Google Pixel 6a Review: The Best Pixel Yet and It’s Just $449

Google Pixel 6a Review: The Best Pixel Yet and It’s Just 9
Google Pixel 6a Review: The Best Pixel Yet and It’s Just 9

Each fall, Google drops a flagship Pixel smartphone, and a budget Pixel arrives over the summer. 2022 is no different, and it’s finally time to discuss the Pixel 6a. It’s up for preorder now at $449, with deliveries scheduled to begin on July 28. And I’ve spent nearly two weeks using it every day — making calls, snapping pictures, using a bevy of apps, and trying to make the battery run out.

It’s a budget smartphone that will go head to head against the iPhone SE ($429) and the various Galaxy-A phones. It proves that you don’t need to spend $1,000 for a great smartphone experience — you can spend less and still get a solid experience that delivers what you’re after.

Let’s dive into the Pixel 6a and see if it’s worth your cash.

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It’s Comfortable to Hold in Just One Hand

One of the biggest complaints of the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro still is the size. At 6.4-inches and 6.7-inches, respectively, they’re firmly large smartphones. Not meant for one-hand use or for those looking for a compact phone.

Luckily, the Pixel 6a corrects this with a 6.1-inch display. It’s a taller 20:9 aspect ratio like most Android phones, and here that reduces the width and makes it comfortable to hold — and use — with just a single hand. It’s 0.3-inches and 0.6-inches smaller than the 6 or 6 Pro, and it feels much more manageable using it every day.

You also have plenty of room to grip since it sports a similarly modern, boxy overall build. Simply, it fits right at home within the Pixel 6 family. The frame is a soft, matte aluminum that’s easy to grab, and the back is a glossy glass finish. You can get it in Chalk, Charcoal, or Sage, but I’ll save you the decision-making and suggest the latter. It’s a lovely light green main back paired with a lighter green above the camera bar. It’s a delight and puts a smile on my face when I see the color.

I write “camera bar” since, unlike the iPhone 13 family or the Galaxy S22 series, the camera lenses here are in a horizontal bar that stretches the width of the Pixel 6a. It is also slightly raised from the main rear of the phone, so you cannot lay this flat without a case. Both the power button and volume rocker live on the right hand side.

The Pixel 6a sadly doesn’t feature wireless charging, so you’ll need to physically plug it in via the USB-C cable located on the bottom. And while Google does give you a USB-C to USB-C cable in the box, you won’t find a wall plug here. We’d recommend pairing it with an Anker Nano plug ($15.99 on Amazon), but it is an additional cost. You also won’t find a headphone jack, which is a bit disappointing considering the Pixel 5a featured one.

The star of the front is the 6.1-inch display; to be precise, it’s a Full HD OLED with support for both HDR and a Full 24-bit depth for millions of colors. Many tech terms, but to be clear, it performs pretty well in everyday use, giving you a rich, detailed experience. It wouldn’t be my first choice to take in a feature film-on, but it’s great for scrolling through TikTok, watching a TV show, or just general phone usage. It can also get bright to combat a bright sunny day or a ton of fluorescent lights.

The Pixel 6a, like most other smartphones at this price point, is locked to a 60Hz maximum refresh rate. It’s far from the 120Hz that the Pixel 6 Pro, Galaxy S22, and iPhone 13 Pro or Pro Max sports. And as I frequently say, it’s not something you’ll miss unless you’re coming from a device with a higher than 60Hz rate.

Aiding in durability is a layer of Corning Gorilla Glass 3 protecting the display from drops. There’s a pinhole notch centered at the top of the screen. This contains the 8-megapixel front-facing camera, which is pretty good, though low light produced some grainy photos. It will be just fine for selfies during the day or recording a quick TikTok.

Lastly, let’s talk about the fingerprint sensor. It’s built into the bottom of the display centered and works plenty well here. Setup was pretty quick and done in just a matter of seconds, and for the most part, it lets you quickly unlock the phone. Just be sure you’re placing the registered finger over the sensor correctly. I do miss the days when the Pixel’s featured a fingerprint sensor center near the top on the rear of the device, though.

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Works Like a Pixel and Lasts for Days

So why get a Pixel? Well, it’s made by Google (the folks who also make Android), delivers exclusive features and a clean interface that’s not bogged down. Out of the box, the Pixel 6a runs Android 12 and only comes preloaded with the core Google-made apps.

It’s easy to set up — sign in with your Google account, pop in a SIM or activate an E-Sim for service, and follow the steps. I completed it in about five minutes and was ready to go. And aiding in that speed is the Tensor chip, which is Google’s first chip for a smartphone that’s made in-house. It was a big deal back with the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro, which it premiered on, and it’s awesome to see it on a device that costs just $449. Oh and you get 128GB of storage.

It gives you plenty of power to work through almost anything here, and it’s paired with 6GB of RAM. Core experiences like checking and sending an email, scrolling through social apps like TikTok, Twitter, or Facebook, playing a game like Fallout Shelter or Candy Crush, and multitasking between various apps work fine.

Looking year over year to the Pixel 5a with 5G, the 6a kind of runs laps around that device for more intense tasks and with processing in the camera app. It’s not night and day with everyday tasks currently, though. Google promises three years of Android updates and five years of security updates.

It also powers some Pixel-exclusive apps and features. One of my favorites is the recorder application, which can record conversations or meetings and transcribe them in real-time. As someone who’s in a bunch of conferences and conducts interviews, it’s pretty helpful.

The Google Assistant is in full force, and you can ask for it with your voice or a long screen press. You can even have the Assistant wait on hold for you, saving some time when you need to call customer service for a bevy of companies. It kind of feels like the future in your hand.

Since this is an OLED display as well, it sports the always-on functionality. Meaning that a portion of the screen turn’s on to show the time, date, and weather — really whatever you set — and it doesn’t destroy the battery life. You can also turn on “Now Playing,” which will have the Pixel 6a listen for songs and tell you the name at the bottom of the screen. It works about 99.9% of the time, and you can view a history of the songs within Settings.

As I experienced with the 6 and 6 Pro, the Tensor is also an efficient chip. Able to manage multiple loads from different apps at once along with juggling background processes. It can also stretch the battery life — I routinely had the 6a last for well over a day with heavy use, and on a lighter day, it could last in standby for close to two days. A 4,400mAh battery powers it, but Google’s customizations to Android and the Tensor chip make it excel in this area.

The Pixel 6a performs exceptionally well and is in the same leagues as phones that cost double the $449 price tag.

Two Excellent Cameras

You get two main lenses on the Pixel 6a: a 12.2-megapixel wide and a 12-megapixel ultrawide. I’ll note that the ultrawide is technically a step down in megapixels from the Pixel 5a with 5G, which features a 16-megapixel lens.

And as with most phones, that is just one step of how these shoot and capture photos. There is a ton of processing going on behind the scenes before, during, and after taking the picture.

The 12.2-megapixel wide is the primary camera — aka, when you open the camera app, it defaults to this — and captures excellent images. You’ll find that it’s generally a detailed image, especially in good lighting, that looks realistic with accurate colors. Meanwhile, the ultrawide lens is impressive since it uses AI (artificial intelligence) and other software to remove the fish-eye effect. This way, you don’t have blur or fewer details when capturing an extra wide shot.

These cameras punch above what you expect from a budget phone and are on par with the 5a and iPhone SE. You’ll need to pick the processing you like better.

What’s missing here is a telephoto lens, and instead, this uses digital zoom. It doesn’t consistently deliver the best result since it’s using software to try and fill in details. You’ll notice noise and heavy grain at times with these digital zoom shots. I’d recommend just physically moving closer to what you’re trying to shoot if you can.

Just like with Android 12 exclusive features, it’s the Pixel camera features that tend to impress. Night Sight can add a surprising amount of light and clarity to photos really in the stark of night. It’s definitely not real, but Google’s software can make them much cooler, add back in details, and raise the overall brightness.

The coolest feature is Magic Eraser. Let’s say someone photobombs you in, and friend, you can edit it and remove that person from the background. Same for a sign or tree branch that looks out of place. Nine times out of ten, you’ll find this works like a charm, and it’s just spectacular to have it built-in.

Portrait Mode is also improved here around animals and dogs with better separation of the foreground and background.

These cameras are great and give you a versatile way to capture the world around you.

5G Is Supported Here

Here in the United States, we’re a few years into the 5G rollout, and speeds and availability are looking a lot better. T-Mobile, AT&T, and Verizon all have networks throughout the country. And the Pixel 6a supports a few 5G bands: Sub-6, mmWave, and C-Band. You’ll get all three in the United States, but bands supported will vary by region.

Verizon has offered some serious C-Band, 5G ultra-wide speeds in our testing, along with AT&T following behind. I was able to hit speeds of over 500Mbps download on Verizon in New Jersey and New York City. Not shabby at all. Google Fi, aka the carrier run by the tech giant, also works well on the Pixel 6a.

AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile will also be taking preorders for the 6a and selling it from general availability on July 28, 2022. You’ll likely see that the carriers are charging an increase over the $449 unlocked price as well. You can get the unlocked model on Amazon for $449 and shouldn’t have any issues slotting in a sim from the carriers either.

Bottom Line

Once again, the latest affordable phone from Google is seriously impressive. If you’re not after the flagship bell and whistles like a 120Hz refresh rate, a crazy bezel-less display, or three cameras, the Pixel 6a will check off nearly all the boxes. And it costs just $449 which is a terrific deal.

That is more expensive than the iPhone SE at $429, but that depends on whether you prefer iOS or Android. You are getting a more modern design, a larger display, and an additional camera with the 6a, though. While the iPhone sports the same processor as the iPhone 13 family, which is the top performer here.

If you’re looking for an affordable Android phone, I’d recommend the Pixel 6a. If you have a 5a with 5G from last year, I wouldn’t necessarily run out for the upgrade unless the performance is dwindling. But if you’ve been hanging onto a Pixel 3a or a 4a, it’s a great time to upgrade. If you’ve been holding off on a Pixel 6 or 6 Pro due to the size, the 6a is cheaper and smaller.

Google’s Pixel 6a is up for preorder now at $449 from Amazon and BestBuy. First shipments of the device will begin arriving on July 28, 2022.

Prices are accurate and items in stock at time of publishing.