How the Pixel 6 undid one of Google's best decisions

Google Pixel 6a on eggshell green background
(Image credit: Google)

Google did some great things with its Pixel 6 handset, and indeed its Pixel 6 Pro, foremost among them was the introduction of its own processor chip, while maintaining the photography prowess and affordability that the phone range is known for.

However, there was arguably one critical thing that was lost in the move from the Pixel 5 into the next generation: the simplicity of a single product. The Google Pixel 5 was exceptional in the phone market for not having any pro, XL or ultra counterparts – there was a single handset in a single storage configuration and at a single price, that's it.

It was a brave move, and I applaud it heartily – but its genius was disappointingly undone exactly one year later, with the launch of a pair of Pixel 6 handsets. Unfortunately, as Google has officially revealed the Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro handsets, we also know that this year's release will be following a similar multi-model mindset.

So why is this a bad thing, you ask?


For anyone keeping up with smartphone releases, you'll be well aware of the vast spread of products on offer from the likes of Apple and Samsung each year.

In 2020, the year the Pixel 5 launched, Apple's flagship range included the iPhone 12, iPhone 12 Mini, iPhone 12 Pro and the iPhone 12 Pro Max, each with three storage configurations. 

In the same year, Samsung's top-tier lineup boasted the Galaxy S20, Galaxy S20 Plus and Galaxy S20 Ultra, with a variety of storage configurations as well as models that either supported 5G or just 4G.

That's 24 different Apple and Samsung products in total, and that tally doesn't even include the pseudo-midrange options like the iPhone SE (2020) or the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE.


iPhone 12 deals preorders pro apple price

(Image credit: Apple)

Many will argue that having a greater variety of available products translates into the customer having the ability to choose something more personalised and custom to their needs. This is a fair argument, and I agree with it to an extent, but I think it ignores the reality of the world of marketing.

When a customer buys the base model phone in a new flagship range, the marketing is there to let you know that you're specifically not getting a professional product, and it won't be providing the maximum potential that the range has to offer... and yet often, you're still paying a huge sum of money.

And logically speaking, if you're already investing this much, maybe it's sensible to bump up your budget 10% and get something better? There's a chance that is indeed the case, but I think there's a much greater chance that you're only considering the 'better' option because it's available and feels similarly attainable to the 'lesser' option, and not because you actually need the upgrade.

If you've ever accidentally ended up with an upsized meal at a fast food restaurant, you'll know what I'm talking about.

Choose your own adventure

All this isn't to say that choice is inherently bad – people shopping for smartphones are going to have a wide variety of use cases, daily needs and (most importantly) budgets.

But there's already a wealth of options on the market, too many I would argue – you could have chosen one of the 24 other Apple or Samsung flagships that launched in 2020 alongside the Pixel 5 if it wasn't to your taste, and the coming years will likely prove similarly abundant.

What Google did so well with that phone was offer something that most people would actually need, rather than desire. It was capable enough for all but power users and gamers, it boasted excellent photography chops, it operated reliably and was built solidly, and perhaps most importantly, it did it all at an affordable price.

Frankly, it was refreshing for a company to launch a product and just say "here is our phone", without immediately trying to upsize you in the process. 

While we know it's a long shot, we're quietly keeping our fingers crossed that the Google Pixel 8 returns to that fearless strategy, and is as stoically solitary as its forebear.

Harry Domanski
Harry is an Australian Journalist for TechRadar with an ear to the ground for future tech, and the other in front of a vintage amplifier. He likes stories told in charming ways, and content consumed through massive screens. He also likes to get his hands dirty with the ethics of the tech.