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Google Pixel 6a review: The perfect Pixel!

NextPit Google Pixel 6a Review Test
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Yes, the Google Pixel 6a has filled the void left by Google's previous generation of smartphones. The new, affordable Pixel has hit the market packed with the Tensor processor, running the latest version of Android software, and of course, all the Artificial Intelligence (AI) camera features of the Pixel line. All that for just $450. But is that enough to take the title of the unbeatable smartphone of 2022?

Rating

Good

  • Premium smartphone performance
  • Balanced image post-processing
  • Optimum size
  • Clean software
  • Up to five years of updates
  • IP67 certification

Bad

  • Screen refresh rate of only 60 Hz
  • Only one internal storage option
  • No wireless charging support

Google Pixel 6a: Price and availability

The Google Pixel 6a was announced in May this year, and has been available for purchase since July 21, 2022. The device can be found on Amazon for $449 in Chalk, Charcoal, and Sage colors, and only with 128 GB of internal storage in tow.

Packed with Google's custom Tensor processor for better performance of Machine Learning-based features, the Pixel 6a seems to be the best option for those who, like me, had lost touch the series by the end of 2021.

Google Pixel 6a review
The model with the best footprint in the entire Pixel 6 series. / © NextPit

Compact design and great screen

Unlike the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro, the mid-range model in the series is extremely compact. In front of me lies a Pixel 6 Pro, a Pixel 5, and a Pixel 6a. Looking at all three models, it is very easy to notice that the Pixel 6a is positioned between the other two models, making the jump from one generation to the next a much more subtle experience.


What I liked:

  • Perfect size.
  • Original form factor.
  • Smaller protrusion of the camera module compared to the other models in the series.

What I disliked:

  • Refresh rate of only 60 Hertz.
  • No 3.5 mm headphone jack.

With virtually the same visual language as the series  that was unveiled last year, the Pixel 6a uses Gorilla Glass 3 on the front, has an aluminum frame, and is built with polycarbonate for the back. This change in build materials is not a surprise given that the model was released as a more device, taking up its place in the mid-range market. However, even though I held the Pro variant in one hand and the mid-range model in the other, the difference between glass and plastic is almost unnoticeable at first. I was really surprised by this.

Even though it has the same horizontal bar form factor, the camera module of the Pixel 6a is less invasive, giving it a more elegant look. By the way, with a 6.1-inch display, it is very easy to handle this device using just one hand. If I didn't know that this is a Google smartphone, I would easily pass it for a Sony smartphone if I were to just look at the screen.

Google Pixel 6a review
The screen of the Google Pixel 6a offers great color quality and brightness levels. / © NextPit

Unlocking the screen, we have a classic Google device: a Pixel launcher, only factory-installed Google apps, and Android 12. To unlock the display, we have a fingerprint sensor built into the display. Your heart races when you place your thumb on it, and this action was executed to perfection! It seems that the A-series doesn't suffer from the flaws of the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro.

However, despite delighting me with the compact design and passing the fingerprint sensor test on the first try, at the end of the day, the Pixel 6a is still a mid-range handset. Despite the great brightness and balanced colorimetry, the screen of this smartphone only offers a refresh rate of 60 hertz. The Pixel 5 and Pixel 6, for example, offer 90 hertz. In other words, the Pixel 6a offers the same refresh rate as Apple's iPhone 13.

Finally, concerning the design and quality of the screen, my first impressions couldn't be better. The grip was excellent, watching any video is a treat on this display, and the stereo audio counts for a good media experience. However, I would have really liked to see a 3.5 millimeter headphone jack here.

Google Pixel 6a review
With no 3.5mm headphone jack, you'll have to use cable connection via USB-C. / © NextPit

Google Tensor inside

Just like the premium model in the series, the Pixel 6a also uses Google's custom processor: the Tensor SoC. According to Google, this means having up to five times better performance than the Pixel 5a. On the other hand, the model has only one memory variant: 6 GB of RAM and 128 GB of internal storage. It the near future, with no option to expand the internal storage, the user will have to most likely resort to the cloud (read: Google).


What I liked:

  • Powered by the Google Tensor processor.
  • Up to five years of security updates (3 major Android updates).

What I disliked:

  • Only one internal storage option.

google-pixel-6a, smartphone
The Pixel 6a's front-facing camera has an 8MP resolution, and just above the sensor,we have a speaker for calls that works in conjunction with the speaker on the bottom to deliver stereo audio. / © NextPit

As for the performance of the Tensor SoC in the Pixel 6a, multitasking and web browsing happen without lags or stutters, the on-screen fingerprint sensor works well, and Bluetooth connection occurs with low latency. During my review, I ran three sessions of over an hour of gameplay each with the Genshin Impact in both standard and advanced modes. Everything ran very smoothly, with no hardware overheating or noticeable frame drops.

In the comparison table below, the Tensor's advantage over processors used in competing smartphones is very clear, especially in relation to the Exynos 1280 in the Samsung Galaxy A53, which is a direct competitor to the Pixel 6a.

  Google Pixel 6a
(Google Tensor)
Samsung Galaxy A53
(Exynos 1280)
Oppo Find X5 Lite
(Dimensity 900)
OnePlus Nord 2
(Dimensity 1200)
Motorola Edge 20
(Snapdragon 778)
3DMark Wild Life
  • 5762
  • 2280
  • 2030
  • 4175
  • 2492
3DMark Wild Life Stress Test
  • Best loop: 4941
  • Worst loop: 2860
  • Best loop: 2298
  • Worst loop: 2283
  • Best loop: 2030
  • Worst loop: 2015
  • Best loop: 4181
  • Worst loop: 2515
  • Best loop: 2494
  • Worst loop: 2461
Geekbench 5
  • Single: 1038
  • Multi: 2890
  • Single: 727
  • Multi: 1896
  • Single : 696
  • Multi: 2163
  • Single: 811
  • Multi: 2690
  • Single: 768
  • Multi: 2776

Finally, regarding the performance of the Google Pixel 6a, I need to mention that Google has fixed the problems related to the device's sudden overheating issues with a software update. During my hands-on of the 6a, the camera processing algorithm caused the hardware's temperature to rise abruptly, but this problem no longer manifested itself since the SD2A.220601.003.B1 software update.

When it comes to software, the Pixel 6a is packed with the latest version of Android 12 together with Pixel Launcher. In other words, this is the most affordable model on the market running on what we can call stock Android and will be the first to receive the Android 13 update.

Personally, I really liked the user interface of the Pixel series, which brings unique camera features and media options like Google Recorder for real-time audio transcription. This is the typical Google smartphone, with a host of smart software options that keep sensitive data saved locally on the device. To learn more about the software features present on the Pixel 6a, check out our Android 12 review. In order to learn what we can expect from Android 13, read our review of the beta version's key features.

Google Pixel 6a review UI
The Pixel 6a's user interface is clean and brings features that are unique to Google devices. / © NextPit

Inferior camera, but Pixel quality

Since I switched from the Pixel to the iPhone, what I missed most was the camera from the Pixel line. Although the camera is where Google has cut costs, the Pixel 6a does a great job when it comes to photography. In other words, even being released with less powerful camera sensors compared to the rest of the Pixel 6 series, the smart camera features and unparalleled image processing capability places the Pixel 6a at a clear advantage.

Premium features characteristic of the series released last year are on board here, such as Real Tone (for skin tones), Night Sight (for night mode), and Magic Eraser (to erase unwanted elements in the image).


What I liked:

  • Images carry vivid colors without losing its natural look.
  • Super balanced image processing.
  • Versatile camera configuration despite the digital zoom.
  • Excellent captures in Portrait mode.
  • Night Sight offers night images that are on point.

What I disliked:

  • -

google-pixel-6a, smartphone
Bar-shaped camera module, maintaining the visual design of the Pixel 6 series. / © NextPit

The Pixel 6a is built with a dual camera module, comprising a 12.2 MP wide-angle lens and another 12 MP ultrawide lens. The front camera, on the other hand, features an 8 MP sensor. Images captured with this camera are rich in color and contrast, where portrait mode shots combine the AI of Google's camera software to deliver images with very well-done contours. Images taken using Night Sight are really good, but in case you prefer to correct the light afterward, it is very easy to disable the feature.

Google's camera app is really clean and offers exposure and temperature controls right on the screen, and even a button for video stabilization that can be quickly activated. The only features found on the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro that are unavailable on this model is the Motion-to-Action Pan and Long Exposure-and Pro Res.

As for videos, the Pixel 6a allows you to capture images in 4K at 30/60 fps, and in between shots with features like Slow Motion and Time Lapse, which happens to be one of my favorites for condensing the most information into a few short seconds.

All-day battery

The battery capacity was listed as 4,410 mAh and depending on how you use the device, you will make it to the end of the day with a significant reserve of power. However, to charge the Pixel 6a, you will need to purchase a charging adapter, as this is not shipped with the device.


What I liked:

  • Battery can last up to 24 hous of regular use.

What I disliked:

  • Adapter is not included in the box.
  • Maximum charging speed of 18 Watts.
  • No wireless charging option.

Also, the charging power of the Pixel 6a stands at a maximum of 18 Watts, which is really low when compared to other charging technologies such as the OnePlus Warp Charge, for instance. Another negative point here is how wireless charging support is not part of the deal.

Despite having a processor that was specially designed for high performance and thus demanding more power than competing models, the Google Pixel 6a does very well in terms of battery life. Unlike the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro models, this variant delivers practically 15 hours of battery life according to the PCMark benchmark results. While in our tests, the Pixel 6 clocked 12 hours and 19 minutes, with the Pixel 6a achieving 14 hours and 52 minutes. Downgrades such as the lower refresh rate for the screen makes the superior battery life possible.

Finally, charging the Google Pixel 6a from 0 to 100% can take up to two hours. In addition, we don't have the option of wireless charging here like on the iPhone 13 mini. Having this feature available would have been be a big advantage over the Samsung Galaxy A53.

Google Pixel 6a on paper

  Technical specifications
Device name
Image Google Pixel 6a
Screen 6.1-inch OLED,
1080 x 2400 pixels (429 PPP) resolution, 60 Hertz refresh rate
SoC Google Tensor
2x ARM Cortex-X1 @ 2.80 GHz
2x ARM Cortex-A76 @ 2.25 GHz
4x ARM Cortex-A55 @ 1.80 GHz
20x ARM Mali-G78 (GPU)
Memory
(varies by region)
6 GB LPDDR5-6400 RAM
128 of storage in UFS 3.1
Software Android 12 (Android security update: April 5, 2022)
Expandable storage No
Main Camera 12.2 MP | f1.7 aperture | 27 mm focal length | 1.4 µm sensor size | dual pixel PDAF | OIS
Ultra Wide Angle Camera 12.2 MP | f/2.2 aperture | 17 mm focal length | 114° angle of view
Telephoto lens No
Video 4K at 30/60 fps (rear)
1080p at 30 fps (front)
Selfie 8 MP | aperture f/2.0 | sensor size 1.12 µm
Audio Stereo speakers
Battery 4410 mAh
Cable charging Max. 18 W
Wireless charging (Qi) No
UWB No

Conclusion: the perfect Pixel!

The Google Pixel 6a is compact, offers a Pixel-quality camera, comes packed with the same processor as the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro models, and costs $450. However, if you invest $150 more, you can take home the Pixel 6, which is armed with a better camera module, additional charging options, and higher quality materials in the build.

Nevertheless, I have to say that in the smartphone category that costs around $400, the Google Pixel 6a is unbeatable, even though it only offers one internal storage option and a 60 Hz refresh rate. When placed next to the iPhone 13 mini, the fact that it doesn't offer wireless charging may be a drawback. However, the price of the Pixel 6a may make up for that shortcoming as Apple's smartphone currently costs $699.

I can also go further concerning this handset: out of the entire Pixel 6 series, the most cost-effective smartphone is without a doubt the Pixel 6a, especially since it is the most compact model of them all.

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