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Google Pixel 6 camera leak suggests some confusing identity issues

Google Pixel 4a
Google Pixel 4a (Image credit: TechRadar)

If you've been paying attention to Google Pixel 6 leaks, you're probably expecting a pretty flashy device. More so than for most phones, the Pixel 6 rumor mill has gone out of control, with fake leaks and rampant speculation making it hard to know what to believe.

With most phones before their launch, we get a good idea of what to expect from these leaks and rumors, but for the Google Pixel 6, it's hard to know how accurate the painted portrait is. That's doubly the case with the anticipated Pixel 6 XL, especially thanks to some high-profile leaks which turned out to be fake. That hasn't stopped the news cycle though.

According to XDA Developers, code in Google's camera app mentions possible 5x or 4.4x zoom, and people are assuming this means the Pixel 6 XL will be able to zoom this far. Even the source implies this is a stretch, but that hasn't stopped some people leaping to conclusions.

To compare that to the optical zoom limits of a few other phones, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra reaches 10x and the Huawei Mate 40 Pro and Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra get to 5x, so if this is accurate, the Pixel 6 XL would be in top company in the camera department.

But instead of using this information to speculate about an upcoming phone's performance, it's better used as an illustration of Pixel phones' increasing identity issues.

Super top-end

Google Pixel 4 XL

Google Pixel 4 XL (Image credit: Future)

We've heard plenty of leaks about the Google Pixel 6 XL which paint it as a super-top-end phone, and this camera zoom leak is just the latest in a long line. We've seen renders showing a phone with huge lenses, news about it having a bespoke chipset, and hints that the phone will have a curved-edge display.

Admittedly, some of these rumors were debunked, throwing the validity of many under the bus. Hence our "out-of-control rumor mill" comment.

If we believe even a fraction of what we've heard, though, this will likely be the most high-spec Pixel phone ever, by a wide margin.

It's impossible to know right now what Google has planned, and we can't rightly say what is or isn't true. But even the most nonsense Pixel leaks still make sense when you consider the confused history of recent Pixel phones.

Pixel: a history

For the first few generations of Pixel phone, the series was consistent. Each new device landed with an XL sibling, which was mainly the same but with a larger screen and battery. With the Pixel 3a, a secondary line was introduced which brought the features of the top-end model but at a lower price - the 3a had an XL sibling too.

The Google Pixel 4a launched without an XL version, which foreshadowed the end: everything fell apart with the Google Pixel 5. It wasn't a top-end phone like its predecessors, but a mid-ranger. It also wasn't joined by an XL version, but launched simultaneously with the Google Pixel 4a 5G, which shared a name with the 4a but was almost identical to the Pixel 5 in most other respects. It was a bit of a mess.

Google Pixel 3a XL

(Image credit: Future)

So the Pixel name stopped being associated with top-end camera powerhouses, and started referring to some fine-but-unimpressive mid-rangers. 

While Google was seemingly happy to keep at that price point for a year, the Pixel 6 XL rumors suggest it's not just going to return to its previous premium price point, but leap straight past that to the highest echelons of Android phone, like the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra or Oppo Find X3 Pro.

In addition, while previously the 'standard' and XL phone used to mostly be different only in size and battery, these leaks suggest the Pixel 6 XL could be totally different from its non-XL sibling.

What is a Pixel phone?

So what is a Pixel phone? Is it a premium handset with a focus on cameras? A mid-range device with middling processors and a small body? Or a super-top-end Ultra-style handset with absolute top specs? It's getting hard to keep track, and it seems Google keeps changing the rules.

That might be fine for a tech fan, who keeps on top of all the latest phones and trends. But for your average consumer, walking into a phone shop to pick up a new device, it's a confusing mess which will stop Pixel phones from becoming household names.

Hopefully all the rumors are wrong, and Google is planning something a little less wild than the leaks suggest (which would be a good lesson for lots of the excitable leakers, too). We'll have to wait and see - we're not certain when the phone is coming out, but it'll likely be in the last few months of the year, with October looking most likely right now.

Tom Bedford

Staff Writer, Phones

Tom's role in the TechRadar team is as a staff writer specializing in phones and tablets, but he also takes on other tech like electric scooters, smartwatches, fitness trackers and more.