The Google Pixel 6a faces a challenging mission now that it has finally arrived in stores, a few months after its first reveal. It must recapture the title of the finest affordable phone to buy, especially for those who place a high value on excellent cameras.
It doesn’t seem like it will be a simple battle. Both Apple and Samsung have released budget-friendly choices of their own since the Google Pixel 5a debuted at the end of last summer, the iPhone SE (2022) in Apple’s case and the Samsung Galaxy A53 in Samsung’s. With their incredibly low prices and decent-for-the-price feature sets, OnePlus’ Nord phones are chasing Google at the low end of the range.
With the same Tensor chipset that drives Google’s premium phones, the Pixel 6a has an advantage over prospective Android competitors for the title of best budget phone. Additionally, Google’s indisputable expertise in mobile photography has contributed to the former Pixel A Series phones standing out as the best camera phones for budget-conscious consumers.
The Pixel 6a is a top-tier photography phone that more than lives up to that tradition. In addition, as we’ll see in this Google Pixel 6a review, the phone’s Tensor system-on-chip adds more tricks to its toolbox. See if it’s worthwhile to hold off till the new Pixel 7 by reading our comparison of the Google Pixel 7 and Google Pixel 6a.
It has the two-tone back of the series and the recognizable rear bar housing the main and ultrawide cameras. The smaller phone seems less top-heavy because the bar isn’t as thick as the one on the Pixel 6.
The Pixel 6a’s 6.1-inch screen is smaller than the Pixel 5a and Pixel 6’s 6.4-inch diagonal screens, but you won’t really notice the difference until you use the two phones side by side. The Pixel 6a’s slightly curved matte aluminum sides help make it simple to hold and use one-handedly.
The Pixel 6a has a lower-quality build than the Pixel 6, using Gorilla Glass 3 for the front panel instead of the more durable Gorilla Glass Victus, and a “3D thermoformed composite rear” in place of Gorilla Glass 6. Even though the model’s flawless appearance can be tarnished by the plastic back’s susceptibility to fingerprint smudges, you should nonetheless put it in a case for protection.
Some folks might be disappointed to see that the OLED display has the same 60Hz refresh rate as the Pixel 5a. For instance, the $450 Samsung Galaxy A53 has a 6.5-inch display with a 120Hz refresh rate, which speeds up scrolling and animations even if a lesser refresh rate would help preserve battery life.
The phone received a Very Good rating for performance in CR’s labs, which takes into account usability and processing speed, as well as the caliber of its display.
Google has begun producing its own chipsets to power its mobile devices, and the Pixel 6a will follow the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro last fall in switching to Tensor. In other words, the kind of on-device translation and dictation tools that set the Pixel experience apart from other Android phones. This is the purpose behind Google’s hardware, which is expressly designed to incorporate cores dedicated to compute-intensive AI operations.
Blazing performance isn’t always at the top of Tensor’s to-do list because of the emphasis on AI and machine learning. Nevertheless, according to our tests, the Pixel 6a outperformed Android devices in its price bracket like the Galaxy A53 with an Exynos 1280 processor.
In both the single-core test (1,057 vs. 745) and the multicore test (2,918 vs. 1,888), the Pixel 6a significantly outperformed the Galaxy A53. In terms of graphic testing, the Pixel 6a outperformed the Galaxy A53 with a result of 41 frames per second on the 3DMark Wild Life Unlimited benchmark. The most telling outcome came from our tests in the real world, where we transcoded a movie using Adobe Premiere Rush. The Galaxy A53 needed a little under 2 minutes to finish the task, compared to the Pixel 6a’s 49 seconds.
Unfortunately, Google isn’t the only manufacturer to use the same technology that powers its high-end phones in a more affordable product. This is similar to Apple’s strategy with the iPhone SE, which has the same A15 Bionic chipset as the iPhone 13 series in the 2022 model. You can probably guess how a Pixel 6a vs. iPhone SE fight panned out given that that is the quickest mobile chipset we’ve tested.
With a Geekbench multicore score of 4,482 and a Wild Life Unlimited frame rate of 50, the iPhone SE easily defeated the Pixel 6a. In our Premiere Rush test, Apple’s phone transcoded the movie in 27 seconds, beating the Pixel 6a’s time by 22 seconds. To be fair to the Tensor chip in the Pixel 6a, many smartphones struggle to compete with the A15 Bionic found within Apple’s iPhones. Performance using Tensor is simply one aspect of the story, as we’ll discuss later.
The Pixel 6a sports two rear cameras, just like the Pixel 5a: a 12.2-megapixel wide-angle camera and a 12-megapixel ultrawide-angle camera. Similar to last year’s model, the 8-megapixel selfie camera is present, but it is underwhelming compared to other models we examine (though the front camera on the iPhone SE is only 7 megapixels). For instance, the $400 OnePlus 8T’s camera has a 16-megapixel sensor.
But such equipment only tells a portion of the story. The Pixel 6a may use the Tensor chip to take photographs and videos that are enhanced by software, in contrast to the Pixel 5a.
My favorite feature, the Magic Eraser, lets you remove random items, bystanders, and photobombers from your pictures in a way that almost feels like witchcraft. Blur, which you may use to soften the backdrop, and Color Focus, which modifies the saturation of a photo, are two other camera tips. According to the business, the program can “unblur” or sharpen faces and capture skin tones more accurately.
Additionally, the Pixel 6a supports Night Sight, which enables flash-free photo-taking in low light. The resulting photographs have a very soft focus, so it’s not perfect, but given the circumstances, the camera performs amazingly well.
The Pixel 6a lacks Motion Mode, which can help draw attention to a moving subject like a child riding a bicycle or a cat climbing a tree, in contrast to the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro. Depending on the effect you want, either the background or the subject can be blurry.
The cameras, according to CR testers, are among the best at taking still photos, selfies, and videos.
The Pixel 6a’s battery life has been a real mystery so far. The phone may be used regularly for up to 24 hours, and an Extreme Battery Saver Mode can extend that to 72 hours by turning off features and suspending a lot of apps. Despite having a battery capacity of 4,410 mAh compared to 4,680 mAh on the Pixel 5a, the Pixel 6a has a larger battery.
The Pixel 6a failed our battery test, in which phones constantly browse the web until their batteries run out of power. This could be because of the smaller battery, the Tensor chip’s requirements, or some other issue. On average, the Pixel 6a lasted 6 hours and 29 minutes, falling more than 3 hours short of the Pixel 5a’s performance on the same test.
When it comes to specialized functions, Tensor steals the show by giving the Pixel 6a skills often found on more expensive smartphones. The Pixel 6a now has Magic Eraser, which makes it possible to quickly and easily delete undesired people and objects from your photos.
But with the release of the Pixel 6a, Magic Erase has a new camouflage feature. Now, in order to keep the focus on the topic of the photograph, it is not only necessary to get rid of distracting objects but also to change their color to blend in better with the background.
The addition of a new and significantly enhanced Magic Eraser is not the end of the Tensor-powered features. You may translate text using translation capabilities that allow you to aim your camera at it, and an interpreter mode enables you to have discussions with someone else while your Pixel 6a’s assistant acts as a translator in the middle, translating what you both say. The Recorder app supports translated transcription for all languages. Even the “OK, Google” wake word on your phone is no longer necessary for some voice commands.
Even the under-display fingerprint sensor from the Pixel 6 is addressed in the Pixel 6a. However, just like the Pixel 6, I discover that in order for the phone to continuously unlock, you need to hold your finger glued to the screen for a lengthier period of time than you might be accustomed to.
With three years of software updates included, the Pixel 6a ships with Android 12. This means that when Android 13 launches later this year, you’ll get it as well. Google’s approach, though, seems a touch stingy in a world where Samsung currently promises four Android updates for phones, including the Galaxy A53. Hopefully, Google will become a little more forthcoming with its software upgrades now that it is producing its own silicon.