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Apple iPhone 13 Pro vs. Google Pixel 6 Pro: An Update

Posted December 21, 2021 | Android | Apple iPhone | Google Pixel | iOS | iPhone 13 Pro | Mobile | Pixel 6 Pro | Windows


I’ve been using an iPhone 13 Pro since this past Saturday and trying to compare it to the frustrating Pixel 6 Pro. And this comparison has proven more difficult than I’d imagined it would be. And while this is unusual for me, I’ve struggled with how to communicate what it is I’m doing, why I’m doing it, and what it would take for me to keep the iPhone and move forward with it.

And I’ve tried. I started writing an article that explained some key differences between the two platforms related to things like system fonts, notifications, and the like, and I babbled through some off-the-cuff version of that conversation during Monday’s First Ring Daily. But the more I think about this—and, believe me, I am absolutely overthinking this—the more I believe that I’m overcomplicating the discussion. Maybe there is a higher-level way of looking at this comparison.

For example, looking at my Pixel 6 Pro review, I can see that I highlighted 6 pros and 5 cons. How does the iPhone 13 Pro compare to those accolades and complaints, respectively?

Hm.

Pro: The best value in flagship smartphones. This one is no contest: the Pixel 6 series handsets cost significantly less than their Apple and Samsung flagship rivals. How much less is a matter of perspective: the Pixel 6 Pro I purchased costs $899, while the iPhone 13 Pro I purchased costs $999, a difference of $100. But the Pixel 6 Pro also matches up more closely to the iPhone 13 Pro Max, which starts at $1099, or $200 more. But one of the things I don’t like about the Pixel 6 Pro is its size and bulk, and that’s why I went with the smaller iPhone. The non-Pro Pixel 6, meanwhile, starts at just $599, which is an even better value, but it doesn’t feature a three-lens camera system like the Pixel 6 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro, so it’s out of the running (for me). Plus, you might argue that the Pixel 6 lines up more closely to the iPhone 13, which starts at $799. Either way, the Pixels are the better values.

Pro: Terrific three-lens camera system with an excellent telephoto zoom. It’s still a bit early for me to weigh in on the camera quality of the iPhone 13 Pro, but my gut feeling is that it will be similar overall to that of the Pixel, with each camera system being better in some ways and worse in others. For straight-up photography, however, the Pixel most likely comes out ahead, if barely. It has the superior telephoto lens, plus several unique Pixel-only features, and I can already see a weird sharpening effect on my iPhone shots. However, the iPhone is generally understood to be superior for video, something I’ve not tested yet. Overall, I think it’s fair to say that both handsets provide terrific three-lens camera systems. So this one is probably a bit of a wash.

Pro: Excellent performance. While the Pixel’s first-generation Tensor system on a chip (SoC) is still a bit of an unknown, Apple’s A15 Bionic is widely considered the very best mobile SoC in the market. Real-world, they both perform terrifically. But I’ll point out that I’ve had many issues with hanging apps on the Pixel, plus one instance in which I couldn’t even get the display to come back on. The iPhone is rock-solid. And given Apple’s history here, it’s hard not to believe that this point goes to the iPhone.

Pro: Gorgeous high refresh rate display. Both handsets offer a 120 Hz variable rate display that can adapt to the needs of the content you’re viewing to provide the best-possible battery life. I’m one of those people who can’t really see the difference between a 60 Hz and 120 Hz display, however, so this one is a tie, both for me and for anyone else for whom this does matter. (And the Pixel display has others issues the iPhone lacks, as noted below.)

Pro: Customized and optimized Android 12 with incredible AI functionality. This is indeed a major advantage for the Pixel 6 Pro, but only when compared to other Android handsets. When compared to the iPhone and iOS 15.x, things are a bit more complicated. Apple obviously doesn’t allow other companies to license and muck-up iOS, and the system one gets on the iPhone 13 Pro is identical to that they’d receive on other iPhones. I guess the way I’d frame this one is that Google is trying to match the beauty and consistency of the iPhone/iOS experience with its customized and optimized Android 12 version on the Pixel 6 series. And it while it has some advantages over Apple’s entry, it also falls short in some areas, most notably the consistency bit. Android 12, especially the version on Pixel, is a big step forward, but it has to be just to keep up with iOS. So this is a tie in my book.

Pro: Unique Pixel-only features. Here, again, the comparison is only with other Android-based handsets, and there’s no easy way to compare this to what Apple does with the iPhone.

Looking over that list of Pixel 6 Pro, um, pros, the only item that truly stands out for Pixel is the first point about value. The rest of it is pretty much a wash or not applicable.

But what about the cons?

Con: In-display fingerprint reader is slow and unreliable, and there’s no Face Unlock. To be fair to the Pixel, my experience using the in-display fingerprint reader has improved, in part because of the November update and in part because I’ve gotten used to it, and I know better where to press, and how, and for how long. But the fact remains that it’s still unreliable and too often requires multiple sign-in attempts. By contrast, the iPhone’s Face ID facial recognition system remains the standard by which all such systems must be compared, and it has never once required any fiddling. So a clear win for the iPhone, right? Not exactly: living as we do in the COVID era, it’s only a matter of time before I need to sign in to the iPhone while wearing a mask, and that won’t work as well. Why Apple didn’t provide a power button-based Touch ID function, as it does on my iPad Air, is unclear. So I’ll still give Apple the edge—COVID hopefully won’t last forever—but it’s a slight edge.

Con: Too big, too heavy. This is one of my biggest gripes about the Pixel 6 Pro, and one of the reasons I didn’t go with the larger iPhone 13 Pro Max is that it’s even heavier and denser than the Pixel. (The other reasons are the additional expense and the fact that the iPhone 13 Pro and Pro Max both have the exact same camera system for the first time ever.) Anyway, the iPhone 13 Pro is a bit thick and heavy for its size. But it still solves the “too big, too heavy” problem nicely. The point goes to iPhone.

Con: Fast charging is too slow. This is an odd one. The Pixel 6 Pro charges at up to 22-watts via a USB cable, which is slightly better than the iPhone’s 20-watts, at least on paper. But the Pixel 6 Pro also takes two hours to fully charge because the second 50 percent goes much more slowly than the first. The iPhone 13 Pro, meanwhile, fully charges in about 90 minutes with a 20-watt charger, and there are reports that it can charge at up to 27-watts with a 30-watt charger. Point: iPhone.

Con: Adaptive brightness works poorly. This may or may not be at least partially fixed by the December Pixel update I’ve still not yet received, but suffice to say that the iPhone has absolutely no display issues at all. Point: iPhone.

Con: Impractical curved display edges. I don’t just dislike displays with curved edges, they are objectively inferior to flat displays. And, sorry, Pixel fans, but the Pixel 6 Pro has a display with curved edges and the iPhone does not. Point: iPhone.

Add that all up, and it’s pretty clear that the iPhone wins the day. In fact, I find it interesting that the iPhone doesn’t suffer from any of the cons that dog the Pixel.

Yes, I know this isn’t how I or anyone else would make a decision, at least not entirely. But it’s still an interesting comparison. And it’s one that I will keep working on.

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