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The 4 best Google Pixel phones: Which model is right for you?

What is the best Google phone? The Pixel 6 Pro is ZDNet's No. 1 choice. We researched and compared pricing as well as features like the processor and display size to come up with our top pick and other honorable mentions. Google is focused on providing the best camera and Android software experiences in a smartphone and now has phones ranging across a reasonable price range.
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Written by Matthew Miller, Contributor on
Reviewed by Elyse Betters Picaro

The Google Pixel and Pixel XL were released in late 2016 with the camera experience being the central focus of marketing for this Android smartphone launched by Google. The camera experience is central to the Pixel phones, largely due to the advanced software and algorithms and not directly related to having the best camera hardware.

In addition to imaging performance, Google Pixel phones are similar to the Apple iPhone with regular software updates and Android security updates. Nearly every software update brings enhancements, new features, and performance improvements. Unlike some other Android phones, you can rest assured that your Pixel phone will be supported for at least three years too.

The Google Pixel 6a was just recently announced with Google also sharing teasers for the upcoming Pixel 7 that will be launching later this year. In addition to the new Pixel 6a, other Google Pixel phones are available and worthy of consideration too.

Google Pixel 6 Pro

Tech specs

  • Processor: Google Tensor with Titan M2  security coprocessor
  • Display: 6.7-inch 1440 x 3120 pixels resolution OLED
  • RAM/storage: 12GB with 128/256/512GB internal options
  • Rear cameras: 50MP wide, 12MP ultra-wide, 48MP telephoto
  • Front camera: 11.1MP
  • Battery capacity: 5,000 mAh
  • Dimensions: 170 x 75.9 x 8.9 mm and 210 grams
  • Price: Starting at $899

The Pixel 6 Pro is clearly Google's premier smartphone with the most capable specifications, three rear cameras, and its largest capacity battery. The foundation upon which the Pixel 6 Pro is built is Google's own Tensor processor designed so that Google has full control over the entire Pixel smartphone experience.

Camera performance has always been a pillar of the Pixel experience and Google delivers yet again with the Pixel 6 Pro and its unique and distinct camera bar that sits proudly near the top of the back of the phone. There is plenty of RAM to keep things running quickly on the Pixel 6 Pro while the latest Android software is optimized for the Pixel phone experience.

There are some unique Google experiences contained in the Pixel 6 Pro that are not found in Android smartphones from Samsung, OnePlus, TCL, and others. These include the Magic Eraser tool that helps you quickly remove unwanted subjects from your photos, Google Assistant calling features, and the core Material You customization options.

Read the review: Google Pixel 6 Pro review

Pros

  • Outstanding camera performance
  • Enhanced Android software experience
  • Long battery life

Cons

  • Cellular reception
  • Fingerprint sensor
  • Very large phone
Google Pixel 6

Tech specs

  • Processor: Google Tensor with Titan M2  security coprocessor
  • Display: 6.4-inch 1080 x 2400 pixels resolution OLED
  • RAM/storage: 8GB with 128/256GB internal options
  • Rear cameras: 50MP wide, 12MP ultra-wide
  • Front camera: 8MP
  • Battery capacity: 4,614 mAh
  • Dimensions: 163 x 74.8 x 8.9 mm and 207 grams
  • Price: Starting at $599

In the past, Google offered two variants with one being considerably smaller than the other. This year, the size difference is minor, but there are some differences to consider. The Pixel 6 does not have the third telephoto camera on the back, it has a flat display rather than a curved one (this is a benefit IMHO), it has less RAM, and it has a smaller capacity battery. However, it also starts at a price $300 less than the Pixel 6 Pro.

Camera performance has always been a pillar of the Pixel experience and Google delivers yet again with the Pixel 6 and its unique and distinct camera bar that sits proudly near the top of the back of the phone. There is plenty of RAM to keep things running quickly on the Pixel 6 while the latest Android software is optimized for the Pixel phone experience.

There are some unique Google experiences contained in the Pixel 6 that are not found in Android smartphones from Samsung, OnePlus, TCL, and others. These include the Magic Eraser tool that helps you quickly remove unwanted subjects from your photos, Google Assistant calling features, and the core Material You customization options.

Read the review: Google Pixel 6 review

Pros

  • Outstanding camera performance
  • Enhanced Android software experience
  • Colorful phone options

Cons

  • Cellular reception
  • Fingerprint sensor
  • No charger in the box
Google Pixel 5a with 5G

Tech specs

  • Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G
  • Display: 6.34-inch 1080 x 2400 pixels resolution OLED
  • RAM/storage: 6GB with 128GB internal storage
  • Rear cameras: 12.2MP wide, 16MP ultra-wide
  • Front camera: 8MP
  • Battery capacity: 4,680 mAh
  • Dimensions: 161 x 73.2 x 8.8 mm and 183 grams
  • Price: $449

The Pixel 5a with 5G may appear to be a rather boring phone with an unassuming design harkening back to the Pixel 4a, but it offers a lot of power in a package priced at just under $450. There are also often sales on the phone, bringing it down to less than $400.

It comes in one color, but the black looks like a very dark green in most lighting conditions, and in one RAM/storage configuration. While the specifications are not as high-end as a flagship phone priced at two times the cost, the power of the Pixel 5a with 5G is in the Google software experience. It is powered by the latest version of Android and continues to receive regular updates along with Google's flagship Pixel phones.

Camera performance and results also continue to be a staple of the Pixel phones here with outstanding results. Given the mid-level processor and lower resolution display, the phone also lasts a long time on the high-capacity battery so you can use it for one or two days in most situations.

Read the review: Google Pixel 5a with 5G review

Pros

  • Reliable cameras
  • IP67 dust/water resistant rating
  • Long battery life

Cons

  • No 5G mmWave support
  • Recycled design
  • No wireless charging
Google Pixel 6a

Tech specs

  • Processor: Google Tensor with Titan M2  security coprocessor
  • Display: 6.1-inch 1080 x 2400 pixels resolution OLED
  • RAM/storage: 6GB with 128GB internal storage
  • Rear cameras: 12.2MP wide, 12MP ultra-wide
  • Front camera: 8MP
  • Battery capacity: 4,410 mAh
  • Dimensions: 156 x 71.8 x 8.9 mm and 178 grams
  • Price: $449

The Pixel 6a was announced by Google in May with a launch date planned for July 2022. It is likely to replace the Pixel 5a with 5G as it is priced at the same $449 value. The Pixel 6a is a major redesign for the "a" models with a design that looks similar to the Pixel 6 Pro and Pixel 6 phones. It also launches in Sage, Chalk, and Charcoal color options.

It's the first mid-range phone from Google launching with the Google Tensor processor so you can rest assured it will receive the latest and greatest software and security updates for years to come. It will likely be a best-seller for Google due to the reasonable price point for a phone that is well supported.

While it may not have the best camera hardware, Google's magic in imaging results is due to its software enhancements and algorithms. The Pixel 6a will launch with the latest in Google's intelligent photography, including Face Unblur, Magic Eraser, Night Sight, Real Tone, and more.

Pros

  • Outstanding camera performance
  • Enhanced Android software experience
  • IP67 dust/water resistance

Cons

  • Limited RAM
  • 60Hz refresh rate
  • No wireless charging

What is the best Google phone?

While the Google Pixel 6 Pro looks to be the best on paper thanks to its higher resolution display and additional rear telephoto camera, the Pixel 6 is the best overall Pixel phone at this time. It has all of the same software features as the Pixel 6 and is priced at $300 less. 

For those that capture a lot of telephoto images, the Pixel 6 Pro may be worth that extra cost, but even the Pixel 6 can capture decent quality photos from a distance.

Google Pixel phone

Price

Processor

Display size

Pixel 6 Pro

$899

Google Tensor

6.7-inch

Pixel 6

$599

Google Tensor

6.4-inch

Pixel 5a with 5G

$449

Snapdragon 765G

6.34-inch

Pixel 6a

$449

Google Tensor

6.1-inch

Which is the right Google Pixel phone for you?

If you are interested in a Google Pixel phone, it's nice to know there are not many options available to confuse you or overwhelm your decision-making process. The first consideration is price and if you have a maximum amount you are willing to spend on a phone then the price dictates which is right for you.

Thankfully, when it comes to the software experience Google provides the same experience across all of the actively supported Pixel phones.

Choose this Google Pixel phone

If you want...

Google Pixel 6 Pro

Everything Google offers in a smartphone

Google Pixel 6

To save $300 and don't need the best in telephoto performance

Google Pixel 5a with 5G

Best value Pixel and can't wait for the Pixel 6a

Google Pixel 6a

Best value Pixel with latest design and Google processor

How did we choose these Pixel phones?

This article only includes Google Pixel phones that are actively sold by Google on the Google Store. There are older model Pixel phones that continue to receive software and firmware updates, but these are only available as used or refurbished phones from retailers such as Amazon and some wireless carriers.

ZDNet reviewers tested each of these Pixel phones and we used their hands-on experiences to determine the pros and cons for each model.

How do the screen refresh rates of these Pixel phones compare to each other?

Display refresh rates are a consideration today since Android phones now support refresh rates up to 120 Hz. Displays with high refresh rates, the default is 60 Hz, allow you to scroll up and down the display faster with smoother performance. It is primarily noticeable when you swipe up and down side-by-side with devices that have different rates, but once you use a phone with 120 Hz refresh rate, it is tough to go backwards.

The Pixel 6 Pro supports a refresh rate up to 120 Hz, the Pixel 6 up to 90 Hz, and both the Pixel 5a and 6a remain at the default 60 Hz rate. 90 Hz is a decent compromise between the two and with the $300 savings I would personally choose the Pixel 6 over the Pixel 6 Pro in most situations.

Do all of these Pixel phones have water and dust resistance?

People use their smartphones everywhere today and having some level of dust and water resistance is important. You should not swim or intentionally submerge your phone for extended periods in water without a waterproof case and warranties generally do not cover water damage. However, if you are outside in the rain, accidentally drop your phone in a puddle, or spill something on your phone it should be able to survive such an incident.

Thankfully, all of the current Pixel phones have a fairly high level of dust and water resistance. The Pixel 5a and 6a are both certified for IP67 while the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro are rated for IP68.

Do all of these Pixel phones support wireless charging?

Wireless charging is a convenient way to charge up your phone without having to plug in a USB-C cord directly into the phone. Wireless charging is also now rated as fast wireless charging in many cases, but even with this "fast" rating it is still faster to charge up your phone with a direct USB-C cable.

Both the Pixel 6 Pro and Pixel 6 support fast wireless charging, but neither the Pixel 5a or Pixel 6a support this capability. All of these Pixel phones support fast charging with compatible charging adapters that are available as a separate purchase from Google.

Are there alternative phones worth considering?

To begin exploring comparable phones, check out some of ZDNet's other buyer's guides:

The TL;DR version: If you want an alternative phone that is still running Android, Samsung's Galaxy S22 Ultra is one of the best overall smartphones today -- and the best that Samsung has to offer for camera performance. And with the S Pen now incorporated into the phone, the Note lives on in the S22 Ultra. 

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