Google Pixel 6a review: still relevant in 2023!
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Google Pixel 6a Intro
The Google Pixel 6a is one of the most impressive budget phones available in 2023. That is mostly because unlike other phones in this price range, the Pixel 6a has the nearly flagship-grade Tensor G1 chip inside and not just that, but it also has probably the most capable camera system on an affordable phone.
The Pixel 6a advantages include an appealing design, a compact 6.1" form factor and light weight, as well as Google's clean version of Android that is a pleasure to use.
At its sub-$450 price, the Pixel 6a is easily one of the best budget phones around.
The Pixel 6a replaces the 5a model, which launched last year in only a few countries. The 5a was available in the United States and Japan, so effectively most of the world was left without a Google budget phone for one year until the Pixel 6a, which this time around launches in the US, Canada, and most of Europe.
Compared to the Pixel 5a, the 6a looks like a massive upgrade thanks to that much faster processor, new design, all at the same price.
What’s new about the Pixel 6a?
- Adopts the new Pixel "camera visor" flagship design
- First budget Pixel with powerful Tensor chip
- 6.1" screen size is a perfect middle ground
- Sticks with older 12MP camera sensor but keeps the "Pixel look"
- Faster camera speed
- Plentiful 128GB of storage as a base
- $450 price
Table of Contents:
Pixel 6a Unboxing
Like so many other new phones, the Pixel 6a ships in a slim box, and you probably can already guess what this small size means: there is no charger included in this box. Check out this selection of our favorite fast chargers, the Pixel supports 18W charge speeds, but we recommend getting at least a 30W charger which you will be able to use with multiple devices now and in the future.
Inside the box, you will find the phone, a cable with a USB type C connection on both sides, a SIM tool and the usual collection of user manuals. There is no case included in the box and no pre-applied screen protector either.
Pixel 6a Specs
The Tensor chip is the big highlight here
Here is an overview of the Pixel 6a specs:
|Specs||Google Pixel 6a|
|Size and Weight||152.2 x 71.8 x 8.9mm, 178g|
|Display||6.1" OLED, 60Hz|
|Processor||Google Tensor Gen1|
|Storage||128GB, no expandable storage|
|Cameras||12MP wide camera, f/1.7 aperture|
12MP ultra-wide camera, f/2.2 aperture
8MP front camera, f/2.0
|Battery Size||4,410 mAh|
|Charging Speeds||18W wired charging|
no wireless charging
As we've mentioned, having the flagship-grade Tensor processor in a budget device like the Pixel 6a is unexpected, but absolutely fabulous. The phone feels fast and with this chip it will remain fast for years to come.
The Pixel 6a comes with 6GB of RAM, which feels like a good middle ground, so you can run quite a few apps in the background. An 8GB RAM version would be even better for power users, so that's one compromise power users might want to be aware of.
If you want even more details, don't forget that we have our in-depth Pixel 6a specs page where you can find all sorts of technicalities, including specific 5G bands supported and a lot more.
Pixel 6a Design & Colors
A pleasingly compact phone with a few compromises like a plastic back
With a trendy dual tone look, the Pixel 6a is a looker and we actually prefer its smaller 6.1-inch form factor a lot better compared to the much bigger Pixel 6 and 6 Pro. We also love the airy, light-weight feel too, a nice change from bulky modern phones. However, the larger bezels and the plastic back do give away its budget nature (the detail obsessed will notice that the bezels are not uniform and you have a thicker bottom bezel).
Google has also nixed a few features that were previously available on the "a" series and the most notable omission in the 6a is the headphone jack, which is kind of a shame.
On the flip side, the phone is IP67 certified for water and dust protection, a nice feature to have at this price point. This is just a step below the IP68 rating we get on flagships, but the difference is tiny and mostly boils down to how long and how deep a phone can survive under water.
We also like that the styling is so recognizable. With that horizontal camera bar on the back, you can tell you are looking at a Pixel from a mile away. One interesting detail is that the camera bar is actually about half the thickness of what you have on the Pixel 6, which is nice. One advantage of this design is that the phone doesn't wobble when you lay it on a table.
It comes in a selection of three colors: Charcoal (the black-ish model), Chalk (the white one that we have for review), and Sage (a really nice shade of green). As always, Google is creative with the names, but you just have to appreciate that finally we have some real choice of different colors in the affordable Pixel lineup. Let us remind you that the previous model came in only one boring black color option!
Pixel 6a Display
(Image credit - Phone Arena) Pixel 6a comes with a 6.1 inch OLED screen with 60Hz refresh rate
The Pixel 6a comes with a 6.1-inch OLED screen, which has nice and vibrant colors and sufficient brightness, but unfortunately does not support a fast refresh rate. This is probably the biggest compromises Google made in this phone. Once you get used to a 90Hz or a 120Hz refresh rate, you just appreciate the buttery smooth scrolling, and a 60Hz just looks choppy in comparison.
The 6a also uses the older Gorilla Glass 3 cover glass for the screen, instead of the latest and tougher editions we see on flagships, but so far we have had no scratches and thankfully we haven't dropped the phone either.
The most often cited issue with the Pixel 6 series is the stubborn fingerprint scanner, which requires more force than your average phone and works less consistently. Unfortunately, the Pixel 6a is mostly the same. It uses an optical fingerprint scanner (the kind that lights up and can blind you a bit at night) and you have to press extra hard and long to unlock the phone. You do get used to it after a while, but it's a shame that Google cannot figure out something as simple as a fingerprint scanner.
A few Pixel 6a users in India reported that anyone could unlock the phone bypassing the fingerprint scanner, a troubling bug, but we haven't heard other reports after that, so you probably should not worry about that.
And in case you are wondering, nope, face recognition is not available in any form on the Pixel 6a.
Pixel 6a Camera
A dual rear camera system with that "Pixel look"
(Image credit - Phone Arena) You get a 12MP main and a 12MP ultra-wide camera
The Pixel 6a uses a 12MP sensor for the main camera. It's the same sensor used in older Pixel phones (the Pixel 6 series and newer switched to a 50MP sensor), so you have a bit less detail in photos, but chances are you won't even notice unless you really pixel peep. You also have a 12MP ultra-wide camera, but no telephoto zoom lens on board.
Here is an overview of the Pixel 6a camera specs:
- 12MP wide camera, f/1.7 aperture
- 12MP ultra-wide camera, f/2.2 aperture
- 8MP front camera, f/2.0
In real life, we were happy to see the Pixel 6a was much faster processing photos. Last year's Pixel 5a would often take a few long moments to process a picture, but thanks to the faster Tensor chip in the Pixel 6a waiting time is reduced significantly.
You also still get most of the cool tricks from the flagships. For example, the Magic Eraser function works just as well on the Pixel 6a as it does on the flagship Pixel 6.
You have the cool Face Unblur feature that works under the scenes to ensure you get a sharp photo of say your moving toddler.
The one missing feature is Motion Mode, which would add long exposure-like effects, and while we found it cool, we don't really consider it essential.
Photos come out with the familiar HDR-y Pixel look. The novelty has kind of worn off by now and other phones have caught up with HDR technology, but we still find photos here looking very good and at this price the Pixel 6a has one of the best photo cameras around.
Selfies also turn out really well, we like the dynamic range, the colors and the wide field of view.
You have a slight crop (around 1.3X) when you record video, and it's the same crop for 1080p and 4K footage. Video quality is very good, especially for this price, but not quite as good as video out of the iPhone SE.
A newly added superpower on the Pixel 6a is HDR video recording even at 4K60 resolution. The difference is subtle compared to the Pixel 5a, but we've noticed how HDR videos stand out a lot more on social media, so it's great that you have that option.
Pixel 6a Performance & Benchmarks
Google Tensor blows (most of the) competition out the water
(Image credit - Phone Arena) The Tensor chip inside is a huge upgrade for a budget phone
The first-gen Google Tensor chip is definitely faster than the standard processor in this price range, but of course, it's no match for newer phones in 2023 that sport the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 or the Apple A15 Bionic used in the current iPhone SE model.
So the Tensor chip is still an advantage that really helps the Pixel 6a stand out in the Android crowd. The 6GB of RAM sounds a bit limiting, but we did not notice apps closing on us unexpectedly while multitasking, so we would not worry too much about it.
For gamers, this chip is good news, but we have to warn you that we noticed the phone is more prone to overheating. Spend 15-20 minutes in a resource-intense game like Genshin Impact or even Diablo Immortal, and chances are you will notice the phone getting uncomfortably hot and throttling.
One thing we love about the Pixel 6a is that it has 128GB of storage. This is a breath of fresh air compared to the iPhone SE which only has 64GB storage in the base model, and with the system and a few essential apps you are left with almost nothing for your photos and videos.
You do NOT get a microSD card slot on the Pixel 6a, but that is something we can live with given the generous storage allocation.
Pixel 6a Connectivity
The Pixel 6a actually comes in two versions: an unlocked $450 model that you can use on carriers like T-Mobile and AT&T, and then a Verizon-specific version that has mmWave 5G support and costs a bit more at $500.
The unlocked model that most people will buy has support for T-Mobile's n41 and n71 5G bands, as well as AT&T's n5, n48, n66 and n77 5G bands. This means you get support for the important mid-band 5G spectrum, so you will get the full benefit of the C-bands that make T-Mobile the impressive 5G performer that it is. You won't get mmWave on AT&T, but we doubt this will disappoint too many people considering the limited coverage of the technology.
The Pixel 6a has Wi-Fi 6, a connectivity feature rarely found in mid-range phones and this is good news as it is able to eke out faster speeds out of existing Wi-Fi connections and get coverage a bit better Wi-Fi coverage compared to devices like the Galaxy A53 5G which only has Wi-Fi 5 connectivity.
The 6a also features the newer Bluetooth 5.2 standard that should provide a better connection, plus you have NFC on board for Google Pay.
Pixel 6a Android version and software updates
Having a Pixel comes with the benefit of squeaky clean versions of Android made in the way the creator, Google itself, envisions the operating system.
This is mostly a good thing, but if you want the maximum feature-set, a Samsung phone might have a few extra features that you won't find here.
With Live Wallpapers, a very informative lock screen with live weather information, as well as the customization options of Android 12, the Pixel 6a feels a bit more refined than your average budget phone and we could appreciate its refinement. Even the default font that Google uses is nicer than your standard Roboto font used on many other devices.
When it comes to software updates, the Pixel 6a will get three major Android updates, and an impressive five years of security updates. Don't forget that updates on Pixel phones come the moment Google releases the new software, while other phone makers take a few long months before delivering updates, so the Pixel 6a is looking good. Not quite iPhone good with Apple's 5-6 years of major updates, but better than most Android phones out there.
Pixel 6a Battery
Solid battery life, but not extraordinary by any means
The Pixel 6a is equipped with a 4,410mAh battery, a good size for such a compact phone.
However, it has big shoes to fill as last year's Pixel 5a was an absolute battery champion that would routinely last us a day and a half with average use and even up to two days between charges.
The Pixel 6a is a good battery performer, but not quite to the level of its predecessor. It lasted us through days with even heavier use, and we could stretch it to a day and a half occasionally. You also have the Adaptive Battery feature in Android 12 that should help polish the rough edges of your battery use over time and the Extreme Battery Saver feature which pauses most apps and slows the phone CPU down to eke out longer battery life.
PhoneArena Battery Test Results:
All our tests are performed at the same brightness level on all phones to ensure an equal playing field. Our YouTube test has all phones running the same set of videos and if you watch a lot of video, this number will be the most important one for you.
Pixel 6a Charging Speeds
Charging speeds can get crazy these days, but that is not the case on the Pixel 6a. The phone only supports 18W wired charging, which is slower than iPhones and Galaxies.
Honestly, the slow charging speeds were one of our big annoyances with the Pixel 6a. Here are the charging times we got:
- in 30 minutes - 37% charge
- Full charge (1 to 100%) takes 1 hour and 55 minutes
Also, there is no wireless charging support at all. Those used to the convenience of wireless charging might be disappointed, but that's one compromise for the lower price.
Pixel 6a Audio Quality and Haptics
As most phones these days, the Pixel 6a comes with a dual speaker system consisting of a bottom-firing "main" speaker and a secondary speaker located in the earpiece. They don't get quite as boomy as iPhones, but compared to other mid-range phones, here sound does not get distorted at even maximum levels, which we were obviously happy with.
As we've already mentioned, there is no 3.5mm headphone jack on the 6a. Such are the times, but we are still going to miss the convenience.
We had no issues with call quality, with maybe one slight complaint would be that sound was a tiny bit quieter on our end, even at max volume.
We were also pleasantly surprised to find the Pixel 6a has mostly pleasing haptic feedback so typing feels nice on it. At the same time, if you have the misfortune to leave your phone on a wooden table, it can scare the heck out of you when the vibration signals a new notification. For some reason, in the case, the vibration is horrifically loud.
Pixel 6a Competitors
There are two big names in the mid-range segment which the Pixel 6a occupies with its $450 price.
The immediate rival at the same price is Samsung's Galaxy A53 5G, which stands out with a larger and higher-quality screen with fast 120Hz refresh rate that you don't have on the Pixel. The Galaxy is a good phone with longer software support (4 years vs 3yrs on the Pixel), but we feel that the slower chip brings an occasional stutter that you don't have on the Pixel, plus we'd take the camera of the Pixel over that on the Galaxy.
The other big player in the sub-$500 space is the Apple iPhone SE 3rd gen. We were impressed with the fast Google Tensor chip inside the Pixel, but the A15 Bionic in the iPhone is a different beast with even zippier performance. Unfortunately, the 4.7-inch screen is of the older LCD kind on the iPhone and it just might physically be too small for our increased smartphone appetite. It also lacks an ultra-wide camera and the main camera does not have a night mode, even if it performs extremely well during the day.
Pixel 6a Summary and final verdict
(Image credit - Phone Arena) Save for a few small annoyances, we were mostly pleased with the new Pixel 6a
Google has followed a different path than most other Android phone makers with the Pixel 6a.
Instead of equipping it with a mid-range chip and maxing out the display or focusing on some gimmicky feature, Google has blessed the Pixel 6a with a powerful Tensor processor that ensures a fast performance that you rarely find in this price class.
The Pixel 6a does lack some features that you see on flagships like the zoom camera, it also lacks wireless charging, it has slow wired charging and it is made of plastic. Biggest among these compromises in our opinion has got to be the lack of a fast refresh rate, but those compromises don't seem as bad as what most other budget phones make.
Still, those are far from deal-breakers. In fact, we would gladly recommend the Pixel 6a to everyone who would appreciate a more compact phone and wants to save some money.
Things that are NOT allowed: