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Google Pixel 6a review: Google’s affordable workhorse

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Edited by Moira Daniels
Google Pixel 6a
4.0
★★★★★
Finder score
  • Battery Score
  • Camera Score 4.5
  • Design Score 3
  • Performance Score 4

Summary

Quick verdict: Google’s budget Pixel 6a returns to the core values of Google’s A-series handsets, providing key Pixel features, although the design is plain and the screen could do with improvement.

Pros

  • Tensor is nicely powerful
  • Clean Android with fast updates
  • Good camera, especially in low light
  • Good battery life
Cons

  • Only a 60Hz display
  • Lacks wireless charging
  • Plain design

In this guide

  • Review
  • Details
    • Pricing & Availability
  • Ask an expert

Details

Pricing & Availability

Launch price (RRP) $0
Launch date 2022-07
Google Pixel 6a

The Pixel 6a is the first Pixel A series phone to launch outside the US and Japan since the Pixel 4a. Like its now rather aged predecessor, the pitch here is that you get the best of Google without taking the majority of money out of your wallet.

That's pretty much the same pitch that Apple uses for its iPhone SE 2022, with both phones hitting relatively similar price points, too. Within the Android space, there's no shortage of competitors at this price from the likes of Samsung, Motorola, Oppo and more, too.

That means that the Pixel 6a has to work extra hard to impress. In many respects it does, but it's well worth looking at what you can get for your money at this price, and what Google may have coming up very soon indeed.


Design: A scaled-down Pixel 6 for better (or worse)

Google Pixel 6a review

Image: Alex Kidman/Finder

The Pixel 6a breaks no new design ground for Google whatsoever. It's best described as the Pixel 6, but in a smaller frame built around a 6.1-inch display.

The Pixel 6a does ship in slightly different colours than the Pixel 6 or Pixel 6 Pro, with the traditional Chalk and Charcoal colours that Google loves so very much joined by a greenish "Sage" hue. Like the other Pixel 6 phones, there's a prominent camera bar at the back, which keeps the design style consistent while feeling somewhat like overkill for this particular phone.

The Pixel 6a is cheaper than either of the current-gen Pixel phones, however – so how did Google pull off that trick?

Google Pixel 6a review

Image: Alex Kidman/Finder

It's not just a question of a smaller screen, but also one that's less capable than either the Pixel 6 or Pixel 6 Pro. The Pixel 6a's display is a 60Hz 1080x2400 pixel panel, which means it's got a much slower refresh rate than the Pixel 6's 90hz. One odd side effect of its smaller panel but identical resolution is that it's got a better DPI rating than the Pixel 6, but you won't notice that anywhere near as much as you might the refresh rate.

It's notable simply because we've seen so many Android phones in this price range and significantly below switch to 90Hz or better panels. Most of those are using LCD displays rather than OLED, but Google's clearly used cheaper panel technology just to keep costs down – or if you're cynical, make the Pixel 6 seem that little bit nicer.


Camera: Dual 12MP cameras aren't flexible, but they are good

Google Pixel 6a review

Image: Alex Kidman/Finder

The Pixel 6a presents a quandary to Google because it's already laid out its camera ambitions in the Pixel 6 and especially the Pixel 6 Pro. The cheaper model was always going to slide down in the camera stakes, but it's interesting to see how and where Google's made concessions, and where the Pixel 6a impresses.

At the rear, it's built around dual 12MP wide and ultra-wide sensors. That's a similar recipe to the Pixel 6, but the fancier model gets a 50MP primary wide sensor to play with. Like the Pixel 6, there's no telephoto lens in play. At the front, you'll be taking selfies with the same 8MP sensor found in the Pixel 6.

Google's secret sauce here is the Tensor processor it introduced in the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro, which does a lot of heavy lifting when it comes to post-processing, especially for trickier low light shots. This is an area where the Pixel 6a really does stand out, with some exceptional results for a camera at this price range.

You do also get access to select Google camera features, most notably the "Magic Eraser" feature that can cut out unwanted photobombers or other elements from your shots. The AI behind Magic Eraser can be a little hit or miss, but it's non-destructive editing, so if it makes a mess it's easy enough to clean up.

As an example, here's a very busy shot taken at a local shopping centre, with lots of folks I might not want in the shot:

Google Pixel 6a review

Image: Alex Kidman/Finder

Here's how Magic Eraser's suggestions deleted folks in that picture:

Google Pixel 6a review

Image: Alex Kidman/Finder

It's far from perfect, but I could have selected to keep some of the worst examples in the photo, and the default action is to save as a copy in any case.

The comparative point here with other phones in this price range is an interesting one. The Pixel 6a outshoots the iPhone SE 2022 by a very wide margin on most shots, but at this price you very much can get triple rear lens phones that are more flexible. If you're the type who wants to shoot and let the phone sort it out for you, however, the Pixel 6a won't disappoint.

Pixel 6a sample photos

Google Pixel 6a review

Image: Alex Kidman/Finder

Google Pixel 6a review

Image: Alex Kidman/Finder

Google Pixel 6a review

Image: Alex Kidman/Finder

Google Pixel 6a review

Image: Alex Kidman/Finder

Google Pixel 6a review

Image: Alex Kidman/Finder

Google Pixel 6a review

Image: Alex Kidman/Finder


Performance: Can't quite beat the iPhone SE 2022

Google Pixel 6a review

Image: Alex Kidman/Finder

Google made bold promises around the performance of its first "in-house" processor, the Tensor, when it launched it with the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro last year. Those promises weren't entirely borne out in practice against both the best that Apple could bring to bear, or even the best in class for Android at the time.

Still, Tensor was a nice chunk of silicon for general performance, helped by the clean Android UI that's a staple of Pixel phones.

The good news for the Pixel 6a is that it features the exact same Tensor processor as found in the Pixel 6 or Pixel 6 Pro. That is paired up with just 6GB of RAM, however, which is hovering around the just-acceptable mark for a mid-range phone in 2022. It's also equipped with 128GB of fixed storage. Google's never supported microSD for its Pixel phones, and 128GB in 2022 is starting to feel small, especially when the Pixel 6 offers a 256GB tier as an option.

In benchmark terms, the Pixel 6a acquits itself reasonably well. Here's how it compares against similarly priced handsets using Geekbench 5's CPU test:

Google's Tensor can't stand up to the A15 Bionic in the iPhone SE 2022, but then nothing in the Android world does. It still stands up well in the Android space, with essentially identical scores to the Galaxy S21 FE, a phone with an RRP higher than the Pixel 6a – though it's often on sale at similar prices.

On the graphics front, the Tensor processor in the Pixel 6a pulls ahead of the Android pack, falling again to the iPhone SE 2022. Here's how they compare using 3DMark's Wild Life test:

It's a pity in a lot of ways that the Pixel 6a is stuck with that 60Hz display, because with graphics grunt at this level, it otherwise makes a fine gaming phone.

Like other Pixel phones, the appeal of the Pixel 6a is also in how long Google says it will support it for Android security and feature updates.

There's been some shifts in the Android competitive space in this regard, with makers like Samsung committing to multi-year update schedules for many of its handsets. Still, Google gets to go first with Android updates, promising 5 years of security updates and 3 years of Android OS upgrades. It starts with Android 12, so that should see it through to Android 15 at the very least.

Google Pixel 6a review

Image: Alex Kidman/Finder

The downside with stock Android is that… it's stock Android. If you entirely live in the Google space that's fine, but if you are shifting from any of its competitors – especially brands like Oppo/Realme/Vivo or Samsung, where launchers rewrite the UI extensively – there's a learning curve here. The beauty of Android is that it's so customisable, but that can also be a curse at times.


Battery: Tensor sips gently at the battery

Google Pixel 6a review

Image: Alex Kidman/Finder

The smaller frame of the Pixel 6 does limit what Google can do with its battery capacity. At just 4410mAh, it's got the smallest battery of any of this generation of Pixel phones, under the 4614mAh of the Pixel 6 and 5000mAh battery of the Pixel 6 Pro.

Combined with its 5G capabilities, I was expecting mediocre battery performance, but then the Pixel 6a did something surprising. Battery use is always relative, so first off I ran the Pixel 6a through our standard battery life test. Here's how it compared against similar handsets:

The Pixel 6a and Oppo Find X5 Lite sit side by side in this test, but the Pixel 6a is doing a lot more work here, given how much more powerful its Tensor processor is. The iPhone SE 2022 has even more processing power, but this is where it collapses, typically never lasting a full day in real world testing.

After more than a month of testing, the actual experience of using the Pixel 6a reveals a variable battery life experience; hammer it on 5G or with lots of intensive gaming and you'll need to recharge it before the day is out, but that's true of any phone. For most users, a day's usage or more should be entirely feasible most of the time.

The Pixel 6a's battery endurance is impressive, but its charging is not. Like so many premium phones there's no included charger in the box. Wired charging tops out at 18W, which isn't notably fast.

You might think, being a Pixel phone that the Pixel 6a would be compatible with Google's fancy Pixel Stand 2nd Gen... but you'd be wrong. The Pixel 6a lacks wireless charging, so the best you could do if you owned a Pixel Stand would be to rip out the USB C cable from the back and charge it that way.


Verdict

  • Buy it if you want a small, powerful Android phone.
  • Don't buy it if you want more camera flexibility or a better display.

The Pixel 6a is Google's essential answer to the iPhone SE 2022. Both are in-house phones from the software maker responsible, aimed at a mid-range price with a set of compromises alongside headline features.

It's not likely to turn the heads of the Apple faithful, but then the iPhone SE 2022 won't convince too many Android die-hards to switch camps either.

Where the Pixel 6a does stand out is being an everyday workhorse of a phone with a lot more processing power than you'll find in any comparable Android handset. If you're not a fan of larger Android "phablet" style phones, that could make it a good match.

However, it's also worth considering the Pixel 6, which has everything the Pixel 6a does and more for not that much more money. We're also only a matter of a few likely months – maybe only weeks – from the launch of the Pixel 7 family.

The Pixel 6a won't spontaneously combust when the Pixel 7 launches as far as I know, but the price and feature comparison there may seriously affect its value proposition.


Pricing and availability

The Pixel 6a retails in Australia for $749 outright. It is also available on contract through Telstra, Optus and Vodafone.

Google Pixel 6a

Specifications

Display

Display Size
6.1 inches
Resolution
1080 x 2400px

Camera

Rear camera megapixels
12.2MP + 12MP
Rear camera aperture size
ƒ/1.7 + ƒ/2.2
Video recording
4K
Front camera megapixels
8MP
Front camera aperture size
ƒ/2.0

Physical Dimensions

Dimensions
152.2mm x 71.8mm x 8.9mm
Weight
178g

Connectivity

NFC
Yes
Wi-Fi
802.11 a/b/g/n/ac/ax
Network category speed
Category 21

Power, storage and battery

Processor
Google Tensor
RAM
6GB
Operating system
Android 12
Internal storage
128GB
External storage support
Up to 128GB
Battery capacity
4,306mAh

Device features

Fingerprint sensor
Yes
Water resistance rating
IP52

How we tested

I tested over a month with a Charcoal Pixel 6a supplied by Google for review purposes, extensively evaluating the phone through benchmarks, camera testing, battery rundown scenarios and ad-hoc day-to-day usage.

As a reviewer, I have more than 2 decades of tech product reviewing experience. I'm a multi-time Australian IT Journo award winner, including awards for best reviewer and best technical journalist.


Images: Alex Kidman

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