If you’re a smartphone lover, Silicon Valley is spoiling you more than a little this year. Not only has Apple recently released the all-around excellent iPhone 13, but Google has just released the Pixel 6, its best phone yet. While Pixels have always been very good Androids, the sixth-generation model finds Google really pushing things to the limit, adding every feature it can to ensure it’s capable of competing with the very best flagships. This means it comes with a powerful dual-lens camera array, a big 4,614mAh battery, a speedy Google-made processor, and a gorgeous AMOLED display that supports a 90Hz refresh rate.
Of course, as good as the Pixel 6 is, the iPhone 13 is certainly no slouch. Building on the already impressive specs of the iPhone 12, it adds a longer-life battery, improved camera sensors, the new A15 Bionic chip, and increased internal storage. In other words, it’s certainly the best non-Pro (or non-Pro Max) iPhone you can buy today. Does this mean it’s better overall than the Pixel 6? Read on to find out.
|iPhone 13||Pixel 6|
|Size||146.7 x 71.5 x 7.7 mm (5.78 x 2.81 x 0.30 inches)||158.6 x 74.8 x 8.9 mm (6.24 x 2.94 x 0.35 inches)|
|Weight||174 grams (6.14 ounces)||207 grams (7.30 ounces)|
|Screen size||6.1-inch Super Retina OLED||6.4-inch AMOLED, 90Hz refresh rate|
|Screen resolution||2532 x 1170 pixels (460 pixels per inch)||2400 x 1080 pixels (411 pixels per inch)|
|Operating system||iOS 15||Android 12|
|Storage||128GB, 256GB, 512GB||128GB, 256GB|
|MicroSD card slot||No||No|
|Tap-to-pay services||Apple Pay||Google Pay|
|Processor||Apple A15 Bionic (5nm)||Google Tensor (5nm)|
|Camera||Dual-lens 12-megapixel wide and 12MP ultrawide rear, 12MP TrueDepth front||Dual-lens 50MP wide and 12MP ultrawide, 8MP front|
|Video||4K at up to 60 frames per second (fps), 1080p at 240 fps||4K at up to 60 fps, 1080p at 240 fps|
|Bluetooth version||Bluetooth 5.0||Bluetooth 5.2|
|Fingerprint sensor||No, FaceID instead||Yes (in-display ultrasonic)|
Fast charging (20W charger sold separately)
MagSafe wireless charging (15W)
Qi wireless charging (7.5W)
Fast charging (30W)
Fast wireless charging (21W)
Reverse wireless charging
|App marketplace||Apple App Store||Google Play Store|
|Network support||All major carriers||All major carriers|
|Colors||Black, blue, green, white, and red||Sorta Seafoam, Kinda Coral, Stormy Black|
|Review score||4.5 stars out of 5||News|
Design, display, and durability
The iPhone 13 is an example of Apple taking a “refinement not reinvention” approach. It looks all but identical to last year’s iPhone 12, flaunting the same flat-edged sides that you get with recent iPad Pro models. The first of only two noticeable differences is that the infamous notch is around 20% smaller. The second is that the two lenses on the rear of the phone have been given a diagonal (as opposed to vertical) configuration, which arguably looks a little more modish.
On the other hand, Google went back to the drawing board for the Pixel 6. It features a very similar edge-to-edge display as the Pixel 5 (with a punch-hole selfie camera at top center), but its rear has largely been revamped. It now features a distinctive camera bar running across its width in the top half of the back, looking much like a space-age visor. It may not be to everyone’s tastes, but it certainly does a good job of telling the world you own a 2021 phone, rather than something from a year or so ago.
Both phones are well-matched in terms of their displays. The iPhone 13’s 6.1-inch OLED screen comes 2532 x 1170 pixels, giving it a pixel-per-inch count of 460. As for the Pixel 6, it sports a 6.4-inch AMOLED display that carries 2400 x 1800 pixels, making for 411 pixels per inch. While you might assume that the superior pixel count gives the iPhone 13 the edge in this department, the scales tip back in the Pixel’s favor by virtue of its 90Hz refresh rate, something the iPhone lacks. This makes the screen update more smoothly and realistically, and together with the deeper blacks and colors of the Pixel’s AMOLED technology, makes for an impressive visual experience.
Both phones come with an official IP68 rating, meaning that they can be dipped in up to 1.5 meters of water for up to 30 minutes. Despite being the same in this respect, we’re calling a narrow victory for the Pixel, mostly because of its more adventurous design.
Winner: Google Pixel 6
Performance, battery life, and charging
Rather than opting for a Qualcomm Snapdragon, the Pixel 6 uses Google’s new Tensor chip. This is a processor made using 5nm transistors, implying that it should outperform previous generations, which had used 7nm-based chips. However, benchmarking tests have yet to assess just how fast the new processor is, so can we can only assume that it’s capable without knowing just how capable. Needless to say, with 8GB of RAM, you should expect the Pixel 6 to be able to handle pretty much every app and task you’re likely to throw at it. The same goes for the iPhone 13, which uses Apple’s A15 Bionic processor. Again, this is a 5nm-based chip, making it highly efficient, and even though the iPhone carries only 4GB of RAM, differences between iOS and Android make this more than enough.
Both devices also offer 128GB of internal memory as standard, which is good enough for most people (assuming you’re not a professional photographer or compulsive app downloader). The iPhone 13 can be had as a 256GB or 512GB version (for extra money), while Google gives you the option of bumping the Pixel 6 up to 256GB (again for extra money). Neither houses a microSD card slot, so your initial choice is all the physical space you’re going to get, so pick carefully.
The iPhone 13 comes with a 3,240mAh battery, while the Pixel 6 packs a 4,614mAh cell. Our review of the iPhone found its battery can last a day and a half under a moderate-to-heavy usage regimen, something helped by the optimizations included in the A15 Bionic. So while it isn’t as big as the Pixel’s battery on paper, it’s likely that both phones will offer similar battery life in practice. Of course, we haven’t given the Pixel 6 a full review yet, so this provisional conclusion could be subject to change.
Both phones also support fast charging, with the Pixel letting you top up at 30W and the iPhone doing the same at 20W. Both also support wireless charging (iPhone at 15W and Pixel at 21W), so when taken together with their comparably fast chips, we’re calling this round a tie.
As with the iPhone 12, the iPhone 13 uses a dual-lens camera setup, comprising a 12-megapixel wide camera lens and a 12MP ultrawide lens. These both feature the same aperture sizes as last year’s model, although the iPhone 13 does in fact enhance its wide lens with sensor‑shift optical image stabilization. This offers more responsive and dynamic image stabilization, which is better able to adapt to movement (of the phone) when taking pictures. Aside from a few minor software tweaks, there isn’t much else that’s different. This means you get a highly usable and consistent camera experience, regardless of the environment.
With the Pixel 6, you do get something quite different from its predecessor. While there’s once again a dual-lens rear camera, the 12MP wide lens of old has been replaced with a 50MP alternative. At the same time, it has also been treated to laser autofocus, omnidirectional PDAF (phase-direction autofocus), and a bigger aperture, so it really is a different beast from the Pixel 5’s wide lens. While we haven’t tested it yet, it’s likely that the combination of Google’s enviably proficient image-processing software, the Pixel 6’s new high-powered processor, and the improved hardware will result in an even better camera than we had with the Pixel 5. That’s saying something.
At the same time, the Pixel 6 unveils a few new software features for its camera. Most notably, Face Unblur is a feature that uses a combination of A.I. processing and the 12MP ultrawide lens to fix blurred faces taken with the 50MP wide lens. This is likely to prove a highly valuable feature, since we’ve all been in a situation where we’ve captured a great scene, only to find that one of our subject’s faces is unrecognizable.
This all suggests that the Pixel 6’s camera could indeed be better than the iPhone 13’s. Nonetheless, because we haven’t given it the full road test yet, and because the iPhone 13’s camera is so flawlessly dependable, we’re going to declare a tie, at least for now.
Software and updates
It’s time to compare apples and oranges, or rather, Apples and Googles. The Pixel 6 uses Android 12, the latest version of Google’s operating system. It provides one of the most significant refreshes the system has witnessed in years, with a design overhaul, new-look notification shade, enhanced privacy controls, a digital car key, and a range of novel features for the Camera app (if you own a Pixel 6 at least). It’s highly customizable and easy to use to boot.
At the other end of the spectrum, iPhone 13 runs on iOS 15. While iOS 14 was a big departure from the OS, the 15th iteration offers a number of welcome enhancements and refinements. These include more intelligent notification summaries, the ability to share media experiences via FaceTime, and also a new Focus feature (which basically offers different kinds of customizable Do Not Disturb modes). On top of this, it remains as user-friendly and as secure as ever.
Basically, it’s nigh on impossible to decide which OS is better. That said, Apple phones almost always have the edge in terms of updates, and while Google has guaranteed three core software updates for the Pixel 6 (as well as five security updates), this still isn’t quite enough to match the extensive support the iPhone 13 will receive. With the latter, it will probably be six or even seven years before it becomes obsolete in terms of software (the six-year-old iPhone 6S received this year’s iOS 15 update). As such, this round is a win for the iPhone.
Winner: iPhone 13
Both phones support 5G, including the faster mmWave band, although the Pixel 6 supports the latter only on Verizon and AT&T, with some models of the device supporting only sub-6Hz frequencies.
Still, this isn’t necessarily a big deal, and the Pixel 6 more than compensates for this by the sheer wealth of software tricks it has up its sleeve. For example, it introduces two complementary features called Wait Times and Direct My Call, both of which combine to take out the hassle of calling toll-free numbers, providing indications of how long you’ll likely have to wait to speak to an actual human being and also telling you which numbers to press to get to the right person or department.
Its camera features are also worth highlighting again. There’s the Magic Eraser tool that lets you erase unwanted objects in shots, while the Long Exposure shots enable you to create moving photos, among other new additions.
As for the iPhone 13, it doesn’t deliver all that much in terms of special features. There’s MagSafe compatibility, allowing you to use a variety of magnetic accessories (e.g. chargers, as pictured above). You’ll also get Face ID as usual, as well as Memoji and Animoji, which let you add playful AR avatars to your messages and chats.
Other than that, the iPhone 13 isn’t especially novel or unique, aside from being an extremely functional smartphone overall. Because of this, we’re giving a narrow victory to the Pixel 6.
Winner: Google Pixel 6
Price and availability
The Apple iPhone 13 starts from $799, although you’ll need to pay more if you want the version with 256GB or 512GB of internal memory. The phone will be supported by all major carriers and will also be for sale from most major retailers.
The Google Pixel 6 starts from $599 and is officially released October 28. It can be pre-ordered now from Google and will be supported by all major carriers.
Overall winner: Pixel 6
There’s not all that much in it, but we have to say the Pixel 6 is just a touch better overall than the iPhone 13. It has a few more software-based special features than its Apple rival, its design is a little more imaginative, and its display benefits from a 90Hz refresh rate. Beyond that, both phones are fairly evenly matched, offering a similar level of performance, long battery life, comparably excellent cameras, and effortless software. Of course, if you prefer iOS over Android, you may favor the iPhone 13, but for anyone open to either system, the Pixel 6 may be the way to go.