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Pixel 6 Pro review: the very best Google phone | Google

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The Pixel 6 Pro is Google’s reinvigorated attempt to beat Apple and Samsung’s best smartphones, with powerful new cameras, custom chips and a standout design.

The new model is Google’s top phone for 2021 and costs £849 ($899/A$1,299), sitting above the standard Pixel 6 costing £599.

From the front, the Pixel 6 Pro looks like a standard top-end phone with a large 6.7in OLED screen that’s really good-looking, crisp, bright and smooth, with a 120Hz refresh rate. There’s a small hole punch at the top for the selfie camera and a good fingerprint sensor under the display for unlocking the phone.

google pixel 6 pro review
The camera bar splits the two-tone coloured glass back and looks a bit like Geordi La Forge’s visor from Star Trek. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Flip it over to reveal a much more unusual design. Instead of the cameras clustered in a lump down one side or in the top corner, the lenses are arranged in a large horizontal bar that stretches right across the back. I can’t say it is particularly attractive, but it means the phone doesn’t rock around when placed on a desk or table like most other smartphones, which is a plus.

The 6 Pro is certainly a very big phone, but its curved glass sides make it easier to grip than some and very similar in size to Samsung’s Galaxy S21 Ultra, just 17g lighter. It feels a well made and premium device ready to compete at the top of the market.

Specifications

  • Screen: 6.7in 120Hz QHD+ OLED (512ppi)

  • Processor: Google Tensor

  • RAM: 12GB of RAM

  • Storage: 128 or 256GB

  • Operating system: Android 12

  • Camera: 50MP + 12MP ultrawide + 48MP 4x telephoto, 11.1MP selfie

  • Connectivity: 5G, eSIM, wifi 6E, UWB, NFC, Bluetooth 5.2 and GNSS

  • Water resistance: IP68 (1.5m for 30 minutes)

  • Dimensions: 163.9 x 75.9 x 8.9mm

  • Weight: 210g

Tensor

google pixel 6 pro review
The Pixel 6 Pro takes over two hours to charge and hits 50% in 35 minutes using a 30W USB-C adaptor (not included). Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The Pixel 6 Pro has Google’s first custom Tensor processor, which performs similarly to other top-flight Android chips from Samsung and Qualcomm in benchmarks and general use. The custom elements, however, are designed to speed up and reduce power consumption when running Google’s various AI elements.

From local speech and object recognition to camera processing and photo editing, all of Google’s more advanced systems certainly run faster on the 6 Pro than on the previous Pixel 5. But comparing like for like with rivals such as the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra and OnePlus 9 Pro proved difficult.

Overall, performance was at least on par with top-flight rivals: responsive, smooth and snappy all round.

Battery life is good but not great, lasting a good 36 hours between charges with the screen on for about five hours using various messaging, note-taking and utility apps, the browser and about 20 photos, spending about two hours on 5G and the rest on wifi. That puts the 6 Pro on par with the S21 Ultra, but some way behind the 42-hour iPhone 13 Pro.

Sustainability

google pixel 6 pro review
Both the Pixel 6 (left) and Pixel 6 Pro (right) are made of 100% recycled aluminium. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Google does not provide an expected lifespan for the battery. Those in similar devices typically maintain at least 80% of their original capacity after 500 full charge cycles. The Pixel 6 Pro is generally repairable by Google and third-party repair shops. Screen repairs cost £189, back glass repairs cost £149 and battery replacements cost £99 out of warranty.

The 6 Pro contains 100% recycled aluminium in its frame, accounting for about 14% of the phone by weight. The company publishes environmental impact reports for some of its products. Google will recycle all Pixel devices free of charge.

Android 12

google pixel 6 pro review
Android 12 introduces more colour to more parts of the system than before. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The 6 Pro is one of the first smartphones to ship with the latest Android 12, which introduces Google’s Material You design and systems. It is one of the biggest visual overhauls given to standard Android and adds personalisation options that have required third-party apps or tools offered by the likes of Samsung, OnePlus and others in the past.

The whole interface can now be colour coordinated, including icons and widgets. System animations are refined with nice touches such as the screen turning on by expanding outwards from the power button.

google pixel 6 pro review
Tensor-enhanced dictation tools allow you to dictate and edit text with your finger at the same time for fast text input. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

A new “privacy dashboard” shows how often apps are accessing features such as location, your contacts, the mic, camera and other bits. Privacy icons for the camera and mic pop up at the top of the screen when they’re being accessed by apps, and you can turn mic and camera access completely off with new quick-settings toggles.

Google will provide at least three years of major Android updates and monthly security fixes. It will then provide an additional two years of updates with the “frequency and categories of updates depending on the hardware capabilities and needs”. Samsung supports its top phones for four years, while Fairphone is aiming for six years, and Apple supports its iPhone for up to seven years.

Camera

google pixel 6 pro
The Google Camera app is very good, with effective focus tracking, but there’s no dedicated macro mode. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The 6 Pro has Google’s first truly new set of cameras in years. On the back there is a 50-megapixel main camera, 12MP ultrawide camera and a 48MP 4x optical zoom telephoto camera, plus an ultrawide 11.1MP selfie camera on the front.

The main 50MP camera is, simply put, one of the very best on a smartphone. It easily captures a stunning amount of detail across a range of good and tricky lighting conditions, with generally well-judged colour balance and a pleasing level of vibrancy. The telephoto camera is easily one of the best available, producing unrivalled shots at 4x magnification in good and medium light, with very little quality drop-off compared to the main camera, which is rare. Only Samsung’s S21 Ultra with both 5x and 10x optical zoom beats it on utility, though not necessarily on quality.

The ultrawide camera is the weakest of the three. With a 0.7x magnification, it isn’t quite as “ultrawide” as I would like, compared with rivals that have 0.5x magnification and a wider field of view. But it produces really good images that are a little bit softer on detail than the main camera.

Low light performance on the main camera is very good, while the dedicated night sight mode works wonders on all three cameras in very dim scenes. The 11.1MP selfie camera is also very good and can shoot normal and ultrawide photos for when you need to fit more people into a group shot.

Video quality is a step up from previous Pixels, but is still not nearly as good as Google’s still photography, and lags behind Apple and Samsung.

Fun new tools include dedicated modes to blur the background when shooting a fast-moving object such as a bike, or to blur moving objects in a static scene such as the light trails of moving cars on a street at night. These are impressive technical feats, but I have yet to master them, producing some very mixed results.

The “Magic Eraser” tool will remove unwanted objects from photos, such as strangers or power lines, similar to the inpainting tools of desktop photo editors. It works miraculously about 70% of the time, but sometimes leaves artefacts on the image where the object was removed.

Observations

google pixel 6 pro review
The fingerprint scanner is good but not quite as rapid as those on the Galaxy S21 Ultra or OnePlus 9 Pro. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian
  • The haptics or vibrations that recreate a sense of touch for buttons and other interactions are really sharp and good compared with most Android competitors.

  • The telephoto camera assembly rattles a little when you flip the phone over, similar to a Galaxy S21 Ultra.

  • Call quality and 5G reception was good, as was Bluetooth performance to several sets of headphones.

Price

The Google Pixel 6 Pro costs £849 ($899/A$1,299) with 128GB of storage, or £949 ($999/$A1,449) for 256GB.

For comparison, the Pixel 4a costs £349, the OnePlus 9 Pro costs £829, the Samsung Galaxy S21+ costs £949, the Galaxy S21 Ultra costs £1,149, the Xiaomi 11T Pro costs £599, the iPhone 13 Pro costs £949 and the Fairphone 4 costs £499.

Verdict

With the Pixel 6 Pro, Google has finally delivered a flagship-class phone that can compete with the very best in the business in all aspects, not just the camera.

The battery life is reasonable, the screen is fantastic and Android 12 is the most polished and refined software Google has put on a phone. The promise of five years of security updates is good, too.

It looks, feels and operates like a £1,000 phone, with all the bells and whistles you can expect for that sort of money. But aggressively priced at £850, it undercuts top-flight rivals by as much as £300, making it surprisingly good value if not exactly cheap.

The Pixel 6 Pro is the best phone Google has ever made. Whether that will be enough for it to be a hit remains to be seen.

Pros: class-leading camera, 4x optical zoom, fantastic screen, excellent performance, good battery life, recycled aluminium, five years of security updates, Android 12, impressive local AI features, competitively priced.

Cons: fairly slow charging, fingerprint scanner not as fast as competitors, no face unlock option, only three years of Android version updates despite five years of security support.

google pixel 6 pro review
The camera bar is the main design feature, but I would pick a more exciting colour option than the black and grey. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

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Russian-backed rulers of Costa Rican hacktocracy? • The Register

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In brief The notorious Russian-aligned Conti ransomware gang has upped the ante in its attack against Costa Rica, threatening to overthrow the government if it doesn’t pay a $20 million ransom. 

Costa Rican president Rodrigo Chaves said that the country is effectively at war with the gang, who in April infiltrated the government’s computer systems, gaining a foothold in 27 agencies at various government levels. The US State Department has offered a $15 million reward leading to the capture of Conti’s leaders, who it said have made more than $150 million from 1,000+ victims.

Conti claimed this week that it has insiders in the Costa Rican government, the AP reported, warning that “We are determined to overthrow the government by means of a cyber attack, we have already shown you all the strength and power, you have introduced an emergency.” 

Experts who spoke to the AP said they doubt actual regime change is likely, or the goal; Emsisoft analyst Brett Callow told the newswire that the threats are simply noise, and not to be taken seriously.

Callow may be right: News unfolding late this week suggests that Conti has gone offline, and may be breaking into several subsidiary groups. Its political ambitions in Costa Rica may just be a distraction, albeit one that could also turn a tidy profit. 

NSA: Trust us, no post-quantum encryption backdoors

The NSA wants to ease everyone’s concerns now: Even though it’s been involved in the US government’s post-quantum encryption research, the spy agency won’t have a backdoor.

Speaking to Bloomberg while discussing the National Institute for Standards and Technology’s post-quantum encryption competition, NSA Director of Cybersecurity (and Christmas-tree hacker) Rob Joyce said the new standards being developed are so strong that “there are no backdoors.” 

That would be a departure from previous encryption standards, which the NSA is believed to have had ready access to – until foreign spies acquired a copy of the backdoor software for their own use. The Biden administration recently announced additional funding for post-quantum encryption research, which aims to develop a form of protecting sensitive data so secure that even a quantum computer couldn’t crack it. 

The US has been actively working to develop encryption standards able to stand up to quantum computers for some time; Joyce claimed to Bloomberg that the NSA has had its own post-quantum encryption algorithms for several years, but those aren’t part of the NIST competition or available to the public. 

Despite spending tens of millions to address the security problems posed by quantum computers, the NSA also readily admits that it has no idea when, or even if, quantum computers able to crack modern public key cryptography will be realized. 

Frustrated IT admin gets seven years for deleting company databases

A former database administrator from China who wiped out his employer’s financial records has been sentenced to seven years in prison as a result.

Han Bing, who managed databases for Chinese real estate brokerage Lianjia, allegedly used his administrator access and root privileges to log in to two of Lianjia’s database servers, and two application servers, where he wiped financial data and related applications that took the company’s entire finance system offline, said Chinese news sources. 

Bing was reportedly disgruntled with his employer. He repeatedly warned them of security flaws in Lianjia’s finance system but felt ignored and undervalued, Lianjia’s ethics chief testified in court. Bing’s actions directly cost the company around $27,000 to recover data and rebuilt systems, but that doesn’t include the impact of lost business.

Bing was caught when Lianjia questioned everyone with access to the financial systems who had permissions to do what Bing did, of whom there were only five. The company claims that Bing acted suspiciously when asked to present his laptop for inspection, refusing to provide his password and claiming privacy privileges. 

The company said it suspected none of the laptops would show traces of the attack, but wanted to see how those it questioned would react. Investigators were later able to recover logs that pointed to Bing’s laptop’s IP and MAC addresses, and crosschecking logs against security footage put Bing in the right place at the right time to be the guilty party.

Apple patches a whopping 98 separate vulnerabilities

Apple has had a busy week: In a series of security updates released Monday and Wednesday, the iMaker patched 98 separate vulnerabilities out of its various software platforms.

The updates in question cover most every bit of software Apple makes: WatchOS, iOS and iPad OS, macOS Monterey, Big Sur and Catalina, Xcode, tvOS, Safari and iTunes for Windows were all included. Most of the vulnerabilities are from the past few months, but one common vulnerability and exposure (CVE) number covered by the updates dates back to 2015.

A few of the vulnerabilities covered by this week’s glut of Apple patches were rolled out previously for one system, but not others, as was the case with CVE-2022-22674 and -22675, which were patched in macOS Monterey, but not older versions, in April. Those vulnerabilities were reportedly being actively exploited at the time. 

Malicious applications executing arbitrary code with kernel privileges appears to be the most common type of hole being closed in this round of patches, though some do stand out, like Apple Watch bugs that could let apps capture the screen and bypass signature validation.

On iOS, vulnerabilities patched include websites being able to track users in Safari private browsing mode, while macOS users are being protected against apps being able to bypass Privacy preferences and access restricted portions of the filesystem.

Russian-backing Chaos ransomware variant is pure destruction

Cybersecurity firm Fortinet has discovered a variant of the Chaos ransomware that professes support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but appears to have no decryption key to rescue victims in Putin’s regime. 

The variant appears to have been compiled with Chaos’ GUI customization tool as recently as May 16, Fortinet said. The researchers said they’re unsure how the Chaos variant infects its victims, and said the variant doesn’t act any differently than typical Chaos ransomware. 

Like other forms of Chaos, it enumerates files on infected systems, and irrevocably damages any larger than around 2MB by filling it with random bytes. Anything smaller is encrypted, but recoverable with a key. Chaos also typically attacks commonly used directories like Desktop, Contacts, Downloads and Pictures, which are encrypted entirely. 

Here’s where this Chaos variant differs: It’s overtly political, and instead of offering contact info and a ransom demand, the malware simply says “Stop Ukraine War! F**k Zelensky! Dont [sic] go die for f**king clown,” along with a pair of links to sites claiming to belong to the Information Coordination Center, but offering no information otherwise. Files are also encrypted with a “f**kazov” extension, likely referring to the Ukrainian Azov Battalion.

Fortinet said that this Chaos variant appears unique in the sense it appears designed to be file-destroying malware. “This particular variant provides no such avenue as the attacker has no intent on providing a decryption tool … clearly, the motive behind this malware is destruction,” Fortinet said. 

The FortiGuard team behind the research warns that with its GUI, Chaos ransomware has become a commodity product, and it expects additional attacks of this variety to emerge. ®



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UCD-led research finds potential treatment for advanced eye cancer

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The team said their research could help improve treatment options for advanced uveal melanoma, which currently has a poor survival rate.

An international team of researchers led by University College Dublin (UCD) have uncovered a potential treatment for a type of cancer that effects the eye.

The researchers looked at uveal melanoma (UM), the most common form of eye cancer which is diagnosed in 50 to 60 people in Ireland each year. The team explained that UM begins in the middle layer of the eye, but if it spreads to the liver and other parts of the body, patients have a poor survival prognosis.

Future Human

In their study, the team aimed to uncover treatment options for the advanced stage of this eye cancer, as it becomes very difficult to treat once it has spread.

The researchers focused on a drug called ACY-1215, which is currently in clinical trials for other solid tumours and blood cancers. This drug belongs to a relatively new group of anticancer drugs called histone deacetylase inhibitors (HDACi).

“We wanted to understand how ACY-1215 works to prevent tumour cell growth and spread, in the context of UM,” said postdoctoral researcher Dr Husvinee Sundaramurthi.

Histones are proteins that provide structural support for DNA in cells, allowing DNA to be tightly packaged together. The researchers said these proteins act like a spool that a thread of DNA can wrap itself around.

In the study, the team used the drug ACY-1215 to interfere with the histones in advanced UM cells, to stop the processes involved in their survival and growth.

“We uncovered the particular molecules that may be involved in the anticancer effects the drug ACY-1215 has in advanced UM cells,” said study lead Prof Breandan Kennedy.

“This study will pave the way to look more closely at the benefits of using HDACi, specifically ACY-1215, as a suitable treatment option for advanced UM.”

Kennedy said that by understanding the therapeutic potential of the small molecules involved in the anticancer effects, researchers can improve UM patient care and create personalised treatment strategies.

The international research team involved groups from Spain, Sweden and Ireland. Funding was provided through grants from the Irish Research Council, in collaboration with Breakthrough Cancer Research, UCD’s TopMed10, Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions CoFund Programme and Horizon 2020.

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Crypto is starting to lose its cool – just look at El Salvador | Rowan Moore

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To its evangelists, bitcoin is a frictionless, empowering form of money that liberates citizens of the world from the shackles of banks and national governments. To sceptics, the cryptocurrency is a tool of kleptocrats and gangsters, environmentally monstrous in its consumption of energy, a digitally glamorised Ponzi scheme whose eventual crash will most hurt those least able to afford a loss.

Confidence may or may not have been enhanced by the unveiling, by President Nayib Bukele, of images of a proposed bitcoin-shaped Bitcoin City in El Salvador, funded with a bitcoin bond, the currency’s logo embedded in the central plaza, a metropolis powered with geothermal energy from a nearby volcano. Bukele, the self-styled “coolest dictator in the world”, a former publicist who wears baseball caps back to front, has already made El Salvador the first country to adopt bitcoin as the official currency. “The plan is simple,” he said. “As the world falls into tyranny, we’ll create a haven for freedom.”

Leaving aside the worrisome Pompeii vibe of the city’s location, some shine has come off the president’s vision with the news that the country’s investments in cryptocurrency have lost 45% of their value, that it scores CCC with the credit rating agency Fitch, and that the perceived risk of its bonds is up there with that of war-torn Ukraine. And Bukele’s talk of freedom doesn’t sit well with Amnesty International’s claim that his recent state of emergency has created “a perfect storm of human rights violations”.

But why worry about any of this when you have shiny computer-generated images of a fantasy city to distract you?

Unsecured credit line

Boris Johnson waves his arms behind a podium with the Elizabeth line sign.
The Mayor of London Sadiq Khan looks on as Boris Johnson gives a speech at Paddington station on 17 May 2022. Photograph: Reuters

The use of constructional bluster by populist leaders – Trump’s wall, for example – is not in itself anything new. See also the island airport, garden bridge, Irish Sea bridge, 40 new hospitals and 300,000 homes a year promised but not delivered by Boris Johnson, and the nuclear power stations he has implausibly pledged to build at a rate of one a year.

Last week his fondness for Potemkin infrastructure took a new twist. Rather than over-promise illusory schemes and under-deliver them, he decided to take credit for something actually built, the £19bn Elizabeth line in London, formerly known as Crossrail, whose central section opens to the public on Tuesday. “We get the big things done,” he boasted to the House of Commons, choosing to ignore the fact that the line was initiated under a Labour prime minister and a Labour mayor of London. He almost makes Nayib Bukele look credible.

Behind the red wall

Characters from The House of Shades gather around a table on stage
Mounting misery: The House of Shades. Photograph: Helen Murray

If you want a light-hearted night out – a date, a birthday treat – then The House of Shades, a new play by Beth Steel, might not, unless you are an unusual person, be for you. It is a cross between Greek tragedy and what was once called kitchen sink drama, a story of ever-mounting misery set in a Nottinghamshire town from 1965 to 2019. It covers the collapse of manufacturing, the rise of Thatcherism, the promises of New Labour and the disillusionment that led to “red wall” seats voting Conservative in 2019.

It features illegal abortion, graphically portrayed, and the effects of inflation, both newly significant. All presented at the Almeida theatre in the famously metropolitan London borough of Islington, not far from the former restaurant where Tony Blair and Gordon Brown did the 1994 deal that shaped some of the events in the play. There’s irony here to make this audience squirm. Which, along with several other not-comfortable emotions, is probably the desired effect.

Rowan Moore is the Observer’s architecture correspondent

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