The Google Pixel 5 hasn’t been out for that long — the phone’s only been shipping since last October — but the world of smartphones moves fast. And details about the Google Pixel 6 are already coming into focus.
We’re unlikely to see Google’s next flagship phone until later this year, but that’s not stopping Pixel 6 rumors and speculation from bubbling up. A few tantalizing leaks have given us some idea of what the phone might offer when it does arrive.
Internal code names for future Google phones leaked last year — Passport, Raven and Oriole. It’s believed that Passport refers to a potential foldable phone from Google, but that Raven and Oriole might be early versions of the Pixel 6. Perhaps a standard and an XL model?
There’s certainly room for improvement over the Pixel 5, a solid phone that continues Google’s tradition of producing great cameras but one that’s underpowered compared to some of the best Android phones out there.
Here’s what we’ve heard so far about the Pixel 6 release date, price, specs and features, as well as what we’d like to see from Google’s next phone.
Google Pixel 6 release date
Google is pretty predictable when it comes to rolling out Pixel flagships. Its marquee phones almost always debut in October. One notable exception? The Pixel 5, which moved up its debut by a day to Sept. 30 last year.
We’re expecting Google sticks to form and targets early October for the Pixel 6 launch, though there’s been no rumor or leak confirming that yet.
The Pixel 6 likely won’t be the only phone we see from Google this year. While it’s unlikely that the rumored Pixel 5 Pro is going to see the light of day, a Pixel 5a is likely to surface at some point in 2021. The Pixel 3a made its debut at Google I/O in May 2019, while COVID-19 issues pushed the Pixel 4a launch to later in the summer of 2020. We’re expecting a spring launch for Google’s next budget phone, but that could change.
Google Pixel 6 price
The pricing strategy of Pixel flagships is harder to get a bead on. While the Pixel 4 was very much pitched as a premium model starting at $799/£699, the Pixel 5 launched at $699/£599. Of course, to get that lower price, Google had to make compromises like opting for a less powerful processor than you might otherwise expect from a flagship phone.
It’s unlikely that Google will want to drop the price of the Pixel 6 even lower, so the question will be whether it goes back to producing a more premium phone or sticks with the Pixel 5’s pricing. We’re guessing it will be the latter, given that both Apple and Samsung have opted for lower entry-level prices on their phones — the iPhone 12 mini costs $699, while the Galaxy S21 starts at $799.
Google Pixel 6 cameras
The Pixel range has always had a strong reputation for excelling in the camera department. And while we’re certainly impressed with the pictures produced by the Pixel 5, in some ways that model felt like a step back. Google removed the telephoto lens featured on the Pixel 4 and continues to use an IMX363 12.2MP sensor which was pretty dated even on release.
It’s unclear if the telephoto lens will return with the Pixel 6, either as replacement for the ultrawide shooter or as a third lens. (We’d vote for the latter, in case Google is soliciting opinions.) The only persistent Pixel 6 camera rumor we’ve heard is that Google may feature an under-display front camera on its new phone.
A Google patent shows off what an under-display camera might look like, and it’s fueled hopes that the feature will appear in the Pixel 6. ZTE has already beaten Google to the punch with the ZTE Axon 20 5G, which was the first phone with an under-display camera.
Google Pixel 6 design
Google hasn’t been afraid to reinvent the look of the Pixel range throughout its various iterations, so the Pixel 6 could look markedly different compared to its predecessors.
The Pixel 5 was notable for using an aluminum chassis, while smartly incorporating bio-resin plastic to allow the phone to support wireless charging. It’s likely the Pixel 6 will also pick up that design element.
Chunky camera arrays seem to be very much in vogue these days, so we don’t expect Google to attempt to slim down the camera cutout. If anything, Google may take a leaf out of the Galaxy S21 book and figure out a way to make the camera array less prominent with the Pixel 5.
As we get closer to the fall, we’re expecting to see more concept designs and actual leaks that give us an idea of what the Pixel 6 might look like.
Google Pixel 6 display
Display refresh rates have been a major focus for smartphone screens as of late, and Google figures to remain part of that trend with the Pixel 6. Google added a faster refresh rate to its flagship phones with the Pixel 4 in 2019, and that’s likely to continue with its new device. The only question is whether Google ups the speed from its current 90Hz to 120Hz for the Pixel 6.
Google Pixel 6: Should we expect an XL model?
Google typically released two versions of the Pixel, a standard model and an XL version, though that approach ended with the Pixel 5, which is only available as a 6-inch model. To get a bigger screen, you’ve got to turn to the 6.2-inch Pixel 4a 5G. Whether Google goes back to giving us a choice between multiple screen sizes likely depends on how sales of the current models are going.
As noted above, leaked documents offer two code names that are thought to belong to the Pixel 6 — Raven and Oriole. It would seem likely that one of these is the standard Pixel 6 and the other an XL model, though that’s not a guarantee. And even if there is a second Pixel 6 model, Google could just as easily stop work on it as it reportedly did with the Pixel 5 XL.
Google Pixel 6 specs
With the likely launch of the Pixel 6 still more than half-a-year away, the full specifications of the phone remain somewhat of a mystery.
The biggest question facing Google will be what processor to use in its next flagship. With the Pixel 5, Google opted for the Snapdragon 765G, a capable system-on-chip but nowhere near as powerful as Qualcomm’s 8 Series chipsets, like the Snapdragon 865 that powered many of last year’s top Android phones.
The leading Qualcomm silicon right now is the Snapdragon 888 — it’s what’s powering the Galaxy S21 family, and you’ll undoubtedly see it inside more phones by the time the Pixel 6’s release rolls around. Opting for the Snapdragon 888 may push up the price of the Pixel 6, but there’s a possible alternative for Google.
Qualcomm has also released the Snapdragon 870 5G, which is essentially a more advanced version of the Snapdragon 865 Plus. We’d assume that chipset costs less than the 888 and could be an option for phone makers like Google that produce premium flagship phones but have an eye fixed on the overall cost. Like the Snapdragon 888, the 870 incorporates a 5G modem, so the Pixel 5 would still be compatible with the emerging wireless network standard no matter which chipset it uses.
Qualcomm touted a handful of phone makers who plan on using the Snapdragon 870, and Google wasn’t on that list, but that doesn’t preclude Google from adapting the chipset for the Pixel 6 later this year.
Or, if rumors are to be believed, Google may be about to deliver a blow to Qualcomm and go proprietary on this one, developing its own chipset with the help of Samsung. That rumor surfaced late last year, and the chips resulting from the partnership could find their way onto Pixel phones starting this year.
Google Pixel 6 battery
Previous Pixels have struggled in the battery life department. With a 4,000 mAh battery, the Pixel 5 ran for 9 hours and 29 minutes on its default 90Hz mode in our battery test, which is below average for a smartphone. The Pixel 5 does offer an Adaptive Battery feature to govern which apps draw power.
Google could go with a bigger battery for the Pixel 6, especially if it increases the refresh rate on the phone’s display. (The faster the refresh rate, the bigger the hit on battery life.)
Google Pixel 6: Will there be a charger?
There’s another battery life and charging issue that’s suddenly become relevant for upcoming phones like the Pixel 6 — will it include a charger?
Last fall, Apple became the first phone maker to stop including chargers with its phone, when it shipped all four iPhone 12 models without the accessory in the box. Apple says the move is better for the environment, and while some rival companies rolled their eyes at Apple’s decision, they also followed suit. Samsung doesn’t include a charger with the Galaxy S21 models, either.
Therefore, it wouldn’t be a great surprise to see the Pixel 6 come with little more than just a USB-C charging cable alongside the phone. Best start hoarding those power bricks just in case, as it’s looking like this industry trend is here to stay.
Google Pixel 6: What we want
By the time the Pixel 6 launches, we’ll not only be awash in current phones like the Galaxy S21, but Apple will likely have launched the iPhone 13. (And there could be additional phones from Samsung like a new Galaxy Z Fold model.) Given that level of competition, Google has its work cut out for it to make the Pixel 6 stand out from the crowd.
Here’s how we think Google can pull that off.
Three camera setup: Offering three cameras is quickly becoming something of an industry-standard (at least in flagship models), so Google’s Pixel phones are an outlier with just two rear lenses. The Pixel 6 could rectify this omission by offering a trio of cameras — a main shooter, telephoto and ultrawide camera combination. Plus, it’ll keep the Pixel’s reputation as one of the best camera phones very much intact.
120Hz display: The Pixel 5’s 90Hz refresh rate is nice, but a 120Hz would be even better and we’d love to see that featured on the Pixel 6. Especially with services such as Microsoft’s Xbox Cloud Gaming (formerly known as xCloud) bringing big-budget game streaming to phones, that higher refresh rate will really take games up a notch.
HDMI support: We appreciate that Google wants to encourage people to buy a Chromecast, but there is no excuse for the Pixel 6 not to support HDMI video out via a USB-C to HDMI connector. Being able to hook your phone up to a TV in this way is super convenient, especially when traveling. Having to use a Chromecast (not to mention having to buy one in the first place) to get content from your phone to a TV feels so archaic, so this is something that Google could easily fix.