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Pixel 6 teardown shows lots of heat dissipation, questionable mmWave layout

The Pixel 6 and 6 Pro are out, and that means it’s teardown time. PBK Reviews has videos on the Pixel 6 Pro and Pixel 6 for us to pick apart.

Crack open either phone and you’ll find a ton of heat dissipation. The back of the screen is covered in copper, so it’s a big heat sink. Under the display, the interior is covered in sticky, heat-dissipating graphite film, making the phone look strikingly messier than the carefully curated insides of the iPhone 13. Below that is more heat dissipation: an aluminum mid-plate that connects to the major chips with thermal tape.

The back of the screen is also interesting. On the left is the under-display fingerprint reader, and you can see why companies are such fans of these components over capacitive rear fingerprint readers. An optical reader is a super-thin sticker on the back of the display—it looks like it’s only a millimeter or so thick. You can also spot the cutout for the under-display brightness and proximity sensors, which, like the fingerprint reader, invisibly live under the display.

The back side of the display is a big copper heatsink. You can see how thin the fingerprint sensor is on the left—it's just a sticker. Just above the camera lens on the right side is the cutout for the under-display proximity and brightness sensors.
Enlarge / The back side of the display is a big copper heatsink. You can see how thin the fingerprint sensor is on the left—it’s just a sticker. Just above the camera lens on the right side is the cutout for the under-display proximity and brightness sensors.

PBK Reviews

PBK Reviews spotted a few interesting differences between the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro. On the Pro model, the haptic motor is on the bottom of the phone, while the baseline Pixel 6 has it toward the top. The bottom is a better location, since that’s usually where your hand is, giving you a stronger sensation from the haptic motor. Depending on region and carriers, some models of Pixel 6 have mmWave and some do not. If you get a model without mmWave, what you’ll find in the mmWave spot is… a placeholder block of metal.

This teardown confirms what we’ve suspected of the Pixel 6’s 5G mmWave functionality—it does not seem very well thought out. For starters, mmWave is not a great phone feature. It gets outsized attention because carriers use mmWave to justify 5G speed claims in their commercials. The truth, however, is that almost no one has reliable access to mmWave. A recent OpenSignal survey showed that users with compatible devices spend just 0.8 percent of their time on mmWave.

Even if you could find an mmWave network with the Pixel, though, the Pixel 6 has only one mmWave antenna, which sits along the top edge of the phone (in a very visible plastic window). Most of the justification for including mmWave in a phone revolves around its reputation for enabling high download speeds. Most of this speed would be for media consumption, in which case the phone would be in landscape. But with the antenna at the top, mmWave signal will be blocked by your hand in landscape mode. Compared to the Galaxy S21, which has two mmWave antennas, each located on a long edge of the phone, the mmWave signal operates better in either landscape orientation. Most people will probably never find an mmWave signal, but even if you could on the Pixel 6, the antenna location makes it seem like it’s just spec sheet padding.

The Pixel 6 Pro motherboard. That soldered-on USB-C port will be tough to swap out.
Enlarge / The Pixel 6 Pro motherboard. That soldered-on USB-C port will be tough to swap out.

Sadly iFixit seems to have abandoned the Pixel line, with the last full teardown from the site being the Pixel 4. One thing I really miss is iFixit’s investigation of the chips on the motherboard, which are not addressed in either video. It would be nice to get a look at the Google Tensor SoC, that discrete Samsung Exynos 5G modem, and whatever other components Google is using, but this video is purely about replacing parts.

As for repairability, the USB-C port is soldered onto the motherboard, which will make a commonly damaged component more difficult to repair. As usual everything is glued together, which means any repair could compromise the device’s water resistance. PBK Reviews also tried swapping out some parts to see if there were any iPhone-style software lockouts that prevent repairs. While replacing the screen went fine, they ran into an error message when replacing the fingerprint sensor. A later update to the video description notes that they later got the sensor working by visiting Google’s official repair site, running some calibration software, and then factory resetting the device.

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