I’ve spent several weeks with the Google Pixel 6 Pro now, and even more time with the Apple iPhone 13 Pro, two of the very best new smartphones you can buy at the moment. The iPhone has always been my default smartphone for photography when I’m not reviewing a new device, but I don’t think the iPhone 13 Pro is Apple’s best, and spending more time with the Pixel 6 Pro has only reinforced that opinion.
The iPhone 13 Pro is just not quite good enough
The iPhone 13 Pro’s camera is very good, but the Pixel 6 Pro’s camera is better, and I do think the iPhone 12 Pro’s camera was better too. It was the iPhone 12 Pro’s camera that made me reach for the iPhone when I wanted a brilliant photo in almost any situation, but now having had the Pixel 6 Pro in my pocket and seeing just what it can do (and what the iPhone 13 Pro can’t) Google’s top smartphone has become my choice.
Here’s a wide-angle photo to illustrate my point. The first is shot on the iPhone 13 Pro and it isn’t great. The sky is blown out, the grass is dreary and cold, and the distortion makes the house in the background an homage to the Leaning Tower of Pisa. I wouldn’t think about sharing the picture on social media, at least not without trying to improve the way it looks with a filter or editing.
The second shot above was taken with the Google Pixel 6 Pro just a few seconds after the iPhone 13 Pro’s photo. The sky has been balanced far more attractively, the grass is green and warm, the house isn’t quite so angled, and the general tone and feeling is of a fall day, while the iPhone 13 Pro’s photo is of a harsh winter’s day. The iPhone 13 Pro’s wider-angle camera is obvious, though. Forced to share one without editing, it would be the Pixel 6 Pro’s photo, and it was more representative of real life too.
I don’t want this to turn into a Pixel 6 Pro vs. iPhone 13 Pro camera story, but I will say that the iPhone 13 Pro does beat the Pixel 6 Pro in some areas. In particular, if the subject is up close, the iPhone wipes the floor with the Pixel 6 Pro. The photos of the leaves here really show the iPhone 13 Pro can take stunning, beautiful photos when everything is exactly right.
However, the times when the iPhone 13 Pro does beat the Pixel are few and far between, so it hasn’t endeared itself to me. I have found myself longing for the Pixel 6 Pro when I have another Android phone with me alongside the iPhone, and I’ve never had that feeling before, as, despite the prowess of older Pixel phones, the iPhone’s camera has always suited my taste more. Not so this year. I have used and enjoyed the Pixel’s special camera modes more than the iPhone’s Cinematic video mode too.
Is my appreciation of the Pixel 6 Pro only based on the camera? No, the Android 12 software has also helped shape my positive opinion of the Google Pixel 6 Pro since it was released. What attracted me most, and continues to make living with the phone so pleasing, is its relative simplicity. Google’s Material You design isn’t intrusive, makes good use of space around fonts and options, and presents everything in a very clear manner.
Notifications are a good example of how friendly Android 12 is on the Pixel 6 Pro. The always-on screen shows icons for current notifications, and when you press the power key a pretty fade-in animation shows more detail. If the phone is unlocked you can press the arrow icon to expand notifications, and almost all are ready for some degree of interaction without going into the right app. When you clear your notifications, you can choose a massive clock to show on the sleeping screen, which is then overlaid on your wallpaper when you wake it up. Plus, everything is shown in colors that complement that wallpaper.
It’s lovely, but crucially, it’s fast too. Attractive animations and designs aren’t unusual on Android phones, but speed and reliability can be more hit-or-miss. The Pixel 6 Pro has performed without a problem for me, with none of the bugs some others have highlighted showing up at all. Meanwhile, I continue to have an annoying bug on the iPhone 13 Pro, where the Settings menu freezes upon opening, requiring not one but two forced closures before it works again.
For me, Android was always functional but never very pretty, and to make it attractive, you had to spend time customizing it. I’m not a designer, so even when doing this, the results were mostly mediocre. Android 12, on the other hand, is pretty right out of the box, and by adding your own wallpaper, the operating system comes alive, all without any messing around.
Waiting for an update
Has life in Pixel-land been all sunshine? No, the fingerprint sensor’s “enhanced security” makes it slow and annoying, and the update which Google had mentioned was incoming to perhaps speed it up has not arrived on my phone yet. I’ve lessened the pain of the sensor’s slowness by relying on Smart Lock unlocking the phone based on location and proximity, but it is far from the perfect solution. I’m still using my PIN to unlock this phone far more than on any other in recent memory. I’m very much looking forward to finding out how Google tweaks the fingerprint sensor when the update arrives, as it’s the worst part of ownership so far.
The battery has continued to impress, though, with general use over the past week or so, resulting in two days’ use before I need to recharge the phone. This is a good thing as there’s no fast charging. The way I live my life at the moment means this isn’t a problem for me, personally, but I do miss how transformative I found the OnePlus 9 Pro’s ultra-fast charging. Plug that phone in for 30 minutes, and the battery is full, while I’m back to plugging the Pixel 6 Pro in overnight. It’s wasteful and — as the OnePlus proved — unnecessary on a modern smartphone.
A month into using the Pixel 6 Pro andis looking like even better value than it already did. The camera and the software continue to shine, and the battery isn’t the drawback here as it was on older Pixel phones. If you’re still thinking about getting a Pixel 6 Pro but aren’t quite convinced, I consider the Pixel 6 Pro to be the best phone Google has made, and for the first time, I want to continue using it, and that’s not something I’ve ever felt about a Pixel phone before.