For half a decade, Google, the maker of Android, the world’s most widely used phone software, has dreamed of creating a best-selling phone that rivals the gold standard, the iPhone.
Google’s Pixel phones have consistently received positive reviews, but are selling lukewarm because of a major weakness: They relied on pre-assembled parts from other companies. As a result, they felt sluggish compared to devices from Apple, which tightly controls the quality of its iPhones by designing in-house.
With the new Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro, which cost $600 and $900 and will be available Thursday, Google believes it now has phones that are level on the playing field.
These are the company’s first phones to feature Tensor, its proprietary computer processor, similar to how Apple designed the silicon that powers its iPhones. The Tensor chip allows the Pixel phones to quickly perform complex computing tasks, such as voice transcriptions, Google said.
After a week of testing, I came to the conclusion that Google has made some serious progress with the Pixels – but it’s still a dream. The progress wasn’t enough to make me switch from an iPhone.
The new Pixels feel fast, but their computing power lags as much as 50 percent behind the speeds of the iPhone. And while many photos taken with the camera looked clear and well-exposed, some looked overly sharp. The Pixel 6’s ability to instantly translate languages into its native language also felt unfinished — it didn’t work well with some languages, like Japanese.
Here’s what you need to know.
The Tensor processor is the result of Google’s long and expensive journey in smartphone technology, including a $1 billion acquisition of handset maker HTC in 2018. To speed things up, Google has built its most complex algorithms into the chips, including advanced photography. effects and language translation, eliminating the need to connect to the online servers to perform those tasks.
The speed increases were noticeable. The Pixel 6’s movement looked buttery smooth compared to its predecessors when scrolling through apps and websites. But when I tested some of the phone’s special features, such as the ability to watch a video in a foreign language and display subtitles translated into English in real time, the results were mixed.
When I opened TikTok and searched for videos of people giving language classes in French, Italian, and Japanese, the technology performed well with French and Italian. The software has correctly translated informal ways of saying “I’m not” in French (pronounced “shwee pah” as opposed to the more formal expression “je ne suis pas”).
But it struggled with Japanese. One TikToker demonstrated a basic conversation that, when translated correctly, meant the following in English:
“Today is exhausting.”
“Yes, the workload is high.”
“Yes, that’s right. We’ll see you.”
“Yes. See you tomorrow. Thanks for the good work.”
The Pixel 6’s translation came out like this:
“I’m tired today.”
“Well, I had a lot of work.”
“That’s right. Goodbye.”
“Thanks for your hard work tomorrow.”
That translation would probably have earned a C in a Japanese language class.
These results were not surprising. The Pixel software said Japanese for translated captions was in “beta”, meaning it’s being worked on. Another sign that this feature was incomplete was that I couldn’t test the translated video captions for speech in Mandarin, which I’m somewhat fluent in, as the Pixel doesn’t support Chinese yet.
A nice camera that sometimes tries too hard
Pixel phones have always relied heavily on a combination of software, artificial intelligence and machine learning to produce clear and vibrant photos. The Tensor chip, Google said, would help the camera software take pictures faster.
To test the new cameras, I took the Pixel 6 devices and two of the latest iPhones to a park on a cloudy day to snap hundreds of photos of my corgi, Max (who now holds the record as the most pictured dog in the world). DailyExpertNews).
The Pixel 6 and 6 Pro’s cameras were fast, just as advertised, and many of the photos looked great, with realistic colors and nice shadow detail.
Still, the Pixel 6 photos often looked like the phones were trying too hard with more advanced effects. In some photos taken in “portrait” mode, where a subject in the foreground is sharpened and the background softly blurred, my exceptionally cute dog looked overly sharp, making him look much older. The iPhone 13 Pro produced a more aesthetically pleasing portrait of Max, who is 8 years young.
Often times, the colors of the Pixel 6 photos also looked too “cold,” making Max’s white mane appear blue. The color temperature could be adjusted in the camera software, but iPhone cameras generally produced photos with more natural colors without any extra effort.
All in all, the Pixel camera was very good. Zoomed shots looked clear on the 6 Pro, the more expensive model, which has an optical zoom.
Google was the first phone maker to introduce the ability to take photos in low light without using a flash, and the new Pixels still excel in this area. If I compare them to low-light shots taken with the new iPhones, I’d call it a draw.
Ultimately, the Pixel 6 and the Pixel 6 Pro are solid products. Given their starting prices, which are about $200 lower than competing high-end phones from Samsung and Apple, I can recommend them to Android fans.
But what will Google do with Tensor to make the Pixel stand out? Not only are parts of the software unfinished, but the parts the phone excels at aren’t that special.
The ability to transcribe foreign languages, for example, is useful, but it’s also something older phones can do. In recent years, when I visited countries like Thailand and Japan, taxi drivers communicated with me using Google’s Translate software – speaking into their phones and playing the English translation over the speaker. It worked with some delay, but it was sufficient.
You may reap other benefits from Google’s shift to its own silicon. The battery life in the new Pixels is much longer than in previous models – after each long day of testing, there was still plenty of juice left at bedtime. But again, this is no different from other modern phones with similar battery life.
Google’s competitors also have nice exclusive offers. Most notable is the “blue bubble” effect, or iMessage, on iPhones. Over the years, Google has gone through several iterations of messaging apps, and none have been as seamless and enjoyable to use as iMessage.
That special something — something tacky, delicious, and ubiquitous — is what Google needs to deliver to get hordes of people to switch to a Pixel. It’s hard to say what that could be.