Google has the budget remix of its Pixel 6 smartphone family officially on deck with the Pixel 6a. It’s aiming to bring the looks, the camera chops, and the unique Tensor processor of its siblings to a lower price point. But at $449, it’s sitting awkwardly close in price to the nearly one-year-old Pixel 6 at $599, which is sure to get a price cut as soon as the Pixel 7 line comes out this fall. So how well does the Pixel 6a really hold up in the awkward limbo it’s just jammed itself into?
Google Pixel 6a – Photos
Google Pixel 6a – Design and Features
The Pixel 6a is immediately recognizable as a member of the Pixel 6 family, largely thanks to the rear design. Once again the Pixel 6 family’s iconic camera bar sprawls across the back of the phone, but it’s much lower-profile on the Pixel 6a, raising just a hair above the back face of the phone, collecting much less dust, and never snagging on pockets. Once again, it’s something that looks flashier in renders than in real life. This time there’s an oval cutout where the camera equipment is actually buried, but it stands out plainly from the rest of the camera bar.
The Pixel 6a is a hair smaller than the Pixel 6, opting for a 6.1-inch OLED display compared to its predecessor’s 6.4-inch display. It keeps the same selfie camera cutout and 1080 x 2400 resolution, though. What it gains in sharpness it loses in motion clarity, capping out at 60Hz.
The screen is certainly a looker. It gets plenty bright and pairs with the rich blacks of OLED for quality HDR video, letting Homelander’s laser eyes really shine even in the darker scenes of The Boys.
The speakers on the phone don’t do as much justice to entertainment as the screen. Though the Pixel 6a has a stereo speaker arrangement that’s surprisingly well balanced between left and right channels, it doesn’t get very loud, and it gets a bit rough at higher volumes.
The screen is covered in older Gorilla Glass 3 instead of the new Gorilla Glass Victus on the Pixel 6, so it may not hold up to as much abuse. It’s also just IP67 rated, which can survive a one-meter dunk in water and keep dust out, but falls short of the deeper IP68 rating of the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro. Regardless, water damage isn’t covered by Google’s warranty.
The rear of the phone is also a little less abuse-ready, with a “3D thermoformed composite back” that shows grooves and scratches after just a couple weeks occasionally sharing a pocket with some keys but more often getting its own pocket.
The size of the Pixel 6a makes it comfortable for one-handed use, and the under-display fingerprint reader is quick to unlock the phone.
Another downgrade is its charging options. The 4410mAh battery can fast-charge at up to 18W, down from the Pixel 6’s 30W speeds, and it has no support for wireless charging.
Google Pixel 6a – Software
There’s nothing to get too excited about here, as the Pixel 6a is still shipping with Android 12, just like the Pixel 6 almost a year ago. It’s just as bubble-shaped as it was then, and continues to use up more screen space for fewer things (looking at you, settings shortcuts). It’s a very clean version of Android, though, coming with almost no extra apps beyond the basics.
Google Pixel 6a – Gaming and performance
The Google Pixel 6a has the same Tensor processor under the hood that’s in the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro. That’s no small bonus for shoppers on a budget. The Tensor core can hum along in day-to-day use, pulling up apps, switching between them, and even running Apex Legends without any stutter.
The bigger perk of what the Tensor processor offers is in its AI capabilities, which continue to make for the most impressive voice-to-text experience I’ve come across. Consistently accurate dictation and punctuation are no small feats.
Naturally there had to be some sacrifices, though. The phone only has 6GB of LPDDR5 memory, down from 8GB on the Pixel 6. And it’s capped at 128GB of storage. The decrease in RAM isn’t something I felt in everyday use, and will likely only come up if you like switching between heavy apps, like games and the camera app.
Storage may be more of an issue in the long-run, but Google is likely expecting you to keep much of the camera and video footage you take stored in the cloud.
Using the same chip in a smaller phone has one side effect: heat. While I didn’t notice any hot spots on the Pixel 6, I regularly notice a bit of heat along one side of the 6a in normal use – not even specifically gaming. It’s not searing hot, but it is uncomfortable. It’s intermittent heat, though, and my best guess is it’s connected to higher-speed 5G connectivity. So the tradeoff for the heat is the stunning speeds it can get, which I saw reach as high as 682Mbps near downtown Chicago.
Google Pixel 6a – Camera
The Pixel 6a cameras are an interesting mix of older and newer parts, though there’s nothing we haven’t seen before.
Here are the cameras the Google Pixel 6a packs:
- 12.2MP Wide, 1.4-micron, f/1.7, PDAF, OIS, 77-degree FOV
- 12MP ultrawide, f/2.2, 1.25-micron, 114-degree FOV
- 8MP Selfie, 1.12-micron, f/2.0 83-degree FOV
From the specs, the main sensor is the same as that found in the Pixel 5a but now powered by the Tensor processor. Meanwhile the ultra-wide and selfie cameras are the same as those found in the Pixel 6.
Google Pixel 6a – Camera Samples
There’s a mix of mmm and meh in there. The mmm is that the Pixel 6a is exceptional at capturing energetic and sharp shots in daylight, and has a knack for turning up the brightness in dark scenarios. Shooting in dark settings is especially powerful if the subject isn’t moving – sorry, cat owners, it still can’t magically fix Mister Snuggles moving during a long exposure. There’s still a bit of noise in dark shots, but it’s not so easy to notice unless you blow the image up to full size.
Just as zooming in on a photo undermines its quality, using digital zoom to take a photo is a crapshoot. Results at 2x digital zoom are acceptable, but going in much further creates a terribly over-sharpened image that can almost be harder to tell what you’re looking at than a zoomed out picture.
As I’m well used to at this point, the ultra-wide camera still lags slightly behind the main camera, with a bit less clarity and worse performance in the dark, but at least the Pixel 6a’s ultra-wide still feels like it’s producing images that are coming from the same device.
The Tensor processor also enables Magic Eraser and selective blur when editing photos after the fact. If not perfect under scrutiny, but they at least offer a quick way to make complex touch-ups. They work all the better if you have a pronounced subject or are trying to erase things on a simple background.