With the 2019 Google Pixel 3a, Google first ventured into the mid-range smartphone market, and it succeeded admirably. The Google Pixel 6a, a cost-effective replacement with flagship-level power, has arrived just as the Pixel 3a has reached the end of its useful life.
Hardware: A Well-Known Formula As a trimmed-down version of a flagship with some clear areas to cut, Google’s A-series lineup initially launched. The lovely matte-glass casing of the Pixel 3 was replaced with plastic, the display was of lower quality, and so on.
That formula mostly holds true for the Pixel 6a . A glossy plastic backing mimics the glossy glass shell of the Pixel 6, and Gorilla Glass 3 is used in place of the flagship device’s Gorilla Glass Victus. However, things actually don’t detract from the experience.
The 6a’s plastic casing makes it substantially lighter than other smartphones, which I actually quite enjoyed. In the middle of this testing period, I picked up my Pixel 6 Pro, which served as a reminder of how heavy that phone is in comparison. And although the Pixel 6a’s plastic body is largely made of plastic, it doesn’t feel cheap. It does a good job at simulating the normal Pixel 6’s in-hand appearance and feel. I really adore Google’s new Sage color and the matte black rails on the 6a. Though it isn’t especially showy, it looks wonderful and the fact that the color changes slightly depending on the lighting is interesting. The phone appears a little pale in warm, bright light, but the green color really stands out in cooler, shadier conditions.
YOU CAN’T MAKE A MISTAKE WITH THIS DISPLAY There isn’t much that can be said negatively about the Google Pixel 6a’s display. After all, it is a tried-and-true formula. OLED, respectable brightness, and flawless touch sensitivity during our testing.
The 60Hz refresh rate, which feels polarizing in comparison to the majority of today’s other smartphones and the rest of Google’s Pixel 6 portfolio, is the biggest drawback.
The Pixel 6a feels slightly slower than it actually is due to the display’s reduced refresh rate, but both my colleague Abner Li and I quickly adapted to the slower refresh rate. You don’t really know what you’re missing unless you compare them side by side, just like before these higher refresh rates entered the scene.
Do I wish Google had chosen to equip the Pixel 6a with a 90Hz display? Sure! The experience would have been enhanced without a doubt. But at $449, it was clear that something needed to be sacrificed, and I’m glad to see that the money saved went to the Google Tensor chip in the engine.
I should also mention that there are some problems with the display’s glass. First, I discovered that, at least in my experience, it was incredibly simple to pick up scuffs. I was able to repair a little hairline scratch in less than 24 hours, prompting the rapid installation of a screen protector. But Abner’s phone is still immaculate. Additionally, at least on my device, the oleophobic coating on the display was subpar. But hey, at least the glass is flat, making screen protectors affordable and simple.
NOT TO MENTION THAT IT IS SMALLER Another significant feature of the Pixel 6a that some people will appreciate is how much smaller it is. The Pixel 6a is smaller in every dimension than any other device in Google’s range, measuring 6.0 inches by 2.8 inches by 0.35 inches with a 6.1-inch display. The Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro have dimensions of 6.2 inches in height, 2.9 inches in width, and 0.4 inches in depth, respectively.
Although individually they don’t seem like much, together they have a significant impact. However, given the sleek curve of the Pixel 6 Pro and the blockiness of the Pixel 6a, the mid-range phone feels distinctly out of date. It isn’t any different from the Pixel 6, but because everything is smaller, it functions a little bit better.
Although the Pixel 6a is not a small phone, it is easily controllable. I’d characterize it as a phone that feels cozy, at least to me. Even the ordinary Pixel 6 is a large, fairly heavy phone. I usually carry the Pixel 6 Pro in my pocket.
Abner Li, our editor in chief, also concurs.
After six years of little phones, I chose the large Pixel from last fall’s top lineup. In light of its grip, low weight, and pocketability, using the Pixel 6a has been a true joy. I truly don’t miss having more screen space, and I most definitely don’t miss the 6 Pro thudding down on my chest. For anyone who are experiencing a similar problem, I would advise choosing physical comfort above presuming that a larger screen will increase productivity.
With the Pixel 6a, Google really got the balance right, and this is something you sense the moment you first pick it up. It’s not too big, but it’s also not too small. It’s light. Although it’s not as enjoyable as some of Google’s previous mid-range phones, I’ll take it for now.
PERFORMANCE OF SOFTWARE ANDAMP; | GOOGLES USUAL ANDROID FLAVOR THAT WILL LAST FOR YEARS TO COME As of the July 28 launch, the Pixel 6a comes pre-installed with the April security patch. It continues to run on Android 12L rather than QPR3, which results in minor UI changes. As a result, the Security Hub will alert you that it has been 90 days since this device received a security update and will advise you to do so even if nothing is now available. It’s not ideal, but according to Google, the first Pixel 6a update will arrive in early August, and Android 13 should follow soon after.
The Pixel 6as package, though, is essentially the same as that of any other Google phone when you look past the launch software. Android 12’s wonderful Material You are here and perform just as well as on Google’s flagship devices. Furthermore, you continue to receive the same set of Pixel-only features.
The Google Assistant’s quick iteration on the Pixel is great, and Gboard’s faster and more accurate voice typing works just as well on the Pixel 6a as it does on Google’s flagships, making it the best voice typing app available right now. Call Screen is still incredibly helpful for coping with a barrage of spam calls from people trying to buy my house.
Check out our comprehensive assessment of Google’s newest software goodies from that review from last year for more information on how little the experience has changed from the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro.
Camouflage in the Google Photos app is the lone new feature that comes with the Pixel 6a and will soon be available for the rest of the lineup. At Google I/O, the Magic Eraser app received an update that added the ability to muffle the colors of objects in photos so they don’t detract from the main topic. We haven’t given this feature much of a test, but the results are exactly what Google promises.
With the Pixel 6a, Google also released a number of amazing new wallpapers that are entertaining and complement Material You.
But putting the features aside, pay attention to the support timeframe. The Pixel 6a is receiving the same support as the rest of Google’s flagship devices, unlike many Android manufacturers who are fast to quit supporting mid-range handsets. major Android updates for at least three years and monthly security updates for five years.
Only Samsung can match that guarantee, although not all of the company’s mid-range phones are covered by it.
A less expensive phone than the Pixel 6a is possible, but it won’t have the same support or even the same price-to-performance ratio. A Pixel 6a will cost less than $100 annually if utilized for the full supported life of the device. The well-known OnePlus Nord N20 costs less than $300, but because it only receives one major Android upgrade and sporadic security updates for two years, it costs about $150 per year of its supported lifespan.
RAM DOES NOT WORK, BUT TENSOR DOES The Pixel 6a is not your typical mid-range smartphone, which is another item to take into account. It uses the exact same Google Tensor flagship CPU as the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro.
And it truly does show. The Pixel 6a performs admirably in everyday use, doing the majority of tasks without any problems. But it doesn’t have the same feel as the brand’s flagships. The Pixel 6a feels like a Pixel 6 that is in battery-saving mode, according to reviewer Damien Wilde.
The Pixel 6a’s 60Hz display is undoubtedly one factor in this sense, but the RAM, and more specifically the RAM management, is the main offender. Like the Pixel 5a before it, the Pixel 6a has 6GB of RAM. But Abner and I have both observed that the phone frequently offloads background-running programs astonishingly swiftly. Even with only three or four people in the hot seat, we’ve seen apps reload in as little as a few minutes. Abner Li, Damien Wilde, and I, three members of our team, have all observed that apps reload considerably more quickly than anticipated, albeit this is not quite as terrible as Google’s RAM management concerns in the Pixel 3 days.
Although this problem isn’t really a deal-breaker in our opinion, it detracts from the experience and just seems weird. A smooth experience should result from the combination of Tensor and 6GB of RAM, which is more than enough for Android 12 to demonstrate its power. We can only hope that optimization work in upcoming versions will resolve the RAM management problems we’re experiencing.
We reported bugs to Google, and the business is still looking into them.
Now that we’ve brought up Google Tensor, let’s talk about network performance. Given what we’ve learned about the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro since their initial releases, the Pixel 6a felt average at best in this area.
The network performance during my time with the phone left me unimpressed but not disappointed. I found that the Pixel 6a would lose its Google Fi connection in rural areas much more quickly than my Galaxy Z Fold 3. I also experienced some Wi-Fi difficulties during my review period, though I’d be just as prepared to blame Spectrum for being recently extremely unreliable and bad in my area.
Although it pains us to say this, the Pixel 6a is not the phone to purchase if network performance is important to your day. You’ll be alright if you spend the majority of your time in a city or other well-covered region. However, if you reside or work in a remote place with patchy coverage, the Pixel 6a will soon become annoying, if not worse.
As it stands right now, Google’s network performance on the Pixel 7 generation and Tensor 2 actively degrades the company’s smartphones. Clearly, this is something that has to be fixed.
BATTERY LIFE | APPROPRIATE, BUT RATHER A 4,410 mAh battery powers the Google Pixel 6a, which is not significantly smaller than the Pixel 6. I anticipated results to be basically on par, if not somewhat better, with a smaller 6.1-inch display and a 60Hz refresh rate.
Sadly, it wasn’t the situation.
While connected to Wi-Fi in my home office, I used the Pixel 6a on a daily basis to check social media, reply to messages, and manage email. The phone was on a mix of 5G and LTE on Google Fi, and it was also used with a wireless Android Auto adapter for around 30 minutes of driving. In the afternoon, it frequently accompanied me while I played a round of disc golf at a nearby, relatively remote course. Usually, I limit my screen time to 3–4 hours (as tracked by Googles Digital Wellbeing since the company ruined Android 12s battery tracker).
In general, I discovered that the Pixel 6a could survive a full day, but would frequently ask for a charge about 10 or so at night. I discovered that I needed to plug in around 8 pm on three out of the four days I used the Pixel 6a, simply because it was approaching the 20% battery saver.
As a short reminder, the battery statistics panel in Android 12 is damaged, making the information less relevant for everyone. Is the battery life poor? Not in my opinion. At this stage, it is undoubtedly better than the battery life of my Pixel 6 Pro and Galaxy Z Fold 3, both of which, when used by me, require recharging by the end of the day most days. In my use last year, which was obviously a little less intensive given the time of year, the ordinary Pixel 6 greatly outperformed the Pixel 6a in this area. Given my present daily routine, I’m not overly shocked to notice a greater impact from using a cellular network on Google Tensor-powered devices. However, I can’t help but feel a little let down.
Your results may differ from Abner’s assessment that the Pixel 6a was consistent with a typical heavy workflow.
How, in all seriousness, does this phone still lack wireless charging? The Pixel 6a’s charging setup has not altered from Google’s last several mid-range phones. With USB-C, you can recharge at up to 18W. While a little slower than the Pixel 6/Pro, it was still fast enough in our tests for the majority of situations. According to Google, a few minutes of electricity can last for hours. That might be a slight exaggeration, but plugging in for 20 to 30 minutes at maximum speed will easily charge the battery by at least 50%.
Naturally, faster wired charging would be welcomed, especially given that the competition is currently going up to 65W, but it still doesn’t feel necessary.
I would much rather see a more practical method of charging. Google has never included Qi wireless charging in its A-series phones, but this time it seems like an useless omission. The Pixel 6a is fully capable of including wireless charging, thus leaving it out was a conscious choice on Google’s part, unlike some previous devices powered by mid-range Snapdragon CPUs that had good reasons to forego Qi compatibility.
And to be honest, it feels entirely contrived at this point. Despite being a premium feature, wireless charging is not a very pricey component. Support for Qi is available on the comparably cost iPhone SE, and while this is only a minor point overall, it is absurd that Google continues to reserve this basic functionality for their high-end products.
FOR A MID-RANGE PHONE, THE CAMERA IS STILL OUTSTANDING. The Pixel lineup’s main selling point has always been its cameras, and the Pixel 6a is no exception. A 12.2MP primary camera and a 12MP ultrawide camera with a 114 field-of-view are both included in the phone’s two rear camera sensors. In essence, it offers the same camera package as the Pixel 5, but that’s okay!
The Pixel 6a performs admirably when shooting in general. In favorable lighting, it can capture a ton of detail, and Google’s HDR wizardry creates amazing images. Only when using zoom and in less-than-ideal illumination does the camera really struggle.
Click here to see full-size samples and videos
With the former, this primarily manifests itself when it is too dark for a good shot but not quite dark enough for Night Sight to function. It usually happens at night, inside, in a room with adequate artificial lighting. With the latter, it cannot be avoided. Even with Google’s optimizations, digital zoom is quite bad, so increasing the zoom over 2x immediately ruins the image.
WHAT DIFFERS IT FROM PIXEL 6? This all stings when compared to Google’s Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro. These phones contain a new 50MP camera sensor that, even without software assistance, is crisper, better at digital zoom, and better in low-light situations. These devices also generate noticeably better video than the Pixel 6a, which falls short in this regard.
However, the Pixel 6a competes favorably as well. The Pixel 6a is able to capture many of the same essential details as the Pixel 6 Pro, even when two shots are side by side. These are both quite capable cameras, albeit shots are a touch less detailed, bokeh appears a little less natural, and the 6a leans a little cooler than the Pro.
But logically speaking, it makes sense. To reach this pricing range, compromises had to be made, and the camera makes the most sense given that the device is powered by a flagship CPU. Even with that in mind, the consistency of this smartphone camera makes it one of the best in its price range.
Nevertheless, it seems like Google is pushing the limits of how long they can keep using the same old arrangement. It would be a stretch to add another 12MP sensor the following year, but I truly hope Google will debut something fresh and, more importantly, sharper.
FINGERPRINT SENSOR | TIDBITS The fingerprint sensor on the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro was a frequent source of criticism because it was seen as being unreliable, slow, and imprecise. We were significantly less critical of the sensor because we believed it to be slow but generally reliable.
Overall, the Pixel 6a represents a small advancement. Just slightly, it feels a tad faster than the Pixel 6 Pro. The difference is primarily discernible when used side by side. I didn’t really have any complaints about reliability. The only time I ran into issues was when my hand started to perspire, which led to a string of inaccurate results. The sensor wasn’t harmed by installing a cheap screen protector , so much so that I didn’t even need to retrain my fingerprint.
The fact that you can only save four fingerprints as opposed to five on the 6/Pro is strange.
HAPTICS The vibrations you experience when your phone rings or in response to system components may seem insignificant, but they go a long way toward giving a gadget a more upscale or refined feel.
The Pixel 6a isn’t horrible, but Google’s prior A-series devices haven’t been very noteworthy in this area. The haptics, in my opinion, were tight but not extremely potent. Although the haptics of the Pixel 6 Pro are noticeably more precise and impactful, the Pixel 6a is not a slouch either. The new shutter vibration in the Google Camera app makes me feel less impact, and tapping on Gboard feels buzzier than rumbly, but it doesn’t feel hollow like many other low-cost phones frequently do.
OFFICIAL CASE OF GOOGLES STILL KIND OF SUCKS During the course of our evaluation, we kept the Pixel 6a in Google’s official case, which has the same style as the cases for the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro.
The case is still unimpressive.
Although the buttons are well-made and the overall level of protection is good, the cutout for the USB-C port is uncomfortable to hold in your finger. The material will probably age similarly to the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro cases, if how it currently feels is any clue. Even if the case costs about $30, there are more better solutions available from third parties.
SPEAKERS The Google Pixel 6a’s speakers don’t really merit any discussion. It’s not a set of speakers I’d actively choose to use, but the bottom-facing driver backed up by the earpiece gives adequate power for music and videos on social media. I’d much rather use headphones or a speaker at home to listen to music than a phone connection. It offers sufficient volume for the essentials, but the standard Pixel 6 will be louder and of higher quality than this experience.
A FINAL NOTE: If you are still using a Pixel 3A, it is time to upgrade. As previously indicated, the release of this phone coincides with the Pixel 3a’s formal retirement. There is only one more update left for that phone, however it has not yet arrived.
After receiving that final update, the Pixel 3a won’t suddenly stop functioning, but it also won’t receive any additional system features or, more importantly, security fixes. Although we have expressed our displeasure with Google’s decision to discontinue its phones so fast, the Pixel 6a has helped to herald in a new era for the company’s update strategy.
The Pixel 6a is pretty much the perfect upgrade if you’re currently using a Pixel 3a or Pixel 3a XL.
The Pixel 6a is similar in size to the Pixel 3a basic model but has fewer bezels. A significantly better display, an ultrawide camera, and—most importantly—the Google Tensor big chip upgrade are also included. Tensor is a significant improvement over the Snapdragon 670 featured in that 2019 phone. If you’re seeking to upgrade from one of the Pixel 4a or 5a smartphones, it is even a significant improvement.
Google also unveiled a unique incentive for Pixel 3a owners after our review first went public. Google will offer customers $300 for a Pixel 3a or Pixel 3a XL through the Google Store, and $295 even if the phone is shattered! Without a doubt, it’s a fantastic offer. Currently not supported, the Pixel 3a costs little under $100 from used retailers. The Pixel 6a is reduced to just $149 with a $300 incentive, and you’re still qualified for a free set of Pixel Buds A-Series! Given that the Pixel 4a retailed for just $349, you can obtain the same trade-in value for it as you do for the Pixel 4a 5G.
Take this as your signal. The Pixel 6a is an even better phone than the Pixel 3a, which is still a great phone.
IS IT WORTH IT TO PURCHASE THE PIXEL 6 INSTEAD FOR $150 MORE? When considering only Google’s current portfolio, the Pixel 6a occupies a somewhat peculiar position. Thanks to the Google Tensor processor within, it is remarkably similar to the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro. That’s really amazing since it ensures that whichever device you choose will be excellent.
However, there is just $150 separating the $449 Google Pixel 6a from the $599 Pixel 6, making it difficult to choose between the two. The extra money, which on most payment plans only amounts to a few dollars per month, greatly enhances the experience. A smoother experience is made possible by the additional RAM and increased refresh rate. In every way, the 50MP camera on the Pixel 6 outperforms the 12MP camera on the Pixel 6. Also a good addition is wireless charging.
With the Pixel 6a, Google successfully balanced price and performance, giving you a phone that is actually exceptional value. You can’t go wrong in either situation, but if the basic Pixel 6’s extra features are valuable to you, it’s worth consideration.
WHAT STORES SELL THE PIXEL 6A Major shops and carriers currently offer the Pixel 6a for pre-order for $449. On July 28, shipping and in-store availability begin.
Reviewer Google Store Abner Li made contributions.
FTC: We employ automatically earning affiliate connections. More.
Check out 9to5Google on YouTube for more news: