Pixel 6a review: Google whittles the Pixel 6 down to perfection

Pixel 6a review: Google whittles the Pixel 6 down to perfection

Google is really swinging for the fences this year. The Pixel 6a isn’t just the latest entry in the reliably excellent Pixel A series; that the “mid-range” A-line also gets a massive upgrade in the form of a flagship-class system on a chip. Yes, the Google Tensor SoC that debuted in the Pixel 6 is also in the Pixel 6a. It’s the same chip, and that means the Pixel A series is doubling at speed year over year. Did we mention the phone is still $449?

Google has created a middle ground.

A new family of smartphones

With the launch of the Pixel 6 last year, Google finally landed on a solid path forward for its smartphone division. Besides the in-house Google SoC (with a lot of help from Samsung), Google also had a hardware design it could finally call its own, based on its distinctive and even somewhat useful camera line.

In the past, Google turned the smartphone table every year and started over, seemingly from scratch. This has meant a disjointed, directionless phone brand that mostly felt lumped together every year. But the Pixel 6a is clearly “step 2” in a long-term iterative process for Google’s phone hardware. The Pixel 6, Pixel 6a and Pixel 7 (already officially announced and pictured) are all clearly part of the same smartphone family, and it represents a huge step forward for Google hardware. The company is getting just a little closer to more serious hardware ventures from Apple and Samsung.

The camera line returns, but it's much shallower than the Pixel 6 version.
Enlarge / The camera line returns, but it’s much shallower than the Pixel 6 version.

Ron Amadeo

The Pixel 6a is definitely part of the new smartphone family and feels more like a third, smaller size of the Pixel flagship line than a brand new mid-range product. The Pixel 6 Pro is the 6.7-inch version with a 120 Hz display, 5,000 mAh battery, 12 GB of RAM and a price tag of $899. Pixel 6 is 6.4 inches, with a 90 Hz screen, 4600 mAh battery and a price of 599 dollars. The Pixel 6a is another step down, at 6.1 inches, with a 60Hz display, 4410mAh battery and 6GB of RAM for $449. They all have the same design and the same SoC, they’re all water resistant (Pixel 6a is IP67), and they all have in-display fingerprint readers. Google’s lineup now feels a lot like Samsung’s, with three flagship phones at the top.

The biggest downgrade is the 60Hz display, which isn’t as nice as the 120Hz display you’ll find in more expensive phones, but it’s fine for basic smartphone use. The camera system is headlined by the proven Sony IMX363 as the main sensor instead of the newer sensors in the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro. Google has been using this sensor since the Pixel 2, and it’s very good at getting decent results out of the ancient chip. It will probably outperform anything else at this price.

There’s also no wireless charging and, as usual for the Pixel line, no microSD slot. This year, Google is also removing the headphone jack from the mid-range A series.

The camera cover of the Pixel 6a is separated from the rest of the camera line, which should reduce glare.
Enlarge / The camera cover of the Pixel 6a is separated from the rest of the camera line, which should reduce glare.

Ron Amadeo

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