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Google Pixel 6 vs. Pixel 5: Should you upgrade?

The Google Pixel 6 has been revealed at the Pixel Fall Launch, along with its larger sibling, the Pixel 6 Pro. These new phones debut an entirely new Google-made processor, the Google Tensor, which is claimed to supercharge the A.I. capabilities of the phone, as well as sport a unique design featuring the new “camera bar” visor-shaped module on the back of the phone. The Pixel 6 is the cheaper of the two, costing just $599, and despite losing the 120Hz display and third camera lens of the Pixel 6 Pro, it looks set to be a serious bargain.

Pixel-heads are likely salivating at the chance to grab the new Google phone, but what if you’re already using a Pixel 5? Is it worth upgrading from last year’s Pixel to this year’s? The Pixel 5 is still a strong contender this year, so is the Pixel 6 good enough to justify the extra cost? We took a look to find out.

Specs

Google Pixel 6 Google Pixel 5
Size 158.6 x 74.8 x 8.9mm (6.24 x 2.94 x 0.35 inches) 144.7 x 70.4 x 8mm (5.70 x 2.77 x 0.31 inches)
Weight 207 grams (7.30 ounces) 151 grams (5.33 ounces)
Screen size 6.4-inch OLED with 10-90Hz refresh rate 6-inch OLED with 90Hz refresh rate
Screen resolution 2340 x 1080 pixels (411 ppi) 2340 x 1080 pixels (432 pixels per inch)
Operating system Android 12 Android 12
Storage 128GB, 256GB 128GB
MicroSD card slot No No
Processor Google Tensor Qualcomm Snapdragon 765
RAM 8GB 8GB
Camera Dual lens 50-megapixel wide, 12MP ultrawide rear, 8MP front Dual lens 12MP wide, 16MP ultrawide rear, 8MP front
Video 4K at up to 60 fps, 1080p at 120 fps 4K at up to 60 fps, 1080p at 120 fps
Bluetooth version Bluetooth 5.1 Bluetooth 5.0
Ports USB-C USB-C
Fingerprint sensor Yes Yes, rear-mounted
Water resistance IP68 IP68
Battery 4,614mAh

30W wired charging

21W wireless charging

Reverse wireless charging

4,080mAh

18W wired charging

Wireless charging

Reverse wireless charging

App marketplace Google Play Store Google Play Store
Network support All major carriers Verizon, Google Fi
Colors Stormy Black, Kinda Coral, Sorta Seaform Just Black, Sorta Sage
Price Starting at $599 Starting at $699
Buy from Google Google
Review score News 4 out of 5 stars

Design, display, and durability

The Pixel 5 has what can be described as a “classic” look, with a punch-hole display and a squircle camera module. The metal body feels nice in the hand, but it’s hard to call it an exciting phone. By contrast, the Pixel 6 has seen a significant change in design language. While the front is similar, with a punch-hole for the selfie lens, the rear has changed enormously. The aforementioned Camera Bar is a stark black, metal visor, splitting the phone horizontally. Google has returned to an old design favorite too, and has slightly altered each model’s coloring above the Bar, recreating a two-tone look we’ve not seen since the Pixel 3.

You’re looking at similar displays though. The Pixel 5 is rocking a 6-inch OLED display, while the Pixel 6 goes slightly larger with a 6.4-inch display. Since both have 2340 x 1080 resolutions, that means the Pixel 5’s smaller screen has a slight sharpness advantage, but it’s so slight you’re unlikely to notice. Both have 90Hz refresh rates too, but the Pixel 6 has a variable refresh rate, so it’ll drop down the refresh rate in circumstances that don’t require it.

The Pixel 6’s design is likely to split opinions, but it’s certainly more interesting than the Pixel 5’s rather bland look. We’re giving this round to the Pixel 6.

Winner: Google Pixel 6

Performance, battery life, and charging

Pixel 6 screen.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

The Pixel 6 is a straight upgrade over the Pixel 5, so it makes sense the newer model is likely to be more powerful. But this time it’s not as easy as just looking at which Snapdragon processor’s number is higher, as Google is no longer using Qualcomm’s processors. Instead, say hello to the Tensor chip — a Google-made processor built around the phone’s A.I. systems. We haven’t had a chance to get to grips with it yet, but we’re expecting a flagship-level chip that puts the Pixel 5’s Snapdragon 765 to shame.

Battery life was one of the Pixel 5’s strengths, and it could be it pulls one over on the newer phone here. The Pixel 6’s battery is larger, sure, but a lot depends on the additional power draw from the new processor. Considering how good the Pixel 5’s battery was, it’s hard to see how the Pixel 6 can beat it. But we’ll have to see how it performs in our tests before we can judge. The Pixel 6 does have faster charging though, with support for 30W charging. That’s a lot of juice, very fast.

At this stage, we’re giving it to the Pixel 6’s advanced processor, but this round could change heavily depending on the review’s findings.

Winner: Google Pixel 6

Cameras

Google Pixel 5.
Andrew Martonik/Digital Trends

The camera has always been an area where Pixel phones have excelled, and both of these are no exception. The Pixel 5 was one of our favorite camera phones, and an excellent performer — thanks largely to Google’s A.I. Each phone has a solid main lens paired with an ultrawide lens, but the Pixel 6 has an advantage in pure megapixel count. Still, more megapixels don’t always mean better photos, so it’s hard to declare a winner based purely on that. The majority of this category is going to have to wait until we’ve had more time with the Pixel 6. While we expect the newer phone to be better, the Pixel 5 is good enough that we’re not willing to take it as fact just yet.

So with that in mind, we’re keeping this round as a draw. For now.

Winner: Tie

Software and updates

Welcome to your Pixel message.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

There’s not an enormous amount to say here. Both phones have access to Android 12, and both will run the Pixel-exclusive version of Android. This version is an awful lot like stock Android, but with a few additional features thrown on top. You’re not going to have radically different experiences on either smartphone.

But the new Tensor processor means the Pixel 6 has the capacity to be updated for a lot longer than the Pixel 5, and Google has specifically promised five years of security updates for the newer phone, making it a strong choice if you like your phone to stay updated and safe. It’s unclear how long the Pixel 6 will get new Android versions, as those are separate from security updates, but it’s likely it’ll be for longer than the Pixel 5. For that reason, we’re giving this round to the Pixel 6.

Winner: Pixel 6

Special features

Google Pixel 5 held in a hand.
Andrew Martonik/Digital Trends

Google hasn’t gone big on special features for either phone, but you’ll find a decent amount on both. Since a phone you buy now is likely to last well into 5G’s heyday, it’s important the phone you buy (or stick with) has access to 5G. Thankfully, both of these have 5G support. The Pixel 5 has access to sub-6 and mmWave bands, which means it can access both the high-speed and high-coverage 5G types. The Pixel 6 is a little more confusing though, and buying the phone from different carriers — or even unlocked — will mean you have access to different bands. That’s not great, as it means you may be locked out of the fastest mmWave 5G bands if you buy the wrong model of phone.

Other than 5G, both phones have some serious A.I.-focused special features. Google’s Assistant can take calls for you with Call Screen, or solve your math problems for you. As expected though, Google’s Tensor chip in the Pixel 6 takes this a step further, and Google is adding the ability for your phone to erase small elements from your photos with Magic Eraser, as well the Face Unblur feature that ensures no snaps ever have a blurred face.

The Google Pixel 6 is packing an impressive roster of features, but the confusing 5G situation is a real problem. With that in mind, this is a tie.

Winner: Tie

Price and availability

The Pixel 5, as is Google’s tradition, was put out to pasture to make room for the Pixel 6. As such, you can’t buy it from the Google Store any longer. However, you can still find it on retailers like Amazon, and prices start from $700. You can find refurbished versions for a small discount though.

The Pixel 6 is currently available for pre-order, and the price starts from $599. The phone will release fully on October 28.

Overall winner: Google Pixel 6

We’re going to get real here for a second: Don’t buy the Pixel 5 now. The Pixel 6 is more powerful, has a better design, a stronger camera, and — if nothing else — it’s cheaper as well. So if your choice is between the newer and older model, choose the newer Pixel. The major advantage of buying an older phone is the chance to buy it at a discount, and that doesn’t seem to be the case here at all. The Pixel 6 is a hands-down winner.

But what if you’re reading this on your Pixel 5, and wondering whether the Pixel 6 is worth the upgrade? In that case, maybe pump your brakes a little. The Pixel 5 is still a great phone, and we wouldn’t class the Pixel 6 as being a “must-have” upgrade. The camera is still great, the battery is strong, and the processor is powerful enough, even if it isn’t flagship-level. Consider keeping your Pixel 5 for another year, and see what the Pixel 7 has to offer.

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