It’s probably hyperbole to credit Google’s Pixel A devices for single-handedly keeping the wider line alive during some admittedly tough times. Let’s be honest, a lot of this goes into Google’s very deep pockets – when you’re one of the biggest companies in the world, what’s a little sunk cost mistake between friends?
Budget devices have been a lifeline, however, supporting the line while the Pixel division was still desperately trying to find its footing. It’s safe to say that after several false starts, Google finally succeeded with the Pixel 6. It was the first time in the line’s history that the company could credibly claim that it had released a flagship. .
A new hardware design, coupled with the company’s first in-house Tensor chip and solid new camera hardware, combined well with several generations of software improvements. Fortunately, the Pixel 6a shares more DNA with the Pixel 6 than the Pixel 5a. The biggest connective tissue between the products is Google’s broader overall strategy of a release cadence of about six months. First you drop off the flagship; then six months later you come up with its budget equivalent.
This is an approach that seems to work well. You appease early adopters with the initial product and eventually a number of new features trickle down to its namesake. By the time that happens, you’re already ready to hear about its successor. It’s no coincidence, of course, that the company teased the Pixel 7 alongside the 6a announcement. It’s an unspoken reminder that while the 6a looks pretty good, something even better is on the way. It is the tyranny of choice effectively monetized.
This is an important part of Google’s approach, as the 6a is a largely effective exercise in reducing correct costs. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a mid-size/budget handset, but it’s a mid-size/mid-size device with the heart of a flagship.
Building materials are most immediately apparent. The 6a is more plastic than its immediate successor. This is especially a big deal if you are someone who carries your device without a case. These people exist. I will never understand them, but they exist. You lose some durability on the front of the device, with a downgrade from Gorilla Glass Victus to Gorilla Glass 3.
The screen size has also been reduced, from 6.4in to 6.1in (still a 1080p OLED, albeit at a slightly higher pixel density), with a 60Hz refresh rate compared at 90 Hz of 6 (none goes up to 120, be careful) . Honestly, for many, the small screen is probably an improvement. The 6 is a big phone. It’s much more reasonable for a wider range of hands.
There’s no wireless charging on board, and as you might expect, the camera suffers noticeable hardware degradation, dropping the dual 50-megapixel ultra-wide and 12-megapixel ultra-wide sensors to a 12-megapixel wide/ultrawide pair.
Google has insisted for generations that hardware doesn’t matter as much as software when it comes to smartphone imaging. However, the latest Pixel devices were a repudiation of this theory. You could argue that’s truer today than it was a few generations ago, but great smartphone photos still require the right marriage of the two. That said, you can still capture quality photos on the 6a – a fact that’s helped by some impressive software advancements made over the years, including features like Magic Eraser. Also essential is the inclusion of the same Tensor chip found in the Pixel 6, which offers many of these key additions.
The new (well, new) chip offers impressive power gains, when stacked against the 5a. The 6a sings by mid-level device standards. The onboard 6GB of RAM is a downgrade from the 6’s 8GB, but it should get the job done. Storage is the same at 128GB, though there’s no 256GB upgrade option. The battery, meanwhile, gets a slight mAh drop, from 4,614 to 4,410, but it will allow you to spend more than one day without problems.
The most impressive thing about the Pixel 6a, however, is the price. The 6 was an extremely reasonably priced $599, and the company managed to cut another $150. Good luck finding more bang for your buck.