Google Pixel 6a Review: Stellar Performance, Down-To-Earth Price

The latest Google phone is just out, and has a lot going for it. As you’ll know, Google’s routine is to launch a Pixel in the fall each year, and in 2021 that was the Pixel 6, a premium phone, alongside a super-duper flagship phone, the Pixel 6 Pro. It then releases a more affordable version the following spring or summer, indicating that it’s next in series by adding an ”a” to the end. So, here comes the Pixel 6a.

This year, the “a” range is a real smasher: it continues the striking design introduced in the Pixel 6, adds subtle software upgrades such as an improved Magic Eraser and, most importantly, includes a very fast processor. All for a price that’s much lower than the Pixel 6, let alone the 6 Pro.

Google Pixel 6a Design And Display

If you’ve seen the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro, you’ll know that Google introduced an unmistakable new industrial design. No other phone has the distinctive camera bar that stretches right across the back of the phone. On the Pixel 6, and here on the 6a, that bar houses two cameras, on the Pixel 6 Pro, there were three.

That camera bar was not without controversy: on the Pro, especially, it really jutted out. Here, though, it’s much less deep and that’s much better. Still, a wide camera bar has a benefit over the corner camera panels of the iPhone 14 or Samsung Galaxy S22: if you’re typing on the screen while the phone’s on the table, it is stable instead of rocking back and forth as you press.

The colors on the 6a are great: Charcoal replaces the Stormy Black of the Pixel 6, Chalk is a deftly configured off-white shade and—best of all—there’s Sage, which is an inviting pale green. In all cases, the main back of the phone and the smaller area north of the camera panel are subtly different colors.

The new phone is smaller than the 6 and 6 Pro, though it’s not a tiny phone, by any means. Where the Pixel 6 has a 6.4-inch display, and the 6 Pro a 6.71-inch screen, here it’s 6.1 inches. Which means it’s easily big enough to use, but won’t stretch smaller hands.

There’s no wireless charging on this phone—one of several changes that lets the 6a clock in at a much lower price—though this won’t be a deal-breaker for everyone.

Speaking of price, let’s get that out of the way now, as it’s a key factor in helping you choose which phone is best. Where the Pixel 6 Pro costs $899 (£849 in the U.K.), and the Pixel 6 is $599 (£599 in the U.K.), the Pixel 6a is just $449 (£399 in the U.K.). In every currency, then, that’s a big price cut.

The screen quality is not quite as high as on the Pixel 6 Pro, though it matches the Pixel 6 for resolution, 1,080 x 2,400 pixels. The fact that the screen is smaller on this new phone means, and you’re smart so you’ll be way ahead of me here, that the pixel density is actually higher on the 6a than the 6.

The refresh rate is no match for its pricier siblings, though. It’s 60Hz rather than the 90Hz and 120Hz of the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro respectively. It’s still decent, though, and it’s an OLED screen, which not every phone at this price can boast.

Google Pixel 6a Performance

This is the key standout on the new Pixel. Google introduced a home-grown processor, called Google Tensor, with last year’s Pixel 6 and 6 Pro. And the exact same chip powers the new 6a. This is a technique borrowed from Apple, which, when it releases successive versions of its most affordable iPhone SE, always equips it with the latest processor.

It’s a winning formula.

It means that for a pretty keen price, you can get performance that is blazing-fast and very efficient, which has ramifications for battery life (in a good way, obviously).

But this phone goes like the clappers (translation: very fast) and never keeps you waiting. This is important and means that the phone can be best-in-class, matching the Pixel 6 Pro, for half the price.

Battery life is strong, well over a full day. If you turn on Extreme Battery Saver, Google claims you can get up to 72 hours out of it, though it cuts off access to certain apps. And here’s a way that the budget phone outdoes the flagship: 72 hours is much more than the 6 Pro manages.

In regular use, though, you’ll still need those nightly recharges.

Google Pixel 6a Cameras

Since the very first Google Pixel, the camera has been key. Google has always focused on squeezing the best performance out of the hardware through imaginative and effective software. Google managed excellent Portrait mode effects (where the subject is in sharp relief and the background pleasantly blurred) from one camera where most manufacturers required two lenses working in unison.

The Pixel 6 series introduced Magic Eraser, a sort of basic Photoshop effect which could remove unwanted elements automatically or with just a quick edit. It wasn’t perfect, but not bad. And here it’s been improved with a camouflage effect which is much better at blending colors so the adjustments are nearly invisible.

There’s also a neat feature called Face Unblur which, though I don’t find unblur to be a very appealing word, is a great effect. It means that when light is low, it can bump up face detail by supplementing the main camera with data from the ultra-wide, for sharp faces.

The main camera resolution is 12.2MP, which is much lower than the 50MP sensor on the Pixel 6. But image quality hasn’t suffered, not least because the pixels here are bigger than on the earlier phones. As ever, the Pixel can take great photos.

Google Pixel 6a Verdict

The new Google entry-level camera feels anything but cheap, and delivers flagship performance. True, it lacks features like a fast refresh-rate display or wireless charging, but there’s easily enough here to make this a highly attractive phone.

Previous “a” series updates from Google have been decent, workmanlike and great-value. This phone takes things to a new level, delivering outstanding speed and responsiveness, an OLED screen, excellent cameras and snappy design at a hard-to-resist price.

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