready for it.
The smaller model won’t get the mmWave support, missing out and getting the more standard Sub-6 5G, which can still pick up speeds as high as 2Gbps, though mmWave will possibly hit more when it’s live.
Regardless of the model you’re looking at, it’ll arrive alongside a heap of other features, including water resistance, wireless charging, and an in-screen fingerprint sensor, with the Pixel 6 range also doing away with the facial login this round. Rather, you’ll have to rely on your hands to log you in, and let your fingers do the talking, so to speak.
Australian pricing and availability for the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro
Your wallet will also get to do the talking, though with a starting price of $999 for the 6.4 inch Pixel 6 and $1299 for the Pixel 6 Pro, it mightn’t hurt too much.
As it is, all three telcos will have plans at launch, some of which will even carry less expensive pre-order pricing, with Telstra offering each Pixel 6 model for $200 less in pre-order, seeing the 128GB Pixel 6 for $799 rather than $999, while the 128GB Pixel 6 Pro for $1099 in pre-order over its regular price of $1299.
Will a mid-range Google Pixel return to Australia?
One thing Google didn’t confirm was whether these new flagship phones will be accompanied by a mid-range phone, as the case has been for the past few years.
Previously, Google’s Pixel 5 was joined by both the Pixel 4a and Pixel 4a with 5G, less premium models made for a most value-driven price, but they appear to be missing in action. When quizzed over a replacement to both models — neither of which can be found at Google’s Australian store — local representatives for the company didn’t have anything to say.
That could mean a new Pixel “a” variant is in the pipeline, or that Google will release its overseas replacement, the Pixel 5a, sometime soon in Australia.
For now, the attention appears to be on the flagship, with the $999 Google Pixel 6 and $1299 Google Pixel 6 Pro set for release in the coming weeks.